Thursday, September 30, 2004

Get over yourself

In response to the coordinated bombing attack against a ceremony celebrating the opening of a sewage treatment plant that killed 35+ children and wounded ten or more American soldiers who were present, Roger Simons makes the following comment:

Is today's carnage in Iraq...... timed for the debate tonight? It's hard to know, but it's far from impossible. We do know, the terror mongers have tried to influence elections before,

I need to respond to this idiocy. The attack was brutal and I wish it did not happen, but Mr. Simons needs to get over himself and his extremely narrow viewpoint. Not everything that is happening around the world is occurring because of its potential effect on the upcoming US elections.

The Iraqi insurgents have been operating on their own rhythm and motives since the very beginning and although there is a political and propaganda component to it, it has not been specifically targeted at immediate inflection points. Instead it has been targeted at isolating the battlefield and dictating a situation where the US becomes more isolated and less able to create winning situations. The overall military strategy, either explicit or implicit of the Iraqi insurgency has been relatively simple; force the United States to bear the overwhelming cost of occupation/reconstruction until it is no longer worthwhile. After that who knows what happens as anarchy breaks out.

The means to accomplishing this burden narrowing has been to ruthlessly target American forces and more importantly any other actors that could share the costs and burdens. An insurgency collapses when the anti-insurgent forces are trusted by the vast majority of the population to be looking out for their best interests and to be able to provide effective security. The US military has not demonstrated the latter to be true in Iraq. The population is worried about security and is supporting the insurgents out of fear, nationalism, pride, or familial ties. The insurgents need to keep it that way to continue to survive.

This explains the logic of attacking the United Nations, the logic of attacking the Red Cross, the logic of attacking civilian contractors and the logic of targeting any Iraqi(s) whom the insurgents see as working with or at least tolerating the American occupation. This attack is most likely just a further extension of this logic; hit the Americans hard, and also hit a target that the Americans built to further illustrate that there is no security and no gain for the average Iraqi of working with the American military. Look at the logic of guerilla warfare first before coming up with cockamanie ideas please.

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Busy Day and Debate thoughts

Busy day at work and not enough time to think about work things, much less the rest of the world. My take on the race is that Kerry is down nationally by 3-5 points, but is closing in the battleground states right now. (Good news on PA and Ohio, trailing in Florida) I think that Kerry needs to keep his answers simple and straightforward, but the pre-spin right now is relatively favorable for him in the debate because if he can keep his answers on time and using words of less than 5 syllabelles and provide a reasonable explanation of his war vote and $87 billion dollar Iraq/Afganistan supplemental vote, he'll "win" the debate. I have seen him give these explanations in under ninety seconds before, it just is tough to watch him get it to under fifteen seconds for a soundbite.

My plans for the night include a pre-debate BBQ and then a couple of beers with friends to enjoy the spectacle of competing soundbites.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2004

More on PGH GOTV

I just checked my political e-mail/spam address after not checking for a couple of days and I had nine notices reminding me that the election is coming up soon, that registrations are due and have I registered, can I help out with registrations etc. So it looks like, a) the GOTV don't coordinate their e-mail blast lists effectively, and b) they are believers in the 8 contacts to get an assured voter methodology.

I'm hopeful.

Hoeffl's chances are low

Kos is excerpting from a Congressional Quarterly article that is talking about the Hoeffl campaign and how he hopes to win. The basic strategy is that people really do not like Arlen Specter (30% job approval rate) but they do not know Joe Hoeffl (50% name ID) and as they get to know Hoeff they'll switch over to Specter. The means to do this is with sunny intro TV ads and lots of handpressing and shaking.

This is a good strategy IF and ONLY IF Hoeffl was able to execute this strategy during the summer. The election will be held five weeks from yesterday and half of the state does not know that Joe Hoeffl is running for Senate or that he is a Democrat. I just saw the first positive, puffy bio TV ad for Joe Hoeffl this weekend and while it was a good ad to tell me that he exists, it did not provide an undecided or persuadable voter a good reason to vote for him. People may not like actively like Arlen Specter, but he has always been able to tamper down the amount of active dislike and discomfort with him. He is like that pair of sneakers that you really should have gotten rid of six months ago; slightly wholey, slightly smelly but good enough to put on to run to the corner store because they are comfortable. That is the problem Joe Hoeffl has to face; Specter knows how to make himself the least offensive choice.

I would love it if Hoefll was to win the Senate seat, but I find his odds to be extremely unlikely. I believe he will do better than the 37% he is at right now, but he would need a perfect storm to win the seat; a Kerry +8 victory, new voters voting straight party lines, and the Christian Right (Toomey's supporters) staying home or abstaining from the Senate race. I doubt the Christian Right is staying home as that is the core of the Bush's campaign GOTV efforts and I have no idea if they would abstain. I am pretty sure Kerry will win the state but I do not see a landslide and I have no idea on how many new voters will turnout as well as their behavior. It is a long shot hope at best.

Allegheny County Voter Registration Analysis

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette is reporting that through the middle of September, the Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, elections division has received and registered approximately 40,000 new voters. Among these voters are 21,859 Democrats, 9,369 Republicans, and 9,265 indpedents. More registrations are expected in the next week as registration ends on Monday, Oct. 4. Democrats are out-registrering republicans 2.3:1 which is a rate that is higher than the current voter registration rates in the county. Now what does this mean?

2000 general election shows that Al Gore was able to win a large Democratic majority in the county with 56% of the vote. Bob Casey, a conservative Democrat, won the largest Democratic majority with ~62% of the vote. The state attorney general vote saw a slim majority (~52%) go to Republican Mike Fisher. As we moved down ballot we see Democrats pile up signficant majorities in two of the four area congressional seats. A narrow win for Democrat Mascara occurs in the South Hills and a large win for Republican Mellissa Hart in the North Hills and far eastern suburbs of the county. There is significant ticket splitting within these races, but the county overall went for Democratic candidates. Approximately 585,000 people turned out.

2001 off-year general elections saw the County go overwhelmingly Democratic with significantly lower turnout. The lowest winner for a county wide seat was Recorder of Deeds, Valerie McDonald at 60% of the vote. Turnout was a little more than 230,000 voters.

On turnout of roughly 400,000 voters, the county barely went for Gov. Rendall by 52% in 2002's general election. In significantly redrawn districts, Republicans swept up large majorities in two Congressional districts for Melissa Hart and Tim Murphy, while the Democrats won large in two others.

The 2003 local elections saw the Democratic party win significant majorities for all races. Dan Onoroto was the weakest finisher with ~58% of the vote, while the row officers all received at least 60% of the vote. Turnout was said to be heavy for an off-year election, but I can not find an exact number right now.
So what does this tell us about Allegheny County voting patterns? The hard core partisans and extremely dedicated voters show up no matter what, but they number roughly 230,000 people. These voters split 60-40% Democratic in this county. The less reliable voters are 150% larger as a bloc than the dedicated voters. They also tend to vote more conservatively than the extremely dedicated. Al Gore did well with 56% of the vote in the county in 2000, performing above his state average, but a conservative Democrat received the largest majority, and a Republican won the county for Attorney General.

These new registrations are the anti-definition of extremely dedicated voters. They are previously unattached to the electoral process, and some of them will not be coming out to vote in November no matter how impressive the ACT, ACORNPittsburgh VIE GOTV efforts are. However, these three groups have run a pretty impressive campaign already and I have to assume that they have some plans in place for effective GOTV efforts for Allegheny County. The new Democrats who have been registrered by these groups voters have been targeted to be in Democratic favorable demographics, so I think that their loyalty will be fairly high when they make it to the polls. These efforts will most likely give John Kerry and other Democrats an additional 1%-2% margin in Allegheny County which will help ride out the large losses that Kerry will take in some of the state's centrally located counties.

Minor edit made for clarity's sake

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Bad day overall

I am having a good and bad day today. September 2004 has turned out to be my most heavily trafficed month in the year that I have written here. I think there is a good chance I will go over 2,000 hits by Thursday afternoon for the month, and I greatly appreciate the links that I am getting from The Conversation, General Glut, Angry Bear and Pitt's Blog for driving a significant increase in traffic my way.

However that is about the best news I have had all day. I could not get any sleep last night as I am coming down with somthing that feels like a head cold without the pounding headache and my boss has me moving in fourteen different directions at once because my boss is unable to make up their mind(s). Oh well, that is life, and then the car may finally be on its last legs so that could be a big expense soon.
With that said, I can easily say that I had a much better day than Karl Rove, as Morat notes:
1)The New York Times reports that, yes indeed, Bush was warned that Iraq had a really good chance of becoming an unholy mess, yet he invaded with insufficient troops anyways and spent the next year or so lying about how good it was going.
2)North Korea becomes a nuclear power.
3)Oil spikes past 50 dollars a barrel.


