Monday, June 27, 2005

The War President

By PAUL KRUGMAN
Published: June 24, 2005

In this former imperial capital, every square seems to contain a giant statue of a Habsburg on horseback, posing as a conquering hero.

America's founders knew all too well how war appeals to the vanity of rulers and their thirst for glory. That's why they took care to deny presidents the kingly privilege of making war at their own discretion.

But after 9/11 President Bush, with obvious relish, declared himself a "war president." And he kept the nation focused on martial matters by morphing the pursuit of Al Qaeda into a war against Saddam Hussein.

In November 2002, Helen Thomas, the veteran White House correspondent, told an audience, "I have never covered a president who actually wanted to go to war" - but she made it clear that Mr. Bush was the exception. And she was right.

Leading the nation wrongfully into war strikes at the heart of democracy. It would have been an unprecedented abuse of power even if the war hadn't turned into a military and moral quagmire. And we won't be able to get out of that quagmire until we face up to the reality of how we got in.

Let me talk briefly about what we now know about the decision to invade Iraq, then focus on why it matters.

The administration has prevented any official inquiry into whether it hyped the case for war. But there's plenty of circumstantial evidence that it did.

And then there's the Downing Street Memo - actually the minutes of a prime minister's meeting in July 2002 - in which the chief of British overseas intelligence briefed his colleagues about his recent trip to Washington.

"Bush wanted to remove Saddam," says the memo, "through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and W.M.D. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." It doesn't get much clearer than that.

The U.S. news media largely ignored the memo for five weeks after it was released in The Times of London. Then some asserted that it was "old news" that Mr. Bush wanted war in the summer of 2002, and that W.M.D. were just an excuse. No, it isn't. Media insiders may have suspected as much, but they didn't inform their readers, viewers and listeners. And they have never held Mr. Bush accountable for his repeated declarations that he viewed war as a last resort.

Still, some of my colleagues insist that we should let bygones be bygones. The question, they say, is what we do now. But they're wrong: it's crucial that those responsible for the war be held to account.

Let me explain. The United States will soon have to start reducing force levels in Iraq, or risk seeing the volunteer Army collapse. Yet the administration and its supporters have effectively prevented any adult discussion of the need to get out.

On one side, the people who sold this war, unable to face up to the fact that their fantasies of a splendid little war have led to disaster, are still peddling illusions: the insurgency is in its "last throes," says Dick Cheney. On the other, they still have moderates and even liberals intimidated: anyone who suggests that the United States will have to settle for something that falls far short of victory is accused of being unpatriotic.

We need to deprive these people of their ability to mislead and intimidate. And the best way to do that is to make it clear that the people who led us to war on false pretenses have no credibility, and no right to lecture the rest of us about patriotism.

The good news is that the public seems ready to hear that message - readier than the media are to deliver it. Major media organizations still act as if only a small, left-wing fringe believes that we were misled into war, but that "fringe" now comprises much if not most of the population.

In a Gallup poll taken in early April - that is, before the release of the Downing Street Memo - 50 percent of those polled agreed with the proposition that the administration "deliberately misled the American public" about Iraq's W.M.D. In a new Rasmussen poll, 49 percent said that Mr. Bush was more responsible for the war than Saddam Hussein, versus 44 percent who blamed Saddam.

Once the media catch up with the public, we'll be able to start talking seriously about how to get out of Iraq.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Political leanings may be etched in the genes

But study says party affiliation is linked to environment

By BENEDICT CAREY
THE NEW YORK TIMES

Political scientists have long held that people's upbringing and experience determine their political views. A child raised on peace protests and Bush-loathing generally tracks left as an adult, unless derailed by some powerful life experience. One reared on tax protests and a hatred of Kennedys usually lists to the right.

But on the basis of a new study, a team of political scientists is arguing that people's gut-level reaction to issues such as the death penalty, taxes and abortion is strongly influenced by genetic inheritance. The new research builds on a series of studies that indicate that people's general approach to social issues -- more conservative or more progressive -- is influenced by genes.

