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Archive: December 2005

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We believe there is an unmet demand for an easy yet reliable way to tell the world "Some rights reserved" or even "No rights reserved." Many people have long since concluded that all-out copyright doesn't help them gain the exposure and widespread distribution they want. Many entrepreneurs and artists have come to prefer relying on innovative business models rather than full-fledged copyright to secure a return on their creative investment. Still others get fulfillment from contributing to and participating in an intellectual commons. For whatever reasons, it is clear that many citizens of the Internet want to share their work -- and the power to reuse, modify, and distribute their work -- with others on generous terms. Creative Commons intends to help people express this preference for sharing by offering the world a set of licenses on our Website, at no charge.

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The Bad Peter Johnson

A Reuter's news story about ten days ago quoted my friend, Peter Johnson, a retired-before-his-time Latin-American bibliographer at Princeton University. Peter, who still travels the world as a consultant, has had the incredible bad luck of sharing a name with someone under the suspicion of the Transportation Security Agency (TSA), a division of the department of Homeland Security (Papers! Papers!). As a result, he has ended up on the TSA's "No Fly" list.

For Peter, making the list has meant fairly sizeable personal inconvenience --including having to clear his flights 24 hours in advance with TSA and then having to arrive six or more hours early on flight day-- with no obvious security benefits to the rest of us. Once TSA determined that this particular Peter Johnson --birthday, height, photo, Social Security number, say-- wasn't the one they were trying to keep off planes, why couldn't they alter their database to let him fly? And then devote the resources they're currently deploying to hassle Peter every time he flies, instead, to finding the bad Peter Johnson?

Peter is far from the only person suffering from TSA's Kafkaesque list. The Reuters' story reports that more than 28,000 people have asked TSA to remove their names from the list. More than 2,000 "Peter Johnsons" alone have complained. Others on the list include Senator Ted Kennedy (Democrat, Massachusetts), Representative Don Young (Republican, Alaska), and Representative John Lewis (Democrat, Georgia). The Reuters story even mentions the case of a nine-month old whose name has flagged him for suspicion of terrorism every time he flies with his parents.

Outline for a 30-second spot

NAM reader JS writes in with a sketch of an outline for an advertisement built around the US decision yesterday to release Dr. Germ and Mrs. Anthrax, two top bio-warfare experts under Saddam Hussein (see "Willie Horton, 2006?", immediately below).

I would like to see a movie short that showed [Dr. Germ and Mrs. Anthrax] leaving prison, entering a black SUV, driving to the airport, boarding a 'rendition style aircraft,' taking off, landing, exiting the plane, boarding a black SUV, driving into a city, exiting the SUV, entering a building with the sign: Syrian Office of Special Projects, fade to black with the sound of many people coughing and one small child crying.

Willie Horton, 2006?

Grainy photo of Donald Rumsfeld shaking hand of Saddam Hussein, 1983

OK, does everyone know that the US forces in Iraq today released two of Saddam Hussein's top biological weapons experts? An Associated Press account and a Reuters account make very little fuss, but include more than a few jaw-dropping details about the release of "Dr. Germ" and "Mrs. Anthrax".

According to the two stories, the US and Iraq freed Rihab Taha, "a British-educated biological weapons expert, known as 'Dr. Germ' for her role in making bio-weapons in the 1980s" (AP) as well as "US-educated genetic engineer" (Reuters), Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash, "known as 'Mrs. Anthrax,' a former top Baath Party official and biotech researcher" (AP). Reuters describes them as "two of Saddam Hussein's leading biological warfare experts". The AP notes that Mrs. Anthrax, who like Dr. Germ was captured in May 2003, was number 39 (the five of hearts) on the US armed forces deck of cards list. According to Reuters, both "admitted working on Saddam's biological and germ warfare projects but said such weapons were destroyed long before the U.S. invasion."

The AP cites a US military spokesman in Baghdad, who declined to provide the identities of eight formerly designated "high-value detainees" who were released. The spokesman said only that "a board process found they were no longer a security threat and no charges would be filed against them."