And then let me add that Blair is offering a partial apology about Iraq and is trying to distance himself partially from Bush so the strength of the coalition claim continues to weaken. And most importantly, the downfall of American productivity could be at hand as coffee prices are rising. So between more expensive gas and more expensive coffee why does any one want to go to work... we are ruined I tell you


:)

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Whoops

Via an article in Tribune Review it seems like yet another Pittsburgh based agency is having some serious revenue problems. Yet this time, it is not the region's fault. Yeah!!! At last!

The oversight board did not receive an appropriation of a little more than half a million dollars that it thought it should have received. Gov. Rendall forgot to put funding for the oversight board into the budget. A corrective action and a rush check are being sent forward to pay the bills, but this is yet another whoopsie in the process of getting Pittsburgh out of its current financial mess.

Now the city budget is a mess and it is only balanced by a very steep property tax increase that everyone wants to get rid of or at least reduce in scope from a 40% increase to something slightly more palatable but revenue sources would have to be approved by the Legislature and spending cuts are still hard to find before the union contracts can be re-opened. So forgetting to pay the bills for the state oversight board is only a minor whoopsie in a circus of fools.

$50 oil

Ouch, I was wrong and I will most likely owe Calmo $5.00 because oil is hitting $50.00 a barrel in after market trading in the Asian markets this evening. New York will probably follow suit once it opens up in a couple of hours. The current problem is that Nigerian rebels are threatening the southern delta supply fields and have already forced minor output cuts plus the flurry of Hurricanes, most specifically Ivan, have squelched US production. OPEC is fundamentally incapable of doing anything about this because their claims that they can continue to sustain increased production do not seem credible.

Besides the threat of someone with twenty pounds of plastic explosives and a little bit of knowledge can send the oil market into a tizzy, there is another worry. In this Reuters report there is the following quote:
Shell's loss comes on the heels of a 10 percent drop in overall Nigerian output last month to protect ageing oil facilities after several months of surge production.

Presidential Adviser on Petroleum Edmund Daukoru told Reuters that Nigeria had reduced supply to base capacity of 2.25 million bpd.


Every oil producing country has been pumping at surge capacity for the past three to six months because there is so much money to be made. However surge capacity is expensive and short term, otherwise it would be part of normal pumping capacity. I wonder how many oil fields that have been at surge production will need to be taken either off line or reduce production for maitenance and repairs in the next six months, and thus, how much oil will be taken off the market.


Prices are coming down. The future's market has a barrel of oil in Dec. 2009 costing $33 2004 dollars, so an anticipated price of $38 for that time period. This is an improvement over the current situation, but it is not the cheap oil economy that we have been used to.


UPDATE The Capital Speculator has an interesting post up on his site that is stating that there is very little exploration going on right now despite the very high oil prices. So new supplies do not seem to be the answer to these prices.

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Monday, September 27, 2004

Electoral Legitimacy

President Bush has recently been claiming that the Iraqi elections which are tentatively scheduled to be held on the last day of January are the best possible policy outcome and a sign of great progress. The idea is simple; an elected and legitimately chosen Iraqi government will be able to muster popular support that will drain the sea of quiet support or neutral apathy that guerillas and insurgents need in order to survive much less flourish. It is a good idea, but there is the question of legitimacy.

Right now, the question is will the entire Iraqi population or at least a large enough super majority of the Iraqi population consider the election legitimate because they were able to vote for whomever they wanted to vote for, trust that their ballots would be counted fairly and also have enough faith in the system that even if their candidates/positions were electoral losers that they could protect vital interests and have another chance at the polls in a reasonably predictable time frame to try again. I think that these conditions are unlikely to be met and therefore the elections are most likely not going to be the panacea that Bush believes it will be.

First, Sec. Defense Rumsfeld has stated that it is extremely likely that the entire country will not be able to vote due to security concerns. The sections of the country that are currently no-go areas and are the least likely to be able to vote are the areas with the strongest insurgency problems, the Sunni cities along the Euphrates in Al-Anbar Province, Baghdad and areas to its north along with Sadr City in Baghdad, home to ~2 million Shi'ites who strongly support Sadr who is currently banned from the political process. These groups and areas are outside of the political process because they see themselves losing from the current arrangement with very small stakes in peace and stability as the other groups are looking for. If they are excluded from elections and the next Iraqi government, what is the incentive for them to stop their insurgency against an illegimate (in their eyes) central government that does not represent or take into account, their interests.

Secondly, as Kevin Drum points out, the infrastructure needed to run free and fair elections are lacking. There are no concrete plans for voter registration, few plans that are not fantasy for voter education, no ability for candidates to campaign and no polling precints established. These logistical issues are massive and time consuming to get right. Time is running out.

Finally, the question of future elections is a significant question. The six main parties are planning to create a super list in order to consolidate their power and create a well organized governing majority from a significant minority of the poltical spectrum (pro- or at least not too anti-US exiles and Kurds). They pulled this trick off this summer at the convention concerning the transitional law. This is one of Sistani's great fears that the Shi'ite majority will be permanently sidelined by a combination of rules and non-Shiite coalitions. Finally, there is no tradition of a government not trying to assume "emergency" powers as soon as it can find a situation to exploit. Hussein did that, and Allawi has done that also. There is a probability that January elections could be "one man, one vote, one time" and after that the security situation will dictate a strong leader or so the leader will claim. There is a possibility that elections will be held freely, fairly and predictably in the future also, but no institutional or civic guarantee that this is the case.

Phil Carter brings out a quote by Gen. Abizaid "
"If I recall," he said, "looking back at our own election four years ago, it wasn't perfect either."

Gen. Abizaid should also note that within the United States, a country with a 135 year history of not having a civil war, saw that a significant and motivated minority that took part in the 2000 election did not, and some still do not see President Bush as a legitimately elected leader of the country. The difference between pissed off 20-30% of the country in the United States and the most likely disenfranchised 20%-30% of Iraq is that the minority in the United States has a very high degree of confidence that the institutions usually work well and that their voices can be heard and heeded even if they do not get everything that they want. There is no such institutional trust in Iraq, and this minority (Sunni-Arab and Sadrists) have already demonstrated that they can act as veto players in domestic Iraqi politics by using violence. An election that is not perceived as legitimate by all veto holding groups will not produce an end to the insurgency.

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I-279 North Hills congestion question

The Chef at Angry Bear links to a long essay in the Sunday NY Times which raises the point of congestion pricing of a highway in San Diego. The set-up is simple; a HOV lane(s) is in existence and it was underused and inefficient at relieving traffic congestion from the single person per vehicle lanes so the traffic engineers set up a system where single passenger drivers could enter the HOV by paying a toll that changes due to congestion. Multiple passenger vehicles still get to use the exclusive lane for free. The toll is higher when congestion is high and lower when there is little traffic on the road. The goal seems to keep the HOV/HOT lane moving at a rate significantly fast enough to be more attractive than the single passenger lanes.

This is not a new idea. London has instituted congestion tolls for entry into its downtown area, and I believe that Toronto is considering congestion pricing and differential tolls to handle their congestion problems. This website at U-Minnesota has an inventory of differntial toll projects depending on the time of day. Washington D.C.'s metro uses differential pricing to encourage some people to commute outside of rush hour. It is not a new idea, but it is a good idea.

We know that Pittsburgh's I-279 connector to I-79 has a HOV lane that is significantly underused. I do not drive I-279 to the North Hills any time during rush hour or game let-outs. My usage is during the weekends and evenings when there is no significant traffic in the area, so I do not know the rush hour congestion demand. However, setting up a HOT lane with minimal tolls may be a good way to generate revenue for the state that can either be added directly to the transportation budget, and potentially to the public transportation budget as one full bus will take ~40 cars off the roads if it is coming in from the suburbs, or just dedicate it to the general fund.

