Monday, January 31, 2005

The incredible, edible shrinking National Guard

The Brookings Institute publishes its weekly Iraq Index and one of the big points that I look for is on P.17 of the PDF which is the state of Iraqi security forces. The current goal of the Iraqi National Guard was to have roughly 62,000 trained and equipped soldiers by tomorrow morning. Not going to happen, as the Brookings Institute is reporting ~36,900 Iraqis in the National Guard, with little information as to their training. Well, that could be a decent number, except for the trend. It is a drop of ~3,300 National Guardsmen from last month, and a reversion back to the early fall numbers. The max was 43,000 in November, and it has dropped ~6,500 since then, or 16% net casualties, desertions, defections or retirements. Eric Umansky is linking to a piece that states that over the past 6 months, or since July, the Iraqi National Guard has lost 10,000 men to attrition. This data, combined with the Brookings data allows us to take a guessestimate at the recruiting output of the Iraqi National Guard over the past six months. It looks like AT MOST, ONLY 3,500 Iraqis have signed up for the National Guard since July. But the problem is that the Brookings figures do not completely jive with the AP article as it shows effectively zero NET change, despite a surge of both recruitments and desertions/retirements. The Brookings numbers would imply about 10,000 new recruits to replace 1:1 the casualties/defections/desertions/retirement attrition.

Either way, the National Guard is static despite the glaring need for Iraqi units that are vaguely competent and recruiting is not moving all that much net into the force. If it takes several months to produce a competent for the task guardsman, we are still looking at an American face on the occupation and anti-insurgency well into next fall.

NB: I discussed an iraqi Police Input-Output model earlier this month, and it is the same type of analysis; not enough recruits, and a lot of attrition is leading to at best a slow growth of net positive capable units.


Quick Election Round-up

So the Iraqi elections were held yesterday and there was some very good news, some medium good news, some medium bad news and some very bad news. Let's start with the good news.

1) Violence against the polling places was much lower than I feared. Only a dozen or so car bombs/suicide walk-up bombers, with comparatively light casualities.

2) The Shi'ites came out in force
3) The Kurds came out in force (The sums of 2 and 3 will account for the vast majority of the turnout, which is less than the 72% reporting, as the Kurdish vote in safe peshmerga controlled cities was having trouble hitting 60% participation.)

Medium Good News
A) Some Sunni participation (not much)
b) No surge of chaos in either Kirkuk or Mosul

Medium Bad News
a) The Kurds were keeping the Assyrian Christians from voting in the north.
b) The Kurds look like they are declaring de facto independence with their provincial elections.
3) Everyone is still worried about massive voter fraud.
4) An RAF Hercules was shot down with what is claimed to be an anti-tank weapon, so it is a golden BB scenario. Although the question why a Hercules flight was needed to travel 60km is a question with some scary implications.

Very Bad News
a) A total of 4 election centers were planned in all of Al-Anbar province. Two were destroyed before the election, and one was deserted in Fallujah.

b) Minimal Sunni participation; Less than 1% of population voted in Tikrit, several hundred ballots at most in Ramadi, no Sunni Arab voting in Mosul etc.

So what does this all mean; the insurgents' stratergies of creating a Sunni cleavage from the rest of Iraqi society has been successful. Either through fear, solidarity or alienation, effectively no Sunni Arabs voted. The governmental process that results from this election will be inclined (assuming Iraqi politicians are like the vast majority if the world's politicians) to screw those who are out of power. Are there any statesmen who will make massive concessions to re-include the Sunni Arabs while also not pissing off their own natural base? I don't know this. The Sunni Arabs are the core of the active insurgency, and as such are one of the major veto players. If yesterday's goal was to simply have an election to ratify Sistani's place as the most powerful man in Iraq, it worked. If the goal was to create an immediate political solution to the insurgency, sapping it of its popular support and cover among the Sunni Arab population, it failed.

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Sunday, January 30, 2005

Mayoral Candidates

The Trib Review via Grassroots PA is reporting that both Peduto and O'Conner will be announcing their mayoral run this week. I am not at all surprised by O'Conner, but am a little surprised by Peduto as the e-mail from This is Happening stated that the Jan. 31 ice skating party was an announcement of his reelection bid for a city council seat. Oh well, minor league subterfuge.

I figure that in the next couple of weeks I will have to pull out my list of criteria and move to #3 once I determine who has a viable shot of winning not named Murphy.


Just a couple of quick reviews of fun things to do on the weekend. First, my fiancee and I went to see Sideways as it re-opened recently. A very enjoyable movie, simple, well made, not contrived, extremely well written and acted. Not an amazing, "I must see this again and again" type of classic, but simply a fine movie to enjoy on a wintry afternoon. The wallet recovery scene is hilarious.

Now, if you need to warm up your skin and drain the core, I have two bars to recommend. The fist is Zyng's in Squirrel Hill on Murray Avenue. A large group of us went around 9:30, and the service was excellent, the food was tasty and the drinks reasonably price. Mini-carafes of warmed sake were $4.50, Yuenglings were 3.00 and every night they run a dollar beer special. That night it was St. Nicoloas Bock which was, for a bock, of average quality and taste. So I was able to get a good buzz going for 3 bucks (including tip). The other is InnPressions (I think that is the name) which is a sports bar on Carson St two blocks to the east of the Burger King. It is a very simple neighborhood style sports bar on the heaviest drinking street in the city. I felt that the location was a little bit incongrous, as the natural habitat of a neighborhood bar in the Southside Flats is not Carson Street but Mary or Jane or Sarah streets. The prices were very reasonable, sodas fofr $.50 and an Iron City for $1.50. Very little smoke, a good jukebox and a couple of quater operated pool tables. I should go there sometime next year for a Steelers' game.

Hopefully I'm wrong

Right now it looks like the surge of violence is under ten car bombings, and there is good turnout out in Shi'ite and Kurdish areas. However, Chris Allbrighton reporting from Iraq doubts that Sunni turnout will hit double digits. So elections are going very well in the areas that know that they will be the winners no matter what, and are not really moving at all in areas which need to be reincluded in the political process. Hopefully I'm wrong, but this could be another transfer of sovereignity moment; looks good for a little bit, and that is it.


Saturday, January 29, 2005

Guess the Turnout

The last great panacea will be upon Iraq in the next twenty hours or so. The country is fundamentally shut down, violence is at its normal ly high level, and polling places and candidates have just revealed themselves. Perfect conditions for an election. So what will result from it? If turnout is comparatively homogenous across all ethnic/political groups and relatively high, then we can expect good things. If turnout is concentrated in only a few ethnic/political groups and is geographically concentrated, then we have the same problems on Monday as we did on Saturday; the Sunni Arabs are cleaved from the political process, marginalized and willing to keep on shooting.

Option B looks to be the highly probable case, as this Zogby poll shows massive unwillingness to vote among the Sunni Arab population, while also showing a strong willingness to vote among the Shi'ites and Kurds. Additionally the President of Iraq has stated that the insurgents' campaign of intimidation has been effective AND that any political process that does not involve all three major groups would be "invalid." Juan Cole is estimating that the Sistani list will not get a majority of the seats, but it will have the largest plurality, AND that besides the Sistani blessed list, the Allawi list and the Kurdish coalition list, none of the other parties are looking at more than a couple percentage points that would make Ralph Nader proud. So there is, if I am reading Mr. COle correctly, little effective Sunni Arab chances of gaining any power in the National Assembly. Thus continued marginalization and resistance. And all of this assumes that tomorrow is not a bloody fiasco.

PS: It is looking like the Sadrists are going to have their cake and eat it too, as several are running on likely winning lists, but the entire movement is talking down the elections as tools of the Americans to oppress the Iraqi people.

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Friday, January 28, 2005

What a job description

At my office, the following was the entire job description that was sent out:

"Not stupid, not a student, and not employed... call 412 XXX KKYY"

What organization we have here

Management Consultants for Al-Quaida

The SWISH Project is an obvious parody of your typical Deloitte and Touche, Ernst&Young, or McKinnley consulting groups' strategy papers, but it is quite fun to read especially some of the following lines:

In their different ways, these and others are producing informed and largely accurate assessments.

The good news is that they are almost entirely ignored by opinion formers and decision-makers within the current Washington power-base. Even so, one of our concerns is that such analysts might come to be taken seriously as even the Bush administration is forced to recognise the gathering failure of its Iraq policy.


all of which were evident six months ago, the main conclusion of our first report was that it was hugely in your interest to see George W Bush re-elected. Indeed, we went so far as to suggest that the detention of your leader by US forces might be a necessary step to ensuring this. We appreciate that this proposal was not well received, and we are grateful that you have still turned to us for a further report. We will refrain from recommending specific personal initiatives in future.

Enjoy, chuckle and then cry, as the thrust is right in that Iraq is a distraction from going after Al-Quaeda as it presents massive real and opportunity costs is true.