Now, didn't we invade Iraq to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction against us? How is the release of two of Hussein's top bio-warfare experts supposed to be making us safer? And, now that we know that Hussein did not have any weapons of mass destruction, didn't we invade in order to bring down a tyrant and bring his regime to justice? Dr. Germ and Mrs. Anthrax are, at least it would seem at face value, two of the people who made it possible for Hussein "to use chemical and biological weapons against his own people", as we heard so many times in the run-up to the invasion. Why aren't they being tried for these crimes?

Its hard not to wonder if an important reason that they're being released without charges is because part of their defense would involve establishing the complicity of the US government and high-level Reagan-administration officials such as Donald Rumsfeld in the development of Iraq's chemical and biological warfare capability in the first place.

If we only had a Karl Rove on our side, this would be enough to cost the Republicans the House of Representatives next November. Why isn't a prominent Democrat out there demagoguing the hell out of this issue? Someone like Joe Lieberman should be hitting Bush from the right, demanding to know how it is that US forces have released two of "Saddam's" leading biochemical-warfare experts, at least one of whom was involved in the program that "Saddam" used "against his own people" in the 1980s? Why aren't the liberal bloggers pressuring Lieberman and the mainstream media to do this? Why hasn't MoveOn already commissioned a Willie-Horton-style ad that shows images of the newly released Dr. Germ and Mrs. Anthrax boarding planes for destinations unknown, with a sinister voice over asking how soon it will be before they hook up with Osama Bin Laden?

European Central Bank releases "The Inflation Monster"

Cartoon drawing of two Euro youths standing next to European Central Bank's inflation monster

If you can't get out to see "Syriana" or "Brokeback Mountain" this week, you can still watch a pretty riveting eight-minute, 18-megabyte, animated movie (Quicktime format, Real Video format) on price stability, just released over the internet by the European Central Bank (ECB). On its own terms, it is about as interesting as it sounds. But, as a piece of propaganda, the short film is pretty entertaining.

As you follow the adventures of the two, time-traveling, and conventionally attractive Saturday-morning-cartoon-style teenagers, a few things to think about:

When the teens end up in what is presumably Weimar Germany for a first-hand taste of hyperinflation --the cost of cupcakes increases from 2 coins to 8 coins in the time that it takes the kids to figure out what they want to buy-- the film gives no indication of where or when they are, presumably for political reasons. Similarly, when the kids bounce back into the present day, landing somewhere in Frankfurt, they point just down the road to the ECB building (which they somehow recognize), again, without any reference to where they are. Not exactly hysterical, but it is interesting to see just how sensitive the whole European unification process can be to even completely fact-based references to national realities.

When the kids sit down with the nice man from the ECB (after being met by a nice woman in reception), they learn that the only goal of the ECB is price stability. Absolutely correct, but if the purpose of the film is to educate children, you'd think that the kids might also want to know that the decision to limit the ECB's remit to price stability was and is extremely controversial. Many, probably most Europeans, would have preferred that the ECB follow the example of the US Federal Reserve Bank, which has twin goals of keeping prices stable and fostering full employment.

When the kids meet the poor pensioner on a fixed income complaining that the sickly fish she's just bought cost more this month than last month, the kids learn that "its always the less well off who suffer most in times like these." But, they don't learn that it was the single-minded attention to monetarist-style policies that the ECB espouses that made the Great Depression so severe and so long-lasting, which wasn't so good for the "less well off" either.

When the kids, who have middle-class British accents, meet "the inflation monster", the wart-covered, dinosaur-like, creature has --for comic effect, no doubt-- a vaguely British-working-class accent. Perhaps a subtle reference to the underlying belief at the ECB that it is the unreasonable wage demands from Europe's working classes that are the main reason for rising prices.