Bus cut analysis

The Post-Gazette is reporting that the Port Authority of Allegheny County is considering making some drastic cuts in the next month or two to cover a $30 million dollar deficit. The proposed cuts include:
elimination of weekend and holiday bus, trolley, incline and paratransit service; elimination of all weekday service after 9 p.m.; and elimination of an untold number of weekday routes used by commuters

Jonathan Potts in response to a question of mine about a "close the Washington Monument" maneuver remembers far more clearly than I that the Port Authority pulled the same type of dire need statement in the spring and received additional funding. So this is definately a partial political maneuver to gain support for increased public transportation funding. However, I want to do a quick winners-losers analysis of the stated changes:
Losers: a) Anyone who is carless or relies on public transportion will at least have to wait longer and have less trip flexibility than they do now.
b) Anyone who relies on public transportation and who works non 9-5 or weekend hours will either need to change jobs, change their schedule or increase their expenditures for public transportation.
c) Service industry employers will lose because they need a workforce at non 9-5 hours and given the relatively low wages in some food service locations, retail and customer service, a good chunk of the workforce may be affected.
d) Hospital employees as their shifts do not coincide with a non-9pm bus travel.
e) Park and ride operators of the suburban lots and the coffee/newspaper shops that are nearby if the commuter buses are stopped.
Winners: a) City parking authority as the commuters on the suburban commuter buses will shift into driving into town if their door to door routes are eliminated. Slight increase in city parking taxes.
b) Jitney drivers as their pricing and flexibility get more desirable for carless city residents who need to make regular trips to a few fixed locations.
c) Taxi drivers who can not compete with jitneys on price, but can on reliability and publicity.

Long term problems: If downtown access is reduced, it reduces yet another incentive for employers to not locate downtown and to take into consideration the situation of the carless potential employees. We would not see an immediate increase shift of downtown or Oakland employment to suburban fringe because there are large transition costs but new developments and new offices may switch to the suburbs or other areas of the city where car access is easier and parking is significantly cheaper and more available.
Working poverty just got more expensive as the fares are increasing. With the assumption of a commuter with no transfers, 1 zone ride each way, that is another $33 a month in transit expenditures for an individual working full time or $400 a year.

Priorities

Last night, my girlfriend and I had a pretty damm long conversation about our fiscal situation (pretty good as of now) and what we wanted to do over the course of the next one year and the next four or five years. So we made a budget and started playing with some of the parameters (what if we cut out the cellphones, what if we get a new car, what if our pay raises only at inflation etc.) We made a pretty rough budget for the next year and also laid out a capital spending plan for the next several. The thing that I found was that we had to make choices: we could buy in Squirrel Hill but at the cost of severely constraining our savings ability, OR we could buy in Greenfield and still save a significant sum for a rainy day. We had to prioritize our ability to act because we are constrained. I say all of this because I saw a piece by Digby that I wish I wrote on the matter of having priorities and making choices:



I think that one of the most frustrating things about Bush's smarmy rejoinder "they world is better off without Saddam in power" is that you have to answer..."well, yes, BUT THERE ARE PRIORITIES, GODDAMIT..."

It is impolitic to say it, (and probably suicidal) but in a very real sense, the answer to the question "is the world better off without Saddam in power?" is no.

9/11 did change everything. It meant that we could not afford to go around willy nilly experimenting with Wilsonian democracy schemes in the mid-east without further endangering Americans by ramping up terrorist recruiting. It meant we needed to be smart and cunning, not blustering loudly with half baked information or "liberating people" without considering the consequences. It meant that creating another failed state crawling with lawless terrorists was the most dangerous thing we could do. But, that is exactly what we did.

Clearly, if we had left Saddam in power and used the excuse of 9/11 to get inspectors back in, we would probably have made more progress against the fight against the Islamic radicals who pose the greatest threat to us. At the very least we wouldn't have been creating more terrorists every single day with our corrupt mismanagement of the occupation.


Given the oppurtunity costs of invading Iraq, some of which were predicted by high level administration officials before hand, and then given reality, the decision to invade Iraq compared to the menu of available options in September 2002-March 2003 that could have been used to further an effective fight against the Al-Quaeda networks shows extremely poor judgement. However as a result of a series of bad choices, we are stuck in Iraq like a couple stuck with a fixer-upper that they thought was in great shape when they bought it; we are upside down in equity terms.

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Friday, September 24, 2004

Nader's Pennsylvania Troubles

Earler in the week, Ralph Nader's camapign received a little bit of good news; the Pennsylvania courts reversed a prior decision that banned him from the Pennsylvania ballot as an indepedent because he had run as a candidate for another party in another state. However he still faced the serious problem of signature verification. His collectors had managed to assemble ~47,000 signatures which normally is sufficient to meet the 25,000+ registered PA voters signature requirement. However his organizers were not the most diligent and there are a lot of very questionable signatures that were submitted. (Disclaimer, I was a volunteer on this effort) A team of Democratic leaning lawyers have filed suit to challenge 30,000 signatures.

Now, Political Wire is reporting that Nader's lawyers are running out of money and can not defend themselves against this suit. Before this happened, the Nader legal team used several creative procedures and objections that were overruled by the judge. They were not winning brownie points before as the judge said "In over 24 years of judicial service, this court has never encountered a pleading which has more misstated the facts and tortured the law as the instant" .

I think that the odds of Nader getting on the ballot (already low) are starting to approach the odds of the pulling five aces out of an honest deck at a Hold'em tournament.

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Know what you are measuring

One of the first things that anyone who spends anytime with competent program evaluators learns is that you need to know what you actually want to achieve before you design an evaluation program and data system. Once you decide on what the mission of your organization is then you can start finding metrics that can give you good information on whether or not you are accomplishing that mission. Identifying the right metrics can be a difficult process because there are an infinate number of possible metrics and a large, but finite number of metrics that could be applicable to your situation. Most of these metrics will not be collected because the data is either too expensive to gather or analyze or they are false friends because they will lead you to the wrong path while organizationally you think that you are achieving your objectives.

I say all of this because I saw muddled thinking and an identification of a false friend metric over at the Iron Blog. I do not want to throw too much at Jimmy of the Sundries Shack because I have been impressed with both his analysis (although I disagree with much of it) and his writing ability, but in his stint as Iron Blog challenger, he is not living up to his normal standards with the following statement:

We're killing terrorists at a rate of ten to one or greater in our
engagements and you can see that with virtually any news story you choose to
read.If the numbers of their casualties compared to ours is a measure of
victory, then we're winning.
Using this kill-ratio logic, can lead to mission fixation solely on increasing body counts (hey call in the B-52s: I know a cheap shot at Jimmy) while ignoring the overall strategic objective of presumably leaving Iraq in the condition of a reasonably non-repressive government that is accepted by the vast majority of the population as reasonably legitimate and not needing to be propped up by a corps sized deployment of US troops for the next decade. The kill ratio is in the favor of the United States and as my delightful troll noted before, it is hard to expand your force when you are taking 20% casualities a month. That is definately true, but the Iraqi resistance has been able to do so. Now they are able to make the Secretary of Defense state that elections may not be held in a fifth to a quarter of the country becuase of the security situation.

The insurgents/anti-US forces occupy several no-go areas right now that are scattered throughout the country despite being on the wrong end of a 10:1 kill ratio. The anti-US/anti-Allawi insurgents have been able to consolidate their control and create relatively secure bases. Classic anti-insurgency operations get a whole lot harder when the insurgents can retreat to safe areas. This is in sharp contrast to a year ago when there were no no-go areas, only areas of enter with extreme caution and force. So the metric of kill ratios as Jimmy proposes is not an effective measure of the strategic and operational realities as they exist right now.

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Thursday, September 23, 2004

A weak coalition

The Sundries Shack has an interesting post up critiquing a recent Saletan piece in Slate. One point that the Shack made seems wrong or at least willfully incomplete to me:



It’s a cute quote to say that “‘Coalition’ is Bush’s euphemism for the United States” but it’s false. “Coalition” means “Coalition". Again, I"m sure the 30 some-od countries helping us in Iraq don’t appreciate being marginalized. We are, whether Saletan wants to admit it, the big dog in the world. We will always pony up the lion’s share of the manpower or cost for any effective internation operation.


I am being lazy today because I am busy at work. I left a long response in his comments which I want to expand upon here:

I agree, the US will be a large/predominant player in coalitions that it takes part in, however the assertion that the United States will ‘always pony up the lion’s share of the manpower or costs of any effective international operation.” is a wrong assertion.

First the Australians provided the lion’s share of manpower and military force for the effective intervention in East Timor. The US expedited spare parts shipments to the RAAF, and provided some airlift and logistic capacity to the intervention. Second, the United States was not heavily involved in Cambodia which is in much better shape post-UN intervention than pre-UN intervention. Third, in 1995 the US provided less than half of the Bosnia post-Dayton peacekeepers, and now provides 2,900 of the 12,000 IFOR soldiers who come from 35 countries. The Kosovo force is of a reinforced US battalion + headquarter and logistics elements (2,000 soldiers) among a force of 4 brigades and 17,000 troops. Yes, the hot part of the Kosovo war was a US affair backed up by some French and British airpower, but if you look at Operation B-Minus (the ground phase) you would notice that US ground forces would have made up less than a third of the B-Minus ground invasion force. The British would have taken the lead with a committment larger than the Iraq invasion force of 2003. You are wrong that the US will always be the dominant player in a successful intervention.

