Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Friday, April 30, 2004

More On the Iraq Torture Story

Law Talking Guy said he still can't find information, especially the photos, on the net. I'm surprised but here are some ideas. First, look beyond the American media. CBS and CNN are rolling over for the Bush Administration on this one.

Politiken (a Danish paper) had several photos posted yesterday but now only has two grainy and dark photos.
Same story, more or less, for the BBC (see link on this blog).
I couldn't find anything on Die Zeit's website but my German isn't as good as my Danish so I'm not as familiar with that website and may have missed it.

The British paper The Guardian with well known pro-Labour bias has a number of stories on the subject including reports (also reported in the Danish press) that Amnesty International is announcing that this is not an isolated incident. The Guardian also has a story detailing the lack of coverage by the American media.


Can Kerry Win Ohio?

Many pundits are saying that the 2004 election could turn on the so called swing states. One of the most important swing states is Ohio. No Republican has ever won without winning Ohio. Bush won Ohio in 2000 by a narrow margin despite the fact that Gore abandoned the state in the final weeks of the campaign. If Kerry wins all the states that voted for Gore plus Ohio...he wins.

I took a look at the March Ohio Poll and here is what I think I saw in it....

First a little background. Ohio politics is driven by its cross roads nature. The Cleveland area is very much a North Eastern city like Buffalo or Pittsburgh. The Columbus area is very much a Midwestern city like a cross between Minneapolis and Indianapolis - not as "nice" as Minneapolis but not as "NASCAR" as Indy. Cincinnati is more like a Southern city complete with olde tyme paddle wheel river boats (on the Ohio River). This translates into Ohio being something of a miniature model of the rest of the country. Cleveland nearly always turns out big for Democrats. Cincinnati (and nearby Dayton) tend to turn out big for Republicans. Columbus could go either way but the recent trend is that Columbus is moving in a Democratic direction as it undergoes a prolonged period of rapid growth. FYI: Columbus, not Cleveland, is now the largest city in Ohio.

OK, so what about the Ohio Poll? The key findings I think are what the Columbus TV market, self-identified moderates, and self-identified independents think of the major candidates.
If the election were held today, Kerry would beat Bush in the Columbus TV market 50% to 45% with Nader getting 2%.
If the election were held today Kerry would beat Bush among self-identified moderates (statewide) 54% to 38% with Nader getting 4%.
If the election were held today Kerry would beat Bush among registered independents 37% to 24% with Nader getting 19% and 20% for Mr. Other/Undecided (warning less than 75 independents statewide this could lead to funky results).

If the election were held today Kerry would beat Bush among voters between 18 and 29 years old 56% to 22% with Nader getting 20% and 3% undecided. Of course young voters are the least likely to vote.
Bush has a clear advantage among voters between 46 and 64 years old (Bush beats Kerry 51% to 44%). This is the only age group with Bush getting a clear advantage BUT voters in this group are far more likely to actually vote than other age groups.

So, if MTV's efforts to boost the youth vote produces a higher than expected turnout for the under 30 set, Kerry could win big in Ohio. If young people turn out in their usual apathetic numbers, Kerry could still win Ohio with critical support from moderate voters from Central Ohio (Columbus area).

For other more detailed results I suggest you look at the poll (see link above). Its got a lot of detail.

Florida is another state that Bush won that could go for Kerry this time. Anyone know a good source for state level poll numbers in Florida? Both Ohio and Florida are in the Eastern Time Zone so we may know how this election turns out pretty early.


Iraqi Prisoners Abused by American Soldiers

I was pretty disturbed yesterday by the pictures of American Soldiers torturing, abusing and humiliating Iraqi prisoners at a prison outside Baghdad. Be warned, this is not tame stuff. This involves forcing naked Iraqis to simulate sex acts, attaching electrodes to their genetils and nasty stuff like that. In all 17 soldiers have been suspended and presumably are going to be Court Martialed. The suspended soldiers are both male and female and include both enlisted and officers.

CNN is not running this story on their web page! I found out about it from the Websites of various European news sources I check. BBC (see link on this blog) has a good story on the subject.

I am also disturbed to hear that CBS news had the pictures for weeks but delayed airing them because the pentagon has been pressuring them not to. CBS has now decided to run the story anyway because other news agencies got the pictures and aired them. CBS news ran a very brief story about this last night on the evening news. From what I've read from the overseas press, CBS will either run the full story on the next 60 Minutes or 60 Minutes II. So check your local listings. I looked at the 60 Minutes website last night and could't find any reference to the story though. In the brief CBS news story last night, a sergeant accused of engaging in the abuse tried to explain his actions by saying he and other guards at the prison had been given no training or guidance by their superiors. One wonders what other crimes he hasn't specifically been ordered not to do.

That said, I do agree with some of what this soldier is implying. I believe this is yet another symptom of the Bush Administration's "war on the cheap" strategy. There are not enough fully trained military police over there. While these 17 individuals bear the responsibility for their own actions, their transgressions are more likely in an atmosphere of burned out soldiers who may be reservists and guardsmen who are not fully trained.

Let me conclude by saying that it would be terribly wrong to take this story as an excuse to start treating all American military people as badly as the anti-war protestors treated them back during Vietnam. We should not take this as a signal to launch immature and mean spirited attacks like that guy from U Mass Amherst. This is Bush's war....these guys are stuck with it far worse than we are.


Wednesday, April 28, 2004

A Republican's POV (See! we're fair and balanced)

Here is what a Republican friend of mine said to me in an email. I'll keep his name out of it so that you all don't flame him or something. He's a self-proclaimed "McCain/Spector moderate" (not quite sure what he means by that since he votes for Republicans of all factions).

"Again as my point as been.......we are at war......and when you are at war, certain freedoms MUST be order to provide security.......if you want more freedom, you MUST sacrifice some cannot have it both ways...... " - 'RBR's Republican friend.' (the "......" and the all caps were in the original, I did not delete parts of his argument or add emphasis)

Here is what I replied:

"Just out of curiosity... What do you mean by "certain freedoms?" Where would you draw the line? How would suggest that we enforce that line? Should we simply give the executive branch (regardless of party ID) carte blanche and trust to their good intentions? The Founding Fathers argued that would be foolish.

Also by "at war" are you referring to the hostilities in Iraq and Afghanistan or are you referring to the broader "war on terrorism?" If the latter, how do you suggest we measure our success in that war? How will we know when we've won? At what point will be able to get back our sacrificed freedoms?

I suggest to you that this whole issue was covered by the Founding Fathers with regard to the "Alien and Sedition Acts" and the debate about a Bill of Rights. The Founding Fathers knew the answers to these questions were very tricky to say the least. That's why they included the Bill of Rights in the Constitution. That's why the right of habeas corpus figures so prominently in the Constitution.

The people arguing that we need to "sacrifice certain freedoms" don't answer these questions. They leave it open ended. Since no one will say where it will end I say STOP NOW. I'd rather take my 1 in a hundred thousand chance of being killed by a terrorist attack like another 9/11 than tolerate tyranny here in the USA." - RBR

Citizens, have you any comments?


Tuesday, April 27, 2004

More On Taxes


It was remarkably easy (took 20 minutes to find, digest and type) to get decent data on taxes from industrialized countries. I got the per capita GDP data from the CIA world fact book (see link on this blog). I got the tax information from the OECD.

Some highlights: US tax rates do not look that different from other industrialized countries. By some indicators our taxes are lower and by others they are about average.

Bottom line: The top marginal income tax rate for Americans in 2001 (combined state and federal tax) was 47.7 percent. However, before you flip out about how high that is consider this. You don't pay that rate until you earn $304,287/year (in purchasing power parity dollars). That would put you comfortably in the top 1% of the income distribution (see previous posting). For this comparison consider that the USA per capita GDP is $36,300 (2001 PPP dollars).