When the implausibly plain-spoken central banker explains to the kids how exactly it is that the ECB keeps a lid on inflation, he tells them that the ECB achieves this feat by "controlling interest rates". When inflation starts to strike, he says, the ECB raises interest rates, and since "interest rates are the price of money", the higher price for money "lower[s] the demand", reducing price pressure. "What?" the teenagers fail to ask at this point. Instead, they seem dutifully impressed by the sense and skill of the ECB. Perhaps to shelter the children from the harsh realities of the grown-up world, the kindly central banker makes no mention of rising interest rates choking off business investment and consumer spending, throwing even more Europeans out of work, only to unleash another round of calls from the ECB for additional "labor-market reforms" designed to increase "flexibility" by reducing workers' economic security.

In the end, the most interesting thing about the animated cartoon and the 16-page "pupils' leaflet" and the 90-page teacher's guide is that the ECB felt the need to make them at all, let alone promote them in the European press and on the front page of their web site. Selling high unemployment as a means of choking inflation is not particularly popular, I guess, unless you get 'em while they're young.

Out in the Cold

Sen. Ted Kennedy at podium during minimum-wage event, with Rep. Steny Hoyer, CEPR economist Heather Boushey, Rep. Tom Miller, Rep. Sherrod Brown, and Terry Lierman behind

At an outdoor event on the steps of the Capitol this morning, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Maryland), Representative George Miller (California), Representative Sherrod Brown (Ohio), and Senator Ted Kennedy all called for a rise in the minimum wage, which has been stuck at $5.15 per hour now for 100 months. My CEPR colleague, Heather Boushey, also spoke at the event, summarizing findings from a brief analysis she and I did of the likely benefits of legislation, cosponsored by Kennedy and Miller, to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour over the next 26 months. That's Heather, second from the left, between Representatives Hoyer and Miller, with Ted Kennedy at the podium, and Representative Brown behind Kennedy on the left.

According to our analysis, about 7.7 million Americans (approximately 4.4 percent of the work force) would get an average raise of $0.79 per hour under the proposal (not everyone who gets an increase gets the whole whack from $5.15 to $7.25). As Hoyer pointed out, the legislation, which wouldn't raise the federal minimum to $7.25 until early 2008, is actually fairly timid, falling far short of restoring the inflation-adjusted value of the minimum wage to where it stood at its peak of close to $8.00 per hour in inflation-adjusted terms in the mid-1960s.

Iraq 2075

NAM reader JS emails with a news item originally reported in the April 29, 2005 edition of South Korea's JoongAng Daily.

Ministry seeks independence for military

April 29, 2005 -- The Ministry of National Defense said yesterday it will soon draft a plan to put the country's military on an independent footing, an effort it said would take as long as 20 years....

According to [Defense Minister] Mr. Yoon [Kwang-ung], the plan will include preparations for the U.S. transfer of wartime operational command to South Korea....

Aiming to establish independent self-defense capabilities by 2025, the plan will outline conditions and steps needed to reshape South Korea's readiness, which now depends on the U.S. alliance....

As JS asks: "Can you imagine if this were applied to Iraq? If the [Republic of Korea] is an example of what we are trying to do in Iraq, we should expect to see US troops, in considerable numbers, based in Iraq through 2075."

Pinter on Bush

Also via Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing: Earlier this week, in his video-taped acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in literature, Harold Pinter had some pretty tough words for US foreign policy since World War II. The speech included a fairly long discussion of US policy in Central America during the 1980s, but the strongest language was reserved for President Bush. After Pinter demands that "Bush and Blair be arraigned before the International Criminal Court of Justice", he goes on to offer himself as a speech writer for the President:

I know that President Bush has many extremely competent speech writers but I would like to volunteer for the job myself. I propose the following short address which he can make on television to the nation. I see him grave, hair carefully combed, serious, winning, sincere, often beguiling, sometimes employing a wry smile, curiously attractive, a man's man.

'God is good. God is great. God is good. My God is good. Bin Laden's God is bad. His is a bad God. Saddam's God was bad, except he didn't have one. He was a barbarian. We are not barbarians. We don't chop people's heads off. We believe in freedom. So does God. I am not a barbarian. I am the democratically elected leader of a freedom-loving democracy. We are a compassionate society. We give compassionate electrocution and compassionate lethal injection. We are a great nation. I am not a dictator. He is. I am not a barbarian. He is. And he is. They all are. I possess moral authority. You see this fist? This is my moral authority. And don't you forget it.'