Environmental influences such as upbringing, the study suggests, play a more central role in party affiliation as a Democrat or Republican, much as they do in a person's affiliation with a sports team.

The report, which appears in the current issue of the American Political Science Review, the profession's premier journal, uses genetics to help answer several open questions in political science.

They include why some people defect from the party in which they were raised and why some political campaigns, like the 2004 presidential election, turn into verbal blood sport, though polls find little disparity in most Americans' views on specific issues such as gun control and affirmative action.

The study is the first on genetics to appear in the journal. "I thought, 'Here's something new and different by respected political scholars that many political scientists never saw before in their lives,' " said Lee Sigelman, editor of the journal and a professor of political science at George Washington University.

Sigelman said that in many fields the findings "would create nothing more than a large yawn," but that "in ours, maybe people will storm the barricades."

Geneticists who study behavior and personality have known for 30 years that genes play a large role in people's instinctive emotional responses to certain issues -- their social temperament.

It is not that opinions on specific issues are written into a person's DNA. Rather, genes prime people to respond cautiously or openly to the mores of a social group.

Only recently have researchers begun to examine how these predispositions, in combination with childhood and later life experiences, shape political behavior.

In the study, three political scientists -- John Hibbing of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, John Alford of Rice University and Carolyn Funk of Virginia Commonwealth -- combed survey data from two large continuing studies, including more than 8,000 sets of twins.

From an extensive battery of surveys on personality traits, religious beliefs and other psychological factors, the researchers selected 28 questions most relevant to political behavior.

The researchers then compared dizygotic or fraternal twins, who, like any biological siblings, share 50 percent of their genes, with monozygotic, or identical, twins, who share 100 percent of their genes.

Calculating how often identical twins agree on an issue and subtracting the rate at which fraternal twins agree on the same item provides a rough measure of genes' influence on that attitude. A shared family environment for twins reared together is assumed.

On school prayer, for example, the identical twins' opinions correlated at a rate of 0.66, a measure of how often they agreed. The correlation rate for fraternal twins was 0.46. This translated into a 41 percent contribution from inheritance.

As found in previous studies, attitudes about issues such as school prayer, property taxes and the draft were among the most influenced by inheritance, the researchers found. Others like modern art and divorce were less so. And in the twins' overall score, derived from 28 questions, genes accounted for 53 percent of the differences.

But after correcting for the tendency of politically like-minded men and women to marry each other, the researchers also found the twins' self-identification as Republican or Democrat was far more dependent on environmental factors such as upbringing and life experience than was their social orientation, which the researchers call ideology. Inheritance accounted for 14 percent of the difference in party, the researchers found.

"We are measuring two separate things here, ideology and party affiliation," Hibbing, the senior author, said.

He added that his research team found the large difference in heritability between the two "very hard to believe," but that it held up.

The implications of this difference may be far-reaching, the authors argue. For years, political scientists tried in vain to learn how family dynamics such as closeness between parents and children or the importance of politics in a household influenced political ideology. But the study suggests that an inherited social orientation may overwhelm the more subtle effects of family dynamics.

A mismatch between an inherited social orientation and a given party may also explain why some people defect from a party. Many people who are genetically conservative may be brought up as Democrats, and some who are genetically more progressive may be raised as Republicans, the researchers say.

In tracking attitudes over the years, geneticists have found that social attitudes tend to stabilize in the late teens and early 20s, when young people begin to fend for themselves.

Some "mismatched" people stay loyal to their family's political party. But circumstances can override inherited bent. The draft may seem a good idea until your number is up.

The researchers are not optimistic about the future of bipartisan cooperation or national unity. Because men and women tend to seek mates with a similar ideology, they say, the two gene pools are becoming, if anything, more concentrated, not less.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Losing Our Country

By PAUL KRUGMAN
Published: June 10, 2005

Baby boomers like me grew up in a relatively equal society. In the 1960's America was a place in which very few people were extremely wealthy, many blue-collar workers earned wages that placed them comfortably in the middle class, and working families could expect steadily rising living standards and a reasonable degree of economic security.