Now compared to the successful Coalitions of Desert Shield/Desert Storm, post-Dayton Bosnia, Op. Allied Force/Kosovo/Op. B-Minus, the coalition that Bush has put together is overwhelmingly more American in terms of its composition and casualities AND the American taxpayers are bearing more of the costs. Desert Shield/Storm was almost entirely paid for by the Saudis, Kuwaitis, Germans and Japanese. Other coalition partners contribruted 8 divisions out of a total of 18 divisions (10 US). This time around, the British are committed 1 division in invasion force (~20% of the combat power) and that was the only significant committment. In the peace-enforcing/keeping phase the US has had between 15-19 brigades in country at any one time, while the British have kept 2 brigade equivilants (1 HQ, but 4-8 combat battalions), and other international partners have contributed 4 (weak) brigades, one of which has since been withdrawn. The US has not received any payments from any country engaging in checkbook diplomacy. This coalition is much less willing or able to contribute (exclude the British) than any other coalition that the US has been a part of in the past fifteen years.

The coalition in Iraq right now is a shrinking coalition as countries are leaving due to either legitimate security concerns or internal political concerns because this intervention is not popular anywhere in the world. A majority of people in the third largest nation-state contributor of forces to Iraq want to get out now. The only nations which have sent forces or made committments to send forces after the summer of 2003 have been South Korea and Japan. These incoming forces do not numerically replace the drawdown in non-US, non-UK forces. The coalition partners are being put in areas where there is the lowest probability of combat, and thus the least amount of effective assistance can they render. Contrast this to Kosovo B-Minus where French, German, Dutch and British forces would have been in line with US forces marching through Kosovo; or contrast this with Desert Storm; a French armored division was part of the force (along with the US 82cd Airborne and 101st Air Assault) that sealed the battlefield by cutting off the highway escape routes to Baghdad, and Arab/Gulf Cooperation Council forces took an active part and casualities in both the battle of Kfahji (my spelling is off here) and during the Marine drive north through the coastal road axis to Kuwait City. They took casualities and there was not an international or domestic backlash against these casualities.

The coalition that Bush has assembled is an extraordinarily fragile coalition where it is quite common for partner nations to restrict their soldiers to barracks and base whenever useful military forces are needed to accomplish some objective. Iraq is a US dominated country. The United States supplies ~75-85% of the non-Iraqi manpower, and is taking 88% of the fatalities. If this is an effective coalition with broad burden sharing, then I am a a blue whale.




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More mediocre news going forward

Today's new claims came in higher than expected with an initial estimate of 350,000. Some of this is due to hurricane impacts but not a whole lot. This is an exceedingly neutral number which implies expected job growth rates that just keep up with population growth (~140,000-150,000 net new jobs/month). The more stable four week moving average is noisily floating at 340,000 +/- a little bit for the past month.

The interesting things going on here are continually high oil prices despite OPEC pumping full bore, the decision for the Fed to continue to raise interest rates and the relative lack of inflationary pressures. Oil pressure may be relieved by a small, temporary release of oil from the Strategic Reserve to allow Southern US oil pipelines to pump at full capacity. This report of temporary loans is significantly different than a full scale release as short term loans happen rather frequently for small amounts. I do not think that oil will hit $50/bbl before the election. After that, who knows?

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Pirates in trouble

I went to a Pirates game last night and I had an absolute blast. The baseball was good and the crowd I was with was great. We passed around a five pound bag of peanuts and played the home run game which only the flood relief effort will have won. However the Pirates were in trouble. On a beautiful night where the temperature never got below 65 F and fireworks were scheduled (later cancelled) the Pirates were able to announce a paid attendance of 22,257 which is slightly more than half capacity. Yes, I know it was a Wednesday night and people have to work, but the pricing for half the seats competes directly with going to a movie and they were still empty. How much longer can the Pirates with a straight face claim that they may someday be good if they can't fill a stadium to 2/3rds capacity on a beautiful night.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Steelers Thoughts

The Patriots are not playing this week, so I will say what little I have first, and then talk about the Steelers. After only two weeks of play, the Patriots are looking rusty but good enough to win a lot this year. That is what I care about as a Patriots' fan; I want them to win, I don't care about the artistic merit scores that the Colts will receive. I like the fact that there is finally a legitimate running back in New England who can make opposing defenses bring the safety into the box. That is a rare sight since Martin left. Finally, the week off should let a lot of minor injuries heal up, but this may not be a huge advantage compared to a week 10 bye-week as injuries and tweaks/twists will occur no matter what and I want the team to be healthier than everyone else for the playoffs.

Now moving onto the Steelers, my opinion is that they are f*cked more than the City Treasurer would have been if the cooperation agreement had not been signed. Even before Maddox was injured, I had low expectations for the Steelers because I have doubts about the offensive line, I am not convinced that the linebackers are any better and the secondary is still porous. I thought that Maddox with Burress and Ward would still put up some big numbers and Staley would be an improvement over Bettis or Zeroue.

Deuce Staley is still a big improvement over the current productive ability of Bettis or even his ability last year. Staley still has some speed, some moves and some strength. Bettis only has strength left. However the line is still blocking too much air and now that Roethslberger is the QB for the next month, most defenses will be able to safely stack the box with the strong safety until they get burned.

Don't get me wrong, I like Roethslberger as a draft pick. I thought he would have been chosen before #11, but I do not think that most quarterbacks are able to be successful starters in their rookie year. Big Ben faces the normal hurdles of transitioning to pro-ball that any rookie faces and then he has the added problem of being a quarterback transitioning systems. He has the physical tools and the mental acuity to be a good quarterback. I just do not believe that he will be successful this year. However a good seasoning year that the team is willing to use as a rebuilding year (this year) could produce dividends down the road.

Bad Option Space

Jonathan Potts has raised a couple of good questions and critiques of the situation in Iraq and the Kerry position as expressed by the most recent speech. The question that I want to look at is the following paragraph:

"The big question that remains is whether the continued presence of U.S. troops is helping the situation or hurting it. It's one thing to have opposed the war--as Kerry may or may not have done. It's quite another to cut and run when doing so may condemn a nation to a violent and protracted civil war, and perhaps leave the United States vulnerable to even more terrorism."


This is the great unknown. Here is what we know. US troops are not aiding in stopping the violence in Iraq. It is not a net positive, now the question is what is the worse net negative? I don't know where I stand on this because I believe that the United States has an obligation to do the best possible job of avoiding the worst possible outcomes. This is a limited minimize maximum regret standard and I wish that I could go to a maxi-max position, but that is not even plausible to contemplate.

I believe that there will be a civil war in Iraq in 90% of the scenarios that could occur. Under the current set of quasi-plans the elections in January are being boycotted by over 30% of the populations' political leadership (Popular Sunni parties/clerical associations and the Sadrists are not participating by either choice or their prohibition.) Even if the elections are held, a significant portion of the population that is armed and willing to use violence will not hold the results as either legitimate or binding.

Hell right now, there is a bit of a civil war going on as the predominately Shi'ite secularists and middle class are going head to head against the Shi'ite poor and the fundamentalists of both sects. The only ones who are staying comparatively "clean" are the Kurds but they are making a power move in the north to seize control of Kirkuk and minimize Turkomen influence.

I think that the question is which type of civil war will be worse: a short brief one that has the Shi'ite community come out on top of a decentralized federal Iraq (as the Kurds can defend their positions well enough to make that stick)or a decentralized defacto or dejure partition of the country or is a long simmering decade long insurgency the cheapest option in terms of human life and stability. I don't know what the best choice is as a US policy or moral option. All I know is that none of these options are good options.

Now onto the question of terrorism, the current situtation makes us less safe than the counterfactual of no invasion and thus no occupation. But that is not the discussion that we are holding right now. Instead, does a continued occupation and a 'state' whose high governmental officials are routinely getting blown up as generalized chaos reigns lead to less of a terror threat against the United States than an area of complete anarchary and local warlordism. Giving the experience of looking at Afganistan, Somalia, Sudan, Kosovo and other failed states, a barely functioning central government with a competent military force (the US Marines and Army) is better than fiefdoms and warlord damses. I fear chaos and disorder more than I fear a weak and almost completely ineffecitve government. So on these grounds a continued occupation may be the best of bad policy options.