The Guardian has the full text of the speech.

Propaganda Presidency

Via Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing: Jacob Weisberg has a superb short essay over at Slate. Here's an excerpt:

If the Clintonites were inveterate spinners, the Bushies have proved themselves to be thoroughgoing propagandists. . . .

Propaganda is far more malignant. A calculated and systematic effort to manage public opinion, it transcends mere lying and routine political dishonesty. When the Bush administration manufactures fake 'news,' suppresses real news, disguises the former as the latter, and challenges the legitimacy of the independent press, it corrodes trust in leaders, institutions, and, to the rest of the world, the United States as a whole. . . .

In a way, what's most troubling about the Bush's administration's information war is not its cynicism but its naivet´┐Ż. At phony town hall meetings, Bush's audiences are hand-picked to prevent any possibility of spontaneous challenge. At fake forums, invited guests ask the president to pursue his previously announced policies. New initiatives are unveiled on platforms festooned with meaningless slogans, mindlessly repeated ('Plan for Victory'). Anyone on the inside who doubts the party line is shown the door. In this environment, where the truth is not spoken privately or publicly, the suspicion grows that Bush, in his righteous cocoon, has committed the final, fatal sin of the propagandist. He is not just spreading BS but has come to believe it himself.

E-testimony at an E-hearing

Auto worker on production line

I don't think this would normally make the cut, even here, but I "e-testified" today at a Congressional "e-hearing" on "The American Automobile Industry in Crisis: Threats to Middle-Class Jobs, Wages, Health Care, and Pensions."

This is apparently the second-ever e-hearing. The first one took place last spring around the United Airlines pension crisis. What is interesting about the format is that an e-hearing gathers statements and testimony from a wider range and larger number of sources than would normally be the case in a conventional hearing --including members of Congress, state and local officials, company representatives, union leaders, workers, and outside experts. As hearings go, the new format offers a much higher degree of participation than conventional hearings. The first e-hearing, for example, drew over 2,000 electronic statements from workers at United Airlines. The auto industry e-hearing, which just opened today, already has a large number of posts from workers at Delphi and General Motors, two auto-industry companies that recently announced large-scale layoffs.

My brief "e-testimony", which was based on a paper I wrote for the Center for Economic and Policy Research last year, discussed the high economic costs paid by workers who lose their jobs as a result of downsizing.

Speaking of Scott McClellan

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan

If anyone at the White House should resign, it is Press Secretary Scott McClellan. Not for the country's sake, but for his own. After the way he got used by Karl Rove and Scooter Libby early in the Plame Affair, I don't know how he shows up at the office every morning.

Way back on October 7, 2003, at the usual daily press briefing, McClellan answered a reporter's question: "So you're saying -- you're saying categorically those three individuals [Scooter Libby, Karl Rove, and Elliot Abrams] were not the leakers or did not authorize the leaks; is that what you're saying?" with the unambiguous: "That's correct. I've spoken with them."

Well, as it turns out, of course, Libby and Rove were almost certainly among the leakers. But, McClellan can't say anything because there is an ongoing investigation. Of course, there was an ongoing investigation back when he told reporters that he had already eliminated Libby, Rove, and Abrams as suspects. But, never mind.

Since yesterday, I've come across a few more questions for AriScott. The first, via Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing last Friday, is an excerpt from Washington Post national security blogger William Arkin:

...it is the President who insists on labeling Iraq as 'the 
central front in the global war on terror,' as 'an essential 
element in the long war against the ideology that breeds 
international terrorism.' He says that 'the fate of the greater 
Middle East -- which will have a profound and lasting impact on 
American security -- hangs in the balance.' I don't buy either of 
these assumptions, but if the administration is serious in its 
rhetoric, isn't it strange that they are now saying that they are 
willing to leave Iraq before the insurgency is 'defeated,' that 
they are willing to entrust the security of THE UNITED STATES to 
a brand new, unknown, unproven, untested Iraqi military and 
police force?