Compare this with the United Kingdom which is among the most free market economies in Europe. The top marginal rate in 2001 in the UK is 40.0% but they pay that top rate after they earn $53,371 (PPP dollars). The per capita GDP in the UK is $25,500 (2001 PPP dollars).

In Luxembourg - one of the richest countries in the world - the top 2001 marginal rate is 43.1% but they start paying the top rate after earning $78,958. The per capita GDP of Luxembourg is $48,900 (2001 PPP dollars).

Ireland - aka "the Celtic Tiger" - has been running high growth rates for years now. Ireland's top 2001 marginal rate was 48% which people start paying at $27,405 (PPP dollars). Ireland's per capita GDP is $29,300 (2001 PPP dollars). Yes, the Irish are now richer than the Brits!

OK, per capita GDP isn't the best measure of income distributions but I don't have time to do any major research here and its good enough to give a rough comparison.

To sum up: The top marginal tax rates are comparable in all four countries. But the real killer is where in the distribution that top rate kicks in. In the UK and Luxembourg if you make roughly twice the per capita GDP you are paying the top marginal tax rate. In Ireland you start paying the top rate at an income roughly equal to the per capita GDP. In the USA you don't pay that top rate until you are making 8.38 times as much as the per capita GDP. All of these countries have comparably healthy, stable economies despite the differences in their tax burdens.


Political Orthography

Observe this AP article:

Headline: Qaddafi Makes First Visit to Europe in 15 Years
Published: April 27, 2004

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) -- Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, flanked by bodyguards on his first trip to Europe in 15 years, said Tuesday his country was open for business but cautioned the West against making him return to violence. . . .

Spelling is one of the ways that modern advocates of various causes identify themselves as having true or special knowledge about a cause. Some authors even create their own spellings to seem more authentic. The numerous spellings of Hannukah/Chanukah/Channukah/Hanukah are sometimes employed by different Rabbis to imply that one is more authentically Hebrew than the other, by implying that they know the "right way" to spell it. In Los Angeles, one encounters this with Spanish language names, with accent retention being the marker of sensitivity. Applying an accent to someone who does not want it is as insenstive as automatically addressing a Latino in Spanish, but failing to use accents offends others. It is a particularly annoying form of political correctness, which divides rather than unites across cultural and linguistic boundaries. Are we fighting in Fallujah/Falloujah/Fallouja/Falluja? Is the prophet named Mohammed/Muhammad/Mohammad/Muhamad? Hawai`i is another "fascinating" issue. This is not about "misspellings." It's about using orthography in a political manner, to distinguish an in-group from an out-group. The Chinese effort to move from the inaccurate but recognized Wade-Giles system to a weird modern system using lots of Xs and Qs has not done much for comprehension. The worst effect of this behavior is to make the idea of a "standard orthography" into a new realm of "linguistic hegemony." Anyone who would write Peking or Sinkiang rather than Beijing and Xinjiang is now an imperialist. Anyone who has studied the acquisition of reading ability knows that sounding out words is a primary strategy, but is soon replaced by the ability to recognize words. Messing with spelling makes reading harder, plain and simple. The best solution would be some sort of national transliteration bureau of the academy of sciences.

But for heaven's sake - if we can't have national transliteration standards, can we keep it straight in the same article?


Tax Portrait of USA

From the IRS website for Tax Year 2001:

Top 1 percent Adjusted Gross Income - $292,913
Top 10 percent AGI - $92,754
Bottom 10 percent AGI break - $5,121

Median AGI - $28,117

When Kerry talks about restoring the 2000 tax rates on those earning $200,000 or more, he's talking about the top 2% of the population.

Most Americans with professional jobs substantially overestimate the wealth of their fellow Americans.


Monday, April 26, 2004

A Tax By Any Other Name

Check out this quotation from a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article (Monday, April 26, 2004):
"The Republican leaders of a key education committee in the U.S. House of Representatives are planning to introduce a bill this week that includes a provision designed to diminish the appeal of a popular program that allows borrowers to combine and refinance their federal student loans."
"Under the plan, borrowers who seek such consolidation loans would no longer be able to "lock in" a fixed interest rate for up to 30 years, as they are able to do now. Instead, the borrowers would be charged the same rate as all other student-loan recipients are charged in a given year. Currently that rate varies from year to year, based on market conditions."

The effect will be that people who borrow to increase their education and thereby their productivity in the economy (there is a high correlation between education and income) will be forced to accept so called "balloon rates" on their student loans. When you take out a loan, you will have no idea what the interest will be over the life that loan.

This is clear attempt by the Republicans to raise revenue without appearing to raise taxes. I call on everyone who sees the website to write to their congressional reps to oppose this Republican attempt to subsidize tax cuts for the already rich by shifting the burden onto the would be Horatio Algers of the modern world (student loan recipients).


Unfurling Idiocy etc

First, I love the title of this line of discussion!

I couldn't believe the description of the new Iraqi flag and had to go look it up myself on google. I think it reminds one of the Ukrainian color scheme (blue and yellow). So at least we gave a nod to our loyal Ukrainian allies. I would have thought that a picture of the pillar with Hamurabi's Code on it would have sent a more pro law and order message. ; - )

Re: "more troops and money is not a strategy." Agreed. It is at best a part of a strategy. In an earlier posting I tried to get a discussion going about how the US should get disentangled from Iraq. There weren't many takers.

I will summarize my current thinking: In the short term, we should increase troop strength (especially MPs and civil affairs types) to try to establish an atmosphere of order - an obvious criticism of this is that such troops are probably not available in adequate numbers (which begs the question of why did the Bush administration go off half cocked?). In the medium term we should bring in the UN and others, including EU countries that opposed the war, to get as broad a rebuilding effort as possible (note: this is in addition to rather than instead of US efforts so far). Bringing in new allies will require giving up total control over the contracts and giving up total control over the identity of the transitional government. In the long term we need to expand and diversify the economy of Iraq to provide jobs and improved livelihoods in ways that aren't totally dependent on the price of oil (or state control over oil). But of course, this administration's success at job creation here is mixed at best so why should I expect them to do better in Iraq?


Unfurling Idiocy

So, the US has posted a new Iraqi flag. I'm trying with no luck to figure out how to post it on the blog.

(Editor added it afterward)

It's a white flag with a blue religious symbol (crescent) in the middle and two blue stripes. Sound familiar? Israel's two blue stripes are above and below the Star of David - here they're both below with a yellow stripe in the middle. I suppose the only more foolish design would involve thirteen red and white stripes.

Now, what kind of complete moron missed the fact that the new Iraqi flag (a) looks like the Israeli flag, and (b) has dropped the pan-Arab colors (red/green/black/white)? Well, the latter answer is that the Wolfowitz crowd thinks they are going to re-make Iraq in their own image, and that means ditching the pan-Arab colors. But why drop the secular pan-Arab colors in favor of the religious crescent. Are they insane? The Saddam flag had no reference to religion until 1992, when it added the Arabic "God is Great" to the flag. The lone crescent makes this even more blatant. The crescent somehow belongs to the idea that we can just "tame" Islam by finding "moderates."

What's going on here is a really kindergartenish view of international politics that neo-conservatives fall into. The pro-Israel lobby - which they adhere to -would have it that Israel is a democracy that deserves the unconditional support of every democracy. In other words, any truly democratic country would naturally support Israel. Of course, the truth is that reasonable people can and do differ over Israeli policies with regards to the occupied territories. Add to that the naive Tom Friedman "no two countries with a McDonald's ever go to war" theory, then we see the Wolfowitz idea: make Iraq "democratic," put in a McDonald's, and poof! Israel gets accepted. The whole Middle East just becomes democratic by following Iraq's example, which NATURALLY means that they all become pro-American, start shopping at Wal-Mart, and maybe even start turning to Jesus. Of course, this all descends from a black-and-white "you're either with us or you're agin' us" theory of the world that GWBush and that ilk foster.

