Monday, December 25, 2006

Troop Surges

The right-wing blogosphere has been buzzing over the prospect of sending more troops to Iraq to do...well, nobody really know's what their strategic goals would be - kill the Sunnis? attack Al-Qaeda? disarm the Shia militias? Stop a civil war? Police the streets? - but sending more troops comports nicely with the conservative belief that "we'll succeed unless we quit"

For some useful primers on why sending more troops to Iraq is not the panacea its proponents make it out to be go here, here, and here.

Posted by Kingston

Thursday, December 14, 2006

McCain: Political Suicide?

From the AP
Sen. John McCain took his controversial proposal for curbing Iraq' sectarian violence to Baghdad on Thursday, calling for an additional 15,000 to 30,000 U.S. troops.

With the majority of Americans wanting to pull out of Iraq (not to mention that it's the best thing to do) McCain's position is going to be a tough sell on the Road to '08.

Posted by Peter

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Americans Don't like Bush's Economy

This sums-up the central economic problem in America today.

The Great Wealth Transfer, by Paul Krugman, Rolling Stone:

Why doesn't Bush get credit for the strong economy?" That question has been asked over and over again in recent months by political pundits. ... The reason most Americans think the economy is fair to poor is simple: For most Americans, it really is fair to poor. Wages have failed to keep up with rising prices. Even in 2005, a year in which the economy grew quite fast, the income of most non-elderly families lagged behind inflation. The number of Americans in poverty has risen even in the face of an official economic recovery, as has the number of Americans without health insurance. Most Americans are little, if any, better off than they were last year and definitely worse off than they were in 2000.

But how is this possible? The economic pie is getting bigger -- how can it be true that most Americans are getting smaller slices? The answer, of course, is that a few people are getting much, much bigger slices. ...

Rising inequality isn't new. The gap between rich and poor started growing before Ronald Reagan took office, and it continued to widen through the Clinton years. But what is happening under Bush is something entirely unprecedented: For the first time in our history, so much growth is being siphoned off to a small, wealthy minority that most Americans are failing to gain ground even during a time of economic growth -- and they know it.

Posted by Peter
Hat Tip: Economist's View

Monday, December 11, 2006

Wishful Thinking

Bush seems to think that Iraq's neigbors are interested in its success as a democracy:

"We also talked about the neighborhood, the countries that surround Iraq and the responsibilies that they have to help this young Iraqi democracy survive," Bush said. "We believe that most of the countries understand that a mainstream society, a society that is a functioning democracy is in their interest. And its up to us to help focus their attentions and focus their efforts on helping the Iraqis succeed."

Right. Because that "neighborhood" has always been interested in promoting and nurturing democratic states.

Posted by Peter

Why not study fairy creatures?

Iran is at it again. This time they are holding a conference for quacks, aka Holocaust Deniers.

According to the institute's chief, "This conference seeks neither to deny nor prove the Holocaust," Mousavi said. "It is just to provide an appropriate scientific atmosphere for scholars to offer their opinions in freedom about a historical issue."

Why not hold a conference to study dragons and fairy creatures?

I am sick and tired of radicals attempting to bring academic validity to their insanity. The sad thing is that it works and it has worked in the USA. Start a think tank with to publish "evidence" that Welfare Mothers are the problem with the American economy and the attention shifts from the growing disparity between the rich and the poor, and white-collar fraud. Start a conference on denying the Holocaust, and people suddenly start arguing with Wackos about whether the Holocaust happened an ignore the fact that they want to WIPE ISRAEL OFF THE MAP.

Not every theory has equal merit; not every belief is justifiable; not every conference is scientific, just because it claims to be so.

Posted by Peter

Saturday, December 09, 2006

One Reason to Support Barack Obama

Barack Obama, September 2002:

“I don’t oppose all wars. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.”

Posted by Peter


From Paul Krugman:

Paying Tribute to the Cassandras, Money Talks:

As Sen. Feingold has pointed out, it's striking that not one member of the Iraq Study Group spoke out against the war before it happened, or even raised doubts in public. One of the truly amazing things about the political and media scene today is this: not only are people who cheered on this grotesque mistake still taken seriously, there seems to be an unwritten rule that ONLY people who supported the war get to make pronouncements on national security. Somehow, the likes of John McCain, who has been wrong every step of the way, are considered more credible on this issue than people like Howard Dean, who has been right at every point. Go figure.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Unacceptable II

John McCain worries me more every day. Here are some of his comments from this morning's committee meeting, in which he applauds sending MORE TROOPS to Iraq:

I applaud the ISG's endorsement of a surge of American combat forces to stabilize Baghdad. Such a step is long overdue. But the coalition should not characterize such a redeployment as "short-term" or place a timetable on its presence.

Posted by Peter


Via Gregory Djerejian, this excerpt from the just-released Iraq Study Group report in a nutshell tells you a lot about why we're failing in Iraq:
We were told that there are fewer than 10 analysts on the job at the Defense Intelligence Agency who have more than two years’ experience in analyzing the insurgency. Capable analysts are rotated to new assignments, and on-the-job training begins anew. Agencies must have a better personnel system to keep analytic expertise focused on the insurgency. They are not doing enough to map the insurgency, dissect it, and understand it on a national and provincial level. The analytic community’s knowledge of the organization, leadership, financing, and operations of militias, as well as their relationship to government security forces, also falls far short of what policy makers need to know.

