Tag Archives: Gus Lubin

The Death Of Shabaz Bhatti

Ray Gustini at The Atlantic:

Minority affairs minister Shabaz Bhatti was assassinated Wednesday outside his parents’ house in Islamabad. Bhatti–Pakistan’s only Christian cabinet member–is the second critic of the country’s blasphemy laws to be killed this year. Punjab Gov. Salmaan Taseer was murdered in January by Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, a member of his security detail. Qadri told authorities he killed Taseer because the governor considered the country’s strict blasphemy law a “black law.”

Fasih Ahmed at The Daily Beast:

“Bhatti’s ruthless and cold-blooded murder is a grave setback for the struggle for tolerance, pluralism, and respect for human rights in Pakistan,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, country representative for Human Rights Watch. “An urgent and meaningful policy shift on the appeasement of extremists that is supported by the military, the judiciary and the political class needs to replace the political cowardice and institutional myopia that encourages such continued appeasement despite its unrelenting bloody consequences.”

News of the attack broke shortly before noon. And two hours after his death was confirmed, it was back to business for the country’s boisterous TV channels, which focused instead on the cricket World Cup, political intrigue in the Punjab, and the fate of incarcerated CIA contractor Raymond Davis. Bhatti and Taseer had both advocated reforming the country’s blasphemy laws to prevent their misuse, and both had been declared apostates by the jihadists and tens of thousands of their mainstream supporters. If the celebratory reaction to Taseer’s assassination finally put paid to the notion that Pakistan’s militants are a vocal but fringe group (the Senate refused to offer prayers for Taseer), Bhatti’s seems to confirm growing national fatigue over the blasphemy-laws controversy.

Before they sped off, the assassins dumped pamphlets at the scene of the crime. “This is a warning from the warriors of Islam to all the world’s infidels, Crusaders, Jews and their operatives within the Muslim brotherhood,” it reads, “especially the head of Pakistan’s infidel system, [President Asif Ali] Zardari, his ministers, and all the institutions of this evil system.” This document from the Punjabi Taliban continues: “In your fight against Allah, you have become so bold that you act in favor of and support those who insult the Prophet. And you put a cursed Christian infidel Shahbaz Bhatti in charge of [the blasphemy laws review] committee. This is the fate of that cursed man. And now, with the grace of Allah, the warriors of Islam will pick you out one by one and send you to hell, God willing.”

Gus Lubin at Business Insider:

Al Jazeera has posted a chilling interview from Pakistani Christian Shahbaz Bhatti from before he was assassinated by the Taliban (via @allahpundit).

Bhatti, the federal minister for minorities, had received death threats for supposedly deriding Islam. He said in this interview, “I am ready to die for a cause. I am living for my community and suffering people, and I will die to defend their rights.”

Aryn Baker at Time:

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are a colonial holdover put in place by British administrators seeking to calm the subcontinent’s fractious religious groups. They were sharpened under the reign of dictator Zia ul Haq, who added a clause calling for death to anyone found guilty of slandering the Prophet Mohammad. Since then some 1000 blasphemy cases have been registered. Though roughly half have been applied to religious minorities the others have been registered against muslims, in what is widely assumed to be the pursuit of personal vendettas. In one recent example a schoolboy from Karachi is being held in jail for allegedly writing insults against the on a school exam paper (because repeating what the boy wrote would in itself be considered blasphemy, the accusation  is enough to keep him in detention. Though considering what happened to Taseer, it could also be construed as keeping him safe). In another example, a religious leader and his son have been accused of committing blasphemy because they tore down a poster promoting an upcoming religious conference.

Yet any attempts to amend these laws to stem such abuse has been met with intense outrage by both religious leaders and Pakistani citizens, who hold that the law is divine, and cannot be changed. The blasphemy cases have become a boon for Pakistan’s religious parties, who have seldom done well at the polls. But with the country’s current government on the brink of collapse, religious group may be gambling that the issue of blasphemy could leverage them into power if new elections are called. Their gamble may well pay off. Qadri, Taseer’s assassin, was feted as a hero in Pakistan. In his confession, he said he had been inspired by the teachings of his local mullah Hanif Qureshi, who condemned anyone standing against the blasphemy law, saying they were worthy of death. At a rally a few days later, Qureshi claimed credit for motivating Qadri. “He would come to my Friday prayers and listen to my sermons.” Then he repeated his point: “The punishment for a blasphemer is death.”

Joe Carter at First Things:

Bhatti is the second Pakistani official in the past two months to be killed after publicly opposing the draconian blasphemy laws. How many others in that country will be willing to take his place and speak up for religious freedom?

