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A Man Needs A Fish Like A Woman Needs a Bicycle
Tuesday, April 20, 2004
FUN WITH NUMBERS? I was stopping by The Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiller to catch up on what folks over there were doing, and I came across an interesting blog entry by Viscount Ian S. which led me to an interesting
article referring to the likely 70,000 Iraqis that would have been killed had the Coalition Forces had not invaded Iraq.

"They have been going methodically through the massive - and previously unexplored - archives left by the regime, which document every killing in cold bureaucracy-speak. The HRC have found that if the invasion had not happened, Saddam would have killed 70,000 people in the past year. Not sanctions: Saddam's tyranny alone."


What I would like to know, before evaluating this comment (and with it an implied benefit-cost analysis) is:
a) is this an average over the regime's life--e.g., 2,000,000+ dead over 25-30 years of Saddam's effective rule?
or,
b) is it a marginal value--e.g., last year, did 70,000 die in the last year before the war, and thus, all things being equal, we might expect a similar number this year.

The reason I ask this is that there were several "high points" of intensity in Iraq prior to the current occupation of Iraq; e.g., the suppression of the Shi'ite rebellion in 1991, where more than 70,000 died.

My sense is that if it is a marginal result--that 70,000 died the year before is the actual result--that this will tend to be more accurate than a straight average, subject as it is to both high and low variation. All caveats concerning extrapolation are granted.

More research needed...
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Monday, April 19, 2004
FOREIGN LEGION ANYONEI remember those great old movies like Beau Geste and thought wistfully of all that when I read this innocuous little article, on plans to help foreign countries help provide us with theri trained forces fro duties in Iraq. OK. Perhaps I am jumping the gun a bit (all right a lot), but I wonder where this is leading? Will the time come when America says: "No, no, that will not do! Here, let us take care of this. We might as well..." After all, recruits from foreign nations will not cost the US as much as home-grown troops do. Even if we hire them...
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Sunday, April 11, 2004
WHAT WE NEED NOW IS A GOOD INQUISITION, BY TOLEDO! On looking at Best of Both Worlds, via Sully Watch I got a nice insight into the erudition of Andrew Sullivan. His question concerning Iraq:

"Iraq has been a free country for a single year after decades of fascism, mass murder, communal paranoia, hysteria, random violence, and economic collapse. Did we expect the place to become Toledo overnight?"

The interesting thing about this (as pointed out by more astute bloggers) is that he could easily be referring to Toledo, Spain. Toledo was a great centre of learning:

"In Muslim Spain, knowledge from Greece and Rome was preserved. Arab scholars produced encyclopedias on medicine and astronomy in 11th century, also including astrology, psychology, zoology, biology, botany, chemistry, physics, mathematics, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, etc., which Christian scholars acquired and translated. Toledo thrived essentially because of its Muslim rule, and became the "cradle of learning," and the chief point of interaction between the Muslims, Christians and Jews. Western scholars traveled to Spain and Sicily to learn Arabic and to make transcripts of texts in Latin. Muslims produced cotton, paper, salt, silk, satin, pepper, stamps, clocks, soaps, rulers, maps, globes, furs, velvets, described over 200 surgical instruments, and named over 200 stars with Arabic names. Hence, it was this Islamic civilization in Spain that was the main threshold behind the European Renaissance. During the time the Muslims set foot in Spain in 711 until 1084 (a year before Toledo was taken) Muslim Spain had become an area unique to the entire world."

What happened after the Christians took the city, and the rest of Spain? Two things:

1. The Inquisition which drove (or coverted) the Muslims (and Jews) out of Spain. Spain which had been integrated with as many as 5.6 million muslims in the Moorish part of Spain, was homogenized. This portion of the Inquisition was complete by 1605.

2. And:

""The land deprived of skillful irrigation of the Moors grew impoverished and neglected, the richest and most fertile valleys languished and were deserted, and most of the populous cities which had filled every district in Andalusia, fell into ruinous decay; and beggars, friars, and bandits took the place of scholars, merchants and knights. So low fell Spain when she had driven away the Moors. Such is the melancholy contrast offered by her history."