Over/Under on NonDisclosed Whoring

I have no problems with opinion leaders have opinions. That is their job. I have no problem with opinion leaders having opinions that I do not agree with nor share. Again, that is their job, to get people talking. I do have a problem with opinion leaders not disclosing the fact that they are getting paid to spout pre-formed opinions by an interested party. As I just noted in the previous post, disclosure of all relevant information makes evaluating things way easier and reliable.

So right now we have seen Armstrong Williams, Micheal McManus, and Maggie Gallagher all receiving federal contracts to either directly promote or show people how to promote policy proposals favored by the Adminstration. Fine, if they disclosed that basic fact.

I am just really curious what the over/under is on the eventual number of so called journalists and opinion leaders who are or have received federal funds for public relations purposes of one sort or another without disclosure. I am betting it is widespread as the saw goes "One's an accident, two is a coincidence, three is systemic policy" especially when the incidents are not locally clustered and under a single center of leadership. That same saw served me well when analyzing Abu Ghraib, as we are seeing the same thing happening in Afganistan, on Diego Garcia, in Guatanamo, it is not just a couple of low level managers making dumb decisions; it is a culture and leadership atmosphere that allows for this rot to fester.

So what is the over/under for just third string hacks who are outright whores?

I guess 43.
What's yours?

Projections, Guesses and Lies (for Public Policy)

It is true, that in any complex system, a projection, no matter how well reasoned, is just a guess in the dark. However projections are not worthless even though it is just by chance that any projection will be met by reality in its entirity. Competent, well reasoned, well research projections have a significant role to play in public policy because they can start to define outcome probabilty regions, and expectations. If we were to wait for perfect knowledge, nothing would be done, as we are bounded by our processing capacity and our ability to pay for information. So projections will have some error inherent to them, but are a useful tool if they are done correctly.

How do we tell if a projection is worth a can of beans? There is a massive literature on this subject if you want to be a consultant who produces projections, debunks projections or obfusticates projections. All three categories pay quite well, and the overlap in employment is high. But I am assuming that my one hundred or so daily readers do not overwhelmingly fit into the category of projection specialists so here are some rules of thumb. There are always the basics, such as disclosing who paid for the study, disclosing any conflicts of interests, disclosing the author's qualifications etc. But the following are some quick and dirty ways to look a little deeper.

ALPHA AND OMEGA: Are you dealing with known liars?

If yes, stop right here, the credibility is shot, if no, proceed onwards to the next five steps.

1) Are the basic assumptions that are underlying the projection available for scrutiny?

My projection that I will be having Vocelli pizza for lunch today is based on the assumption that the meeting I have to go to is serving food and my boss was seen to have ordered 6 pizzas yesterday. The underlying assumptions are available for scrutiny. Now if you see a projection that does not release its assumptions, run away from it.

2) Are the projections based on assumptions that bear any resemblence to reality?

As Atrios and Kevin Drum are tearing apart the Cato Institute's pro-privatization calculator one CATO assumption that stands out massively is the assumption that average real wages will increase by 4% per year for at least the next lifetime for my cohort of workers. Given that we have never seen sustained real wage increases of that size, this is an unreasonable assumption.

3) Do the assumptions contradict each other? Do the assumptions contradict the need for the proposed solution? (Is the study internally consistent?)

These are two ends of the same sword. Again beating up on CATO, they are assuming average wage growth of 4%, stock market growth of ~7%. Holding everything else constant, wage growth should track with productivity growth, and profit growth tracks with output growth which is a combination of productivity growth AND population growth, so these CATO assumptions would be categorized as part of the very low cost alternative projection by the OASI actuaries and thus solve a problem (OASI drawing down its Trust Fund assets) that does not actually exist.

4) How accurate has then authors' past projections been?
If they are pretty accurate in the core of their results, then this is a strong indicator that they have some idea of what they are doing. If they have not been accurate in the fundamental results, have the authors changed their methodology, or published why they think that they went wrong?

5) Has the person making the projection ever said "No" or admitted that a project does not fit the need?

Mark Madison at PittsBlog is linking to a couple of interesting studies on the effects of convention centers, and convention center supporting hotels in downtown economic development. One of the links is to an interview given by Prof. Heywood Sanders, where he comments that a firm which does feasibility studies for convention centers has never recommended that a client NOT build a convention center and make other large scale capital investments. This goes back into the plausibility argument from above; it is hard to believe that there are common solutions to all problems across a wide range of environments. Being able to say "No" enhances a study's credibility that the projection is made based on reality as it is perceived by the projecters and not to justify a pre-made decision.

These steps are not hard to do, and don't require too much knowledge, just a willingness to look at problems and examine some of the basic relationships. You will not catch every bad study using the above steps (I once saw a study done by a credible organization in an open and sourced manner that totally screwed up job projections because they used the wrong multiplier, which led to a major multi-million dollar expenditure mistake) but you'll catch most of the riff-raff that is posing as policy analysis.

Now we got a plan

It looks like the Bush proposal for Social Security looting privatization actually has a plan that is far enough advanced to actually be critiqued on the merits. Right now it is being leaked that there are a couple important features:

  • Modelled after the federal Thrift Savings Plans
  • Conservative investment options
  • No talk about either transition costs or wage indexing.

The first point will remove some arguments that the administrative costs and fees will be significantly eating into potential returns on investment as the TSP is an extremely well run program. The second defeats the entire purpose of supposedly investing in the market for if the plan's funds are invested in the stock market in an index fashion, then we are mainly looking at real growth at the rate of economic growth. I believe that this point will be made fiercely and often in Senate debate... also Dean Baker's test of what combination of economic growth and profit yields will lead to the correct numbers will be brought up often. The great issue is that neither wage indexing, which will lead to long term replacement rate destruction and thus the entire Security component of Social Security, nor the transition costs are addressed. These are the great opportunities for opposition, as well as the basic fact that pretty much every other country that has gone to privatizing the basic societal pension really has not met their expectations.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Systems of Inefficiency

A management technique that I have heard is useful is for senior personal of a large corporation or entity to use the same employees bathroom as everyone else. The reason is not to improve morale or show that your one of the guys, but instead to read the graffiti so that you can learn what the common gripes are from the main body of your workforce. There is wisdom in graffiti. While I was in grad school, one of the stalls in the basement of my building had a tag line "It is our duty to exploit systems of inefficiency" with the implication that these arbitage moments can represent massive losses of social surplus AND personal profit. This piece of graffiti has been stuck in my mind since this morning.

Nouriel robin is commenting on a Financial Times editorial that looks at the incentive structure of smaller economies and their respective central banks to continue dollar reserve accumulation. The incentives do not look particularly strong for each individual country to do so, as outline in the following point from the post I linked to above:

Suppose that a number of small BW2 periphery countries diversify out of US dollars into yen and euros and that leads to a weaker $ relative to Euro and yen. Then, the BOJ may start intervening again and the ECB may start to intervene altogether to avoid excessive appreciation. Then, the BW2 periphery would free ride on the ECB and BOJ: they would be able to dump their undesired $ assets and aquire Euros and Yen provided by the BOJ and ECB intervention at no cost to these free riders as the $ cross rate relative to euro and yen would be unaffected if such intervention occurs and at not cost in terms of bilateral currency value relative to the US $ as someone is absorbing the undesired hot potato of dollar assets. This way ECB and BOJ get the hot potatoes of $ assets that small countries do not want and give Euros and Yens to the free riders in exchange. So, ECB and BOJ end up taking more of the risk of a $ fall.Ed Note: BW2 is shorthand for Bretton Woods 2 monetary system.

There are risks of free riding, as Korea saw when it stopped intervening; the won increased and Korea risked losing its export competiveness. So the primary risk is timing; if the free riders decide to shift all of their risk off to the BoJ and ECB as well as the Chinese government, they have to take the calculation that the needed structural adjustments will occur soon, however soon is defined. Any individual free rider can not force revaluation and structural adjustment. They are too small, which is the fact that allows them to be a free rider on Japan and Europe. But if everyone but for the big 3 central banks was to execute such a risk shifting exercise that would pretty much force the adjustments through.

I am just curious why the free riders have not tried to coordinate a risk shift yet? There is very little chance that the US federal government intends to be fiscally non-insane anytime soon (potential war in Iran, current war in Iraq, more tax cuts on the horizon, Social Security looting and Medicare boondoggles), so why not force someone else to hold the risk of seeing the dollar collapse?

PS: In the post immediately preceding the one I linked to above, Mr. Roubini goes into why the Chinese are not likely to defect tomorrow morning, and what it looks like the US may be trying to do by being crazy.


Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Impossible but would have been nice

Phil Carter approvingly links to a mil-blog that suggests " All believe that, at the start of the war, the entire force should have mobilized for "the duration plus six months"." This move would, I assume, provide sufficent force, and also a certain level of predictability that would improve moral. If I am reading the statement correctly "the war" refers to Iraq.

This may have been a prudent and useful step, but it is an impossible step for both legal and political reasons. The legal reason is that the President is authorized to order partial mobilizations of up to 250,000 National Guards or Reservists at any one time, (total of 1 million) for periods of no more than 24 months per individual. He can do this on his own, as long as he can get Congress to appropriate the money for them. Clinton did this for Bosnia and Kosovo, Bush Sr. did this for Desert Storm, Bush Jr. did this for Afganistan etc. However duration+6 requires a declaration of war, which the Bush administration continually claimed it did not need, as duration+6 is full scale mobilization. So legally duration+6, given the political environment of September 2002-March 2003 was out of the question.

Politically, duration+6 is a non-starter as it would have implied that the war may have been costly and messy instead of a cheap victory that would have US forces drawn down to 30,000 by September 2003. Why mobilize half a million reservists when they won't be ready once the victory parade is complete? We saw what happened to Shineski, as he was publiclly humiliated by the neo-con civilians when he made an argument that the US would need a very large mobilization if we wanted to win the peace in Iraq. We saw what happened to Mitch Daniels, the former OMB Director when he estimated in the fall of 2002 that the war may cost the US $100-$200 Billion dollars, instead of having it be a self-financing operation. Remember, we were supposed to be greeted with flowers and candy.

The entire Iraq war political equation was built on the assumption that the Bush administration could sell the war as a short, cheap, victorious war of nobility. Anything that intruded into that reality had to be shoved aside, and complete mobilization would have significantly intruded into that reality. Therefore, duration+6, which may have been a good idea when 300,000 troops may have made a difference in April, 2003, was an impossibility. Now if it is implemented, say goodbye to any significant National Guard or Reserve recruitment (hell we are pretty much there now, as it is almost duration+6 with stop loss and the attempt to change policy to get around the 24 month limit)


This is too easy

Via Eric Umansky is the following quote from a US News and World Report article concerning some of the rewards that US forces are offering for information on Bin Laden and his top leadership cadres:

U.S. "officials concede that sheepherders in Afghanistan often don't understand the value of $25 million, and they are looking into offering other forms of compensation. For his part, bin Laden, citing authority from the Koran, promises his followers who die in attacks on westerners a stable of virgins. Counters one official, 'We can't come up with 70 virgins, but we can come up with goats'."

Now the obvious thing is to start making West Virginia jokes, or something along those lines. And there are definately a couple of cheap chuckles available here, but this is a good idea. It is the same idea as if someone promised me a personal apartment on the moon; that is near incomprehensible as a deliverable to me; the same goes to the concept of $25 or $50 million dollars to poor goatherders who live in the Pakistani-Afghani border regions. This offer of goats, and other signs of conspicous agricultural wealth is a damm good idea and approach to creating incentives to inform, although it will lead to plenty of cheap guffaws from people like me.

Supplemental Abuse

The White House is looking for another $80 Billion to pay for operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, tsunami relief, and a little bit of money for other international projects. I'll probably talk more about other aspects of this request at some point in the future, but the thing that gets my goat right now is just the complete lack of respect that the Bush administration has for the budgeting process.

Supplemental requests should be used when unanticipated expenses and opportunities arise, not as a way to fund normal and expected operations. Right now the CBO budget forecasts assumes that we will not be spending any money in Iraq or Afganistan in the out years, although we know that the Pentagon is expecting to spend money in Iraq to suppport 120,000 troops there in FY-06 to FY07. We know that is a reasonable planning guide for appararently everything but the budgetting process.

The supplemental will also contain funding for more Army transformation. In March 2003, the US Army had 33 active duty combat brigades and another brigade equivilent of active duty OPFOR combat units, so 34 brigades. The supplemental will seek to add 17 more brigades, but this is an exceedingly deceptive request, as the Army will not be adding significant end strength, but it will be rearranging the deck chairs, as the 2003 brigade structure had 3 combat maneuver battalions in each brigade along with combat support units and combat service support units. The new brigade structure is 2 combat battalions, more scouts, less air defense, and a pushing forward of more support services. So these units are not being created to deal with an unanticipated emergency, but instead are part of a broader and anticipated realignment that should not be funded in the supplemntal. Instead, if the White House believes that this realignment is good for the country and the Army, it should seek to fund the changes from the regular budget.

I am not arguing against realignment, as I do not know enough to evaluate whether or not it is a good idea. I am arguing for a little bit more honest budgetting. Yes, I know, that is too much to expect, but I still hold out hope.


Good time for all

Last night was my birthday party, and it was a damn good time. The night started with me breaking the last two remaining wine glasses in seperate incidents that occurred within five minutes of each other. And it also had no alcahol or other mitigating excuse beyond clumsiness, and then I got a great gift from my fiancee. She tends to be able to find things that I both need and would never get for myself, but will use a lot. I hope that I am half as good at that for her as she is for me.

And then people came over for fondue; we got to play with fire, chocalate and liquor---quite a good combination. I strongly recommend Alice Vines, a wine cooperative from Australia for a decent merlot and chardonnay at very reasonable prices. Conversations started with advice on how to get the proper frosted bangs for Jersey Brides, proceeded onto Hello Kitty themed bondage, digressed to a hope that a friend can scam Canadian immigration by finding polygamous Canadian bisexuals looking for sham marriages, and then ended up with a discussion of East End real estate agents. A typical night. This year thankfully no one stuck their entire hand in their mouth while at my house. And then we ambled over to the bar. After a snowball fight, a random door knock for more friends to come out in the pajamas and the disappointment as the first bar was occupied by a Beirut tournament, we arrived on import pitcher special night.

Evil, instigating friend was not so evil, but still instigating a bit. This year I actually had a good "Wisconsin Lunchbox" (orange juice, light beer and a shot of armaretto) instead of the evil one which contained Jaegermeister last year. No vomitting involved. A little bit of tipsiness was introduced into the unusual suspects and voila, I arrived back home at a reasonable hour. Damm good time for all, as I am actuarially a safe(r) risk now so I can RENT A CAR!!!! from anyone other than Enterprise.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The economics of football trades

Now that my second favorite team is out of the playoffs, I'll be listening to quite a bit of talk on the post-season plans of the Steelers. Some of those plans include free agency, others included restricted free agency, the mini-industry of horrendously wrong draft prognostication will experience its yearly boom, and then they'll be talks about trades involving both player for player deals, player for draft picks which represent future players and draft picks for draft picks. Listening to some of the Monday evening talk shows, I started thinking about some of the trade-offs of draft pick for player trades and how useful these trades can be in illustrating some basic economic principles.

Let me make a couple of broad and general statements. First, trades occur because both parties believe that after the trade that they are better off in some way than before the trade. Secondly, there are many different attributes involved in creating an excellent football team. Thirdly, NFL teams, like all individuals and corporations operate under some sort of budget constraint. In the NFL, this budget constraint is the salary cap. Fourth, NFL teams have ways of moving spending around in time. Some, like the Tennessee Titans decided to spend more salary cap space now than they really had, so they will need to cut players, renegoatiate contracts and in future years spend less to pay off the signing bonus amortization and dead money that they incurred to field a team this year. On the other extreme is the Minnesota Vikings which exploited an accounting rule to draw future expenses and cap accountings against the current year's budget so that the Vikings can effectively spend more money in future years. (Antoine Winfield's contract is the prime mechanism.) Fifth, very few coaches and GMs have time horizons past three or four years, so they want to win either now, or real soon, so they place value on what will help today versus tomorrow, therefore they need to be compensated for deferring pleasure.

These basic assumptions come into play when draft picks are traded for veteran players. In the following example, Team A will be sending draft picks, and Team B will be sending the established player. Team A is receiving a less risky player as they have past history of performance that can be directly compared against NFL competition and coaching. They are most likely going to pay more cap space for the veteran than for the rookies that they would have acquired from the draft picks. Rookies are restricted in their earnings by both the league wide wage ceilings of the rookie signing pool and the fact that even the highest picks (hi Tim Couch and Ryan Leaf) are not guaranteed successes.

So why should someone trade a veteran player for draft picks, if we are to assume the first statement that trades only occur because they make both parties no worse off, and most likely better off after the trade is completed then before the trade is completed. Simple, Team B will be looking to take an asset it has in relative abundance in order to gain assets that it has in relative scarcity. These scarce assets include gaining more cap space as a veteran of any talent is more expensive than a rookie, and preparing for the future. If Team B is not going anywhere this year, trading vets for risky youth is a gamble to get better in the near future versus a guarantee of more of the same. At the same time Team A, which is receiving the veteran and giving away the draft picks may have an abundance of cap space, few roster spots, and an ability to win now.