I just don't know enough to make a definative recommendation that would make sense to me right now.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Accountability

Via my litte brother at Waffling World I saw the ad made by Hold Them Accountable this morning. I agree that this is a damm powerful ad in its simplicity and the production values are above normal campaign junk. It is an effective ad that raises an attack against a central theme of the Bush campaign; that Bush is a tough and decisive leader in the war on "terra" (including Iraq) hwo is making good decisions.

I don't know how much this will help make the case that the Bush administration is fundamentally incompetent and has been for its entire time in office, but it is a good way of trying to make the American voter feel empowered (who here has gone to a corporate seminar on accountability and empowerment) and also allows them to act on their willingness to give the other guy a chance instead of the proven incompetent.

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Monday, September 20, 2004

Movie Review of a Film I have yet to see

Chris at Crooked Timbers highly recommends the movie Stage Beauty which is an adaptation of the play, Compleat Female Stage Beauty by Jeffery Hatcher. Chris highly recommends this movie that he saw in the United Kingdom and I highly recommend it too although I have yet to see it. Why am I doing such a crazy thing? Simple, there is a good Pittsburgh connection. The play which the movie is based off of was a world premiere at Pittsburgh's City Theater (disclaimer, my girlfriend works there) and the entire staff of the theater evidently has an extremely good opinion of the performance and the writing. I tend to trust the judgement of that group of people because so far I have not been disappointed when I have followed up on their recommendations.

Finally, City Theater will be running a party/sneak preview of the movie at the new and highly debated, South Side Works movie theater sometime in the middle of October. They throw a damm good party which is worth attending as an end in and of itself, so you can get the added benefit of seeing a pretty good movie out of the deal.

Nader Update

The Post Gazette is reporting that the PA Supreme Court has reveresed a previous ruling that barred Ralph Nader from the ballot in Pennsylvania. The original ruling stated that since Ralph Nader was on the ballot in other states under the Reform Party line, it is illegal for him to be on the PA ballot under an indepedent/unaffiliated line.

Now the remaining challenge is the signature veracity challenge that I did some work on earlier this summer when I was out of work. I think that there is a damm good chance of Nader being knocked off the ballot due to his inability to get ~25,000 valid signatures from registered voters in Pennsylvania, but this will take some time.

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Oil

General Glut is linking to a NY Times piece that states Yukos is suspending its rail shipments of oil to China because it is out of operating cash due to the seizure of its bank accounts due to the tax evasion case against it. Oil is hitting $46 a barrel primarily due to fear that Yukos will stop production and not due to the drop of available oil on the market as the amount involved (~100,000 bpd) is pretty small right now. Putin has the world oil market by the balls right now and he can squeeze if he wants to as the next thing that Yukos will shut down is a large oil field as its storage tanks will quickly fill if Yukos can not ship its oil to market. Say hello to $50.00/barrel within a week if this occurs.

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Sunday, September 19, 2004

Quick Thoughts and Football

I did not watch most of the Patriots' game today because I was in the middle of Ohio's Appalachian region. My girlfriend's parents own almost a quarter section of land there as they plan to retire to hiking, brush clearing and goat raising sometime in the next decade. So we went hiking and bird watching through some marvelous trails and I was amazed at the number of nooks and crannies that are avaialable for animals to find shelter. It was cool :)

Now for the important political information. We drove along the 22 corridor which is a really beautiful drive. I was trying to count the Kerry/Edwards and Bush/Cheney signs along the side of the road and also bumperstickers on Ohio plates. I saw seven K/E signs and only 2 B/C signs and the bumper sticker talley had a slight K/E edge. Secondly, the area that we were in was flooded and the crops looked like they took a bit of a hit. If Ragout's links to research that shows people affected by natural disaesters vote against the incumbent is right, this could help out Kerry a little bit.

Finally, we move to the important stuff; the Patriots beat the Cardinals today 23-12 but it was a sloppy game. I was only able to watch the last 1.5 quarters as I was doing laundry, and here is what I noticed: the Patriots have a legitimate running game. Corey Dillon is showing why he is considered a more than competant running back as he was able to dance out a linebacker and run over a safety for the extra yard. I like seeing this as they were able to kill the clock in the 4th quarter without doing anything risky. The Pats' defense also did a good job of shutting down the run, but I do not know how much was their performance and how much can be attributed to the Cardinals' general suckiness. What I did not like was that the Patriots still gave up a huge passing play and Tom Brady made a pair of big mistakes, one that resulted in a potential loss of Deion Branch for the season. Oh well, the Pats have two weeks off in order to improve and get ready to kill the Bills.

British drawdown?

I just read in the Guardian that the British will be pulling at least one, possibly two combat battalions from its current committment in Iraq during the next couple of weeks. The 4th Armoured Division will be replacing the First Mechanised Infantry Brigade in the next couple of weeks and it will be containing far fewer combat units. This is interesting because the British are claiming that they have Basra pacified, although there has been an increase in fighitng there lately, and they admit that "some units sustaining up to 35 per cent casualties." That is a level of casualities that is only matched by the US Marine battalions in Al-Anbar Province (Fallujah, Ramadi, Quaim etc.) That is not the result of a pacified province. The British are starting to cut their losses and getting ready to leave the table.

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Friday, September 17, 2004

Re-enlistment news

The Rocky Mountain News article about the 3rd Brigade of the 4th Mech Infantry Division threatening soldiers who have less than a year's worth of time on their enlistment contract with transfers to units which are in the immediate pipeline for Iraq if they do not re-enlist is making its rounds through the blog-o-sphere. They are presenting it as "re-enlist or go to Iraq." I think that they are making a slightly false conclusion.

I believe that the proper conclusion one can draw from this re-enlistment tactic is that the offer is to choose with what unit and when an individual soldier goes back to Iraq. If the threat to transfer individuals with less than a year left in their active duty enlistment is carried through and these soldiers are transfered to the 1st Infantry Division or the 3rd ACR, they will be automatically stop-lossed for the length of their deployment and three months afterwards, so the earliest release date from service is March 2006. However if these soldiers re-enlist they will stay with the 3 BCT/4ID until December 31, 2007. It is extraordinarily unlikely that the US Army will not deploy this brigade back to Iraq during the 4th rotation of forces into Iraq which is scheduled to begin late next summer/early fall. There is a more than even chance in my mind that this unit could be tapped for another deployment that would include a stop-loss extension past the 12/31/07 deadline.

So what does this tell us? The Army is short of troops that it is willing to use threats and potential blackmail to retain trained personal and that they do not care that they are shippen sullen coerced individuals to combat units just before they deploy to a combat zone. Thta does not sound like good news to me.

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Today's Iraq=1942 Yugoslavia?

Yesteday I stated that Steve' Gilliard's contention that Iraq is resembling Lebanon circa 1975-1990~ without the artillery will be conventional wisdom within six months. Today I saw another interesting historic parrallel written by Doug Muir over at Tacitus. Now Doug is a damm good writer and a Balkans area expert who I have been reading in one forum or another for almost a decade now. He thinks that there are some significant lessons to be learned from looking at post-German invasion Yugoslavia.

So. Who were these partisans, and how did they become so effective?

Well, at first, there were more than a dozen different groups. The biggest one was the "Chetniks", under a former RYA officer, Draza Mihailovitch. Second biggest was the Communist Party, under a fellow who called himself Tito. But there were plenty of others... Croats who hated the hyper-fascist Pavelitch government of Croatia, Bosnian Serbs who hated Croats, Voivodina Serbs who hated Hungarians, Albanians who hated everybody. Socialists, monarchists, anti-fascist liberals, you name it.


That is definately the case in Iraq right now with every group that is larger than four people and a goat having their own militia. The largest active resistance groups right now are radicalized Sunni nationalists and the poor Shi'ite militias under Sadr, but everyone has armed forces standing by.

As early as 1941, a large piece of southern Yugoslavia had become the "Uzice Republic", a de facto partisan ministate, with "People's Councils" enforcing strict Communist principles. As it turned out, hardline Communism wasn't actually all that attractive, and the Germans were able to knock over the Uzice Republic fairly easily.


The mini-state of Fallujah/Al Anbar province is not an attractive place to live, nor is Sadr City and US armor could enter those areas and kill a lot of people very quickly but not destroy the core of the mini-states.

The partisans also did a crackerjack job of hampering Germany's economic exploitation of the country. Yugoslavia was rich in grain and minerals, produced a bit of oil, and had a modest industrial base.....as the partisans collapsed mines, blew up railroads and factories, and cut pipelines and power lines. Transport and infrastructure were so degraded that Yugoslavia, a grain-producing country that had supplied food to much of southern Europe, could no longer feed itself.


Sounds familiar?