NAM reader JS emailed in a series of questions:

Does the United States intend to sign a formal peace treaty with 
the Iraqi government elected December 15, 2005?

Does the US intend to signal a formal end of hostilities between 
Iraq and US forces?

Does the United States intend to sign a Status of Forces Agreement 
with the new Iraqi government?

If the US is intent on creating a viable, independent Iraqi armed 
forces, does the US intend to create an Iraqi air force? ...an Iraqi 
navy oriented to coastal defense?  ...supply the Iraqi army with 
modern tanks?

So, when is someone going to ask Ari, or Scott, or President Bush these kinds of questions? And when is one of those three going to answer?

Ask AriScott

Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer

I haven't posted any questions for Ari FleischerScott McClellan in a while, so here's fresh batch, a few of my own and a few culled from various sources.

AriScott, the former Prime Minister of Iraq, Ayad Allawi, a strong ally of the United States from the early days of the war in Iraq, recently told the Bristish newspaper The Observer that with respect to the country's human rights situation: "People are doing the same as [in] Saddam's time and worse. It is an appropriate comparison. People are remembering the days of Saddam. These were the precise reasons that we fought Saddam and now we are seeing the same things." Does the President have a different view of the human rights situation in Iraq and, if so, what information does he have that former Prime Minister Allawi does not? Does it worry the President that influential US allies in Iraq see no progress there almost three years after the invasion?

AriScott, on November 22, Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish leaders, including Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, called for "the withdrawal of foreign troops according to a timetable". If the Iraqi government elected democratically on December 15 asks for an immediate or phased withdrawal of US troops, or the establishment of a timetable for withdrawal, will the United States comply with such a request?

AriScott, in that same meeting, Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish leaders condemned terrorist attacks against "Iraqi citizens and humanitarian, civil, government institutions, national resources and houses of worships", but recognized "a legitimate right for all people" of "resistance", which appears to legitimate attacks against US forces deployed in Iraq. Is the President concerned that the consensus view of Iraqi leaders, many of whom will play an important role in the elected government, is that their fellow citizens have a "legitimate right" to attack our troops in their country?

Jeffrey K. Tulis, a professor in the Department of Government at the University of Texas at Austin, asks the following on the Nieman Watchdog site:

Q. President Bush is in the midst of a political campaign in which he is taking his case for Social Security to the American people. But as he tours the nation, he is only addressing carefully screened audiences of supporters. Those audiences do not include citizens who are representative of the diverse array of views in the country. How does the practice of limiting audiences of ordinary citizens to those who share his party affiliation or who already support his policies improve our constitutional democracy?

Q. Some political observers think recent presidents, in contrast to earlier presidents, have erased the distinction between campaigning and governing. Does Bush agree that governing has become a permanent campaign and if so, is it good to govern this way? If not, what does he think are the most important differences between campaigning and governing?

Q. Bush recently criticized President Vladimir Putin of Russia for his failure to advance "universal principles" such as a "free press and viable political opposition." Would he be more credible in calling for more robust forms of democracy abroad if he demonstrated his own commitment at home by engaging in real political discussion and welcoming challenging questions in his efforts to advance a domestic agenda?

A reader over at Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo wants to know:

So, the President is going to announce the beginning of a pull out from Iraq. Where does that leave the so-called flypaper strategy? President Bush has repeatedly justified the Iraq war by claiming: "We're taking the fight to the terrorists abroad so we do not have to face them here at home" and "We either deal with terrorism and this extremism abroad, or we deal with it when it comes to us."

If we are getting out of Iraq, does that mean that he believes that the terrorists there have been eliminated? Or, has he decided to bring the fight back home to the United States? Or, is he hoping that the new Iraqi government and army will defend the United States from terrorism?

Opting Out? Not.

The New York Times has a great story today on my CEPR colleague Heather Boushey's latest paper, "Are Women Opting Out? Debunking the Myth".