So why does NFL economics have any translation into every day life. Simple, teams are seeking to maximize their probability of winning, and there are many different ways of reaching this goal of maximum satisfaction. The 32 teams are not given identical endowments of talent, contract lengths or front office ability. There are imbalances in every team, and some teams are much better at one area rather than another. Trades are a way for teams to take advantage of what they do the best at (developing players at a certain position) in order to correct for their weaknesses. The best recent example is the Green Bay Packers which develops competent quarterbacks for the rest of the NFL, and receive draft picks back in order to booster its defense and wide receiver corps. Trades in the real world do the same thing; some people and organizations are really good at producing a particular type of item due to either their initial endowment of assets (Pittsburgh due to West Virginian coal, cheap water transit for iron ore, and rail links to both the east and west), particular management styles, or the ability to develop new technologies rapidly (real world Silicon Valley for IT, the Patriots for defensive schemes), so they concentrate on what they do well, and get what other people do well in return for their exports.

So NFL economics and trades of different assets and attributes have strong similarities to basic neo-classical trade theory for trade between individuals, firms and countries.

Want a broken Army?

I just saw a couple of pieces of news today that made me ask the title question:

From the AP, is an article about a shortage of reservists. The current rotation of forces is about the last one that the National Guard and Reserves can support unless the federal government reneges on its promises and fundamentally make some of the Guard and Reserve units full time active duty forces. This will do absolute wonders for retention and recruitment. Both of which are significantly down compared to their yearly objectives.

Secondly, from the New York Times is a story that the "phased withdrawal" of US forces on an Iraqi governmental capability time table ain't going to be happening quickly. In the next two years, the stunning success of the US training program for reliable and competent Iraqi security forces will allow the US to draw down to the 2004 baseline of roughly 120,000 troops in country and away from the current emergency level of ~145 to 150,000 troops currently in country. And that assumes that another series of seminal events will actually do anything to effect the political and miiltary situation in Iraq.

President Bush will soon be submitting an $80 BILLION DOLLAR supplemental request to fund primarily Iraq with a couple of billion thrown in for Afganistan and tsunami relief efforts. That will push the deficit up to ~$420 to $430 billion in public borrowing for the fiscal year. And most likely the supplemental does not sufficiently address the recapitalization that the armed forces will need to undertake to rebuild and reconstitute after Iraq is a "dead" mission.

So basically the US is short of reservists and Guardsmen who are a crucial component of the total force deployed to the Middle East, there is no immediate prospect of drawing down to a sustainable level, and there is not enough money being spent to reconstitute both the active and reserve components. Why is this happening when it was so damm predictable? Oh well, we don't really need an effective military in the out years of the presidency.


Always Interesting

It's my birthday today, and I am amazed at what I have learned of my friends in just the past fifteen minutes. My wonderful fiancee sent out an e-mail as an invite for mid-evening birthday fondue (got to take advantage of some of my Christmas presents--thanks Big Sis.) and so far I have learned that one of my friends is the 65th Census cultural category, another is a complete choclaholic (actually that is no new information, but I thought the domain was restricted to ice cream) and another has a liver that currently hates the Steelers. Oh how I love being able to follow conversations on g-mail... and this is only 8 replies in. My treat to myself, as you can see by the time stamp, is to go into work an hour late and only do an seven hour day... Party Animal I am! Here's to a quarter century and my car insurance reduction... if I actually drove as I am somehow actuarially safer today than I was yesterday!

Monday, January 24, 2005

Take a step back

This morning as I was driving and sliding into work, I was listening to sports talk radio and I am amazed at how dumb fans can be (myself included). There were callers who want to replace Cowher, bench Rothlesiburger and start Maddox for next year because the Patriots made the Steelers' offense look really, really bad.

And then there were callers who were trying the St. Louis Rams defense on: "It wasn't a real New England win as we (the Steelers) gained more yards on the ground and in the air than the Patriots; if you discount the turnovers, the Steelers played better"

Finally there were the "The refs are out to get us" callers. I am biased, but I was watching the game with a bunch of Terrible Towel waving Steelers fans last night, and we all thought that the refs did a good job of staying out of the way except in the most needed cases.

I don't have much to say about anything else right now; the elections in Iraq are going to be ineffective at providing a political solution, the economy is stuck in neutral, oil is increasing (wahoo $1.87/gallon gas, by July, that will be cheap gas), not much is moving on the mayoral election front, and I have not had time to go read through some of the papers that I want to read from the Bank of International Settlements. So expect more football talk from me this week.

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Super Bowl!

Now that was a game that I was not expecting to see last night. The Patriots decisively beat the Steelers 41-27 and in some ways last night was typical of the past couple of years for the Patriots, but it was slightly different. Adam Vinieteri did not need to send any one to the emergency room with chest pains. However the Patriots, if you removed a half dozen plays from your viewing of the game, were outplayed by the Steelers; it was just that in those half dozen plays, the Patriots made all the right moves and decisions to exploit the limited opportunities that were present.

I have to start getting ready for work in a couple of minutes, but what impressed me the most last night was that the Patriots were able to effectively shut down the run until the final drive when they went to the 0-4-7 look AND they were able to shut down Plaxico Burress. I thought that they could do one or the other, but they did both. Hines Ward and Randel El both had good games, but if the Steelers needed to rely on those two to win, there would have been trouble in 4 games out of 5. Finally... WAHOO... and let's see millions of trees wasted on debating whether or not the Patriots are a dynasty...

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Patriots-Steelers Pre-game

The worst thing that can happen from my perspective is that my second choice team out of the entire league goes to the Super Bowl and my city parties hard for another two weeks. So, surprisingly, I am not massively invested in this game, although I will be enjoying it as I see today being a damm good game. I'm also looking forward to finishing the 12-pack sitting in a buddy's fridge as well as making some hot chili.

Right now the line has the Patriots as a slight road favorite, and while I can see the argument that the Steelers, especially Rothlesiberger played less well last week than the Patriots did, I would call it a pick-em right now. The argument that I think that the line makers should be making if they are questioned about why the line is where it is is not last week's play, but a look at the net injury situation compared to the Halloween asskicking that the Steelers administered to the Pats. Then the Patriots were missing Tyrone Poole, Deion Branch, Corey Dillion from before the game, and then lost Ty Law and left tackle Matt Light early in the game. The two cornerbacks are still gone, but there has been consistent play from their replacements, and the rest of the injured crowd is back at full (or at least as full as one can be in January) strength. The only net negative is the potential loss of Richard Seymour. He may play, but his knee will limit him.

I think that the Steelers will do what they have done all season; allow the interior of their offensive line maul the interior defenders, run up the middle, and then deny the same option to the other team. That is their game plan. I do not think that they will want to put the game in Rothlesiburger's hands because I think that is playing away from the Steeler's strengths. Now the Patriots will probably sell out to stop the run, leave Wilson to play deep centerfield and keep Harrison in the box, and dare the Steelers to throw deep instead of running the ball. On offense, I want to see the Patriots run a lot of screens, lots of flares, lots of draws to take advantage of the very aggressive linebackers. The kickers and punters on both teams will be very important.

Now it is time to make the chili!

Another Blog on the Blogroll

I just learned via Furrow a new blog about bureaucracy, economic development and a strange but effective brand of humor is now open.

The Angry, Drunken Bureaucrat
It's damm good and worthwhile to read; here is the description of the mayoral election:
Enough with the theory... let's get to some of the
major players in political life of THE CITY: The Mayor: Generally disliked
across the city. Went through a spate of building projects during his term; THE CITY slouched towards bankruptcy. The mayor gets most of the blame, which may or may not be warranted. Announced some weeks ago that he's not running for mayor again.
City Council: Sort of like the Superfriends of THE
CITY... only without Superman, Aquaman, the Flash, Green Lantern... well, really without anybody with any "super" powers, not even Black Vulcan. So you're left with Wendy, Marvin, and Wonder-Dog. Only there's nine of them. While some of them have some blinding flashes of insight, and while they are often very knowledgeable about matters in their district, these are the class of people that can be categorizes as parochial.
The Silver Fox Used to be on City Council. Lost to The Mayor last time around and was given a post at THE STATE as a sort of consolation prize. Left the post at THE STATE to... Well, we don't know yet. We
assume that he's going to run again, but hasn't declared his candidacy.
The Snake Oil Salesman Works for the City now as the Controller; is also the Chairman of the Local Dominant Political Party. Also has not declared his candidacy. Not necessarily a bad guy, but entrenched in the
muck that is the Politics in THE CITY.
The Administrator A bureaucrat himself, is in charge of an agency that would baffle most people outside of THE CITY. Interestingly has championed the elimination of his own job. Positioned himself
as an "outsider". Only viable candidate that has officially declared.
The Fop On City Council now, Represents the wealthiest and trendiest area of THE CITY. He's into this whole "New Economy," "Creative Class", thing. Has come support with the younger crowd, but doesn't seem to have a full grasp of what is involved in running THE CITY. Oh, yeah, and an enemy of THE BUREAUCRACY. Has not declared his candidacy either.