Thus, for instance, the Germans wanted to use Ante Pavelitch's Ustashe Croatia as a source of garrison troops. But wherever the Ustashe went, they inevitably got into fights with someone -- Serbs, Muslims, even their Italian "allies". (Nationalist Croats resented Mussolini's annexation of Croatia's Adriatic coast.) Similarly, German efforts to cultivate the Bosnian Muslims -- conservative, anti-communist, and traditionally mildly pro-German -- were deeply offensive to both the Pavelitch regime and to Bosnia's Orthodox Serbs. And so, on fractally ad nauseam.


There may be local allies, but they are not respected as neutral and any intervention that they have in a local dispute will only inflame it. The US is discovering this lesson whenever they use Kurdish forces outside of Kurdish territory.

The good news: There is no Tito in Iraq (yet). The various resistance movements remain fragmented, and no syncretic unifying ideology of resistance has yet emerged.


Sadr is making his bid to be a Tito like figure for the Arab population as his second uprising seemed to use rhetoric that was more nationalistic and less religious. By his fourth or fifth uprising, I expect him to be a complete nationalist who happens to be a conservative Shi'ite cleric.

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Thursday, September 16, 2004

Going down the blacken'd path

Iraq is pretty damm close to be fundamentally a failed state. Assainations, ineffective central government, ethnic divisions, religious fundamentalists allied with criminals and nationalists allied with ex-Ba'athists. Somehow things hold together with ducttape, chewing gum and baling wire but progress is not being made. This is not the opinion of this lefty blogger who has been extremely pessimistic about this entire fiasco since August of 2002. This is the opinion of the recently revealed National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq which lies out three plausible and probable scenarios. And this is the best case scenario.

It is a scenario that sounds extremely similiar to the Royal Institute of International Affairs report (large PDF) where muddling through at a pace similiar to the summer is the best case medium term scenario and the other outcomes involve large scale sectarian based civil war and a regional free-for-all/war. So we have the foreign policy elites of the two major powers that undertook this war who are exposed to best available information, including classified information, saying that any objective past avoiding a complete meltdown is unrealistic. Now that is depressing.

I am personally leaning into believing that the muddling through scenario is the least likely because that would mean that there is some reservoir of good will in the country and sufficient Coalition manpower to provide basic security for themselves much less for the Iraqi civilian population. The evidence is not good on this front. Kevin Drum, via Dan Drezner is linking to an admission that the US military is no longer able to guarantee the perimeter of the Green Zone which is where the US is maintaing its embassy, and the offices of the US installed government. There is no security anywhere in Iraq and the political process of giving all the interested stakeholders some stake in an outcome that is not complete chaos is falling apart also.

Grand Ayatollah Sistani has been one of the key stabilizers in Iraq. However he is getting sidelined by Allawi who recognizes the threat that Sistani poses due to his continual call for the scheduled elections to proceed on schedule. These are elections that Sistani's favored candidate will win, therefore Allawi has no incentive of allowing free or fair elections to proceed. Sistani's main motivation has been to avoid a repeat of the aftermath from the 1920 rebellion against British rule where the Shi'ites (even then a majority) were sidelined and dominated by the Sunni Arabs from the central part of the country. He wants to avoid large scale Shi'ite military actions if there is any chance of a somewhat peaceful transition of power to a Shi'ite dominated government. I think that he will be disappointed.

If he is disappointed, then Steve Gilliard's analysis of today's security situation will be the conventional wisdom of next spring:

Ok, anyone notice how brazen the kidnappings of Westerners has gotten. They just walked into Iraqi homes with AK's flashing and a pistol or two, but now, they're doing the same to Westerners. Is this how we're bringing security into Iraq. Watching criminal gangs morph into resistance groups? The link between the two was always far more than anyone wanted to admit, but now, they seemed to have merged. Or are contracting out work....
This is insane. This is Lebanon without the heavy weapons and a LOT more organization. Sad, scary, and a clear flag of US ineffectiveness in running the counterinsurgency.

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Economic and incentive Pet Peeves

I am having a busy day at work, so not a lot of time to blog or to think; (oh yeah, a wonderful breakfast at the Strip's Pamelas with my girlfriend also carbo-loaded my brain this morning... low incentive to think through the pleasent fog of crepe style pancakes adn lyonaise potatos.)

However I saw a couple of interesting links and articles that meet my prejudgices.
First is this little post from the Sports Economist talking about the cost-benefit study commissioned for the proposed Cowboy's stadium near Dallas.

This article in the Fort Worth Weekly takes a critical look at the study. Here are some highlights - quotes on the study by economists that study sports:
Craig Depken: "It is complete garbage... How they say that Arlington is going to get $4 million in grocery sales is amazing."
Mark Rosentraub: "That hotel room number sounds really inflated."
Andrew Zimbalist: "It's one of the silliest studies I've ever seen."


As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, a technically competent analyst with low scruples can create almost any result that his boss orders him to create. The primary means of doing creating these results are to alter the underlying assumptions and then run with the most favorable numbers from there. Most stadium studies are very similiar to the one completed for the Cowboys; they use unrealistic assumptions, large amounts of elite public opinion shaping to narrow the debate and then no follow up analysis to determine the validity of the assumptions that were made to create the favorable number. Studies that deserve consideration for public debate should be willing to both publish all of their assumptions, their formulas and a sensistivity analysis so that outsiders can test the reasonableness of assumptions and see how changes effect a project.

My next minor pet peeve is about the US drinking age of 21. Here Craig from Heavy Lifting has a short post about a New York Times Op-Ed by a retired college president who states the following:
"Colleges should be given the chance to educate students, who in all other respects are adults, in the appropriate use of alcohol, within campus boundaries and out in the open."

Craig says "Perhaps not a bad idea - remove the forbidden fruit aspect of drinking - but the idea will go nowhere.

And I agree completely. I believe that one of the major problems with underage drinking in America is that most teenagers don't know how to drink because learning how to drink requires having a stockpile of alcahol available that is not under the threat of confiscation or lose of license privileges. My observations of Europeans, both here in the US during college and when I lived in France was that the 18-22 year cohort knew how to drink responsibily in higher proportions than the same age cohort of Americans. My thesis is that these kids could drink earlier and moderate their intakes because they knew that they could have another beer tomorrow afternoon instead of the risk of confiscation that American teens faced if they deferred their beer consumption decision.

I also agree that it will go nowhere, which ties into this interesting discussion of medical savings accounts at Marginal Revolutions where Tyler Cowen says that the current policy environment gives a strong incentive to "Rather than keeping up this good fight, we should cave and add in some new distortions, hoping the net effects are to some extent a wash." I think that the same political dynamic occurs with sports stadiums and drinking restrictions.

Another one done

New Zealand is pulling its troops out of Iraq because it is too dangerous. The contigent is not large, a reinforced engineering platoon, but the neo-con theory that success would create a situation where the rest of the world pig-piles into Iraq in order to grab a small sliver of the reflected glory is being continously disproven. The Coalition of the (sorta/kinda) Willing is getting smaller.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Pittsburgh Downtown Housing

I have had a long interest in central business area housing because mixed used and mixed population areas are the areas that create and sustain the most successful and liveable neighborhoods. Pittsburgh's downtown as it is currently consituted has not been a heavily residential area since the Lower Hill was destroyed in order to build both the Crosstown Boulevard and the Mellon (nee Civic) Arena. However there is plenty of potential to develop housing in the area for there is (unfortunately) plenty of open spaces in some architecturally very interesting buildings. Currently, ~17%-18% of the downtown office space is vacant, and there is little job growth that is demanding downtown office space. So there is plenty of space available at relatively cheap prices.

Housing is a natural use for some of the buildings and empty lots because Pittsburgh has one of the highest proportion of jobs in the metro region in the central business district and an underpopulated downtown. Some people will like living near their offices and the cultural amenities which are downtown. However there is a debate on who the market for downtown housing really is. Some, such as City Planning and the Fifth/Forbes planners and Plan C planners, believed that the proper target market is empty nesters in upper management who don't want to drive into the city from the burbs. Others have long argued that downtown could be an effective residential neighborhood for a wide array of people and socio-economic situations. I fall into the later camp as I tried to pitch an idea for downtown university housing two years ago.

There is space for both types of housing as the Pennylvanian and Lawrence Hall demonstrates. And now we have some good news as two new projects have been finalized and ground has either been broken or soon will be for an additional 230 units of housing that could most likely handle 500+ people. These units are complete condos and apartments with multiple bedrooms which is a significant market difference from the lofts which have been the most common of recent downtown housing.