This view is naively buttressed by an unrealistic view of the end of the Cold War. As soon as Soviet Armies left, Eastern Europe became free and pro-American, even more so than "Old Europe." This is why knocking over the statue of Saddam Hussein, a la Lenin, was so significant on April 9, 2003. It confirmed everything that Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz/Cheney/Rice junta needed to know about how the world "really works." All we need to do is get Iraq to reach, as Francis Fukuyama put it, "the end of history."

The truth of Vietnam is that ideology blinded us to the facts on the ground. This is why Iraq is starting to look like Vietnam: irrational ideological commitments will keep us there but prevent us from finding the only solutions that will work (e.g., asking the Arab League to drum up a peacekeeping force and oversee nation-building, or having the UN oversee partitioning Iraq and tell the Turks to go PKK themselves, or inviting Iran to participate). As Sandy Berger said last week, "More troops and more money is not a strategy." I would add, that "perseverance is no substitute for strategy."


Soft on Defense?

What to do while waiting for journal articles to download from the web? I know I'll blow off steam on the blog!

The latest Republican attack adds are going after Kerry for supposed opposition to military appropriations in Iraq.

However two recent events put this accusation in some perspective. First, the Bush administration ridiculous under-estimation of costs for Iraq. They asked for $5 Billion when everyone knows the forces in Iraq need something more like $150 Billion. The Bush administration doesn't want to ask for that much until after the election because it will look bad in the media. Playing politics with military appropriations? How is that patriotic? At least Kerry's votes were supported by his claims of concern for budgetary responsibility (Democrats are tax and spend but Republicans are borrow and spend).

Second, when the Marines got into a fire fight in Fallujah today the military spokesmen said, the Marines "fought like lions" and some reports said the Marines were "out gunned." Why would the Marines be out gunned by a militia made up of "dead enders" and recent arrivals from radical movements around the Middle East? I suggest it goes back to Rumsfeld's insistence that the military do more with fewer troops. One might go on to suggest that the low numbers of troops in Iraq actually invites violent resistance because there are so many unprotected supply convoys, pipe lines, etc.

So here we have an administration that went into Iraq with too few troops to protect supply lines and maintain order behind the battle zone, etc (a disproportionate number of the casualties back before the "Mission Accomplished" banner, were supply and logistics people) accusing their opponents, who nearly unanimously call for more troops being sent, of being "soft on defense." If so many lives weren't at stake it would be hilarious.


What do we mean when we talk about democracy?

There is a lot of talk about democracy especially with regards to Iraq and the Bush administration's supposed defense of it in the "War on Terrorism." But what is it really?

I would suggest that regardless of any quibbling that could be offered about the difference between a "republic" and a "democracy", we all intuitively know what we mean when say a country is democratic or not.

First, democracy is NOT simply majority rule. It is conceivable that a majority of a population could support a dictatorship. There are numerous examples in history of this.

Second, equal protection under the law (and by implication, equal accountability to it) is a central component. Many people like to talk about "rule of law" by which they often mean "get tough on accused criminals." But that is not really equal protection under the law. Perhaps Law Talking Guy could elaborate.

Third, what is really at stake is minority protection. This not just protection of racial and ethnic minorities (see equal protection under the law) but also protection of minority political and economic interests. Can a 50% plus 1 majority of the country dictate policy to the rest? If so then we are dangerously close to what the Founding Fathers called "tyranny of the Majority."

Finally, most countries that we would intuitively consider to be democracies have guarantees of equal protection under the law as well as institutional protections for the losers of elections. Some popular minority protection features are: bicameral legislatures, requirements of 2/3 or 3/4 majorities for big policy changes, executive vetoes, judicial review of new laws, electoral systems that encourage multi-party governments (forces compromise), etc.

This has implications for both Iraq and the United States: In Iraq we need to find a way to convince the Sunnis/former Baathists that they will not be done unto as they did unto others. In the United States, the increasing emphasis on cultural conformity and patriotic (read nationalist) unity combined with increased prosecutorial powers for the executive is an alarming step away from what we would all agree are democratic features of our society.



Saturday, April 24, 2004

Some Thoughts on Journalism

There have been a lot of scandals lately about journalists getting caught plagiarizing and fabricating stuff, especially at USA Today and the New York Times. Why? I offer a modest explanation here:

It used to be that journalists were either self made, driven types who pushed themselves hard to get to the top of their profession. Alternatively, they had college degrees in a substantive field like political science, economics, history or something like that. But now journalists tend have college degrees in journalism or communications. This is the root of the problem. Journalism does not have any substantive content. It is a field entirely based on the art of presentation. The less said about communications, the better.

Combine this with an alarming lack of emphasis on objective truth in education (i.e. "Everyone's opinion is equally valid" or "There's no right answer here") and you get people - especially in TV journalism - who have little or no substantive knowledge of the fields on which they report (the economy, the government etc) and seem to have a command of the English language that rivals Archie Bunker's. In the past several months I've seen CNN refer to "eighty five million" while showing a graphic with 85,000,000,000 in big bold numbers. Then there was the time CNN reported on the number of killed from each country in Iraq and referred to "1 dead Danish." Aside from the fact that someone with a degree allegedly designed to produce good writers/communicators should KNOW that "Danish" is an adjective and "Dane" is a noun, it would only take 10 seconds to look it up in a dictionary.

But this is the problem. They didn't know, and didn't care that they didn't know, these were mistakes. As an instructor at a major - and prestigious - university, I have seen numerous students supposedly from the top of their high schools' classes complain when I correct mistakes like those in their papers. They come to me and declare that there is no right or wrong answer and I shouldn't grade them down "just because [I] don't like their writing style." I mention this because the students wouldn't complain if the complaint didn't work often enough to make them keep trying it. In other words, a lot of instructors teach them, through low standards, to expect a positive response to such complaints.

See, first, journalism/communications majors insist that style is more important than substance, then they say that since style is totally subjective, it should not be graded. The result is a gradual decline in the quality of communication skills as style becomes more and more determined by the particular areas of ignorance of the journalist in question. Statements become more and more ambiguous as meaning becomes more and more imprecise, sloppy and driven by the idiosyncratic mistakes of the writer/editor/journalist.

As for plagiarism and fabrication: I actually see dozens of cases that are probably unintentional but are technically plagiarism (improper citation of other people's work etc) every year. Of those most just get a stern warning from me and a somewhat lower grade but nothing dramatic. Once or twice a year I come across blatant and intentional plagiarism which I either flunk outright or submit to the authorities on campus. I've seen surveys that say that something like half of all college students have cheated like this at least once and think its OK. Is it any wonder that when these students get jobs as journalists, they don't think it's a big deal to make stuff up or plagiarize?

OK, I'm done now.


Some Thoughts on Tillman

FYI: I heard that Tillman served several months in Iraq before going to Afghanistan.

I think that Tillman's story is an especially stark contrast with Bush and Cheney's attitudes towards Vietnam service. They were rich and had the chance to manipulate the system to stay out of any real danger. Tillman was rich too and didn't need to manipulate anything to stay out of danger since there isn't a draft. But he went out of his way to sign up. At the risk of sounding too partisan, I'd say Tillman is similar to John Kerry's case. John Kerry was a rich Yale grad (like Bush) who had contacts in Washington (like Bush) and could have easily stayed out of the military, joined the guard and stayed out of Vietnam (like George II Bush and Dan Quayle), or gotten a cushy job in Vietnam (like Gore) but he volunteered for hazardous duty that he knew would put him in the thick of it.

I would like to think that Tillman's death would make athletes think twice before engaging in contrived and staged nationalistic displays (like saluting each other like "soldiers" after touchdowns etc) but I fear the contrary will be true. How big of an idiot will Kellen Winslow sound like the next time he calls himself a "soldier" or "at war?"


