Just One Minute
Balanced Fare: We Report, You Deride

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

The Many Insecurities of Prof. Krugman

Note: As a service to the non-fanatics out there, we will present a shorter Just One Minute right here at the top, summarizing the whole package. You miss the drolleries (and drooleries), but you get what you pay for.

Just One Second - the Quicker Krugman

1. Prof. Krugman happily presents as straight news a Dem PR stunt. By happy coincidence, EJ Dionne describes the stunt in today's WaPo.

2. The Earnest Prof identifies Rand Beer as "a top White House counterterrorism adviser who resigned in March". He neglects to add that Mr. Beer is currently working for Sen. John Kerry, and is a registered Dem. Mr. Beer also worked in intelligence for 35 years, straight back to Reagan, and is no doubt a good and honestly concerned man. However, Identify Sources!

3. Krugman SEEMS to take one line item that is down 90% and pretend that it represents a port security funding problem. The actual amount is $25 million (yes, million), and is just part of a larger budget. SCARY!

Just One Morning - the full wallow:

Careful readers need to bring their decoder ring to interpret Prof. Krugman's column of June 17 titled "Dereliction of Duty". The title leads us to hope that the Earnest Prof is finally going to reveal the truth about the editing process at the NY Times. But, and can you believe it, he is attacking the Bush Administration again. Here we go:

Last Thursday a House subcommittee met to finalize next year's homeland security appropriation. The ranking Democrat announced that he would introduce an amendment adding roughly $1 billion for areas like port security and border security that, according to just about every expert, have been severely neglected since Sept. 11. He proposed to pay for the additions by slightly scaling back tax cuts for people making more than $1 million per year.

The subcommittee's chairman promptly closed the meeting to the public, citing national security — though no classified material was under discussion. And the bill that emerged from the closed meeting did not contain the extra funding.

It was a perfect symbol of the reality of the Bush administration's "war on terror."

First, does anyone else wonder if the Democrat in question was simply trying to score political points with this amendment? E.J. Dionne explains the game in the WaPo, while Prof. Krugman happily plays it. No matter how much Bush proposes to spend, Democrats can always propose to spend more and pay for it with "taxes on the rich", a tactic they have adopted to generate favorable press. It's working!

Secondly, does anyone else, for example, the editors at the Times, wonder whether this committee has a name, or a Chairperson, or whether the Prof might give us any clues at all to verify this incident?

No matter. Here is an AP account by Alan Fram of what seems to be the moment in question:

WASHINGTON - A House subcommittee voted Thursday to provide $29.4 billion next year for the new Homeland Security Department, boosting funds for local emergency responders but cutting the administration's proposed system for tracking visiting foreigners.

Overall, the measure would increase funds for domestic security by $536 million, or just under 2 percent, over this year's levels.

...The bill was approved after the new homeland security subcommittee of the Republican-run House Appropriations Committee voted along party lines to bar the public from the meeting.

"I'm not going to talk publicly about where we have some weak points," subcommittee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., told reporters afterward.

Democrats said sensitive information was not discussed during the closed-door session, though Rogers said it was.

"They just don't want a public airing, any more than necessary, of the incompetence of some agencies," said Rep. David Obey, D-Wis.

So the Chairman did offer a "national security" reason for closing the meeting, as Prof. Krugman noted. There is a dispute about whether the material was "sensitive", although no one, other than the Prof, is quoted here using the word "classified". Rep. David Obey is quoted as objecting, and he was the chap promoting the tax-bill publicity stunt.

The Committee also approved more than Bush requested, although less than Democrats wanted, which may not be the first time in the history of Washington politics that the parties disagreed on the proper level of spending.

What next?

...Yesterday The Washington Post printed an interview with Rand Beers, a top White House counterterrorism adviser who resigned in March. "They're making us less secure, not more secure," he said of the Bush administration. "As an insider, I saw the things that weren't being done."

Did they print the interview yesterday? Then they must have also printed that Rand Beer is now working for the Kerry campaign. And so they did:

Beers's resignation surprised Washington, but what he did next was even more astounding. Eight weeks after leaving the Bush White House, he volunteered as national security adviser for Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), a Democratic candidate for president, in a campaign to oust his former boss. All of which points to a question: What does this intelligence insider know?

Actually, I think it points to a different question - why did he quit? And most of the Post story addresses that question. That the Times could let Rand Beer be identified only as a "top White House counterterrorism adviser who resigned in March" is astonishing. However, considering the source, not surprising at all.

Pressing on, we find this:

...Meanwhile, urgent priorities remain unmet. For example, port security, identified as a top concern from the very beginning, has so far received only one-tenth as much money as the Coast Guard says is needed.

This is pretty well encrypted. However, a possible source is this analysis found at the website of Sen. Fritz Hollings (D, S Carolina). The chart is undated, bit the URL code suggets it is from 2003. In the chart, we find this:

Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) Operation Safe Commerce Program, to develop secure transportation systems: The Administration's request for only $2.5 million, $27.5 million less than fiscal year 2003 levels, less than one-tenth the amount in the previous fiscal year.

This seems to merit a "gee, whiz". Given the small (by Washington standards) difference of $25 Million, I can only guess that this represents some bureaucratic reshuffling, rather than a blind failure to fund our nation's security. However, it is the scariest stat available, so the Earnest Prof cited it. Well, maybe he cited it, I am not sure how one could tell. In any case, this program is just one part of "port security" (the Coast Guard, for example, is another), so the idea that Bush requested one-tenth the amount needed is absurd.

That said, Sen. Hollings is quite scary on the subject of port security. For a more reassuring view, the Brookings Institute thinks the Coast Guard should be roughly 20% to 30% larger.

For the rest of the column, we lost Afghanistan, we are losing Iraq, all Bush and Rumsfeld want are photo-ops, and a big finish:

...the real war on terror has been neglected, and we've antagonized the allies we need to fight that war. One of these days we'll end up paying the price.

I actually stood at a fundraiser for a prominent Dem and heard him say, roughly, that events would determine the next election: a major domestic terror attack could make Bush very vulnerable, and foreign leaders, many of whom do not like Bush, might make 2004 very difficult for the US in order to bring about a friendlier administration. The candidate did not, I am relieved to report, rub his hands in gleeful anticipation while saying this. Several supporters did, however, and the candidate's normally impressively concerned countenance seemed a bit more cheerful than I felt comfortable with.

Keep hope alive, chaps.

UPDATE: HEY! A frustrated lefty with dubious archives - look for 6/17/2003. And get back in the chorus, buddy. Message discipline!

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