Heather's report takes issue with a recent spate of pieces in the national media that argue that highly educated women are increasingly "opting out" of paid work in order to devote themselves full-time to child-raising. The NYT has played a major role in pushing this view, first with Lisa Belkin's "The Opt-Out Revolution", the controversial cover story in the October 26, 2003 issue of the New York Times Magazine. More recently, the NYT ran a front-page story by Louise Story "Many Women at Elite Colleges Set Career Path to Motherhood," (September 20, 2005), which reported that some women "at Yale and other top colleges" are considering leaving paid work when they eventually have children.

This time, though, the NYT gets it right:

Mothers' Flight From Job Force Questioned

By EDUARDO PORTER
Published: December 2, 2005

Working mothers may be stressed by the double job of caring 
for their careers and their families, but they are not leaving 
the work force because of it, a report has found.

While the percentage of mothers in the labor force has declined 
since its peak in 2000, the participation rate of women without 
children declined by a similar rate over the same period, 
according to the study by Heather Boushey of the Center for 
Economic Policy Research in Washington.

Rather than indicating that women are opting out of employment to 
have children, Ms. Boushey said, the decline underscores how weak 
the labor market has been for all workers since the recession of 
2001.

"There is no trend of mothers dropping out of the labor force," Ms. 
Boushey said. "It just looks like they are because the economy has 
been so hard on working moms."

Ms. Boushey's study was, in part, a response to a recent article 
in The New York Times that found that many young women at elite 
colleges said they intended to put aside their careers, at least 
temporarily, when they start raising children.

For decades after the end of World War II, women joined the labor 
force in sharply increasing numbers. From 1948 to 2000, the labor 
participation rate of women ages 25 to 54 rose from just over 30 
percent to a peak of more than 77 percent.

The trend varied in intensity by age and education. Mothers worked 
outside the home at lower rates than women without children, and the 
rate for mothers with preschool children was less than that for 
those with older children. But the steadily increasing work force 
participation by women held broadly across the spectrum.

Starting in the 1990's, however, the growth rate slowed. And five 
years ago, the tide turned. By October 2005, the participation rate 
of women 25 to 54 had dropped more than two percentage points.

The downturn prompted some scholars to speculate that women's long 
march into work might be tapering off. Maybe the pressures of family 
life --particularly taking care of children-- were persuading more 
women to reconsider their careers and drop out of the labor force.

Francine D. Blau, a professor of labor economics at the School of 
Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University, doubts that 
the decline in working women denotes an opt-out revolution by mothers. 
But the data are hard to sort out.

"It's credible," Ms. Blau said, that the participation of women in 
the work force is "entering into a period of slower growth, which 
might reflect the very high rates that we've attained. But it's also 
possible that it is due to general economic conditions."

Ms. Boushey's study attributed the recent decline to a weak job market. 
Adjusting the data to take into account differences in labor 
participation among women of different ages, ethnic and racial groups, 
and education, as well as the impact of the economic cycle, Ms. Boushey 
concluded that from 2000 to 2004, the "child penalty" --the impact of 
having children on women's labor supply-- continued to diminish.

All things considered, the labor force participation rate of mothers 
aged 25 to 54 with children was 8.2 percentage points lower in 2004 
than the rate for all women in the age group, narrower than the 9.9 
percentage point gap in 2000 and smaller still than the 14.4-point 
difference in 1993.

For women with a college degree, the child penalty declined to 3.8 
percentage points in 2004 from 7.9 percentage points in 2000, also 
continuing the trend.

In other words, Ms. Boushey concluded, mothers are not dropping out of 
the job market faster than other women.

Part of the challenge in understanding what is going on is that 
recessions in the 1980's and 1990's did not reverse the trend toward 
more women in the work force.

But the 2001 recession did, Ms. Boushey acknowledged.

She attributed the decline to women's success in expanding the kinds 
of jobs and places where they work.

Women used to concentrate in relatively recession-proof occupations 
like education or nursing.

But now, many more women are found in nearly all economic sectors, 
including industries whose workers, particularly newly hired women, 
are much more vulnerable to job losses during recessions.