The two new projects are receiving public subsidy in the form of favorable loans from the URA. However these loans are very cheap subsidies as one transaction has Lincoln Properties prepaying back 4.5 million dollars in public loans for their North Shore project in order to gain a 4 million dollar loan for the Downtown project. The net increase in subsidized interest is almost nil. The second project, 88 condo units on Wood Street near Point Park College will be receiving a bridge loan that ballooons in three years. These are minimal risks and minimal subsidies.

I like these projects because they should bring more people into downtown and they are bringing different people into the area. Higher concentrations of nighttime residents should improve public safety as there are more eyes available to unconsciously patrol the streets and also bring forth a richer and more diverse commercial service scene including laundromats and other local resident services that downtown currently lacks. A virtous cycle could ensue if these projects, among others, go reasonably close to the plan. I don't think downtown has enough critical mass yet for this cycle to kick start itself yet, but it is getting closer.

Pittsburgh Transportation Thoughts

There has been a lot of discussion over the past couple of days about Pittsburgh transportation funding and priorities. I have some opinions that are the opinions of a layman. If we bother him enough, I think that we could get G-Man to comment some on this matter because I know that he knows what he is talking about. But before I go forward on the ideas that are created while sitting in traffic on a humid bus, let me describe the city's transportation network so that people who do not come from here can picture the situation.

The Pittsburgh transportation network is designed to do one thing extremely well and that is to quickly deliver 130,000+ people to downtown every morning, and to take them away every evening. All major regional infrastructure contributes to this goal with two busways, the light rail and the two major highways performing admirably in this objective. If you are going anywhere else in the region, good luck, sometimes there are great connections, sometimes there is nothing. Oakland is located about 2.5 miles to the east of the middle of Downtown and it is the home to the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, UPMC hospitals and roughly 35,000 employees and ~20,000 residents. These are the two major regional employment regions in the city. The rest of the city is predominately a local service economy or industrial work. Oakland is on an elevated plateau and there are three main direct connections to downtown; I-376 and the Fifth/Forbes corridor on the southside of Oakland and Craig St/Bigelow Boulevard on the north side of Oakland. Centre Avenue goes through the Hill District and terminates at Crosstown Boulevard/Mellon Arena.

I think that Mark Madison's comment that there is "no magic bullet" Maglev is the first crucial first step of thinking about transportation in this city. The no magic bullet thought process is a good thought to maintain for most Pittsburgh based plans. Pittsburgh is faced with dispersed suburbs and a poor internal population as well as an infrastructure that was developped in topographically challenging terrain so the roads are narrow and the curves are not any fun to follow around. So what should be done?

Jonathan Potts makes the simple statement that a rail connection between Oakland and Downtown would probably be the best candidate for infrastructure expenditures if there is sufficient demand for service when compared to the other large infrastructure proposals. I agree, if the decision criteria is need and unmet demand, the Oakland-Downtown link is the one most likely to pass. Matthew Clark at his blog is advocating the transferrence of the capital funds which are being held for Maglev and the Allegheny tunnel extension into either operational funds for current PAT services or for the extention of the current light rail line to Oakland.

I had a couple quibbles about the transferrability and fungibility of the federal capital funds that Matthew Clark wants to use for his ideas, but I agree with the sentiment that the most useful capital addition to the current inventory of transportation infrastructure would be a light rail connection between Oakland and Downtown. I am not sure of the route, as the easiest connection would probably be down on the river near the Pittsburgh Technology Center, but the most likely to be heavily used routing would have a connection someplace near Fifth Avenue and Thackarey St. If the route was above ground, this would mean closing down a signficant portion of either Center Avenue in the Hill District and then snaking through Bigelow Blvd with street cars, or a very expensive tunnelling project. But this plan would relieve a significant amount of traffic that goes down Fifth/Forbes on a daily basis and we know that demand exists as there are currently 100,000 bus riders who travel Fifth/Forbes on weekdays.

However my big idea with absolutely no evidence and no cost figures to back this up is to do a systemic rerouting of some of the Port Authority buses. Currently the bus routing system is a hub and spoke model with the hub being a half dozen intersections downtown. There are very few crosstown buses (if the bus has a #4 in its name, it may be a crosstown) and very few intermediate buses. My plan would be to adapt and expand an idea that PAT currently uses for the U-series of buses and some suburban buses and create a series of mini-hubs around the city.

For instance, the busiest bus stop in the entire system is Forbes and Murray which is where the 59U, 61A, B and C, 64A, 74A and 501 disgorge passengers. Three crosstown or cross river buses actually operate here which is surprisingly high. The 61s and 501 all go downtown and the 501 continues to the Northside. The majority of the riders have as one of their destinations somplace in Oakland as they are either students or employees of the hospitals or universities. My proposal would be to reduce the number of buses heading all the way downtown via the Forbes/Fifth corridor and send a couple of more buses on an Oakland-Squirrel Hill-Greenfield/Regent Square/Edgewood Town Center Busway connection run. Additionally I would want to run a rush hour bus route that would be a diagnol route that would go through have pick-up at Forbes and Murray but then proceed through Bloomfield and the Strip District, stopping at a Penn/Liberty mini-hub and then proceeds to downtown from there. The objective would be to reduce the number of transfers people need to take to get to work in the Strip District.

Several other mini-hubs could be established at Allegheny Center on the North Side, Negley Avenue on-ramp to the East Busway, Penn-Liberty for the East-End approaches to the North Side/Allegheny Valley towns, Carson St. near the Birmingham Bridge. These locations would have an increased number of crosstown buses while decreasing the number of direct to downtown buses. I envision that this system would have the same number of bus trips but would leader to a little less congestion downtown due to fewer buses actually going past the Crosstown Boulevard/I-579 boundary marker.

A slight edit to the 4th paragraph in order to clarify my characterization of Jonathan Pott's remarks was mad.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Get Real: Colin Powell Edition

In remarks that are being made with the knowledge the the Iraq Survey Group will soon be reporting back that there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq nor were there any immediately before the invasion, Colin Powell made some remarks today that stretch belief.

"it turned out that we have not found any stockpiles."

Well there goes the national security argument for invading Iraq and in a rational world, there goes the Bush campaign as the largest foreign policy initiative as measured by time and money expended has failed because its basic premise failed to meet the reality test. But that is another rant for another day.
What I find more interesting is the following quote:

"There was every reason to believe there were stockpiles," Powell said. "There was a question about the size of stockpiles, but we all believed there were stockpiles."


There were reasons to believe that there could have been stockpiles of banned weapons of mass destruction before the inspectors went in. There was a four year gap in reliable information. I can understand wanting to verify the threat level in December. The information was old and incomplete.

However by the end of February we had achieved a new level of information. There were several things that the United States government had learned or should have learned. First, due to the fact that the United Nations, in the authorizing resolution for inspections called for all member states to contribute any relevant information, we should have had a means of effectively assessing our intelligence ability. The United States should have given some of of its bets "tips" to the UN inspectors while also arranging for intense aerial surveillance of the target sites to verify whether or not hiding/dispersal activities were taking place when the inspectors showed up the next day. This procedure should have clued the national command authority that the operating intelligence was poor.

Secondly, we know that Saddam Hussein was willing to fundamentally capitulate given the threat of credible force. He ceded to inspections in his palaces, he gave up his marginally illegal Al-Samoud missiles and otherwise acted as if he had an extremely weak hand of conventional military power.

So Colin Powell's contention that we had "every reason to believe that there were stockpiles" was a credible assertion if it is related to the time period before inspections went in. However by March, there was or should have been enough evidence to place a decent amount of doubt upon this contention.

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Ching Ching $$$

My alma mata, Carnegie Mellon University, just got themselves one hell of a huge check for $20,000,000 from the Gates Foundation to build yet another CS building atop of Panther Hollow. It will be part of the base for the artificial intelligence section of the School of Computer Science... cool stuff happens there but it is created by some very strange people.

Pittsburgh ED Policy Analysis Assumptions

A couple of days ago, I made a comment over at the Conversation in which I argued for an alternative routing for the proposed North Shore light rail extension. I had my head handed to me in the next comment because that poster was making the assumption that there was a possibility that the city would be smart and actually not engage in a project that I described as " not quite as bad as mixing Jaegermeister, whiskey, orange juice and beer, but up there." However I was assuming that the political will was there to engage in this project even if or because the demand and need were not present.

Today over at Pittsblog the same issue is raised in this entire post:
" Well, of course the idea of extending the T under the Allegheny River is insane, whether one works from the assumption that an extension is inevitable but the tunneling option is the most costly alternative, or from the assumption that an extension isn't what the region needs or wants.


