Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Missing Explosives: 1% or 40%?

One of the Bush cheerleader excuses for the 377 tons of missing explosives from Al Qaqaa was that this was only 1% of the total amount of explosives in Iraq since we recovered 400,000 tons of explosives. Jesse Taylor mocks this argument with Math is Fun.

But this news suggests the rightwingers have the math wrong:

But with the names of other sites popping up everywhere — al-Mahaweel, Baqouba, Ukhaider, Qaim — experts say the al-Qaqaa stash is only a tiny fraction of what’s buried in the sands of Iraq.“There is something truly absurd about focusing on 377 tons,” said Anthony Cordesman, a defense analyst and Iraq expert with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. He contends Iraq’s prewar stockpiles “were probably in excess of 650,000 tons.”

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Russert Nods as Rudy Lies

Memo to NBC: Fire Tim Russert. Even Sean Hannity would be a better moderator for Meet The Press. Russert first grilled Bob Kerrey, which is fine as Kerrey was on the mark. But did Russert get this question from Karl Rove?

But is it inconsistent for John Kerry to be criticizing the missing weapons of mass destruction when, if he had been president of the United States, Saddam may be in power with all those potential biological, chemical weapons or munitions, however you want to describe them?

However you want to describe what went missing from Al Qaqaa? These were not biological or chemical weapons. But then Rudi had a series of blatant lies:

Well, I mean, the fact is the president has shown much stronger leadership with regard to terrorism than John Kerry. I mean, John Kerry has changed his position on the war maybe 12, 14 times…And John Kerry has found himself always on the side of being anti-war, anti-military–a whole career in the United States Senate that he ignores in which he’s voted against military funding. During the Ronald Reagan era, he was against our military. When he came back from Vietnam, he was against our military. He was against the Persian Gulf War. He consistently attacks our military now. He does it in the guise of attacking the leadership, but, in fact, he’s attacking the military, the same way he did after Vietnam…I think the point is that Osama bin Laden is very different than he was before September 11 and on September 11. He’s now a person with three-quarters of his leadership either captured or killed with a significant amount of his forces captured or killed…He said that 9/11 didn’t change him very much. He said he wants to go back to when terrorism was just a nuance, meaning pre-9/11. I don’t know when the heck terrorism was just a nuisance…John Kerry chose to immediately politicize it and immediately criticize the president, the same way he tried to criticize what happened in Tora Bora where he’s totally distorted the facts. We were using the elite unit of our Special Forces in Tora Bora, and it’s unclear as to whether or not Osama bin Laden was there. We didn’t outsource it.

That Rudy G. is a lying hack is not new. But Russert failed to challenge a word of this. All he did was to ask this:

Why did you say the actual responsibility for it really would be for the troops?

in reference to this missing explosives. So Rudy G. responds:

I’m talking about John Kerry’s position. The point that I was making then, if I wasn’t clear enough then, I’ve been clear since then and I’m clear now, but I think I was clear enough then, and they jumped on it. John Kerry is the one who is blaming the troops.

Russert nodded and let that lie pass too. Of course, Kate O’Beirne’s outrage on Capital Gang.yesterday was:

This election season, a foul should be called on the (INAUDIBLE) to an unprecedented degree, the establishment media has taken sides in the presidential race. Campaign coverage has been transparently hostile to President Bush. Bogus news is hyped and facts nitpicked in the hope of damaging the president, while John Kerry’s record, distortions and wild charges are largely ignored. This year, the media voted early and its claims of impartiality are an obvious fraud.

To say that establishment media is supporting Kerry strikes me as absurd even coming from a National Review hack with today’s Meet the Press being one of many counterexamples. But maybe Kate does not think Tim Russert is a real newsperson? If so, maybe I have to agree.

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Peter Bergen Asks a Good Question

appearing on CNN yesterday:

But I would say that given the fact we’ve had nearly two dozen audiotapes and videotapes from bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the chain of custody of these tapes is one way you can definitely get back to them, to me it’s extraordinary that we haven’t been able to follow the chain of custody back and actually find these people.

For more from Peter on this tape and Tora Bora, go here.

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The Puppie Ad, the Cole Bombing, and the Delenda Plan

I was going to write this Monday but the missing explosives story took off. And good thing I waited as I just saw the latest Bush-Cheney pathetic ad. Showing pictures of Carter and Dukakis to suggest Democrats can’t be tough with pictures of Reagan and Bush41 as if Republicans are always tough on the enemies of America. Why not Nixon who won the Vietnam War and insured the safety of the Cambodians? Wait, the Killing Fields and the fact that the North Vietnamese did win after we left. Never mind. But Reagan? Lebanon? And I’m sure Dick Cheney was glad Bush41 stopped at the Kuwait/Iraq border. Speaking of Bush41? I guess the GOP forgot how he utterly messed up in Somalia.