Friday, April 23, 2004

Flag-Draped Coffins

It's hard to imagine a more cynical policy than the Bush adminstration's refusal to allow publication of photographs of returning battle dead. We can only see celebrations at incoming aircraft carriers with hoopla and presidential speeches. The Pentagon has no particular excuse for this, or for their refusal to announce wounded soldiers unless a death is also included. We all know why; it is to keep the public from the pain of war. The Bush administration remembers that the Somalia debacle, with its 20 or so flag-draped coffins coming into Dover, shocked the public. Clinton, however, stood there and received the dead. Bush, it seems, is ashamed to go.

Most Americans don't know that we are getting almost a dozen bodies a week sent back -- Pat Tillman is one of the first real casualties most Americans have seen. Tillman's death in Afghanistan moved me. Very few men are turning their back on so much when they volunteer. It puts the adminstration's dishonesty about Iraq in such stark relief. Tillman was fighting the right war in Afghanistan. But pity the, now hundreds, of volunteers who have died in Iraq because Bush lied about weapons of mass destruction to convince a skeptical public and Congress into supporting the decision to go to war in March 2003. How tragic to take the sort of bravery and patriotic commitment of a young man like Tillman and waste it for the vanity of Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney.

I am, today, more than a little bitter about the cost of Bush's war.


Something Rotten in the State of Denmark

Hi All,

First, great changes, thanks Bell Curve.

Now, a little news from beyond our provincial little worlds: The Danish Defense Minister (Mr. Svend Aage Jensby) has resigned his position in response to a scandal about interference with Parliamentary oversight of the Danish intelligence/investigation agency.

The scandal revolves around excerpts of Government documents that were made public that showed that the Danish government (which has 500 soldiers in Iraq) continued to think there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. This even though an earlier interview with a Danish intelligence officier claimed that the Prime Minister and Defense Minister were repeatedly told by Danish intelligence officiers before the war that the U.S. led coalition was unlikely to find WMDs in Iraq.

Mr. Jensby (of the center-right Liberal party) got into more and more trouble when he got tangled up in the resulting political fight with opposition parliamentarians from the Social Democratic Party (center-left) and Socialist People's Party (left).

You can get more details from the BBC news link on this blog. Or, if you can read Danish, you could link to a Danish newspaper like Politiken.

I don't think this will in any way disrupt the global supply of sugar cookies, Carlsberg beer or Legos.


New stuff on The Citizens!

Let's recap some of the changes we've made to everyone's favorite web site recently...

First of all, we are now able to use titles, as you can see above. You can click on a title to the right to be taken to that article. We've also added "Comments" and "Trackback" so you can tell us what you think of our posts. We have changed some of the colors of the web site and are now able to include pictures in our site, such as the following:

(this image comes from The Ironic Times)

Enjoy the redesign, and tell us what you think!


Wednesday, April 21, 2004

The Necessity of Economic Diversity

Welcome to the fray Bell Curve! : - )

Obviously, establishing causality here is nearly impossible since we can't set up controlled experiments with countries in giant laboratories or something. To be super technical I should be clear that the logical flip side of my argument is that Democracy is a sufficient condition for complex economies (note the difference in structure). What's more, these arguments are logically interchangeable since I can't establish causality. Either way, they strongly suggest that the US occupation forces encourage as wide a range of economic development outside of the oil sector as possible.

What I do claim to have is a reasonable explanation of the observed reality. An explanation more or less consistent with our (informal and non-rigorous) data (Alaska excepted) and one that has yet to be fully refuted by clear evidence that highly concentrated economies are observed with stable democracies.

Oil producers are a big part of the correlation I think we would observe if we did a serious examination of economics and democracy. But many countries in subsaharan Africa have similar problems, they just have less cash lying around.

The problem with citing Alaska as an example is that if there were a coup d'etat in Alaska to take over the distribution of the oil checks, the US federal government would step in. That completely changes the incentive structure - despite the presence of lots of oil.

All I said was that complex economies are necessary condition... I never said they were the only necessary condition. Nor was I primarily interested in making an argument about how Iraq got messed up in the first place. Rather, I was trying to suggest a rationally justified policy in Iraq that gets beyond the "Democracy from the barrel of gun" policy we seem to have now. To paraphrase Powell, "We broke it and now we own it." So what do we do now? My argument about the necessity of economic diversity strongly suggests that we emphasize long term economic development outside the oil sector.

I don't see any obvious policy implications in the historical/colonial explanations for how Iraq got this way. Where does a detailed recitation of the past 50 years of Iraqi history tell us when the median age in Iraq is 19 and 40% of the population is under 14?

OK, so I ask both Law Talking Guy and Bell Curve: If you think my rationale is flawed, what alternative policies do you suggest?


Part of my post was to suggest that the data regarding connections between economic diversity and democracy aren't good. The argument that single-product economies aren't democratic is driven almost entirely by the data of Arab oil producing states. So one might as easily make the argument that being Arab or producing oil is the issue, not the economic concentration.

History is much more instructive here. The full story of Iraq seems to be that oil production grew up under semi-colonial rule. The Hashemite monarchy permitted foreign companies to loot the country - taking the oil almost free -- in return for, essentially, kickbacks to the royal family. The Baathists (who are nationalistic socialists, which should ring a bell with some) united a burgeoning middle class and poorer Arabs with a "spread the wealth" program. They proposed nationalizing the oil companies and, secretly, taking much more revenue for the few power-hungry men at the top. But they also spread around a lot more, particularly to the Sunni community, earning their loyalty. In the 1970s, Saddam Hussein consolidated power, relying increasingly on state-run oil (nationalized 1972) to run his government. In the 1980s, export and trade for arms (from the US mainly) became crucial. In the 1990s, sanctions distorted everything. This isn't a story about lack of economic diversity, is it? It's a story of bad Hashemite government.

Alaska demonstrates that even a heavily oil-based economy can work well if the government (essentially) heavily taxes private oil companies and spreads the wealth around. Alaska has no income tax; it's all oil revenue, plus distributions to each citizen each year. The fact that it's not independent isn't that relevant to the point that oil doesn't make them corrupt - or the corruption there is not corrosive.

p.s. - hands off Nauru.


Coincidence vs. Causality

The other good point that The Law Talking Guy makes is that coincidence does not imply causality. RbR's argument, if I may summarize, says "one-dimensional economies are not democracies, therefore one-dimensional economies cause a country to not be a democracy." What if I told you that more people die of tuberculosis in Arizona than any other state? (which, last I checked, was true) The quick and easy conclusion to draw is that the climate in Arizona is somehow bad for tuberculosis, when in fact the very opposite is true.
I think we need to take in to account the other possible factors here, such as geography, religion, history, economic sanctions, etc. before we can come to a conclusion on this one.


The Necessity of Economic Diversity

Law Talking Guy makes some fair points, especially about Iraq's economy being distorted by the sanctions. I looked at an old atlas with data from 1982 and it said Iraq was already dominated by the oil sector as early as the 1950s but that there was some agricultural exporting and even a little iron and copper ore exporting. However, the idea that sanctions contributed to the perverse concentration of the Iraqi economy wouldn't contradict what I am saying, namely that we need to get the non-oil economy in Iraq growing before democracy will take hold. Keep in mind, I'm not making an argument about how Iraq got the way it is, just about how to get it out of its current dilemma.

The counter argument that the determining factor is institutions rather than economics begs the question of what conditions favor stable institutions. The mechanism of my argument was that the concentration of the economy distorted the development of government institutions by producing an unbalanced distributive arrangement for national resources. So in effect I'm saying that the institutions are crucial but that they are not the original causal variable.

Nauru has a population of 12,000! Student Council elections at major universities probably involve more voters. I looked at a map of it and the country is barely big enough to hold both the phosphate mine and an airport.

As for Alaska, it's not an independent country, so it's not a reasonable example.

As for Venezuela, I already looked into that and its economy is both somewhat more diverse than Iraq's and its democracy is not very stable right now. There have been recent coup attempts, riots in the streets, extra-legal confiscation of private property by the President's supporters etc. What's more, control over the oil industry is a key dimension of the conflict between the opposition and President, not the best example to refute my argument. I'll say you get a quarter of the way to convincing me with Venezuela.