So, when Mr. Sullivan goes on and says that:

"It may be dark this Friday, but Christians are told that a new day will dawn. Not in three days. But in time. If we keep our nerve."

It would be nice to think that we will act as agents of enlightenment. I want to think so. But if I was a historically sensitive Muslim, I wouldn't be holding my breath on this...

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Saturday, April 10, 2004
AN OBSERVATION ON THE STATE OF THE TIMES I think we are at a catastrophe cusp concerning the Bush Administration. Catastrophe Theory was developed by Rene Thom. "Thom's theory is an attempt to describe, in a way that is impossible using differential calculus, those situations in which gradually changing forces lead to so-called catastrophes, or abrupt changes.". Basically, loosely bend a piece of paper back on itself. Usually, a little ball on that paper will move nicely on the surface or "manifold" of that paper. If the ball is near the edge, a slight hiccup, or shaking of the hands might send it precipitously off the paper. Free fall.

Running with this metaphor, a predictable path for a variable, say the re-election of a President, runs off the reservation in an unpredictable way, leading to the incumbent's defeat. How likely is this to happen? I don't know, that's the beauty of catastrophes. But, I do get a sense that there is increasing variation and instability within the White House on how to handle problems. The fact that no coherent message got out to deflect Richard Clarke is evidence of this. The fact that Presidential approval ratings have been falling slowly over the last three months is also a sign that something is up. The question is: will there be a precipitous drop? The beauty of the US political system is that small swings in voter ballots can lead to large swings in Electoral College votes.

One point concerning Catastrophe theory is that if one has an idea as to what the path looks like, the possible bifurcation points, and the factors that move you closer or further away from the edge, than one has the possibility to move oneself away from the edge of unpredictable disaster.
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THE PASSION OF CONDI BEGINS? Now that Dr. Rice has testified, the calm before the storm appears about ready to break open. The NY Times has not really been very enthusiastic about this whole issue of "Did he or didn't he know" so it came as a big surprise when the Grey Lady decides to say:

"President Bush was told more than a month before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that supporters of Osama bin Laden planned an attack within the United States with explosives and wanted to hijack airplanes, a government official said Friday."

True, we don't have a name for the official, but if you had news like this that apparently " appears to contradict the White House's repeated assertions that the briefing the president received about the Qaeda threat was "historical" in nature and that the White House had little reason to suspect a Qaeda attack within American borders" what do you think you would be expecting if you opened your mouth "officially" on this issue? Applause and admiration?

The interesting thing is that it has taken just a couple of days for leaking to occur. The pressure to release the 6 August 2001 PDB document is growing. I suspect that the attempt to release some of the text will not be enough to placate the press, politicians (including some Republicans I suspect), and more and more folks in this country.

If it shows that Dr. Rice "over-emphasized" the historical nature of the document, I think we will start hearing more calls for her resignation, and not just from liberal bloggers, but from more mainstream sources.
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Friday, April 09, 2004
LIES, DAMNED LIES, & STATISTICS I was reading Poop Throwing Monkey, and much to my surprise I noted the following statement:

"Even under the Bush Tax Cuts, the rich still keep paying more" together with a statistical table that purports to support the claim that the share of total federal tax liabilities by income quintile was rising, even with the tax cut. The relevant part of it is reproduced below:

Highest Quintile Share in 1979-1990: 56.80%
Highest Quintile Share in 1991-2000: 62.57%
Highest Quintile Share in 2001: 65.30%

"Econopundit has the full scoop." FTM tells us. I have to admit, this seems pretty counter-intuitive to me, given the fat juicy tax cuts that got passed in 2001 (and beyond). So, out of curiosity I follow the link to the blog in question. I find that what he has done to get his results is the following:

"As you can see I've averaged the periods 1970-1990 and 1990-2000, so these can be compared with 2001, the first year in which traces of the Bush tax cuts appear."