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

Once again, Pakistan is the most dangerous country of the world. It has 100 nuclear weapons and it seems to be slipping into anarchy. No one is sure how much of its military favors the Islamist path. Several Pakistani friends of mine, people closely associated with the government, are despairing. I truly hope that the U.S. has contingency plans for taking control of Pakistan’s nukes if the Islamist coup that everyone fears come to pass (if we don’t, I expect that India won’t be shy about taking military action).

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Filed under Af/Pak, GWOT, Religion

We’ve Been Hit By A Smooth, And Oily, Criminal

Image from Gawker

Giles Whittell, Robert Lea and Ian King at The Times:

BP’s future as a global concern was at stake tonight after the US Attorney General, announced that he was launching a criminal and a civil investigation into the Louisiana oil spill.

As Eric Holder made his announcement, the British company’s chief executive fought to halt a headlong slide in its stock price.

After losing a third of its value in just six weeks, BP is expected to promise shareholders their full annual dividend in a last-ditch bid to retain their loyalty. More than £12 billion was wiped off the company’s value today alone, as Mr Obama dispatched his top prosecutor to Louisiana and vowed to bring to justice those responsible for what he called “the greatest environmental disaster of its kind in our history”.

Shares in what used to be Britain’s biggest company endured their worst day’s trading in more than two decades, dragging down the FTSE 100 index and with it the value of dozens of leading pension funds.

In Washington, Mr Obama stepped up his efforts to assert control over the disaster response with his second televised address in less than a week. “If our laws have been broken leading to this death and destruction, my solemn pledge is that we will bring those responsible to justice on behalf of the victims of the catastrophe and the people of the Gulf region,” he said.

Mr Holder announced that he was launching a criminal and a civil investigation into the oil spill. Earlier, he met Louisiana law enforcement officials in New Orleans after ordering BP to preserve records that could shed light on what led to the disaster. He has also instructed US Department of Justice staff to look for evidence of “malfeasance” in the days and hours before the Deepwater Horizon rig blew up.

Gus Lubin at Business Insider:

Attorney General Eric Holder has launched a criminal and civil investigation into Deepwater Horizon. Although expected, this confirms the worst fears of BP CEO Tony Hayward and associated executives.

“If I were an exec at BP, I wouldn’t be sleeping for the next several years,” said Tony Buzbee, a trial lawyer who has faced BP in several cases.

Buzbee expects a federal criminal investigation to occur in secrecy over several years. The most likely charge is violation of the Clean Air and Water act, which could lead to one year in jail for persons deemed responsible.

Manslaughter charges are unlikely, as these fall outside the ambit of a federal prosecutor, according to Buzbee.

Matthew McDermott at Treehugger:

I can here the collective cry of ‘Right on!’ and ‘About effing time!’ rising up from the TreeHugger readership… CNN is reporting that US Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that the Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation into the Gulf Gusher. We’ll have more as it emerges, but this is what we know so far:

Holder said the investigation would be comprehensive and aggressive. He promised that the federal officials will prosecute anyone who broke the law. Holder, who made the announcement during a visit to the Gulf, called early signs of the spill heartbreaking and tragic. The attorney general was in the Gulf to survey the BP oil spill and meet with state attorneys general and federal prosecutors from Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, according to the Justice Department.

This all comes after a group of Senators sent Holder a letter last week urging an investigation of potential criminal and/or civil wrongdoing by BP; and statements by Holder last month that the Justice Department would “ensure that BP is held liable.”

Again, more as it emerges. It’s likely to take some time. Though hopefully not as long as it’s taking BP to stop this madness…

Andrew Leonard at Salon:

Some context for understanding possible points of interest for DoJ investigators comes from a preliminary report released last week by Robert Bea, the Director of UC Berkeley’s Catastrophic Risk Management Center: “Failures of the Deepwater Horizon Semi-Submersible Drilling Unit.” Bea’s report, which he describes as “preliminary insights … based upon more than 500 hours of analyses of currently available data provided by approximately 60 informants,” places joint responsibility for the disaster on both BP and the regulatory authority, MMS.