Friday, January 21, 2005

Born to be Wild

My fiancee is out of state for the weekend and it is time to be wild. So that means salt on my popcorn instead of sugar AND watching horrendously cheesy televison... Iron Chef ROCKS! But all of this after a nap on a Friday night.... I've been born to be wild...

PS: When did Single Out get syndicated on the Disney channel?

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Santorum vulnerable to the right?

I have a hard time typing that title, but it could be true. I first saw a question about this at MyDD but I thought that this was primarily wishful thinking on liberals parts. However, I was checking out Grassroots PA which is a conservative activist site that is firmly in reality and well sourced, and there is some evidence that evidently Rick "Gay sex leads to man on dog sex" Santorum may be too liberal for some Republicans/conservatives. I can see that as the Constitution Party candidate for Senate in 2004 got 4% of the vote and had suprising (8% or more) strength in the mountain and rural counties of Pennsylvania that constitutes the GOP natural foundation. The Constitution Party makes Santorum look like a card carrying member of the ACLU. It looks like the primary bone of contention is that the Constitution Party voters and those who considered voting for Clymer but opted for Specter believe that Santorum only mouths the appropriate words but sells out to cover for Specter.

This could be interesting and entertaining.

Football Idiocy

And no I am not talking about the unique Pittsburgh growth industry of creating horrendously bad Steeler's fight songs that include the words "One for the Thumb" but I am talking about Governor Rendell arguing that the stadiums for the Steelers and Eagles are generating immense economic benefits for the state in an article from today's Post Gazette.

There are a couple of distinct points that I want to make, and the first is the claim that the Steelers or the Eagles are the prime motivation for a company to relocate to Erie. The final decision is said to have been made last week at the AFC Divisional game in Pittsburgh and was based on "quality of place." I can see the Steelers add a miniscule amount to this marginal decider, but traditional location theory asserts that firms will first look at their cost structures in a new location, the availability of the local work force, transportation, utilities, environmental issues etc. before the quality of place. I don't want to go all Richard Florida here, but football stadiums and football teams are not even high on the list of amenities that attract people.

The next idiotic statement that Rendell seems to make is that Jacksonville will see a surge in tourism dollars due to the Steelers/Eagles advancing. No Jacksonville will not, they already anticipate a massive number of one time tourists from out of town to see the Super Bowl and they do not really care where they are from. The only net new, unanticipated benefit for Jacksonville would be if the Steelers/Eagles brought net new fans with more money to the area for the Super Bowl. That is a much tougher emprical proposition for the governor to prove.

The same general error is made when the assertion that the playoff games are good for the economy because of all the memorabilia that is being sold, thus generating more sales tax revenue. There may be some effect, but the only net new sales tax revenue that will be gained is from purchases that otherwise would not have been made which are funded by new spending. This new spending can be funded by substituting taxable spending for t-shirts and hats from non-taxable spending (such as food or e-commerce purchases from out of state vendors) or by drawing down savings. Most likely the vast majority of the spending is simply a shifting and redistribution of spending in both substance and time that would have occurred no matter what.

Gov. Rendell is making the mistakes and improper claims that are typical of those who see stadiums as panaceas, despite the empirical evidence.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Boston Threat

The FBI has issued a warning to the Greater Boston area. The warning contains specific intelligence (from a single source) and names names, which is a lot more specific and useful than many previous warnings. Hopefully this is a false alarm, but if it is not, congrats to the FBI for good work and targetting their info correctly.

PS: I really, really, hope it is a false alarm as most of my family is near the city.

Santorum Follow-up

Ol'Froth (with whom I need to drink on some random Tuesday night soon) is doing a little bit more running down on Santorum's claim of a Homestead Exemption for his Penn Hills house that he rents out. The Homestead Exemption is designed to give a (slight) tax break to owner-occupiers of a primary residence, and there are a couple of statements that must be signed off on in order to qualify for the exemption. These statements are to be true to the best of the signee's knowledge under the penalty of perjury.

It is looking like Santorum signed off on the Homestead Exemption with at least three falsehoods. I am not expecting perjury prosecutions, but whomever the Democratic nominee is next year, I want them to be able to effectively use the entire Penn Hills school district paying for Santorum's kids to attend a cyber school although no Santorums live in PA as a blunt club to beat the theme "GOP=Corruption" into the public mind. Hell, if Casey is running, he should be able to contrast his successes as Auditor to this frame.

UPDATE: Ol'Froth in comments notes that I misattributed the orginal material. The correct source of the Homestead Exemption research is not Ol'Froth but Santorum Cyber-gate

Judicial Tenures

I am not a lawyer, I am not a law student, I do not even play those on my blog. At best I am an interested and curious individual when it comes to law, so take the following for what you may. The Volokh Conspiracy has an interesting post up riffing off of a New York Times article on the ever lengthening time that a Supreme Court judge spends on the bench once they are confirmed for the first time. Up until 1970, the average age of retirement was 68 after spending 15 years on the bench, but now the average age is 78 and 25 years on the bench. There are proposals out there to limit a Supreme Court term to 18 years. I am not sure how I feel about that.

If this was to occur today, that would mean every Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan 1 judges would be reassigned off the Supreme Court, or more properly Sandra Day O'Conner, Rehnquist, Scalia and Stevens would be off the court to be replaced by four conservative picks by Bush. Kennedy would hit this mark next year. So basically from a partisan point of view, these proposals would, if implemented immediately, lead to a generation long Bush majority on the court. Not something that I want, and it would be a step comparable to the FDR threat to pack the courts. Most of the proposals have a cooling off period before they actually would be implemented, and even the ones that do not, need a constitutional amendment, but whomever is President when a change like this came in would be able to dominate the courts for at least a generation. I am not a big fan of that. The Supreme Court is supposed to be first the collection of some of this country's greatest minds, and secondly an extraordinarily conservative institution in its holding of precedent and its history. Wholesale replacement of judges could potentially destroy this conservatism.*

Onto the other front that the unpredictability creates a political crisis every time that a Supreme Court judge retires or dies and needs to be replaced. So what, I think it is a good thing that our body politic spends several months every several years looking over our judicial philosophies. Maybe asking the justices for more warning, such as a full year would be a minor improvement that could aid the search and confirmation process, but I do not see the "crisis" argument as especially valid.

*Yes, you may chuckle that this liberal is making this argument

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Iraqization or the need for troops

Iraqization has been the buzzword for the past half year and it means that the United States can feel that it accomplished some net positive to our current security from our current position if we are able to see a sufficient number of competent, motivated and loyal forces and units to a Baghdad based central government formed up. The objective would be for the US to shift more and more urban counter-insurgency duties to Iraqi units thus allowing for both political stabilization in the main population centers AND the drawdown of US forces from first the populated regions and then the country. That is the objective of the plan.

To execute this plan requires several things. First is a sufficient number of volunteers who are willing to be loyal to a central government and not to their tribe or political party and are not insurgent sympathizers. This is currently a major problem as the only competent units fighting alongside the US are reflagged Kurdish Pershmerga units. Secondly, the US would need to train several hundred thousand individuals. The Brookings Institute Iraq Index for 1/14/05 (large PDF) states that the US has an objective of training 272,000 combat capable Iraqi security personal trained and equipped by the time the US leaves, and 145,000 by this month. We're already short of that goal before subtracting casualties and mass desertions like the Mosul police department.

So Iraqization is a very tough task as our training regimes are falling behind schedule, and the first priority of the likely victors of this month's elections is to ask the US to set a time table to leave under the theory of mutual assent. However, there may be some even worse news than that which we commonly see reported.

Brad Plumer was reading the transcripts of the Rice Sec State confirmation hearings. Senator Biden, the ranking Democrat who has made several visits to Centcom's AOR to find out more on Iraqization made the following statement:

I've gone to the training facility for police in Jordan. With the American head trainer, I said without anybody there and I believe my friend and person who has an ideological bent considerably different than mine, my friend from South Carolina was there. I said, There's no one in the room. Please cut all the malarkey. Is this training program worth a darn? And the answer was no -- from our own trainer.

I asked the head of the Jordanian police force who was there and the Canadian Royal Mounted Policeman who was there as the triumvirate running the operation. I've been back and spoke with a General Petraeus on two occasions. He is a first-rate soldier. He has indicated he's just basically beginning. How many -- and this is my last question. How many security forces do you think are trained that can shot straight, kill and stand their ground? ...

RICE: Senator, I have to rely on what I get from the field. And by the way, I think that the trips that you've made and the trips that the others have made have given us information that we can go back with. And I appreciate your doing that. We think the number right now is somewhere over 120,000. ...