I check the link to the Congressional Budget Office Paper in question, Effective Federal Tax Rates: 1979-2001 and from there looked at Table 1B: Shares of Federal Tax Liabilities.

This is what I find:
Highest Quintile Share in 2000: 66.7%
Highest Quintile Share in 2001: 65.3%

How exactly does this support the thesis that the share of Federal tax for the wealthiest went down?

It doesn't.

Econopundit prides himself on being an economist. Since he slams Paul Krugman for being a "so-called" economist, he must be pretty good himself to make that judgement. Yet, why would an economist make such a glaring error as being interested in averages, when what economists are really interested in are the margins? To put it another way: What I want to know is how tax liability shares changed from the last year of the Clinton administration to the first year of the Bush administration. That is the point, right? So what is the relevance of taking a TEN year average when I want to know the marginal impact of a tax cutting decision.

Econopundit uses the same technique in looking at the very rich. Needless to say, it suffers from the same issues, which a cursory glance at the appropriate Table information would make instantly clear:

Top 10% in 2000: 52.2% in 2001: 50.0%
Top 5% in 2000: 41.4% in 2001: 38.5%
Top 1% in 2000: 25.6% in 2001: 22.7%

What this seems to be saying, when I compare it with the information above is that for the Highest Quintile as a whole, tax liabilities went down by 1.4% of the total liabilities. If you happened to be really wealthy, it went down by 2.9% of the total liabilities. That seems like a big deal to me, even if it isn't to Econopundit.

Now, this is not to say that the share of tax liabilities couldn't rise. They could. Just not in a way that I think Econopundit might be comfortable to broadcast. If, as is looking to be the case, the wealthy are owners of capital, one would expect that in an up-turn (the jobless recovery we have been having over the last couple of years), that we could expect that if the wealthy were compensated at a relatively greater rate than those in the lower qunitiles, then the share of the taxes paid by the wealthy should get bigger. If they are getting a bigger slice of the pie relative to others, this makes sense. This will work against the trend of lowering rates for the wealthy. It might be interesting to contemplate that in 2003, nominal GDP rose twice as fast as pre-tax employee compensation. That implies that the lion's share of income and wealth generated in that year went to the unfortunates at the top of the food chain.
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Tuesday, April 06, 2004
TO ERR IS HUMAN, TO APOLOGIZE IS FOR SUCKERS; OR SAYING YOU'RE SORRY IS SO HARD TO DO I was just reading Art Buchwald's column online and I couldn't help noticing the the sad cynicism that Mr. Buchwald has for our politicians:

"Why will no one in Washington ever say he's sorry? It is a sign of weakness, politically wrong, and everyone in this city thinks it's just asking for trouble. By not admitting you're sorry, you don't have to accept blame for anything you've done. For example, if someone in the Pentagon makes a blunder, like recommending a Star Wars missile that keeps crashing into the ground, he will continue defending his decision to make the weapon rather than tell the taxpayer it is a $20 billion lemon.

What the public doesn't know won't hurt it."

It would be so easy to get on the bandwagon and say that the Whitehouse should apologize. I don't think that is the right response. Dr. Rice answered a CBS interview question , thus:

"ED BRADLEY::
Will the families of those people who were killed hear an apology from you? Do you think that would be appropriate?

CONDOLEZZA RICE:
The families, I think, have heard from this president that - and from me, and from me personally in some cases in that field in Pennsylvania or at the World Trade Center, how - deeply sorry everyone is for the loss that they endured. You couldn't be human and not feel the horror of that day. We do need to stay focused on what happened to us that day. And the best thing that we can do for the memory of the victims, the best thing that we can do for the future of this country, is to focus on those who did this to us. "

Some might suggest that "Condi just doesn't get it." I can sympathize with that point of view, and Mr. Buchwald's article would lead us to suggest that it would be a dangerous thing to apologize. I have some sympathy with that view as well, but I am not convinced that either view is really correct. The issue comes down to working out what you actually assume we are doing: fighting a war or fighting a criminal organization like the Mafia. If it is the latter, than an apology is required.
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Monday, April 05, 2004
THE RAIN IN SPAIN FALLS MAINLY ON RAILWAY TRACKS Poop Throwing Monkey has a line of argument that I think we will be seeing more of:

"Islamic fanatics are different than us. They think about things differently, they have different values and different expectations, different motives and different goals. You'll make a terrible mistake if you project your own point of view on to these people, and assume they will respond to events in what you consider to be a rational way.