Of all the examples you mentioned, I'd be most willing to accept defeat based on the Caribbean thing. They are overly concentrated in banana exporting but also have big tourism and mining sectors. I looked up Jamaica (a reasonably stable democracy) for a start. Jamaica is heavily dependent on tourism and bauxite mining but there is also agricultural exporting (especially bananas) as well as textiles and other light manufacturing.

Overall, I'd be prepared to say you're 75% to convincing me. You'll win me over if you can show that the Caribbean economies are really as one-dimensional as stereotypes indicate.... For example, Jamaica was more economically diverse than I expected.


Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Democracies relying almost exclusively on a single export for their GDP?

Well, RBR, as you know, these are usually former colonies -- that is why and how they were colonized -- and many of these are politically unstable, but the export situation is not a cause. Similarly, I doubt that those former colonies who are more politically stable owe it to a diverse economy rather than to, say, sound institutions. I think Costa Rica and India are examples of good institutions, not diverse economies.

Alaska? (oil). Venezuela? (oil). New Zealand? (Lord of the Rings) Nauru (phosphate). Much of the Caribbean- either banking, rum, sugar, or bananas. It's a small list to be sure.

I suppose it's right to ask today if, other than oil producers, there are really countries out there without a "diverse economy." Is your data set entirely composed of oil producing nations?

I suspect, however, that we are all oversimplifying. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are oil-producing wastelands, but Iraq is in ancient Mesopotamia. It has agriculture and a civilzed, urbanized population that has been the center of empires for as long as there has been civilization. Iraq probably has probably never been as dependent on oil as we suppose. Our figure that 95% of Iraq's exports are oil is somewhat slanted by the past 13 years of sanctions where the oil-for-food program was supposed to be the main exception.

What do we know of Iraq in the 1970s, before the Iran-Iraq war forced it to turn to gov't-run, cash-producing oil?

Here is something taken from Al-Ahram, the Egyptian newspaper:
"Since the 1970s, Iraq's agricultural sector has been badly administered. During the 1970s Iraq was by far the largest supplier of dates, supplying 80 per cent of international market needs. By the 1990s, Iraq's exports had dwindled to an alarming degree. Importing fertilisers and plant parts have been difficult under UN sanctions. Sanctions have also stopped the import of certain agricultural machines and equipment, because they may have a "dual use". Iraq's livestock is afflicted with various diseases, which lowers agricultural output and limits access to meat for food."

Perhaps the Ba'athist regime encouraged a non-diverse economy, rather than the other way around.


The Necessity of Economic Diversity

Hi Law Talking Guy,

Great discussion of the SC decisions on the fate of our democracy itself. Very insightful.

Re Economics and Democracy:
I argue that economic diversity is a necessary condition for democracy. That is I'm saying that we will not observe stable democracies with economies concentrated in one sector. I'm not claiming that we won't observe non-democracies with diverse economies (like China).

I point to the following as evidence in support of my argument (all the facts below were got from the CIA World Fact Book link on our blog in about 10 minutes):
1) No stable democracies have emerged in any country totally dependent upon oil. Norway has a number of other industries - fishing, shipbuilding, mining, steel and metal industries, etc. In any case Norway was a democracy long before they discovered the oil. Venezuela might be pointed to as an oil exporting democracy but it has a number of other exports such as steel, bauxite and general manufacturing. Also, Venuzuela's status as a stable democracy is debatable right now.
2) Most developing countries that have set up stable democratic regimes are places like Costa Rica (depends on a variety of ag products now instead of just one, coffee) or South Africa (mining, auto manufacture, textiles, steel, chemicals etc). Or my favorite democracy this week because they are letting over 650 million people vote in an election right now - India! (textiles, chemicals, computer software, etc). Heck, even Iran has a somewhat more diverse economy than Iraq (Iran's exports are 85% oil compared to Iraq's 95%)! While Iran is far from a democracy, there are at least domestic demands for democratic reform in Iran without much assistance from US government.

Can you (or Bell Curve or the heretofore silent other political scientist) come up with any evidence that refutes my argument? That is can you identify a stable democracy that relies on a single commodity export as much or more than say 80%? If so I'll happily admit defeat like a good empiricist.


Habeas Corpus and Enemy Combatants

1. What will the SC do re: Jose Padilla:

To some extent, this is a question for court-watchers and other prognosticators. My tea leaf reading is limited. I suspect the following is an easy sell: Scalia and Thomas will, as always, blindly support authority. Both will do the easy intellectual "chore" of finding historical support for submission to the desires of the executive, reaching to England where our history is more progressive. Rehnquist always supports the power of the state. On the other side, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Stevens will oppose the Bush adminstration. That leaves, O'Connor, and Kennedy -- hardly the two individuals to whom any sane person would entrust his or her liberty. Both seem old and frightened individuals who will vote out of fear to support Bush.

What the Bush administration seeks to do is, in short, abolish the writ of habeas corpus, the "great writ" as Blackstone called it. The writ of habeas corpus is a procedure to force the executive to justify one's imprisonment. It is rightly called the foundation of English and American liberty. Accordingly, the constitution says it cannot be suspended except in an emergency, and is then silent on what that means. The writ has been suspended once, I believe, during the civil war, and then by executive order. Unlike a civil war, or any declared war, Bush's "war on terrorism" is, like the "war on poverty" is an unending metaphor rather than anything defined in time. Thus, to grant that we are "at war" now is to say that we are permanently at war. Emergency becomes permanent reality.

Jose Padilla is a US citizen who was seized on US soil. The Bush administration claims that it may hold him indefinitely, incommunicado, without making a showing to anyone. If the SC upholds this, there will be no barrier left to a police state. It is that serious, and that sad. The SC precedent upholding unlimited secret detention will have to be overturned at some future date. Perhaps when one of them is arrested and held indefinitely for no reason, then the others will defend the law. Unless it is too late.

2. What the SC will do re: Guantanamo

This is actually the more interesting case because it is not as black and white (or as gruesome) as the outcome in Padilla's case. This has to do with the status of Guantanamo. Can the US government create a permanent place where the US constitution does not apply? Asked this way, the answer is clear: obviously not. The constitution doesn't either "apply" or "not apply." It's not a traffic regulation. The constitution is what creates the government; the government always operates under the constitution, and has no power outside of it. Therefore, the constitution "applies" to Guantanamo. Bush is holding them there now under no authority but his own say-so, and they are accorded no rights whatsoever. The Bush position would support summary execution. The Bush position is that there is NO law at Guantanamo, only the power and judgment of the military. It is astonishing - shocking -that this is not laughed at. 600 human beings have been locked up and told they have no rights at all. This is America? The Bush response: "technically, no" is cold comfort.

Once we move away from the lawless Bush party to those who value the rule of law, we find the answer. The detainees there may be held as POWs, under the Geneva convention which, because it is a treaty to which we are a signatory, is the "supreme law of the land." Otherwise, there is no authority.
I think the SC is likely to rule that the constitution applies to Guantanamo, but that it permits holding of them as POWs only.

3. The "inherent powers" issue.

In the 1920s, the SC confronted a treaty with Canada regarding migratory birds. The court held that this had nothing to do with interstate commerce and therefore the US government had no business regulating it. However, it said, the states had no authority to enter treaties. Rather than leave a lacuna, the SC said that the federal government could negotiate such a treaty as part of the "inherent powers" of a sovereign nation. This doctrine has not been stretched much beyond this initial setting, but one can see both its appeal and danger. The appeal is that it lets us get beyond technical 1790s limits to do sensible things like bird treaties. The danger is, of course, that "inherent powers" means extra powers. This is, I believe, a doctrine that views the "sovereignty" of the Federal government as if it were a Royal sovereign. The difference, of course, is that under our system the people are sovereign, and THEY have the inherent powers, not the government.