BIDEN: ... I think you'll find, if you speak to the folks on the ground, they don't think there's more than 4,000 actually trained Iraqi forces. (emphasis is all mine)

Sen. Biden is not asking how many people have signed up for service and getting paid. He is asking how many competent AND motivated AND trained AND well led Iraqis are working for the US or the central government in a security role. His answer is a large light infantry brigade (which actually sounds about the force that the US took to Fallujah and Samarra last fall). Even if he is off by an order of magnitude, this is a damming indictment of Iraqization as an exit strategy.


A reading of the Iranian tea leaves

Oldman at BOP News is reading through the Iranian response to the Hersch article as reported by CNN and with the caveat that the translation is accurate, he has an intriguing hypothesis that Iran already has nuclear weapons OR at least is trying to signal extremely aggressively and at great potential cost to itself that it has domestically produced weapons.

There is no overt statement or testing of a device such as India or Pakistan in 1998. Instead, the Iranians seem to be trying to establish their credibility by fundamentally telling the Europeans that they do not believe that the EU can stop the US from doing anything aggressive, and therefore nuclear weapons, or the "greatest deterrant" is their only option. Assuming that the Iranian high command has any passing familiarity with Tirpitz and his concept of riskflotte and window of vulnerability much less any one reading any US or Soviet strategic thinking from the late 40s to the mid 70s before MAD was institutionalized, would force one to believe that if they are willing to signal this expensively that they have a credible deterrant that can survive a pre-emptive US strike.

Go read the Oldman to learn more and see whether or not this is a credible interpretation. I believe it is.

PA National Guard to Iraq

I am a little late on this, but on January 4th, the DOD issued a press release stating that the 2cd Brigade Combat Team, 28th Infantry Division is being mobilized for service in Iraq. This is not an Enhanced Seperate Brigade, or a high readiness National Guard brigade. It is a unit that is at least 3rd tier priority for training opportunities, equipment and supplies behind the active duty forces, and National Guard ESBs. The 2cd BCT draws its personal from Western Pennyslvania, and several former co-workers of mine are riflemen in the 2cd Battalion.



The weather outside is frightfully cold right now. When I came into work, it was 2F above zero, and with the wind it was about -10. I really should have worn my wool socks into work this morning. Oh well. The interesting thing is that the oil market, which had dropped down to $42-43/barrel on the spot market a couple of weeks ago is rebounding back to $49.00per barrel due to the forecast of at least another week of damm cold weather in the Midwest and the Northeast US. So under favorable circumstances (low driving demand, warm winter weather, no new problems with Yukos etc.) the floor on oil right now seems to be above $40.00 a barrel, and under intermediately unfavorable circumstances (cold weather, Iraqi production cuts) oil starts hanging out near $50.00 a barrel. I wonder what the prices will be this summer when the driving season starts again.


They are getting desperate, really they are

Via Needlenose is the following link from the Washington Post's Anthony Shadid who is reporting on the instability in Iraq. There is one quote that really jumped out at me:

"The enemy we're fighting is not 10 feet tall, but he's resourceful and he's persistent," said Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. In a statement released Monday, Casey said the number of attacks since December was only slightly higher than nine months earlier, when U.S. forces were locked in battle with Sunni Arab fighters in the western town of Fallujah and a Shiite Muslim militia in Baghdad and southern Iraq. (emphasis mine)

My reaction is fundamentally the same as Swopa's, I am looking for a new keyboard as I just spat all my tea out on my previous one. So things are going so great and dandy that a dispersed, professionalizing insurgency is able to pick and choose the pace of attacks at a rate higher in December than when it was able to rally quite a few marginal fighters into defending their own neighborhoods nine months ago. And nine months ago was when the US deployability linchpin started to get hammered. So things are really getting better, and the insurgents are really getting desperate, or is it the DOD spokesmen who are getting desperate to spin away reality. I don't know. You decide.

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Monday, January 17, 2005

Mall Question

I normally do not go to the mall. It is a combination of not personally having a car, living in the city, wanting to buy unique gifts, and then just a general distaste of shopping as an end in and of itself. However they are useful places to get good pretzels and to find the convienent occassional use service shop. My financee and I needed to get some engagement pictures taken to send out with the Save the Dates and also to give to the parents. So we went to Monroeville last week, where the photographer was inexperienced and was unable to produce what we wanted, and then Century III tonight where we had a great experience. But these two times were the only times I have been in a mall in well over a year to shop.

I noticed at both malls that they removed quite a few of the directories and information kiosks. Why is this happening? I would think that confused customers easily become frustrated customers and then easily become former customers. Am I missing something here, such as a desire for customers who don't know where the specific store is to be forced to wander and thus increase the number of impulse buy opportunities? What is it? I remember significantly more directories.

2006 PA Dem Senate Candidate

The jockeying for position in the PA Senate race is starting to heat up as the potential candidates are exploring their options, their potential financing and their desired career paths. Right now it looks like Bob Casey Jr, is the handpicked candidate of the party leaders, but Ms Hafer, a former state Treasurer and GOP defector and former Congressman Hoefl are also considering runs. I want all three to run but the party leadership, according to the Post Gazette, via Pittsburgh DFA, wants to clear the field for a Casey run. The logic is that an uncontester primary will save resources and let Casey run unsullied by anything that drives up his negatives until August.

I disagree with this strategy for two reasons. First, this year we saw half a dozen Democrats in potential pick-up situations run uncontested/minimally contested primaries. The only winner that I can think of was Salazar of Colorado. Hoefll was weak, Castor of Florida was weak, Tennebaum in South Carolina underperformed as a candidate. At the same time, the GOR had several extremely contested primaries and those winners came out battle tested and stronger. Although Casey has a proven record of being able to win state wide races, he has never had to deal with a federal seat race before, or the amount of outside group interest as he will in the topcard of the 2006 elections. Casey has a proven ability to raise big bucks (Word file), but a warm-up will help. I do not believe that a couple of million of dollars spent in the primary will be a significant resource constraint.

Secondly, a strong and contested primary field should also improve the bench of the Democratic party. It will increase the number of involved individuals, and give people were first were involved in this cycle a chance to easily bridge their involvement with only a year off, instead of eighteen months. We need to rebuild our cadres of both candidates and mobilizers, and a primary is always a good chance to test things out at relatively low cost and risk.

Oh yeah, final disclaimer, as I have stated before, I really am not thrilled with Casey, but anyone is an improvement over Santorum, so he'll easily get my time and my vote in the general election, but I would like to see a candidate more to my liking run against Santorum. So that is why I want a contested primary.

Let's talk about the draft

We are getting to the point where everyone knows that more young bodies are needed if the mission is to be accomplished. Right now, the established units are full of hurting veterans, near retirees, and people who are just losing their skill.

No I am not talking about the US military, I am talking football right now. The playoffs are progressing quickly and according to design as the top two teams in each conference are facing each other this coming weekend. And then we get the super-extraganza that is a quasi-official national holiday of the Super Bowl. And then we get nothing besides free agency and the draft. And hell, this is the part that I like a lot also, so I'll be talking about the Patriots offseason.

The Patriots are an odd team with some extreme youth at some positions (current starting secondary, wide receiver, offensive and defensive lines) and then some extreme age with the linebackers, and middle aged running backs. Tom Brady is just entering what is typically the prime age of a quarterback's career. The salary cap structure of the Patriots has a very large middle class with a higher than typical team median salary, but it is top heavy with Ty Law, Tom Brady and Corey Dillion eating up $30 million dollars of the cap. Additionally, Troy Brown (#3 WR, #5 CB,#1 PR) is due $5 million dollars of new money next year. I think everyone is fine with seeing Tom Brady and Corey Dillon make that type of cash and cap space, as they are definately playing at a level which justifies 10+ million in Brady's case and 6+ million for Dillion, but Ty Law's injury and age is going to cost him significant new money, and Troy Brown, while extremely valuable is not worth $5 mil to anyone for next year. I think it is extremely likely that Troy Brown pulls a Ted Johnson/Willie McGuinest and plays with his contract on a yearly basis so that a number both the Pats and Troy Brown are happy with until he retires. Now with the Patriots shutting down the Colts and Marvin Harrison, they have gained great leverage in contract renegoatiations with Ty Law as his biggest argument is that he would be critical in shutting down elite receivers like Marvin Harrison. That is demonstrably false now. So I am guessing that he will either be cut, or his cap number will be reduced to ~6-7 million dollars a year for two or three more years.