That is one of the greatest problems in Pittsburgh area economic development policy analysis. Serious money and political will is being invested in projects which make absolutely no economic sense but a lot of political sense and a great deal of effort is spent on damage mitigation and not damage avoidance. I, unfortunately, make the assumption that the city and region will make a lot of dumb choices for political reasons and that the best one can sometimes do is advocate less dumb choices instead of smart choices which sometimes includes inaction.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Document Impact Assessment

UPDATE 2 I am joining in with Brad DeLong and adding my doubt that the CBS documents were the original or contemporary documents. However, I am agreeing with Stirling Newberry that this is not that important except for the meme war, as the Dallas Morning News (registration required) is reporting that concerning Col. Killian's secratary that has the following lede:

The former secretary for the Texas Air National Guard colonel who supposedly authored memos critical of President Bush’s Guard service said Tuesday that the documents are fake, but that they reflect real documents that once existed.


UPDATE 1 The Washington Post is making a fairly convincing argument that there have been alterations to the documents in question. I'll take this post down if there is no good counter agrument any time soon.


The first round of the document dust-up is settling down right now, and I believe that that CBS is winning this round as the first technical objections to the documents have been fairly thoroughly smashed. There were machines in relatively common use that were capable of producing all of the document features in question and that the US Air Force had bought. Now the debate is over signatures and other far more arcane and difficult matters for amateurs to pretend that they are insta-experts on. I believe that the preponderance of the evidence and contextual agreement from people who knew the writer will show that it is extremely likely that these documents are valid. This is supported by USA Today which had independently acquired two more contemporary memos to the four CBS memos and their running with them. They knew that they would be facing criticism and a harsh response if they ran and a major piece of crow if they are not 100% sure. However this is most likely a case of partisan epistemology as the Tacitus community is convinced that they are sloppy forgeries. But that is, in my opinion, a less likely scenario so lets do an impact assessment on a couple of grounds. First, lets' do a quick look at the media, second this week's poll numbers and thirdly, the rest of the campaign, and finally a couple of ending thoughts.

The big story here is how quickly a meme was able to distribute itself into the political discussion and influence news coverage. As Dave at Blue Grass Roots notes, "While this issue is going to be a fantastic football, meditate on this: the blogs made this a story, and that's the real story." This story started within four hours of the airing and it was quickly forcing follow ups and a response by CBS by the next day. By Sunday afternoon a thorough pushback by the mainstream media and lefty blogs, as I detailed, occurred. As Digby notes, this was a victory for the right wing message dissemination machine for the facts were much more muddled and less clear than Free Republican and LGF were trumpeting, but they got two days of free headlines as a slow response occurred.

But does this matter? Some people definitely thinks it will. The LA Times quotes Jeffrey Seglin, a professor at Emerson College in Boston the following "And what happens when this stuff gets into the mainstream, and it eventually turns out that the '60 Minutes' documents were perfectly legitimate, but because there's been so much reporting about what's being reported, it has already taken on a life of its own?"
But Steve Belisaurius, guest posting at Emerging Democratic Majority would most likely argue that it is a fairly meaningless tactical victory for the right if this plays out the same way the Swift Boat Vets story did. He noted that it took the Swifties 6 days to gain 20% support for their position and by the time the Kerry campaign responded on the 18th (14 days in) 30% of the adult population believed that the Swift charges had some merit. However eight days later when documentation, witnesses and a logic attack was made against the accusations, again only 20% of the population believed that the charges had some merit.

I believe that these forgery charges will have the same basic play as the Swift Vet charges. They will strengthen the conviction of the pre-existining hard anti-Kerry partisans but once a pushback occurs, and it has, it will not have any effect among the undecideds. Already we have seen very little indication that this is changing the polls that much as the IBD/CSM poll shows a tie and they were in the field during this entire dust-up. Rasmussan's tracking poll shows little to no movement for either candidate. On the first order my guess is that this event is having absolutely on short term effect on electoral preferences either way as Kerry is down by about a point right now. Longer term, I believe this could change.

Steve Belisaurius in the same post that I linked to above notes that after the Swift Boats Veteran attack, more people had a negative opinion of the Republican Party than before the attacks. A majority of people believed that those were unfair attacks while a majority believed that the Democrats were being "fair" in their attacks on President Bush. As these charges collapse against the evidence, the same dynamic may occur.

Even if it does not, Steve Gilliard notes that this is a story that should rebound for the Democrats because it has opened Bush's Vietnam era service record back up for public discussion when it is something that Karl Rove wanted to keep quiet and off the center of every news paper because it illustrates that George W. Bush has been a man who has been able to skate through life with minimal effort because all of the rough edges have been smoothed over because of his father's last name. When this election is about toughness, as Josh Marshall has continually noted, this is not the contrast that Rove wants to create and exploit.

We are getting new reports that are not based on the documents in question that Bush, by any standard, did not fulfill his National Guard obligation. [relevant article excerpts here] This is relatively "old" news but the new news is that this is yet another attack on his honesty as all the dots are being connected right now.

These dust-up, intense though it may be in blogospheric terms, is not particularity helpful or relevant for the campaign of George W. Bush. It has fired up his already hard core supporters while turning off the mushier moderates and less intense partisans from his campaign as they may see these attacks as unfair. A concentration on the veracity of these documents and what they mean for his National Guard service has created a media environment where other Bush National Guard stories using other, non-disputed sources are flourishing. Bush can only look like a loser in these comparisons.

UpdatePolitical Wire is reporting three other polls that show Bush up by 3-5 points and that were also in the field during the relevant time period.
PS:This was the post that I was trying to write this morning.

Defined Benefit pension counter-cyclical problems

Today Atrios notes that US Airways has asked the bankruptcy judge to allow it to halt pension plan payments in order to conserve cash. If this motion is approved, this will shift a significant portion of the already underfunded pensions to the fiscally precarious Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation and also produce some real cuts in the current pensions of some retirees. Pro-growth Liberal at Angry Bear notes that US Airways is just one of many large airlines and other old economy companies that are struggling under their pension obligations which is looking at unloading some of their obligations to the PBGC.

There are a couple of problems with defined benefit pension plans. Dan Drezner noted the moral hazard problem of pension insurance as companies have an incentive to contribute less than the optimal amount that will keep the pensions fully funded because they can shift the ultimate downside risk to the PBGC. This is a definate problem because some companies will skimp on their contributions in the hope that above trend stock market and interest rate returns will allow for enough asset growth to cover all expected and actuarially anticipated costs of pension benefits. And if the return on investment is low, the corporation pays a very small per-benefeciary increase in insurance premiums and has several decades to increase their payments into the pension fund. The benefits of increased short term profits and stock prices outweigh the creation of the larger long term liability.
However the largest problem with the current defined benefit pension plan is that it is countercylical to the cash flow cyles of companies. When the economy is booming such as the mid to late 90s, the returns on investment are very high and thus most companies do not need to divert a significant portion of their cash flow into the pension plans. US Steel's pension plan had a high enough return on investment for five years that USX did not have to send a single dollar of operational income into the pension plan during this time.
However pension costs are not a variable cost, unlike the new ISG/SWA/SWT pension agreement. When cash flow and profits are down across the economy, that indicates that a recession is around. The typical ROI in a recession is much lower than during a recovery/boom. Pension funds either lose actual value or due to the lower expected future rate of return, they lose their NPV and thus a shortfall in current assets versus future expected liabilities is created. Both these events have occurred in the past three years. If the economy as a whole was booming, this would not be bad because there would be available cash flow. However, if the economy is in recession, that tends to depress profitability and cash flow which means companies are forced to make large payments to their pension funds at a time when they can least afford it. They can stretch payments out and get creative on their accounting (GM fundamentally put a part of itself into the UAW pension fund several years ago) but assets and cash which could be better used elsewhere are required to go into the pension fund to cover expenses.
I have worked on some policy brainstorming sessions to address this counter-cyclical disincentive to offer defined benefit pension plans, and there really are no good options which are Pareto improvements. The only good solution that came up in these conversations was that companies that offer db-pensions be required to make minimum annual contributions even when their pension plans were fully funded in order to smooth the cash flow problems. The other solution is to allow for the moral hazard of the PBGC and the implicit government guarantee behind the PBGC.

Blogger and other damm technology

I hate blogger. I had a great post this morning evaluating the effectiveness of the kerfuffle concerning the CBS TANG documents and then blogger ate it. I'll try and rewrite it later, but today is a damm busy day at work where I am fighting with a database.

Finally, my clock radio loses reception of the AM sports station that I like listening to in the morning has funky reception. Up till 10:00AM or so I get pretty good reception and then it dramatically goes down hill so that at 10:30 I can not hear a damm thing beside static and squelch. Any idea why this is happening?

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