4. Bottom line: Rule of Law

The real question is whether we respect the Rule of Law, or whether we just trust our rulers. The sad part is that the Bush administration has no respect for the Rule of Law. Bush and Ashcroft seem to think that they're following Jesus. Cheney just subscribes to Machiavellian doctrines of the exercise of power. To "fight terrorism" anything is justifiable to them. Unfortunately,terrorism, unlike specific terrorists, is an idea that one can never defeat. The prosecutor in "A man for all seasons" of Thomas More states boldly that he would cut down every law to get at the devil. Thomas More, in response, asks "and when you have cut down every law, where will you hide when the devil turns on you?"


RBR- I find the conclusion that "factories" will help Iraq to be something of a non sequitur. The problem there is political and ideological; not economic. The solution, accordingly, has to do with force and ideas, not economic development. Long-term, economic development weighs in favor of political stability, but I think that is all.


The Necessity of Economic Diversity

Howdy Law Talking Guy,

I read your posting a couple of times through and can't figure out how you disagree with what I posted about the prospects for Iraqi democracy. I got all worked up for a good argument but then it didn't happen.

On another subject: I would also like to hear from the Law Talking Guy about what he thinks the Supreme Court will do with this Enemy Combatant Case and what implications it has for the contistutional rights of U.S. citizens.


Monday, April 19, 2004

I don't entirely agree with the conclusion of RBR presented here, although I do agree with the historical facts regarding the German and Japanese experiences. Some other points that are worth mentioning. It was noted last year before the occupation began that the number of occupying soldiers per capita in Germany was more than 5x that of Iraq today. That made control of potential insurgent forces much easier. Also, Germany was well and truly defeated both institutionally and physically. It is instructive that within one year of the "defeat" of Iraq, al-Sadr has an organized and well-supplied militia largely unconnected to the previous Ba'athist government. Such a thing could not have happened in Germany. So, I think we are facing the problem that we haven't invested the time or resources in order to be able to occupy the country peacefully for 5 years or so while they build democratic institutions.

And that's just the monetary and force issue. The larger issue is one of ideology and war. During WWII, we defeated fascism and delegitimized it as a political force outside of Alabama. We also lopped off the left end of the spectrum in the post-war anticommunist push. Thus, the only political space in Germany was centrist. By contrast, we barely even understand Iraqi politics, much less have we de-legitimized whole segments of it. Not only have we failed to use the money or military force to accomplish de-Ba'athification, but we also haven't even articulated what it is.

This should not be surprising. The problem with the Iraq/Germany analogy is facially obvious. We didn't liberate Germany; we conquered it. We cannot both conquer and liberate Iraq. We aren't sure which one we're doing. The result is that we are failed conquerors, and we have "liberated" religious fanaticism.

Mark my word: we will soon be allying with ex-Ba'athists against Shi'a and Sunni radicals. And as with those who aided the White Russians in 1918, we will not understand why we failed.


Three Reasons Stable Democracy Not Likely In Iraq

There are three reasons why we should not expect Iraq to democratize under our occupation they way Germany and Japan did after WWII.
1) Germany had established an abortive democracy briefly in 1848, had some democratic reforms under the Kaisers between 1872 and 1919 and then established a full democracy (albeit a sloppy one) between 1919 and 1933. This was overthrown by Hitler, who was democratically elected by the way. But Hitler ruled for so short a time that many of the democraticaly elected local officials of the old 1919-1933 Republic were still alive and able to assume key posts after the war ended. There were even shadow city governments secretly operating inside the concentration camps were many Social Democratic and Christian Democratic officials had been imprisoned. When the Allied troops liberated the camps they were sometimes greeted by committees of inmates claiming to be the entire city councils of major cities. These people were experienced, knew the local community well and had legitimacy in the eyes of both the local Germans and the Allies. Nothing like this exists in Iraq today.
2) In Japan, we did not completely overthrow the Japanese government. Contrary to popular belief we did not impose unconditional surrender on the Japanese. The titular head of the government was Emporer Hirohito. We granted him immunity from prosecution for war crimes, and allowed him to retain his throne as well as much of his ceremonial status. This gave his supporters (an important segment of the Japanese social/political elite) a stake in the post-war regime and enlisted them in our efforts to re-make Japan as a functioning democracy. There is no universally admired figure in Iraq that we can co-opt like we did with the Japanese Emperor. Sistani comes close but he is only admired among some key segments of the Shia population, not the whole country.
3) Most importantly, unlike Japan and Germany in 1945, Iraq has a perversely undiverse economy. Both Germany and Japan were countries involving a wide range of economic sectors and activities. Iraq's economy is nearly totally dependent on oil. Because the wealth of the country is so concentrated in one economic sector, how the profits of that sector get distributed is a huge problem. Suppose Iraq privatizes its oil industry. The most likely result would be domination of the sector by US and British oil companies and most of the revenue from the sale of oil would flow not to Iraq but to the HQs of the major oil companies. Suppose Iraq nationalizes the oil industry in order to more tightly control the way foreign oil companies buy and sell Iraqi oil. Who distributes the profits of the Iraqi national oil company? The Government. Suppose that government divides up the profits proportionally to the three major groups in Iraq. Would the Shia and Kurds who suffered so much not demand a greater share than the Suni? Would the Suni agree quietly to getting less than the 100% they got under Saddam? Ultimately, control over the government would mean the difference between total control of the economy and total exclusion from the politics and economics of the country. Under those circumstances could we expect a sitting Iraqi Prime Minister (or President) to step down from power after losing an election? I suggest that we could not expect that. And so Iraq would have, at best, one election followed by an undemocratic government based on the same kind of command economy that Saddam ran. Whether it would be as violent as Saddam's government is another question but for certain a democracy would not be sustainable until the economy diversifies giving political losers a greater stake in the system. In the long run Iraq will never be moved towards democracy the US Army or Texas based oil/energy related companies like Haliburton. What Iraq needs is factories in as wide a variety as possible and in great numbers!


Getting In Touch With Your Inner Coalition


I just got back from a political science conference in Chicago. I got together with some friends currently at various prominent universities and private research consulting groups. About a half a dozen of us got together for dinner and after putting away the better part of two Chicago-style deep dish pizzas and several pints of beer, the conversation turned to Bush and Iraq and other sillyness.
I stated my view that the Bush administration is dominated by "Realists" (see the discussion of state centric policies below). However a couple of my friends suggested an alternative approach: They argued that the Bush administration was trying to dis-engage with the whole Middle East. Remember before 9/11, the US had effectively ceased all involvement in the Palestine-Israel peace negotiations. Anyway, part of this strategy of disengagement was to remove our troops from Saudi Arabia to reduce anti-American feelings in the region. However, the Bush adminsitration did not want to leave the oil rich region completely so the plan required relocating the US military within the Middle East. Kuwait is too small to contain the forces needed. That leaves Iraq. So in a sense, the invasion of Iraq and overthrow of Saddam was incidental to the primary goal of finding alternative sites for US military bases near the oil.
At the end of the evening we agreed that some of the Bush people were clearly motivated by state-centrism while others appeared to be more in line with the motives just described. Since they wanted the same goal, conquest of Iraq, - albeit for different reasons - they formed a kind of coalition within the Bush administration to push the policy.


Friday, April 16, 2004

How Do We Get Out of Iraq?