But as The Times's series on class in America reminds us, that was another country. The middle-class society I grew up in no longer exists.

Working families have seen little if any progress over the past 30 years. Adjusted for inflation, the income of the median family doubled between 1947 and 1973. But it rose only 22 percent from 1973 to 2003, and much of that gain was the result of wives' entering the paid labor force or working longer hours, not rising wages.

Meanwhile, economic security is a thing of the past: year-to-year fluctuations in the incomes of working families are far larger than they were a generation ago. All it takes is a bit of bad luck in employment or health to plunge a family that seems solidly middle-class into poverty.

But the wealthy have done very well indeed. Since 1973 the average income of the top 1 percent of Americans has doubled, and the income of the top 0.1 percent has tripled.

Why is this happening? I'll have more to say on that another day, but for now let me just point out that middle-class America didn't emerge by accident. It was created by what has been called the Great Compression of incomes that took place during World War II, and sustained for a generation by social norms that favored equality, strong labor unions and progressive taxation. Since the 1970's, all of those sustaining forces have lost their power.

Since 1980 in particular, U.S. government policies have consistently favored the wealthy at the expense of working families - and under the current administration, that favoritism has become extreme and relentless. From tax cuts that favor the rich to bankruptcy "reform" that punishes the unlucky, almost every domestic policy seems intended to accelerate our march back to the robber baron era.

It's not a pretty picture - which is why right-wing partisans try so hard to discredit anyone who tries to explain to the public what's going on.

These partisans rely in part on obfuscation: shaping, slicing and selectively presenting data in an attempt to mislead. For example, it's a plain fact that the Bush tax cuts heavily favor the rich, especially those who derive most of their income from inherited wealth. Yet this year's Economic Report of the President, in a bravura demonstration of how to lie with statistics, claimed that the cuts "increased the overall progressivity of the federal tax system."

The partisans also rely in part on scare tactics, insisting that any attempt to limit inequality would undermine economic incentives and reduce all of us to shared misery. That claim ignores the fact of U.S. economic success after World War II. It also ignores the lesson we should have learned from recent corporate scandals: sometimes the prospect of great wealth for those who succeed provides an incentive not for high performance, but for fraud.

Above all, the partisans engage in name-calling. To suggest that sustaining programs like Social Security, which protects working Americans from economic risk, should have priority over tax cuts for the rich is to practice "class warfare." To show concern over the growing inequality is to engage in the "politics of envy."

But the real reasons to worry about the explosion of inequality since the 1970's have nothing to do with envy. The fact is that working families aren't sharing in the economy's growth, and face growing economic insecurity. And there's good reason to believe that a society in which most people can reasonably be considered middle class is a better society - and more likely to be a functioning democracy - than one in which there are great extremes of wealth and poverty.

Reversing the rise in inequality and economic insecurity won't be easy: the middle-class society we have lost emerged only after the country was shaken by depression and war. But we can make a start by calling attention to the politicians who systematically make things worse in catering to their contributors. Never mind that straw man, the politics of envy. Let's try to do something about the politics of greed.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Deep Throat Cover Blown

Washington Post Still Sucks

Wednesday, June 1, 2005

By Greg Palast

I've been gagging all morning on the Washington Post's self-congratulatory preening about its glory days of the Watergate investigation.

Think about it. It's been 33 years since cub reporters Woodward and Bernstein pulled down the pants of the Nixon operation and exposed its tie-in to the Watergate burglary. That marks a third of a century since the Washington Post has broken a major investigative story. I got a hint of why the long, dry spell when I met Mark Hosenball, "investigative" reporter for the Washington Post's magazine, Newsweek.

