Monday, September 25, 2006

"Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terrorism Threat"

You don't say!

Posted by Kingston

Clinton vs. Fox News

During an interview that Clinton describes as a "conservative hit job," he lashed back at Chris Wallace, defending his efforts to curb terrorism.

Here's a link to the video on Yahoo.

Clinton certainly over-reacted to the question, but his point is valid: Fox news does not ask the Bush administration the same tough questions that it asks him.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Spurious Regression?

Greg Mankiw praised this article on his Blog today. I'm skeptical of a strong correlation without a strong theory to support the conclusion. In particular, why are black workers affected but not hispanic workers? Definitely worth reading.

Immigration and African-American Employment Opportunities: The Response of Wages, Employment, and Incarceration to Labor Supply Shocksby George J. Borjas, Jeffrey Grogger, Gordon H. Hanson
The employment rate of black men, and particularly of low-skill black men, fell precipitously from 1960 to 2000. At the same time, the incarceration rate of black men rose markedly. This paper examines the relation between immigration and these trends in black employment and incarceration. Using data drawn from the 1960-2000 U.S. Censuses, we find a strong correlation between immigration, black wages, black employment rates, and black incarceration rates. As immigrants disproportionately increased the supply of workers in a particular skill group, the wage of black workers in that group fell, the employment rate declined, and the incarceration rate rose. Our analysis suggests that a 10-percent immigrant-induced increase in the supply of a particular skill group reduced the black wage by 3.6 percent, lowered the employment rate of black men by 2.4 percentage points, and increased the incarceration rate of blacks by almost a full percentage point.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Historical Rise of the US Economy

Greg Mankiw posted this graph today from Angus Maddison's historical analysis of world GDP. Although there are plenty of criticisms of the data, it is nonetheless an impressive graph.
The size and scope of the US economy is awe inspiring. At our peak, we accounted for about 25% of the world's GDP.

The reasons for our success? According to Michael Milken in the Wall Street Journal:

Our remarkable growth since 1820 has benefited from democratic institutions, a belief in capitalism, private property rights, an entrepreneurial culture, abundant resources, openness to foreign investment, the best universities, immigration and relatively transparent markets.

I'd have to agree.

Friday, September 15, 2006

"Ism Schism"

TNR's Peter Beinart (supscription required) on why lumping all our enemies in the Middle East together under the heading "Islamic Fascist" gets us nowhere:
So Islamic (or more precisely, salafi) totalitarianism is a good description of what bin Laden's followers believe. But Bush doesn't apply the term Islamofascist merely to followers of Al Qaeda; he applies it to the insurgents in Iraq and to the regime in Iran. And, in so doing, he destroys its clarity. The average Iraqi insurgent is not fighting to usher in a utopian vision of Islam; he is fighting because an American soldier killed his cousin or because Shia are stealing his country. America's enemy in Iraq includes totalitarians, but it is mostly nationalist and tribalist.

Iran isn't really totalitarian either. Its hybrid political system is far from democratic (and has grown more oppressive in recent years) but still permits some public disagreement. Within limits, it allows people to differ about the definition of an Islamic state, something a totalitarian regime cannot allow. Iran has also proved half-hearted about regulating apolitical behavior--the kind that doesn't threaten the regime but impedes utopia. Ayatollah Khomeini refused to ban non-Islamic music, art, and, yes, chess. And, unlike the Taliban, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said he doesn't care how citizens cut their hair. Tehran's goal is less popular mobilization than popular indifference. As Boston University's H.E. Chehabi has put it, if the totalitarian state's motto is "those who are not for us are against us," Iran's motto is "those who are not against us are for us."

That doesn't make Iran benign. But it does raise questions about whether the claim Arendt made about totalitarian regimes--that their messianic character made them inherently expansionist--fits Ahmadinejad's, too. A war against Islamic totalitarianism has clear boundaries: It means a struggle against violent salafis. A war against Islamofascism does not, and that is precisely the point: It lets the Bush administration add enemies--first Iraq, now Iran--while implying that they share Al Qaeda's ideology and represent the same kind of threat. That's not true, and five years after September 11, it has left Americans increasingly confused about who we are fighting, and increasingly skeptical that we can win. [emphasis mine]
Posted by Kingston

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

When the Photo Says it All

So this is what American troops are dying for?

Hat Tip: Matt. For more, see here.

Posted by Kingston

Chafee Wins Primary

I like Senator Chafee. I like him a lot. He was the only Republican to vote against the use of force in Iraq. He opposed Bush's tax cuts. He didn't even vote for Bush. I wish he were an independent, because he hardly fits in the new Republican party. Chafee shows that partisan politics aren't the only possibility in America and that some of our leaders are free thinkers. I respect Lieberman for the same reasons, I just wish he wasn't such a war-hawk.

Posted by Peter

Sudanese Man Forced to Marry a Goat

Here's a funny story from the BBC. It looks like shot gun weddings happen in the wildest ways.