Hi again,
I think invading Iraq in the first place was a huge mistake. But now we are there we can't just walk away.
But how do we get out of Iraq??
Step 1) Get the UN involved at least nominally. Obviously, even if the UN cooperates, the US will end up doing most of the dirty work. But having the UN there for political cover will make the job easier and make it easier to get other countries to share the financial burden. What do we care if the UN gets the credit? Our goal is a stable and democratic Iraq, right? If we can get there more easily and cheaper by letting the UN or - gasp - the French wet their beaks in the reconstruction contracts then so be it!
Step 2) Get Ayatollah Sistani, or his appointee, into a very public position of the new Iraqi transistional government. Sistani has been annoying the Bush adminstration by insisting on earlier direct elections. That's not feesible, elections require a lot more than a public declaration. But granting Sistani some real influence over the transition to an independent Iraq might get him "on board." Maybe even put him in charge of trying his more radical rival, Al Sadr, - once we catch the guy - for murdering a third prominent Shia cleric (Al Sadr is as big a threat to Sistani in the long run as to us). It would make the US look more reasonable and open to Iraqi needs and desires. Finally, it would give Sistani a stake in the process and possibly turn him from an annoying voice from the sidelines to an ally. I think I heard that Sistani is Iranian by birth but if he has been living in Iraq all these years, one presumes he doesn't get along with the Iranian regime (something the US should take advantage of).
Step 3) OK, I'm out of steps. I think the first two will do a lot to untangle us.
Do the other "Citizens" have any opinions on this?


Thursday, April 15, 2004

Donny Rumsfeld's Patronizing Briefings


Donald Rumsfeld's press conferences remind of a scene in Monty Python's Meaning of Life. You know the one where John Cleese is a teacher trying to explain something mind numbingly complicated and pass it off as so simple that only an idiot wouldn't immediately get it.
"I do wish you'd listen, Wymer, it's perfectly simple. If you're not getting your hair cut, you don't have to move your brother's clothes down to the lower peg, you simply collect his note before lunch after you've done your scripture prep when you've written your letter home before rest, move your own clothes on to the lower peg, greet the visitors, and report to Mr Viney that you've had your chit signed. Now, sex... sex, sex, sex, where were we?" (I got the text from Monty Python's Completely Useless Website, )

I think Rumsfeld takes an exceptionally patronizing tone with the press. Today someone asked him how the recent violent unrest in Iraq could take the administration by surprise. He responded that they weren't all that surprised. This prompted a question about why if they weren't surprised did they have to extend the deployment times of 20,000 troops just as they were preparing to come home. His response was much like Cleese's response to Wymer above, just substitute flag waving and accusations about aiding terrorists for "sex sex sex".


Funny web site

Here's a website that's making the rounds of the weblogs: Bush in 41.2. It's a parody of one of those MoveOn Bush attack ads. I suspect you'll find it funny no matter what your politics -- as a Republican, you'll probably think it's a cutting parody of those slanderous attack ads. As a Democrat, you'll probably think, like the Thomas Edison joke*, "it's funny because it's true."

*"How many geniuses does it take to invent a light bulb? Just one. Thomas Edison." Click here if you don't get the reference.


Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Stumbling over the "Biggest Mistake" question was a terrible insight into the state of White House affairs. First of all, any media-savvy individual (and the President ought to have one on staff) develops a standard way of handling a question to which he does not know the answer. You have a funny comeback, or just learn a standard punting technique. This is elementary stuff.

First lessons in oral argument for a young attorney:
1. Pause rather than babble.
2. Pause rather than say "umm"
3. Pause, think, and answer. People will wait for the answer, and forget the pause if it's decent.

What is plain is that Bush (1) didn't think he would ever have any problems, and (2) didn't listen to his staffers who told him how to behave. So he's arrogant and takes no advice.

So he ummmed and ahhed for a while. Then, in a seriously Freudian gesture, he spoke for about 5 minutes about how Iraq was NOT a mistake. Karl Rove must have been wilting inside. Worse, there was not a shred of creativity. As soon as I heard the question, four ideas popped into my head: (1) Maybe calling this press conference, I'm thinking now; (2) Ask Laura; (3) I've got five more years, so let's ask that when we're done (4) saying "crusade." Is there anyone who, for even an ordinary job interview, doesn't figure out the answer to that question "what's your biggest weakness...?" The answer is either funny or self-serving. Bush could have planned an answer, such as "not pushing hard enough for raising military pay" or "hanging back on the gay marriage issue until recently" or even "being talked into too small a tax cut by the Democrats."

As someone who has taught classes, I can identify with being "on the spot." A person expecting to do public speaking should be ready for that occasion. I was once asked to introduce a former California governor to a crowd on an impromptu basis. As the man was walking towards the stage, his staffer asked me to head him off and do an introduction. I walked to the podium. I paused, asked for silence, made a favorable comparison to the sitting Republican governor, and introduced Jerry Brown. Anyone who is President should know how to think on his feet in a crisis. If being asked a simple question is a crisis, heaven help us all.


Two More Cents

Bush may have been willing to go to war in Iraq despite prior knowledge of no weapons of mass desctruction (WMDs) but he would have been awfully lonely over there. I doubt even the Brits would have gone along with the adventure absent a WMD fig leaf. Also, one wonders if Congress would have gone along with it without the WMD threat being waved about so prominently. Possibly but it would have been MUCH more politically difficult than it was and wasn't exactly a cake walk even with the expectation of WMDs.
Bottom line: When Bush talks about what he would have done way back when, its more about being on message for today than any accurate assesment of what might have been.


Two cents

I also want to chip in my two cents about the press conference yesterday. There was only one thing that really startled me, and that was Bush saying that he would have gone to war with Iraq even knowing what he knows today; that is, that the things we thought were WMD were actually, well, not. That kind of bothered me. I guess he's just making the case that the world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power, period. That may be, but we could have saved some lives and $87,000,000,000 the other way.

It also appears he was coached to say repeatedly that Saddam Hussein was "a threat" but to never utter the words "immediate threat" or "imminent threat". I wonder if it has something to do with Rumsfeld getting caught in a contradiction.

But the stumbling over the "biggest mistake question" didn't bother me. What he said:

"I don't want to sound like I have made no mistakes. I'm confident I have. I just haven't -- you just put me under the spot here -- and maybe I'm not as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one,"

As a teacher, I know what it's like to get asked a question you haven't prepared for. You stumble over it, go home and you think of tons of things you could have said. So I actually sympathize with him there.

What did everyone else think?


Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Exceeding Low Expectations?

And the wackiness ensues...

I saw President Bush's 3rd press conference of his Presidency (I heard it's the lowest number of press conferences of any modern President) and here is my bottom line assessment...
I don't think it will change the approval ratings much one way or the other which, given Bush's record with press interaction, is pretty good for Bush. Here we go again with G.W. exceeding low expectations.
I thought the best moment for Bush was when he started getting really excited about how "Freedom is the Almighty's gift to the world." He said that about 2 minutes before the conference was scheduled to end and I think he should have said, "Thanks" and walked out right then...Reagan or Clinton probably would have. But he asked for one more question and it deflated his moment. The final question was [paraphrasing], "do you think you have failed as a communicator to make the case for the war in Iraq?" And his answer was safe, predictable and totally unmemorable. It was like watching a gymnast do a great vault and then land on his butt - plop. His supporters won't notice the bad landing though. His critics will probably be put off by the messianic language.
His worst moment of the press conference was when he was asked if he could think of any mistakes he has made either with respect to preventing 9/11 or the war in Iraq. He paused, made a little joke, paused again then said, "I’m sure something will pop into my head but it hasn’t yet." After that he asserted that we still might find weapons of mass distruction and cited a Turkey farm Libya that was an especially good hiding place for Khadafi before he came clean this year.
Bottom line is that there is stuff in this press conference to confirm the existing opinions of viewers but not much to convince someone to change their mind one way or the other.


New stuff

If you are new to our web site (and everyone is, since we just started this thing a few days ago) you might want to check out our links to the right. Among the highlights today is this article from The Onion along with today's Danziger Cartoon. Both very funny.

So when are our lawyer and our "other kind of political scientist" going to start making contributions?


Monday, April 12, 2004

That wacky Misery Index

As the token mathematician on the panel, I think it's my duty to talk about Kerry's "Misery Index" that came out today. A few thoughts...