One of these big differences is that they really do feed on weakness. .. Spain's failing response to terror is about to become an object lesson for all of Europe. Like most lessons learned in war, it will come at a terrible price. I honestly hope with all my heart that the right people are watching, and that they draw the right conclusions from what they see."

I have several points to make:
1. Just because you might be psychotic or fanatical, does not mean that you are not capable of responding to incentives the way that rational people do. At the moment, the Spanish and terrorists are locked in a symmetrical iterative game . It has just begun. It is not clear to both participants what the pay-off structure is yet. Spain wants to develop a reputation for making life hard for terrorists. The terrorists want to show that Spain is a "wuss" incapable of defending itself, or being able to withstand terrorist induced bloodshed. What will be (if there is one) the dominant strategy of this game? If the Spanish are willing to play, "get the terrorists no matter what they do" game, and with some success, my feeling is that they will end up winning, or at least managing the threat in a "socially manageable" way: some deaths, but Spanish society continues on. The terrorists attacks will diminish in time under this strategy. Nothing the Spanish have done so far leads me to believe that they will do anything else. Why are some commentators so convinced otherwise?

2. A question to ask: If the Spanish are such wimps, please explain to me why it is that years of Basque separatist violence has not led to the dismembering of the Spanish state? The stakes are higher, so the Spanish Government cannot dare give in? The Basques are just nicer people, not capable of the extreme violence of Al Qaeda? Those don't do it for me, I am afraid.

3. What will America do, if it suffers another major terrorist attack? What will it do when there are no more obvious juicy targets to attack in the Middle East? Terrorism today, as a mutating aysmmetrical threat means that we can no longer look at Libya (for example) and say: "We will blow stuff up if another air-liner goes down." What role does our powerful army play when terrorists owe allegiance to no nation. Can we afford to "make up more stuff" and invade another nation we do not like? Syria? Iran? Yes they have been implicated in terrorism IN THE PAST. However, very few folks are saying they are supporting Al Qaeda now (Syria is again a Baathist regime, so they would be as likely to support Al Qaeda as Iraq was--true this did not stop us from invading them).

4. This point of "what would we do if the unthinkable happened" is not an idle thought. As a regular reader of The New Republic I have read and watched with growing concern over the lack of coordination and progress in defending "soft" targets here in the USA. The Department of Homeland Defence is not something that inspires much confidence. How good would we in America be in detecting threats, and foiling bomb attacks, as the Spanish (and French!) have been in the past week or so? We are a lot bigger. We are a target rich environment. We don't do a good job of protecting that environment.

5. How about some credit for the Spanish, French, and British? They did pretty well in foiling attempts to cause more havoc; and in Spain's case, getting at the perpetrators of the bombings. The question we should ask is why they were successful, rather than point our finger at them and say: "We told you so." I would like to put forward a reason that we would do well to learn from--Each of these countries has had history dealing with terrorism and/or movements of nationalist liberation. They have had to deal with exactly the issues we are currently struggling with, for a lot longer than we have. That would suggest that we could learn something from them, apart from colouring them as Yellow French Surrender Monkeys.
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THE PASSION OF CONDI It would be easy to write about this after the 9/11 testimony that Dr. RIce will offer the Commission. AFter the fact we can all pontificate on whether she did a great job in defending her record, etc., but that wouldn't be very sporting. SO, I will make the claim up front, than be either right or wrong. Mea culpas to follow as needed...