Here’s the most relevant excerpt:

  • Based on the information available to me thus far, I believe the Deepwater Horizon failure developed due to:
  • improper well design (configuration of well tubulars),
  • improper cement design and placement (segmented discontinuous cement sheath, minimal volume placed adjacent to lost circulation zone),
  • flawed Quality Assurance and Quality Control (QA / QC) — no cement bond logs, ineffective oversight of operations,
  • bad decision making — removing the pressure barrier — displacing the drilling mud with sea water 8,000 feet below the drill deck,
  • loss of situational awareness — early warning signs not properly detected, analyzed or corrected (repeated major gas kicks, lost drilling tools, including evidence of damaged parts of the Blow Out Preventer [BOP] during drilling and/or cementing, lost circulation, changes in mud volume and drill string weight),
  • improper operating procedures — premature off-loading of the drilling mud (weight material not available at critical time),
  • flawed design and maintenance of the final line of defense — including the shear rams of the Blow Out Preventer (BOP) and the associated electrical and hydraulic equipment.

I’m not sure at what point any of the multiple instances of BP incompetence cross the line into criminal malfeasance, but we will certainly be learning more about that in the weeks and  months to come. In the meantime, BP CEO Tony Hayward says: “I want my life back.” I don’t think he’s going to get it.

Annie Lowrey at The Washington Independent:

And Congress is starting to take a hard look at regulatory legislation surrounding the oil industry as well. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he heads, will hold a hearing next week “to examine how recent court decisions and federal liability caps influence corporate behavior, affect American taxpayers, and provide justice to victims.”

New laws are coming. One option would be to address the negative externality of cleanup costs: taxing all oil companies and processors in the United States, and forcing them to use the funds to explore new technologies to be used in the event of a disaster. For even if BP had managed to prevent the Deepwater Horizon incident, another catastrophic oil spill would have happened somewhere else, sometime soon. The technologies used to contain and clean up oil remain rudimentary and highly ineffective, particularly those used at sea — top kill, bags of hair, faulty seals. (Of all the well shut-down methods I have seen, it is distressing that the Russians’ controlled nuclear explosion has seemed most promising.) The next conflagration will take light at some point. It would be useful to force the companies at fault to invent the fire hydrant before then.

How to structure the tax? I leave it to the public policy experts to figure that out. But I would imagine either requiring oil companies’ U.S. subsidiaries to spend one or two percent of profits on cleanup and prevention research, then allowing them to license or sell their products to one another; or taxing the oil companies’ U.S. subsidiaries, putting the funds into a pool and having the government disburse the money to vetted research organizations.

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Filed under Crime, Energy, Environment

I Chait Up All The Hennessey Ya Got On Ya Shelf

Keith Hennessey:

It is true that 10 years ago we had a budget surplus of more than $200 billion, and that CBO projected surpluses “stretching out toward the horizon.”  When CBO built its budget baseline for 2001, they had not yet accounted for the bursting of the late 90’s tech stock market bubble and the effect it would have on federal revenues.  Like families, businesses, and investors, CBO made a mistake:  they projected future revenue growth that was never going to occur.  Critics of the Bush Administration hinge their comparative argument on this single mistaken budget projection which in hindsight analysts from both parties acknowledge was wildly inaccurate.

It is also true that President Bush proposed, and in 2003 the Congress passed and President Bush signed into law, a Medicare drug benefit that was not offset by other spending cuts or tax increases.  It is true that this benefit significantly increased the already large unfunded liabilities of Medicare.

What the Democratic critics fail to mention is that the Democratic alternative proposal cost significantly more than the Bush proposal and the enacted law.  (This predates Mr. Obama’s time in the Senate.)

What Republican critics fails to mention is that in the late 1990’s a Republican-majority House of Representatives passed a Medicare drug benefit without offsetting the proposed spending increases.  Senate Republicans offered their own version on the Senate floor, which again was smaller than the Democratic alternative.  By the time then-Governor Bush began his Presidential campaign, there was a broad bipartisan Congressional consensus to create a universally subsidized prescription drug benefit in Medicare without offsetting the proposed spending increases.  Bush joined that consensus and enacted it into law.  Fiscal conservatives should direct their anger principally at House and Senate Republicans of the late 90’s.  (I worked in the Senate then, so I get blamed either way.)

It is true that President Bush proposed, and in 2001 and 2003 the Congress passed and President Bush signed into law significant tax cuts, and that those tax cuts were not offset by spending cuts or tax increases.  If President Obama believes that enacting these tax cuts without offsetting their deficit impact was profligate, then why is he proposing to do the same thing?  His budget proposes to change the law to extend all of the Bush tax cuts except those Team Obama mislabels as “for the rich.”  He is not proposing offsets for those tax cuts he would extend.  It is inconsistent to argue that Bush was irresponsible when he did it, and that Obama is responsible when he does the same thing.