To me, there do not seem like the Patriots are facing any high risk losses from unrestricted free agencies. A new contract is needed for Adam Vinitieri, but that is the only high priority move that I think the Patriots need to take to retain their own. Most of the free agents that the Patriots are facing risk on are the restricted free agents who have played three seasons. There are two players who I believe we'll see some significant play in the league if they are available. David Givens is a medium size, physical wide receiver in the mold of Hines Ward, while Jarvis Green is a 295lb defensive lineman who can play anywhere in the 3-4 and the undertackle and left defense end in a 4-3. I think that the Patriots should tender David Givens at the 1.8 million dollar 1st and 3rd rounder compensation level, and they should also tender Jarvis Green at the 1.3 million dollar, 1st rounder level. I think that if a McCareins type deal is available, the Patriots will let Green go for a mid-2cd rounder. (NB: San Diego with a low first rounder and a higher first, could be a big player in restricted free agency)

The loser of the Patriots-Steelers is guaranteed the #30 pick in each round because that team will have the second best record in the league. The Patriots did not trade any picks from last year for picks this year, which surprised me, so the only new picks that they'll get are two compensatory picks for the loss of Damian Woody and Ted Washington, and any picks acquired from trade or restricted free agent losses. I believe that the Patriots will get a 4th for Damian Woody, and a 6th for Ted Washington. So, assuming that the Patriots do not sign any restricted free agents, the Patriots will have at least the #30, #62, #93 (Denver lost their 3rd rounder), #125, #128(comp for Woody), #160, #192, #195,(comp for Washington) #227. These slots are very preliminary, and will definately get pushed back if the Patriots win next week AND when the comp picks are allocated.

I think that the Patriots will be looking for their typical player profile; versatile, smart, coachable and dedicated. I believe that the Patriots will want to improve their depth at cornerback in both the draft and free agency, safety, offensive tackle and inside linebacker. A luxury pick would be finding an understudy for Corey Dillon if they are not impressed with Cedric Cobbs. I do not think that the Patriots will make nine picks this spring because the Pats will be seeing a large wave of this year's rookies coming off the injured reserve list. This contigent includes TE Ben Watson, FS Gus Scott, and WR PK Sam, as well as the effectively redshirted DE Marquise Hill and RB Cedric Cobbs.

Right now, I do not know enough about the college players to have much of an opinion, so I am just doing positional drafting right now:

1st Round: CB who is capable of shifting over to Free Safety also (I have this obsession, see how often I mentioned Matt Ware last year) to give the Patriots some significant new young depth and a potential replacement for Ty Law, as well as giving Bellicheck yet another flexibile and versatile player to scheme with.

2cd Round: Developmental Left OT -- The Patriots believe that they can develop four of the five offensive line positions with non-elite atheletes. The exception is left tackle, where they have spent 2 2cd round picks (Light, Klemm), and right now there is no healthy back-up for the recently extended Matt Light.

3rd Round: DE/OLB converstion project; allow for Tully Banta Cain to push Mike Vrabel for playing time so that Vrabel can move to the inside of the defense.

4th Round A: FB -- this year the Patriots were using Patrick Pass as a fullback/jack of all trades, and then a pair of defensive linemen as blocking backs, lets keep Seymour healthy and protected.

4th Round B: SS -- Reid and Scott are probably better free safety back-ups, and Rodney Harrison is only under contract for two more years.

5th Round: TE: Bellicheck likes to draft tight ends, so I figure why not here.

6th Round A: Quarterback --- Rohan Davey has not shown enough to impress the Pats to resign him, time to find another potential project.

6th Round B: OG --- See my comments on the OT

7th Round: CB-- The Pats have been hitting gold late in the draft lately, so why not take a risk on a prospect at a position of need.

Sunday, January 16, 2005


I will have to keep my head down this week at the office, and I do not know which team winning next Sunday will make Monday morning any better. I will need to devote some thought to that. But it looks like the play-off system is working in that both conferences are sending their 1-2s to the Conference championships and any of the potential Super Bowl matchups will be damm good games.

I was absolutely amazed at how easily the Patriots were able to run the ball on the Colts and how effective the defense, even with Seymour out, was able to stop Edjerrin James. However I think part of this may have been play calling errors on the Colts part as James was able to gain a consistent 3-5 yards per carry when he was given the ball. More thoughts later this week.


I only have to things to say about this game right now:

1) Every first born son of a Steeler's fan is susipiciously looking at his parents right about now, and then taking out life insurance.

2) Scott Norwood gets to welcome another New York failure into his fan club.

Friday, January 14, 2005

The fall offensives, winter muck

The fall offensives conducted by the United States were aimed at re-occupying a series of temporary autonomous zones in the predominately Sunni Arab regions of Iraq. One of these multi-brigade size attacks was into Samarra, another into Tal-Afar, and the most covered was into Fallujah. The objective of reseizing these TAZs was to reintroduce central government/Baghdad control in order to lay the ground work for a successful political solution through elections in which the Sunnis would participate in. The United States has failed in this objective.

This failure is not the failure of the privates, or of the sergeants, or of the captains. Nor is it the failure of the colonels. Instead, it is again the failure of the highest level of strategic leadership. It is a failure caused by a decision to go in light, to stay light and to lie throughout whenever force levels were questioned. The United States does not have enough troops to both conduct offensive operations and then sustain a meaningful presence in all Iraqi cities.

The best guesstimate is that the typical theatre operational reserve force in Iraq is three to five battalions. These are the units which are not immediately needed for force protection, logistics protection, or for the immediate urban garrisons and patrolling requirements. The Fallujah attack force was five battalions (3 Marine infantry, 2 Army mech infantry) supported by at least two more US battalions in a cordon position. These seven battalions were assembled by using up the mobile reserves, pulling a battalion from Mosul (which later fell out of US control), and through the deployment of a British infantry battalion to backfill for a USMC battalion. Once the main combat operations in Fallujah were finished and the city destroyed, this concentration was redispersed to cover hotspots again. This is the same pattern that has occurred anytime the US has concentrated a significant amount of combat firepower.

I blogged about the Samarra operation (early October) and said:
As long as the US can maintain four battalions of mech infantry in Samarra, we control the city and can support the two battalions of light infantry that the Iraqi National Guard has deployed to the region.....When the brigade from the 1st Infantry pulls out of Samarra in order to either attack Ramadi, or to resume normal patrolling to free up other combat formations to attack Ramadi, the Iraqi National Guard battalions in Samarra are on their own again

Samarra is one of the cities where there is insufficient security for any political process to occur. This is because the security forces in the city (US and Allawi government) are not able to effectively suppress active guerilla operations. We know that Iraqi government forces are losing head to head against the guerilla forces due to the guerrillas possessing roughly equal weaponry, superior motivation, intelligence and training, so the US has always needed to add US units as a stiffener.

However in Samarra, the US only has two companies of troops, which is less than a single battalion. This taskforce is supporting four battalions of Iraqi police and army troops, but the thickening and reinforcing effect is not sufficient to ensure adequate security and thus the possbility of political success. The military success of October has failed to become a political success because we simply do not have the needed resources to do this translation. This is the basic point that Scowcroft is making, either the United States commits fully and knowingly (500,000+ troops, 200+billion a year for a decade, and a combat draft) or we leave and pay heavily to minimize the blowback.


More thoughts on Gerrymandering

I have been playing with the gerrymandering idea, and thus I am spewing out a lot of half formed, somewhat contradictory thoughts on this blog. And I will continue to do so. However, as I am thinking about this more, I am thinking that this could be a very good idea for the Democrats to push on a national level for both political and policy grounds. I am also thinking that more competitive seats would lead to a net increase in long run Democratic Party structural capabilities than any such increase in competition would increase in GOP strengths. Let me outline what I am thinking.

  1. Most House seats are currently not competive
  2. Past 2 cycles there has been only 25-35 targeted seats from both parties
  3. #2 will not change under the current system of gerrymandering
  4. Democratic consultants have not done well
  5. Democratic consultants do not integrate new local and regional talent effectively. Instead, we nationalize races with national consultants, at least per this Amy Sullivan article.
  6. The GOP effectively integrates new political talent far more effectively than the Democrats.

Therefore, more competive races in more regions will force the current crop of Democratic consultants to be spread more thinly, which would mean that more competive races of the Tier 1.5 instead of Tier 1 priority would want to use new talent and regional talent. If the new regional talent can win some of the races, and develop expertise in say winning competive house seats in Appalachia, they can make an honest living there, and thus provide for new talent and successes to be promoted within the party as more seats will need to be challenged and defended when compared to the present system where a very limited set of seats need aggressive and effective work.

Incomplete Argument in the Post by Bienart

In a Washington Post Op-Ed, Peter Bienart is arguing that the Democrats should abolish the Iowa caucuses as a gate keeping mechanism for the nomination. There are some damm good arguments for this, including the "increase participation" and "lower costs of voting" arguments. However, this is not the argument that he is making. He is arguing that we need to get Iowa out of an influential position because the state is too dovish, and he provides good evidence that Iowa as a whole is reluctant to support foreign adventures. However there is one piece of evidence that he uses that I think is extremely misleading:

Most Democrats recognize that they have a problem on national security -- a problem exemplified by November exit polls showing President Bush with an astounding 72-point lead among voters who cited "terrorism" as their overriding issue.