Dr. Rice will end up being roughed up pretty badly from all this. She has led a relatively charmed existence from the media on her role in the pre-9/11 intelligence coordination and gathering effort. Not anymore. The failure of the Bush administration to shake out Mr. Clarke and his widely backed up claims leaves them with very few options but the obvious: To as gracefully as possible, offer Dr. Rice for sacrifice. I think she will do her duty and she will fall on her sword. At the same time she will help the Presdient as much as possible to minimize the fallout of her doing so. She will be a loyal retainer. This does not require that she resign. I think that President Bush will not ask for nor accept her resignation, but bid a fond farewell to her at the end of his four year term. If re-elected, I think he will find a new NS Advisor. Since this fits in with Dr. Rice's intentions to leave the White House at the end of the new, it will be peachy keen all round.

I admire this about the White House: There is a lot of loyalty that runs both ways there. Even as the White House gets politically damaged in all sorts of ways, it remains faithful to those it calls its own. Dr. Rice's resignation does the President no good. It would confirm that he made a mistake in appointing her to the critical position of NSA; not something you want in an election year. It has always been a strong talking point that even if the President was not "perhaps" up to speed on policy issues, his advisors (who he relied on) were. It also sends a bad message to the loyal retainers that they are in fact expendable. That is not a good situation with the White House currently under pressure from all sorts of investigations.

In any case: Dr. Rice will do a decent job holding to her position. But, if the Commission asks her substantive questions, she will be roughed up. Look for a possible mea culpa on the stand...
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THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM I have not written of late. I would like to think this was laziness, but I can't help thinking it is because there has been an awful lot to digest over the last two weeks: the 9/11 commission, the War in Iraq, and that apology that so many folks have found to be unacceptable, dammit!!! I want to say something about the upcoming "Passion of Condi", but some other posts first.

WHY THE CLAIM THAT BUSH AND KERRY ARE ALIKE IS A TOO NARROW THESIS I was reading Asymmetrical Information and was struck by Megan's thesis that since there is no substantive stated differences between Bush and Kerry on policy that there is not much to choose between, and to paraphrase Megan, especially from her comments section: "If one is not sure that the challenger is any better, than one is better off with the incumbent you have." I guess, a lemon you know is better than one you don't. While I have some sympathy for this position, I think that Megan's analysis is a bit incomplete.

I think the dynamic of government will change significantly if Kerry is elected (for the good? That is the debatable question).

Here is a question for those who think there is little difference: If Gore had been elected in 2000, would we be in the same place we are now? After all, if there was little difference between the candidates the outcomes would be the same, right? Yet, I am pretty certain that most commentators, no matter what their persuasion would argue strongly that either Bush or Gore would have done a better job than than the other. How can this be if there was apparently little difference between them? Perhaps its a question of advisor quality?

Or do we think that what people say in the lead up to an election is not always a good indicator of what they will do once they are in office? Broken election promises are a fact of political life. How will a President handle the unexpected? We are also voting on vice-presidents as well. Does that change anything?

Next, is there a fundamental difference between the two candidates once I widen the circle of analysis to include the government apparatus as a whole. The executive is one branch of three. Changing leadership in the excutive, given the system of checks and balances, will lead to large differences in outcomes of government decisions, even if there "appear" to be little substantive differences in the "stated" positions of the presidential candidates. If the House and Senate remain in Republican hands, does it make sense to allow the executive branch to remain in the hands of the Republicans as well. WHat checks and balances remain?

Finally, perhaps the largest difference: Given what we have learned concerning the possibility that 9/11 was preventable there would seem to be a significant dynamic that the Bush administration missed before 9/11. It appears that "mistakes were made." My claim: What makes the bush administration nervous is the possibility that people will start to make the argument that had Gore been elected, the continuity of administrations would have ensured that terrorism would not have been given the INCONSTANT attention that it received in the Bush administration. The implication of this argument is terrifying for the current administration. If one accepts Clarke's premise that had the administration acted like the Clinton administration in foiling the Millenium Plot directed at LA airport, it would have had a better chance of stopping 9/11 ... (... dot connecting required...)

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Thoughts on What One Experiences These Days

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