  1. We don't need an index to tell us that the economy is bad. Any idiot on the street will tell you that. Is he trying to quantify just how bad it is? People can look at unemployment figures, gas prices, stocks, home ownership, anything. I don't see the point of putting a number on it.
  2. Lies, damn lies, and statistics. People who don't know anything about math will tell you numbers can say anything. That's not exactly true, but this is: you can invent a statistic to show nearly anything is true. A while ago, someone invented a statistic to show Barry Bonds in 2002 had the best single season in baseball history. So? I can invent a statistic to show that Einar Diaz is the greatest ballplayer ever. It's a simple fact that a statistic invented specifically to show something is meaningless.
  3. It could backfire. Let's say Kerry is elected president, and the economy gets better in every way...except according to his own index. Wouldn't that look bad? It's like "Yes, the Republicans were bad, but I'm even worse! Vote me in 2008!" This probably won't happen, though. I'm sure he picked things to put in the index that only a Republican president would do.

All in all, it's probably not a bad move, politically. Some people who didn't realize the economy was bad (who are these people?) might believe his statistic. Seems like a waste of time, though.


Tracking Al Qaeda and Misery Indexes Love Company

Hey Bell Curve,

RE: What to do about Al Qaeda without being overly state-centric.
We need to do what we did in Afghanistan (more or less) up until the invasion of Iraq. We need to find out how Al Qaeda raises, banks and spends its money. We need to find out how they communication amongst themselves, we need to track down their leaders, and we need to do what we can to limit their recruiting and training ability. Invading Iraq didn't help accomplish any of those goals, it sucked resources (human and financial) away from the efforts in Afghanistan, and it will cost us enormously in terms of lives and money.

RE: The Misery Index
Why should reporting data on the effect of the economy on the middle class be a bad idea. Granted one should approach these kinds of things with a reasonable amount of scepticism. But one shouldn't throw the baby out with the bath water. One could argue that reporting this kind of index about the economy is at least as good as Kerry getting up and saying, "Gee, the economy stinks and everybody knows it."
I'm sure this misery index tells us something, it just not be some sort of universal truth about economics in general. If you look at Kerry's website and check out the numbers for each president, you'll see that Democrats always make it better and Republicans always make it worse. Why? The answer is in the factors that contributed to the index. Kerry included things like health care costs and college tuition costs both of which get bigger subsidies under Democrats than under Republicans. The index gives all these factors equal weight too. The methods section of the website didn't explain that too much but my experience with social science stats makes me think that the equal weight thing is part of "where the rabbit goes in the hat" as we say. That is, I suspect that weighting college tuition equally with home ownership (something likely to go up under Republicans?) is probably giving college tuition too much weight.
I think this misery index probably tells us something useful about Kerry's policy preferences. He has a strong preference for lower health care, college tuition, and gasoline prices. In the end that's all he's really trying to convey here.
FYI: Just heard on the news somewhere (I forget what source) that coffee prices are spiking too. Higher prices for gasoline and coffee could cause a lot of head aches!



Very good first post, RbR. Way to kick off this fledgling operation. I also love it when you use the word "inconceivable". Reminds me of "The Princess Bride". But I digress...

Since you are suggesting that the War on Terror should be fought differently, how should it then be fought? We can certainly try to root out Al Qaeda cells in the U.S., but we can't exactly do that in other countries without declaring war on those countries, right? I guess we could put pressure on them to take care of the problem themselves. Is that what you would propose? It certainly wouldn't cost us $87 billion either...


Sunday, April 11, 2004

Is All Terrorism State Sponsored?

Hi All,

This is my first warned, I got a bit carried away. I'm not really this much of a wind bag...well maybe a little. I hope you find it interesting.

Raised By Republicans

This is a rarely expressed but vitally important question in this election year. The Bush administration’s answer to this question is the link between 9/11 and the invasion and occupation of Iraq. The Bush administration wants to sell G.W. Bush as the great leader who guided us through the unimaginable of 9/11 and then led us to victory after victory in the "War on Terrorism."

Many on the left casually suggest that George Bush II invade Iraq to finish the job left unfinished by George Bush I and to avenge the attempt on George Bush I’s life. However, I believe that such accusations do not give the current administration enough credit for honest intentions - at least with respect to the "War on Terrorism." I believe that however misguided their foreign policy may be, it is based on a broad world view rather personal grudges.

Realism: A State Centric World View

The Bush administration’s foreign policy clique - variously called The Chickenhawks, The Vulcans, or the Neo-Cons - are adherents of a theory of international relations known as "realism" (in this usage, not the opposite of naivete or idealism). Realism is based on three major assumptions. 1) States (like the USA, France or Iraq) are the dominant influences on world affairs. 2) States make decisions as "unitary actors" that is, they make decisions as if they were single individuals. For example, it makes sense under this assumption to say "France wants XYZ" or "The United States wants ABC" without much consideration of internal conflicts within the governments or societies in those countries. 3) States seek to increase their power relative to other states in the most efficient way available.

In this view of world politics, non-state actors like the UN, Multi-national corporations, Non-governmental Originations (like Red Cross, Amnesty International etc) play only a supplemental role and in most cases are either irrelevant or tools of some powerful nation-state. This applies to terrorist groups as well. From the realists’ perspective, in order for Al Qaeda to be a threat to the United States of the first order, it must be a sponsored tool of some powerful government. According to this view, most effective way to stop terrorism is to wage war against the states that sponsor it. Attacking the terrorists themselves is treating the symptom. Attacking Iraq, and other states, is getting to the root of the problem.

This world view may have encouraged Bush administration officials to believe any report - no matter how incredible - of a connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda’s attack on 9/11. In the realist world view, it is inconceivable that such a complex, coordinated and effective attack could be carried off without the full support of a foreign government. Of all the governments in the world that would have had a motive to support such an attack, Iraq stood out as the most likely. Richard Clarke’s report that G.W. Bush strongly pressed him to find a connection between Iraq and the World Trade Center attacks is consistent with the idea that Bush was influenced by the realist viewpoint.

The bottom line is that for the Bush administration the "War on Terror" is mainly a series of conventional wars against nation states. The U.S. will invade a succession of "rogue states" until all states recognize the perils of sponsoring terrorism.

An Alternative Viewpoint:

This state-centric view of the world is at odds with an increasingly accepted alternative view based more on economic activity and individual (rather than national) interests. According to this more individual centered view, there is no such thing as a "national interest." Every policy a national government adopts results in gains and losses for every individual citizen. Few policies make everyone better off without costs. For that reason, understanding a country’s foreign policy requires understanding the personal interests of its leaders and their key supporters. This alternative view also argues that organizations of individuals other than national governments can have enormous influence on world affairs. Those who ascribe to this view would ask, "which is the influential on the world stage, North Korea with world’s the 3rd largest army or a large multinational corporation, like General Electric, Siemens or Mitsubishi?"

In this individualistic view Al Qaeda is the violent, murderous version of a multinational business cartel.

In this view, waging war against nation-states in the traditional sense of massive military invasions is not going to address the problem. Even if non-governmental actors, like multi-national corporations or terrorist groups, benefit the protection of nation-states, they exist separately from those governments. That is, non-governmental actors can survive and even thrive despite the total defeat of sympathetic rogue states.

Applied to Al Qaeda this view suggests that Al Qaeda could continue to exist and be an effective threat to the United States despite the conquest and occupation of any number of "rogue states". Al Qaeda’s function depends on its leaders’ ability to communicate amongst themselves and their ability to raise and spend money. None of these basic functions depends on the power of a rogue state's government. Conquering the territory upon which Al Qaeda erected their training camps does nothing more (or less) than evict the terrorists and force them to find new homes. It does not eliminate the basic problem, that a loose network of people with murder on their minds can kill people by the thousands. Remember, the Oklahoma City bombing killed hundreds of people and was pulled off by a couple of right-wing extremists working out of a garage in Michigan!

The bottom line in this view is that the "War on Terror" should be more like the "War on Drugs" or the "War on Poverty" than a conventional war between nations. This is not to say that no military action is necessary at all. However, it does mean that full scale invasions and long term occupations are likely to be ineffective and very costly.