But then we have this line from the Wolves Ad: “And weakness attracts those who are waiting to do America harm”. Since the alleged $6 billion cuts in intelligence spending has been proven to be another Bush-Cheney lie (see this from Slate’s Fred Kaplan), Ed Gillispie said on Meet the Press:

Tim, anyone who believes that we need to go back to a time when terrorism was a nuisance…It wasn’t a nuisance when the USS Cole was blown up and 17 servicemen died, or when our embassies were bombed and 225 Americans died. It’s never been a nuisance. We have to win this war.

The latest ad shows the Cole, which was bombed three months before Clinton turned over the Presidency to George W. Bush. After the embassies where bombed, the Clinton Administration demanded that the Taliban turn over Osama bin Laden. When they refused, the Clinton Administration warned that one more Al Qaeda attack would mean that the U.S. would take out the Taliban government. That attack was indeed the Cole bombing.

So what happened after the bombing? Sandy Berger asked Richard Clarke to come up with what was later called the Delenda plan. This was ready to go in December and Berger informed Condi Rice. Clinton was ready to declare war as soon as it was confirmed that it was Al Qaeda.

That this confirmation came only after Bush was sworn in should not have mattered. But it did. Now Dr. Rice at first denied ever receiving an invasion plan but we now know Clarke presented the plan to her again on January 25, 2001. Rice’s next excuse was that it was not a viable plan. Yet, she dusted off the same plan on September 4, 2001 as if it might work. And the plans that Clarke devised were brilliantly executed later in 2001 by General Franks.

Why did the Bush White House not execute these plans in early 2001 BEFORE 9/11? After all, “weakness attracts those who are waiting to do America harm”. And of course, Bush really never let our troops finisn the job against Al Qaeda.

My #1 reason to vote for John Kerry is that George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Condi Rice are terrible at foreign policy and national security. They have undermined Clinton’s efforts to obtain peace between Israel and Palestine. They have enraged even our own allies. They have been incompetent in Iraq. And when it comes to Al Qaeda – Bush displays either neglect or cowardice. It is time to get the successful Clinton foreign policy and national security back into the White House. Besides, this habit of the Bush family to use national security as a wedge issue strikes me as unAmerican.

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Did the President Lie to Good Morning America?

In terms of importance, this doesn’t quite rank up there with missing high-powered explosives, but since the administration seems to have definitively failed in its efforts to spin that story, we can move back to lesser questions like, What the heck was under the President’s coat durning the debates? Salon is still trying to find out:

George W. Bush tried to laugh off the bulge. “I don’t know what that is,” he [Bush] said on “Good Morning America” on Wednesday, referring to the infamous protrusion beneath his jacket during the presidential debates. “I’m embarrassed to say it’s a poorly tailored shirt.”

Dr. Robert M. Nelson, however, was not laughing. He knew the president was not telling the truth. And Nelson is neither conspiracy theorist nor midnight blogger. He’s a senior research scientist for NASA and for Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and an international authority on image analysis. Currently he’s engrossed in analyzing digital photos of Saturn’s moon Titan, determining its shape, whether it contains craters or canyons.

For the past week, while at home, using his own computers, and off the clock at Caltech and NASA, Nelson has been analyzing images of the president’s back during the debates. A professional physicist and photo analyst for more than 30 years, he speaks earnestly and thoughtfully about his subject. “I am willing to stake my scientific reputation to the statement that Bush was wearing something under his jacket during the debate,” he says. “This is not about a bad suit. And there’s no way the bulge can be described as a wrinkled shirt.”


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Components of GDP

Kash noted that the third quarter advanced estimate for real GDP, which appears to be only 3.9% higher than it was in the third quarter of 2003. Real Federal government purchases rose by 4.8% continuing the recent trend of increasing faster than real GDP – also noted by Kash. But nondefense Federal purchases fell by 2% over the past year with the increase noted by Kash coming from an 8.3% increase in defense purchases. In fact, both nondefense Federal purchases and state purchases as shares of GDP have returned to 2000 levels. So wouldn’t a progrowth believer of fiscal restraint be happy with such fiscal conservatism? Perhaps, but I agree with the Alice Rivlin notion of spending smarter rather than more.

However, national savings is still far below where it was in 2000. Investment did grow by 12.5% over the past year but its 17.15% share of GDP is still below the 17.7% share in 2000. Exports rose by 9.2% increasing its share of GDP to 10.4%, which is below its 11.2% share in 2000. The increase in exports, however, was offset by a 11.9% increase in imports so that net exports are now negative 4.5% of GDP. For now, most of the crowding-out has been in net exports rather than investment due to an expansionary monetary policy, which could quickly change if we ever got back to full employment.