Posted by Peter

Monday, September 11, 2006

Trouble in Titletown

Give [the Bears] credit. But maybe we just ain't very good.
That's what Brett Favre had to say after we got hammered by the Chicago Bears 26-0 yesterday. It's only one game, but my beloved Packers don't look any better than last year; in fact, they might even be worse.

Posted by Kingston


The Financial Times' Gideon Rachman has a useful primer on interpretations of 9/11 up over at his new blog on international affairs. Like him, I find myself in agreement with interpretation 3.

Posted by Kingston

Dereliction of Duty

Still not convinced that George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld never had any intention of rebuilding Iraq once Saddam was ousted? If so, perhaps it's time to pay a visit to your local psychiatrist:
"The secretary of defense continued to push on us ... that everything we write in our plan has to be the idea that we are going to go in, we're going to take out the regime, and then we're going to leave," [Brigadier General Mark Scheid, chief of the Logistics War Plans Division after 9/11] said. "We won't stay."

Scheid said the planners continued to try "to write what was called Phase 4," or the piece of the plan that included post-invasion operations like occupation.

Even if the troops didn't stay, "at least we have to plan for it," Scheid said.

"I remember the secretary of defense saying that he would fire the next person that said that," Scheid said. "We would not do planning for Phase 4 operations, which would require all those additional troops that people talk about today.
I don't know what's more depressing: 1) The recklessness with which this administration has pursued a war they consider to be critical to the survival of western civilization or 2) the fact that people continue to defend their actions.

Hat Tip: Kevin Drum

Posted by Kingston

Bye, bye Anbar

According to the chief of intelligence for the Marine Corps in Iraq, Anbar province is lost. "We haven't been defeated militarily but we have been defeated politically -- and that's where wars are won and lost," noted one army officer who has read the report. Given that Anbar is the home of the Sunni Arab insurgency and Al-Qaeda in Iraq, this seems like terrible news.

In other news, the largest Sunni Arab bloc in Iraq's parliament is furious over legislation drawn up by Shiites and Kurds that would essentially carve Iraq into three autonomous regions. Recall that the Sunnis threw their weight behind the new Iraqi Constitution - which included provisions for the creations of autonomous regions - in the beief that the topic of federalism would be reexamined by parliament at a later date. Of course, regional autonomy is exactly what the Shiites and Kurds have always wanted and it seems unlikely that they will be willing to compromise with the Sunnis on such a critical issue.

Posted by Kingston

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Exporting Economists

Greg Mankiw posted an interesting excerpt from the Washington Post today, about the impact of an academic brain drain in developing countries:

As Washington looks south at a rising tide of Hugo Chávez-led populism, it must rue the fact that two of Latin America's most high-profile supporters of free markets now reside at U.S. universities. Former Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who tamed his country's inflation and transformed its economy, is now a professor at Brown University. And after serving as Mexico's budget secretary and president during the 1990s, U.S. ally Ernesto Zedillo returned to Yale, his alma mater, to direct its center on globalization.

Similarly, as U.S. policymakers contemplate how India's intransigence contributed to the recent failure of the World Trade Organization to reduce trade barriers, they must wonder whether Indian free-trade guru and economist Jagdish Bhagwati could have tilted the balance back home if he still lectured at the Indian Statistical Institute or the Delhi School of Economics rather than Columbia University....
The United States must export more pro-Americans than it imports. Maybe it's time to round up all these sympathetic foreigners -- and send them home.

Reading about Keynes' influence over the British government, one wonders if these talented professors could have helped their homelands. Regardless, it's no reason to evict them.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Is Sadr Retarded, Literally?

My friend in Iraq sent me this funny tidbit of information. Sistani's abdication of any political role will drive the Shi'a into the arms of more radical clerics for political guidance. This means Sadr for the vast majority. This is where it gets funny. According to my friend, he has heard independently, from both Sunni and Shi'a, that Sadr is considered retarded. Here is what he has to say:

"Moderate Iraqis insist that Sadr is retarded. Literally. My rudimentary Arabic is not even close to sufficient to make such a discernment, but apparently our asshole friend Moqtada has a thick, heavily slurred voice. Apparently, his grammar and syntax are abysmal. Apparently, when he's not reading from notes, his slurred, grammatically- and syntactically-flawed sentences are incoherent babble. I can't say it's true, and I've searched and searched for any similar reports on the Internet to little avail, but that's what I've heard from various independent sources."

And something which I can verify, " Moqtada al-Sadr has about as much religious standing to be a cleric as I do. Theologically, he's on the apron strings of an exiled Iranian cleric in Qom who knew his father. Politically, nobody is really sure who tells him what to do. The main point, though, is that he's a theological nobody. "

I hadn't heard that about al-Sadr before; If anyone has more concrete evidence on this matter, I would love to see it.

Posted by Peter

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Guantanamo Madness

It's good to see that some Pentagon lawyers are opposing the President's ridiculous detainee policies. In the words of Brig. Gen. James Walker, a U.S. Marine Corps staff judge advocate:
I'm not aware of any situation in the world where there is a system of jurisprudence that is recognized by civilized people where an individual can be tried and convicted without seeing the evidence against him.
Any guesses as to how long before Walker is labeled a terrorist appeaser?