It was in the summer of 2001. A few months earlier, for the Guardian papers of Britain, I'd discovered that Katherine Harris and Governor Jeb Bush of Florida had removed tens of thousands of African-Americans from voter registries before the 2000 election, thereby fixing the race for George Bush. Hosenball said the Post-Newsweek team "looked into it and couldn't find anything."

Nothing at all? What I found noteworthy about the Post's investigation was that "looking into it" involved their reporters chatting with Florida officials -- but not bothering to look at the voter purge list itself.

Yes, I admit the Washington Post ran my story -- seven months after the election -- but with the key info siphoned out, such as the Bush crew's destruction of evidence and the salient fact that almost all those purged were Democrats. In other words, the story was drained of anything which might discomfit the new residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Let's not pick on the Post alone. Viacom Corporation's CBS News also spiked the story. Why? "We called Jeb Bush's office," a CBS producer told me, and Jeb's office denied Jeb did wrong. End of story.

During the Clinton years, the Washington Post and Newsweek allowed reporter Mike Isikoff to sniff at the President's zipper and write about our Commander-in-Chief's Lewinsky. But when it came to a big story about dirty energy industry money for Clinton's campaigns, Mike told me his editors didn't "give a sh--" and so he passed the material for me to print in England.

Today, Bob Woodward rules as the Post's Managing Editor. And how is he "managing" the news? After the September 11 attack, when we needed an independent press to keep us from hysteria-driven fascism, Woodward was given "access" to the president, writing Bush at War,a fawning, puke-making fairy tale of a take-charge president brilliantly leading the war against Terror.

Woodward's news-oid story is a symptom of a disease epidemic in US journalism. The illness is called, "access." In return for a supposedly "inside" connection to the powers that be, the journalists in fact become conduits for disinformation sewerage.

And woe to any journalist who annoys the politicians and loses "access." Career-wise, they're DOA.

Here's a good place to tote up part of the investigative reporter body count. There's Bob Parry forced out of the Associated Press for the crime of uncovering Ollie North's arms-for-hostages game. And there's Gary Webb, hounded to suicide for documenting the long-known history of the CIA's love-affair with drug runners. The list goes on. Even the prize-laden Seymour Hersh was, he told me, exiled from the New York Times and now has to write from the refuge of a fashion magazine.

And notice someone missing in the Deep Throat extravaganza? Carl Bernstein, the brains and soul of the All-the-President's-Men duo, is notably absent from the staff of the Post or any other US newspaper.

But before we get too weepy about the glory days of investigative journalism gone by, we should remember that the golden era was not pure gold.

Newspapers are part of the power elite and have never in US history gone out of their way to rock the clubhouse. Let's go back to Hersh's stellar story of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.

The massacre was first uncovered by the greatest investigative reporter of our era, the late Ron Ridenhour. Then a soldier conducting the investigation on his own, Ridenhour turned over his findings to Hersh, hoping to give it a chance for exposure. That wasn't so easy.

Ridenhour told me that he and Hersh pushed the story -- with photos! -- at dozens of newspapers. No one would touch it until Ridenhour threatened to read the story from the steps of the Pentagon.

It's only gotten worse. After all, Hersh's latest big story, about Abu Ghraib prison, was buried by CBS and other news outlets before Hersh put it in the New Yorker.

The Washington Post has no monopoly on journalistic evil. If anything, the Post is probably better than most of the bilge contaminating our news outlets. This is about the death-march of investigative journalism in America; or, at least, its dearth under the "mainstream" mastheads.

Why don't we read more "Watergate" investigative stories in the US press? Given that the Woodwards of today dance on their hind legs begging officialdom for "access", news without official blessing doesn't stand a chance.

The Post follows current American news industry practice of killing any story based on evidence from a confidential source if a government honcho privately denies it. A flat-out "we didn't do it" is enough to kill an investigation in its cradle. And by that rule, there is no chance that the Managing Editor of the Washington Post, Bob Woodward, would today run Deep Throat's story of the Watergate break-in.

And that sucks.