Finally, note consumption rose by only 3.5% over the past year. While over the long-run having consumption growing by less than real GDP means more national savings, I share Kash’s concern that we do not have enough Keynesian fuel to get us back to full employment. Politically speaking, my #2 reason for voting for Senator Kerry next Tuesday is my hope that Rubinomics can return to the White House.

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The Party of Smaller Government?

Federal government purchases of final goods and services, as a share of GDP (two quarter moving average), including today’s new data:

Remind me again exactly why someone who truly believes in reducing the size of the federal government should ever vote for the Republicans?


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Advance Estimates, Third Quarter GDP

The BEA has just released its advance estimate of third quarter GDP:

Real gross domestic product — the output of goods and services produced by labor and property located in the United States — increased at an annual rate of 3.7 percent in the third quarter of 2004, according to advance estimates released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the second quarter, real GDP increased 3.3 percent.

This is a rather weak report. Expectations had been for GDP growth in the range of 4.0%-4.5%, so this is clearly a disappointment. Note as well that the Bush administration’s forecast for growth in real GDP this year was 4.0%; to meet that forecast, we now need to have fourth quarter GDP growth of 4.5%, which seems highly unlikely.

Clearly GDP growth has slowed this year, as the chart below illustrates.

This is concerning for several reasons. First, GDP growth has slowed from an already lackluster pace for an economic recovery. Second, it looks like the best growth of this recovery period is already behind us. Perhaps most worrisome of all is the fact that nearly all of this mediocre GDP growth was due to consumption spending; business spending has still not accelerated at all. If consumers ever decide that they need to save a bit of money, then the sole engine for economic growth in the US will grind to a halt.


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Martin Wolk should review his unemployment graph

MSNBC ran this piece from Martin Wolk entitled Uncertainty over economy could help Kerry. Not a bad title and a good lead graphing the lackluster employment situation. But then his second graph has this caption claiming that “the unemployment rate has been falling”. But look at the graph. Unemployment did fall during the Clinton years – only to rise from 4% to over 6% during the first part of the Bush Administration. Yes, the rate has inched back downwards of late, but Wolk forgets to mention that the civilian labor force to population ratio has declined so the increase in unemployment over the Bush term of office understates how dismal the labor market is.

If you read on, Wolk quotes Bush’s stump speech about how strong the economy is and then fact-checks a bit:

Economic growth in the first three years of the Bush administration actually was pretty lackluster. Gross domestic product rose just 0.8 percent in 2001, 1.9 percent in 2002 and 3 percent in 2003 — the weakest three-year run in a decade, according to figures from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Over the past year the recovery has indeed picked up steam. It is far too early to say, but GDP growth this year could come in at over 4.5 percent, according to some forecasters, which would make it the strongest single year since 1984.

Of course, we had an increase in real GDP from mid-1999 to mid-2000 that exceeded 4.8%. And we are talking an average annual growth rate of only 2.5% during the Bush term as compared to an average annual growth rate of 3.5% during the second half of the 20th century.

Wolk is writing this on the eve of the election with a clear eye to the election. Alas, Wolk’s piece seems to be written in part by Karl Rove rather than with an eye to accurately capturing the economy over the past four years.

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The Economist Endorses Kerry

The Economist gives a somewhat lukewarm endorsement to Kerry:

Many readers, feeling that Mr Bush has the right vision in foreign policy even if he has made many mistakes, will conclude that the safest option is to leave him in office to finish the job he has started. If Mr Bush is re-elected, and uses a new team and a new approach to achieve that goal, and shakes off his fealty to an extreme minority, the religious right, then The Economist will wish him well. But our confidence in him has been shattered. We agree that his broad vision is the right one but we doubt whether Mr Bush is able to change or has sufficient credibility to succeed, especially in the Islamic world. Iraq’s fledgling democracy, if it gets the chance to be born at all, will need support from its neighbours—or at least non-interference—if it is to survive. So will other efforts in the Middle East, particularly concerning Israel and Iran.

…After three necessarily tumultuous and transformative years, this is a time for consolidation, for discipline and for repairing America’s moral and practical authority. Furthermore, as Mr Bush has often said, there is a need in life for accountability. He has refused to impose it himself, and so voters should, in our view, impose it on him, given a viable alternative. John Kerry, for all the doubts about him, would be in a better position to carry on with America’s great tasks.

The editors of The Economist seem to have swallowed the “Kerry is inconsistent” theme pushed by the Bush campaign, at least when it comes to foreign policy. Nevertheless, in saying that Bush “has never seemed truly up to the job,” The Economist now joins the large and growing group of newspapers that supported Bush in 2000 but have switched to Kerry this year.


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