Posted by Kingston

Ummm...Isn't that Unconstitutional?

Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) says it's time to stop listening to Rumsfeld and Bush on military matters pertaining to Iraq:
In an interview, Weldon said his resolution “clearly says that the decision will be made by the commanding generals in the theater [of war]. They’re the ones we’re paying to do the job. They know what the criteria are, they’re the best to assess the readiness of the Iraqi brigades.”

“They determine the timetable for bringing the troops back home,” said Weldon of the commanders. “There’s no armchair politician back here making those decisions, whether it’s an elected member of Congress or even the secretary of the defense.”
I suppose that's one way to go, but as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) notes, this amounts to “doing away with civilian control of the military.”

Hat Tip: Mike Crowley

Posted by Kingston

I should have been an Oral Surgeon

From ABC news, here are the US professions that make the most money:

1) Oral Surgeons
2) Orthodontists
3) Prosthodontists
4) Anesthesiologists
5) Internists
6) Obstetricians
7) Psychiatrists
8) Surgeons
9) Physicians
10) Chief Executive Officers
11) Family Practitioners
12) Airline Pilots

I was surprised to see that Psychiatrists are more highly paid than CEOs, on average. This reminds me of a few things. First, becoming a medical professional is a lot work; second, Americans are hypocondriacs who care too much about their appearance.

Posted by Peter

Inflation Concerns

The Washington Post reports on the new wage and benefits statistics from the Labor department today.

Wages and benefits rose strongly in the spring, the government reported yesterday, providing a bit of good news for some workers -- and fresh concern about inflation. The statistic known as labor compensation, which includes wages and employment benefits, rose at a robust 6.6 percent annual rate from April to June, the Labor Department said...

Although this is good news for many workers, it barely dents the rise in oil prices. After adjusting for inflation, wages and benefits only grew by 1.6%.

This adds new fuel to the debate over the Feds fund rate and supports. The Fed reported mixed regional economic conditions yesterday, noting a fall in consumer spending, but sharp wage increases or pressure to raise wages. As usual, this sends contradictory messages. If the fall in consumer spending dominates, the Fed will not raise the Fed funds rate on Sept. 20th. But, if the Fed wants to be safe it will raise the Fed funds rate now, rather than allow inflation to gain momentum. Regardless of what happens on Sept. 20th, I expect inflation to force the Fed to raise interest rate at least one more time before the end of the year.

Posted by Peter.

Monday, September 04, 2006


Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's announcement is troubling, but there was a worse tragedy today. Steve Irwin, best known as the "Crocodile Hunter," was killed today by a stingray, while filming off Australia.

According to a friend who was on the boat at the time, "He came on top of the stingray and the stingray's barb went up and into his chest and put a hole into his heart."

Daytime television will never be the same.

Steve, you will always remain a mystery. We salute you.

Posted by Peter

Sistansi says "I'm Done"

I think Peter has got it about right in noting that the capture of Abu Humam is unlikely to do anything to halt the violence consuming Iraq. Yet the biggest news of the weekend might be Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's announcement that he will no longer try to keep Iraq from completely tearing itself apart. According to the Daily Telegraph:
The most influential moderate Shia leader in Iraq has abandoned attempts to restrain his followers, admitting that there is nothing he can do to prevent the country sliding towards civil war.

Aides say Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is angry and disappointed that Shias are ignoring his calls for calm and are switching their allegiance in their thousands to more militant groups which promise protection from Sunni violence and revenge for attacks.

"I will not be a political leader any more," he told aides. "I am only happy to receive questions about religious matters."
This is bad news, particularly because Sistani has been such a moderating influence on the Iraqi Shia. If Sistani has thrown in the towel, is there any hope left for Iraq?

Posted by Kingston

Sunday, September 03, 2006

#2 al-Qaida leader in Iraq is captured

Abu Humam was arrested today. According to the AP:
He was the second most important al-Qaida in Iraq leader after Abu Ayyub
al-Masri, who took over the group after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed by a
U.S. air strike north of Baghdad on June 7, al-Rubaie said.

Big Deal. I predict very little change on the ground. Unlike Bush's flip-flopping, there's a civil war in Iraq and the violence will continue regardless of whether al-Qaida left the country.

posted by Peter

Friday, September 01, 2006

Texas and Water

I survived Texas, but came away with a few, sometimes related observations:

1) I have never seen so many fat people in one place
2) They have the best Mexican food I have ever tasted
3) They have miraculously built a civlization in the desert
4) I did not see green grass during my entire visit

I was particularly shocked by the lack of water in Texas. I looked out the window when landing and saw cities surrounded by death. How do millions of people live where only reptiles have survived before? I found the answer in a book by Marc Reisner, called Cadillac Desert. The answer is both amazing and revolting. Mr. Reisner describes the greed, intrigue, theft and government subsidies, which have allowed the west to flourish, often with stolen water.

Texas, a state in which most people deplore government handouts, has benefitted from billions of dollars in water projects, which keep them alive. Here's to hypocrisy.