Given my concessions, it must be true that the 00’s were a decade of profligacy, and that President Obama’s policies will “restore fiscal discipline in Washington.”  Right?


Let us examine the results of these so-called “profligate” policies during the Bush Administration, and let’s compare them to the deficits proposed by President Obama.  I will compare eight-year Presidential terms rather than decades.  In doing so I will assume that President Obama gets a second term, and that the budget he proposed yesterday is enacted exactly as proposed.

When doing this comparison one has to struggle with how to treat fiscal year 2009, which began October 1, 2008 and ended September 30, 2009.  A traditional comparison would assign budgets for FY 2001 through FY 2008 to President Bush, and for FY 2009 through FY 2017 to President Obama, since usually the bulk of the laws signed in FY 2009 would be signed by President Obama.

But this would assign all the “blame” (deficit impact) of TARP to President Obama.  I am therefore going to calculate deficits for President Bush including FY 2009, as those deficits stood on January 20, 2009 when he left office.  In doing so, I am assuming the overwhelming majority of the TARP spending and their deficit “blame” to President Bush, even though he committed only half the $700 B TARP.  In other words, I am skewing my analysis to be as generous as possible to President Obama in the comparison with President Bush.  (Update:  See below for a caveat on the light blue Obama bar, which also includes all of 2009.)

Here are the average budget deficits measured as a percent of GDP.  As always, click on any graph to see a larger version.


You can see that budget deficits during President Clinton’s eight years averaged 0.8 percent of GDP.  Clinton folks will tell you this is because of his brilliant policies, and in particular the 1993 budget law.  I think most of it is the result of tech bubble-induced higher capital gains revenues causing total taxes to surge to record levels.  We can have that debate another time.

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

Here’s what actually happened.

As budget surpluses appeared in the late 1990s, some level of giddiness crept into the thinking of both parties. But it was the right that went completely overboard. Conservatives were writing books like “Dow 36,000” and insisting prosperity would last forever. You might think it’s odd that the right would be hyping prosperity during a time when a Democrat held the White House. But the giddiness had a political purpose: it was useful to disarm Democratic fears that tax cuts might weaken America’s fiscal position.

In 2001, when the Bush tax cuts were being debated, liberals and Democrats warned over and over again that CBO’s forecasts could prove ephemeral. TNR editorialized,

it is true that the budget has produced pleasant surprises for several years running. But the proper lesson to take from this is not that budget projections are always too conservative–indeed, historically they’ve usually erred on the side of optimism–but that they’re not very accurate.

Paul Krugman warned about the possibility in his book, Fuzzy Math: “If the ‘new economy’ turns out to have been a sprinter rather than a marathon runner, the CBO’s projections of revenue will turn out to be greatly exaggerated.’

Republicans successfully dismissed such fears. They insisted that the CBO, run by musty old Keynesians who failed to appreciate the wonders of the dynamic new economy, was dramatically understating the surplus. “Economist Lawrence Kudlow has been the nation’s most accurate fiscal prognosticator of the last decade,” wrote Stephen Moore, “and he estimates tax surpluses will be twice as large as the official forecast.” They further proclaimed that the Bush tax cuts would unleash even more growth, meaning that the CBO forecasts must be too pessimistic. Martin Feldstein testified, “The true cost of reducing the tax rates is likely to be substantially smaller than the costs projected in the official estimates.” In his 2001 State of the Union speech advocating tax cuts, Bush cleverly spoke as if the surpluses had already materialized, and the proceeds been salted away:

We have funded our priorities. We paid down all the available debt. We have prepared for contingencies. And we still have money left over.

The Bush administration furiously and successfully beat back Democrats’ attempts to inculcate caution and modesty about the projected surpluses. To cast the administration as victims of a “mistake” requires a a staggering level of chutzpah.

Hennessey responds:

Argument:  Mr. Chait writes, “To cast the Administration as victims of a ‘mistake’ requires a staggering level of chutzpah.”

Response 1:  If I created the impression of victimization, I apologize.  Yes, the tax cut and the post-9/11 spending increased the budget deficit relative to what it otherwise would have been.  So did the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Medicare drug benefit.  The Obama Administration suggests, however, that the entire decline in the surplus was the result of policy decisions.  That is clearly incorrect.  CBO said that 40% of the surplus decline from 2001 to 2002 was the result of forecasting error and a failure to predict the recession.  The other 60% was the results of policy choices by President Bush and the Republican Congress, most importantly the tax cut.