In addition, there is significant underreporting of the violence in Iraq. The standard for recording attacks acts as a filter to keep events out of reports and databases. A murder of an Iraqi is not necessarily counted as an attack. If we cannot determine the source of a sectarian attack, that assault does not make it into the database. A roadside bomb or a rocket or mortar attack that doesn’t hurt U.S. personnel doesn’t count. For example, on one day in July 2006 there were 93 attacks or significant acts of violence reported. Yet a careful review of the reports for that single day brought to light 1,100 acts of violence. Good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals.
Posted by Kingston

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Twilight Zone

Despite praising much of what soon-to-be Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had to say in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee today, the boys over at Power Line are flummoxed by an exchange Gates had with Senator Lindsay Graham concerning Iran:
Graham: The president of Iran has publicly disavowed the existence of the Holocaust, has publicly stated that he would like to wipe Israel off the map. Do you think he's kidding?

Gates: No, I don't think he's kidding, but I think there are, in fact, higher powers in Iran than he, than the president. And I think that, while they are certainly pressing, in my opinion, for nuclear capability, I think that they would see it in the first instance as a deterrent.
Indeed. Who could possibly have the temerity to suggest that Iran might consider its own survival to be a more important goal than seeking holy martyrdom via the destruction of Israel? Doesn't that mushy liberal Gates understand that the threat of massive mililtary retaliation has no influnece on Iran's decisionmaking calculus? In fact, I bet the liberal mainstream media has already convinced him that a Pentagon has six sides instead of five...

Posted by Kingston

Sunday, December 03, 2006

OPEC and Pigou

The members of OPEC are having a spat over whether to further cut oil supplies as we head into Q1 of 2007. Although the technicalities of maintaining the monopoly price are worthwhile (is it best to watch crude prices or accumulated inventories), I am more interested in the Pigovian effects of the Monopoly.

Arthur Cecil Pigou is the father of Welfare Economices. Pigovian Taxes, named in his honor, are taxes used to correct negative externalities. The classic examples are taxing pollution, cigs and alchohol.

The current US tax on gasoline is an example of such a tax; as I have argued previously, gasoline taxes should be increased (while simultaneously decreasing income taxes) in order to better account for negative externalities and improve the incentive structure of our tax code. Environmentalists love this idea, but I think Foreign Policy is a less appreciated and more powerful argument for increasing such taxes.

The OPEC cartel already helps us with the environmental side; by increasing the price of gasoline, the cartel is better aligning the costs of pollution with its consequences. The main difference is that Pigovian taxes usually help pay for the ill-effects, whereas the Cartel price goes to funding radicalism in Latin America and the Middle East, and potentially perpetuating corruption in all of the countries.

Raising taxes on oil in the US will increase its price and decrease its demand, which has the same effect domestically as the monopolist price, except that the US government keeps the prize.

People fail to appreciate the sort of Buyer Power the US has in the world oil market. We consume roughly 25% of world oil. OPEC controls only 30% of world production. The cartel has the upper hand since we have no substitutes for oil and their people already live in the economic equivalent of the middle ages, however, there is room to push back.

The more interesting question is how much Western Oil Companies lobby to maintain the status quo. Although people (including myself) always point to OPEC as the cause for the monopoly prices, it's important to realize that the Western Oil Companies piggy-back on their efforts and also enjoy the monopoly price. In other words, foreign countries have done what Exxon, BP, etc. would love to do at home if it weren't for anti-trust laws. (This reminds me of how sugar producers have lobbied for import quotas on cane sugar, which leads to both a subsidy for their US production as well as higher prices for the sugar plants they control in the Carribean). Does the lobbying power of Big Oil help explain the low US oil taxes?

It's time policy makers start to seriously discuss the problems with our "Addiction to Oil" and analyze why we do so little about it.

Posted by Peter

Friday, December 01, 2006

Letting Go of Iraq

Recently I've been trying to come up with a clear and consice summary of my views on why we need to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq. As if right on cue, The Atlantic's James Fallows has done the heavy lifting for me:
So the choice is between a terrible decision and one that is even worse. The terrible decision is just to begin leaving, knowing that even more innocent civilians will be killed and that we’ll be dealing with agitation out of Iraq for years to come. The worse decision would be to wait another year, or two, or three and then take that terrible course. If we thought a longer commitment and presence would lead to a better outcome, then the extra commitment might be sensible. But nothing occurring in Iraq in the last year has given rise to any hope that things are getting better rather than worse. (This, by the way, is the reason I have changed my mind: the absence of evidence that the chances for a “decent” departure will improve.)
In refutation of this view, a vociferous chorus of neocons and liberal hawks are arguing that we need to make a last ditch effort to save Iraq by plugging another 20,000-50,000 troops into the cyclonic shitstorm that is Baghdad. This is of course ridiculous and doesn't deserve serious consideration. First, in terms of American domestic politics, it simply ain't gonna happen. Second, and more importantly, it naively assumes that all our problems in Iraq can be chalked up to a lack of security. The unrelenting cycle of blood-letting between Sunni and Shia, however, has taken on a life of its own. Adding more troops now isn't likely to ameliorate the fundamental social and political divisions that are tearing Iraq apart. In fact, given that not even the Iraqi Shia want us in their country anymore, it seems more likely that an influx of Amerian troops would only serve to exacerbate the situation.

Hat Tip: Matt

Posted by Kingston