Response 2:  There was a significant forecasting error that overestimated projected surpluses.  Mr. Chait suggests I claimed the Bush Administration was “blindsided.”  My argument is a little different.  Given that we now know that the January 2001 economic and surplus projections were wrong, it is misleading for Team Obama to use those knowingly incorrect projections to describe the effects of Bush Administration policies.

Response 3:  These were not just budget surpluses, they were surplus revenues.  When President Bush took office there were budget surpluses largely because taxes far exceeded their historic average.  In 2000 taxes were 20.6 percent of GDP, more than two percentage points higher than the historic average.  That same year the budget surplus was 2.4 percent of GDP.  The budget surpluses existed mostly because the government was taking much more from the private sector than it had historically taken.

Response 4:  Three things can be done with a dollar of surplus:  return it to the taxpayers, use it to pay down debt, or increase spending on a government program.  Team Obama and its allies suggest that if we had not cut taxes and the surpluses had remained in Washington, then all these surplus revenues would have been used to pay down debt.  I think it’s far more likely that Congress would have figured out ways to increase government spending (yes, sadly even with Republican Congressional majorities).  For me tax cuts vs. debt reduction is a tough call.  Tax cuts vs. (an uncertain mix of debt reduction and government spending increases) is a much easier choice.

Response 5:  President Bush campaigned on tax relief.  He won.  He fulfilled his campaign promise and enacted tax relief, in part contributing to smaller surpluses and eventually budget deficits.  In doing so, taxes returned to near their historic levels and budget surpluses got smaller as all income taxpayers kept more of the money they earned.  Since I focus on spending as the problem, rather than the balance between levels of taxation and deficits, this shift doesn’t concern me as it might some others.  I focus on what I think is our primary fiscal challenge:  slowing the growth of government spending.

Jonathan Chait responds:

Here’s the paragraph of Hennessey’s that really gets to the nub of the point:

President Bush campaigned on tax relief.  He won.  He fulfilled his campaign promise and enacted tax relief, in part contributing to smaller surpluses and eventually budget deficits.  In doing so, taxes returned to near their historic levels and budget surpluses got smaller as all income taxpayers kept more of the money they earned.  Since I focus on spending as the problem, rather than the balance between levels of taxation and deficits, this shift doesn’t concern me as it might some others.  I focus on what I think is our primary fiscal challenge:  slowing the growth of government spending.

Here I will permit myself to go beyond factual debunking of Hennessey’s arguments and add some analytical perspective. What Hennessey’s saying here is that he prefers low taxes and low spending. Bush’s deficits don’t bother him all that much because they helped push the composition of the federal budget and the burden of the tax code in a direction he prefers. So, in his previous post he argues that Obama bears more responsibility for deficits than Bush, but his position is not really contingent upon that argument holding up. His deepest belief is that deficits caused by tax cuts are fundamentally okay, and deficits caused by failing to cut spending are not.

This is why the deficit is currently intractable. Hennessey is clearly one of the most responsible Republican economic policy-makers. He doesn’t say that deficits don’t matter or that tax cuts cause revenues to rise. But even somebody like Hennessey is willing to support policies that destroy the country’s fiscal position in order to tilt the level of taxes and spending in a more favorable direction. This is why fiscal responsibility right now is a fool’s errand. Even if Democrats could right the fiscal ship in the face of total GOP opposition — a move that would entail such massive political costs that no sane political party would attempt it — Republicans would just steer it right back off course as soon as they regain power.

Ramesh Ponurru at The Corner:

Keith Hennessey and Jonathan Chait have gone two rounds in an argument about Bush, Obama, and responsibility for current and future deficits. (Here are the links: Hennessey, Chait, Hennessey again, and Chait again.) I think Chait has scored some points, but chiefly on secondary issues, while ignoring Hennessey’s most important arguments.

To my mind these are: 1) “Given that we now know that the January 2001 economic and surplus projections were wrong, it is misleading for Team Obama to use those knowingly incorrect projections to describe the effects of Bush Administration policies.” 2) Bush’s prescription-drug benefit needs to be placed in a political context in which both parties favored a big entitlement expansion without offsetting tax hikes or spending cuts, and in which the Democrats wanted a more expensive entitlement. 3) Obama’s policies increase the deficit compared to pre-existing law.

One possible response to point 2 would be that Bush should have shown more political leadership; but if we’re going to dismiss political constraints we should do so evenhandedly, and Obama’s push to extend some of Bush’s tax cuts has to be counted toward his contribution to the deficit.

Gus Lubin at The Business Insider

Brad DeLong, commenting on Hennessey’s first post

Reihan Salam

UPDATE: Ross Douthat


Filed under Economics, Political Figures