I am not disputing the 72 point lead, but what I am disputing is the frame that terrorism was the only issue related to National Security on which there was significant amounts of people who based there votes on national security as a primary issue. What Peter Bienart neglects to mention is that John Kerry won by 45-50 points (net of the voters who based their vote on the issue of "Iraq." While the exit polls suggest that the people who based their votes on Terrorism were slightly larger and more likely to go decidedly for Bush than those who based their vote on Iraq and their tendencies to go to Kerry, I think that "toughness" on foreign policy is not the only answer here. Instead, it is a matter of what being effective and tough against terrorism means. For Bush voters, Iraq is an integral AND successful part of the GWOT, while Kerry voters, Iraq is a distraction and a failure of the fight against Al-Quaeda and other transnational terrorist groups.

Changing the Iowa caucuses process will not change this cognitive split. I think that this paragraph in the Op-Ed weakens an otherwise interesting argument.


Perverse Hopes

Now put away your dirty minds, nothing involving five armed midgets in this post. I am just trolling for google hits, but that is near irrelevant.

I am starting to get my W-2s from this year, and every time that I open them up, I am hoping that it shows a number that is significantly LESS than what I want to believe that I earned. I had enough jobs in the past year that I can easily believe that I'll be mixing up numbers from paycheck at Job 1 with paycheck at Job #4. This is about the only time of the year that I want to see that I made a lot less than I believe.

Does anyone else hold this belief or do people actually keep better records than I do?

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Reform Agenda in a Collective Action Trap

I am torn by the proposal by the Governator to turn over redistricting to a respected panel of retired judges in order to get some sanity in the shape, composition and competiveness of districts. As a good government and good process liberal, this is a damm good idea, as shown in Iowa. However as a partisan Democrat, I am reluctant unless the proposal is acted upon in either a nationwide manner OR at least paired equality with an equvilant number/proportion of interstate GOP seats at risk as Democratic seats at risk. If I recall correctly, gerrymandering is providing the GOP with a probable +8 to +12 net in the House due to successes in Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Ohio and Michigan, while the Democrats only have success gerrymanders in California (+2) and Illinois (+1 or +2). If Democratic controlled states such as Illinois were to get rid of their gerrymanders without any corresponding fair redistricting in say Pennsylvania, the Democrats lose more seats despite winning the same proportion of the vote. Now if it is done on a national level, then the collective action problem resolves itself.

I think in the end, my two conflicting thoughts can be reconciled if the national Democrats actually get smart and embrace a reform agenda as outlined at Pandagon. Grab some of Schwartenager's personal popularity as a means of running against "business as usual" while also advancing a long term plan (Yes, I know, we're Democrats, can't have a long term plan, against the party rules) to create some more competive seats that previously were not competitive. If the reform is promised for the start of the '07 Congress to go into effect for the 2010 Census redistricting, then it will remove this "disgrace to our democracy. So we could see some good politics and good policy at the same time.

PA Senate 2006

Kos is claiming that he has knowledge of a recently commissioned series of head to head polls lining up various Democrats against Santorum for the 2006 Senate race. The good news is that Santorum is running significantly under 50% and that Bob Casey, Jr. broke 50% in that trial heat. As you can pretty much figure out, I am not a big natural supporter of Casey, way too conservative on social issues for me, but given Santorum's stances, anyone to the left of Allen Keyes is a definate improvement. Now where are the numbers for Hafer and the other names that have been bandied about? Man on Dog Sex Santorum is vulnerable, so this will get to be exciting.

I just got this in the e-mail box

You know that NY Times profile of the Jets-Steelers game, that is being bandied about. It may be talking about the fading glory and need for nostaligic escapism as encapsuled in this e-mail.

From: Pittsburghdowntownpartnership []

Sent: Wednesday, January 12, 2005 11:27 AM

To: undisclosed-recipients

Subject: Stop, Stand and Swing Those Terrible Towels!
As the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare to meet the New York Jets in a much-anticipated playoff game in Pittsburgh on Saturday, January 15, fans of the Black and Gold are preparing to participate in an event of historic proportions.

The Greater Pittsburgh Convention & Visitors Bureau (GPCVB) is urging the faithful from across Steelers Nation and around the world to show their true colors by participating in the largest simultaneous wave of The Terrible Towel™ ever attempted.

Steelers enthusiasts everywhere are being asked to stop, stand and swing their Terrible Towels™ in unison just as the game begins at approximately 4:35 PM EST.

From the Heinz Field bleachers to neighborhood bar stools, from living room recliners across Steelers Nation to military dayrooms around the globe, the plan is to show the world that the tradition of The Terrible Towel™ lives on.
WHAT: The largest Terrible Towel™ wave ever attempted
WHEN: Saturday, January 15, at 4:35 PM EST
WHO: Steelers fans everywhere – from Iraq to Irvine, California
WHY: To cheer on Pittsburgh Steelers in playoff game against the
New York Jets


Where's the money?

The American consumer is being schitzo (as usual.) December retail sales, including automobiles increased at a faster than expected rate. However it seems that the primary driver of this increase was in automobiles so that means massive incentives, low interest loans and long term financing was readily available. Once we exclude auto, spending kept up with inflation, and fell below expectations.

Last week was the second week of dramatically higher than typical for the past couple of months unemployment claims as new claims came in at 367,000. The 4 week moving average is starting to respond to this increase as it jumped up to 344,000 which is at the very low net job growth range. And remember, that the first couple of weeks of January are always a brutal time for layoffs, and that these anticipated layoffs are including in a compensating seasonal adjustment. 2 weeks do not make a trend, but it is an area of concern.

My basic question is the same one that I have been asking for a while now; where is all of the American consumer spending coming from in the sense of the individual. I know that in a macro sense, the spending is coming from China and Japan extending cheap financing, but wage growth is minimal, savings rates are at or near generational and historical lows, and home equity has already been flushed out by last summers' refinancing binge. Consumption is only being carried forward by debt. That is not sustainable in the long run; but the quesiton is which dies first; the bubble or us?

Who needs opponents

Via Juan Cole, 53 parties and lists are withdrawing from the elections that are coming up at the end of the month due to a combination of concerns about security, Shi'ite dominance and the plausibility of winning. Juan Cole is on fire this week (although he is using maximalist math, as the threshold for a seat is only 46,000 or so votes if everyone votes, reduce proportionally for voter turnout.) It looks like it will be the Sistani list versus the Allawi list for the Shi'ites, the Kurdish lists will do well enough as a third power center, while the Sunnis are out in the cold.

The security situation is bad enough that the lists are only releasing their #1 candidate and party name. As River Bend notes, this is occuring because of the very real fear of assaination. Despite my snark that the solution is simply to nominate new candidates and only telling the unsuspecting fool noble patriot that he is a candidate after the first unsuccessful assaination attempt, this is a massive problem. Intimidation is working on reducing the option sphere of the Iraqi political process. Additionally, the Jordanian ambassador to the United States is predicting that at least 40% of the Iraqi population will be unable to vote at the end of the month.

This is a clusterfuck in the (extended) making. So we have very few lists willing to run to the end, horrendous security, questionable at best logistics, and a very large minority of the entire population that won't be able to vote. Why will this be successful?

Tough Job

The Penguins, according to the Post-Gazette, have hired a special consultant to get a slots license to finance a new Penguins arena. They must be paying him well as this is damm tough job as he will have to find some way to answer the following questions from potential supporters, much less his detractors.

  1. Do the Penguins currently have a viable business model?
  2. Are they actually playing now or anytime in the forseeable future?
  3. Is the current lack of professional hockey hurting the city/region, or is it bleeding from any other causes?
  4. Even once the lockout ends, is there any guarantee of continued labor-management peace?
  5. Are there any guarantees that the Penguins will not move, close down or be contracted?
Tough job when all of these answers go against the Penguins main argument that they are a special economic agent that provides unenumerated social externalities and thus should be subsidized. I'll buy that argument with non-profit arts organizations, but not professional sports teams.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

What does the world get with US Debt?

The US trade deficit for November was $60 billion dollars as exports fell and imports rose. This despite the significant aid that US exporters should have in exporting to Europe due to the dramatically weaker dollar. Even with the time to adjust, US exporters should be seeing some positive effects from the multi-year slide in the dollar against the Euro. We are looking at a $615 billion dollar trade deficit for the year.

The basic accounting for a country's net account position is the following.

Income from Exports+Incoming Gifts+Interest Income+Repatriated Profits+Change in Debt+Incoming Foreign Direct Investment + Incoming Capital Flight = Imports+Outgoing Gifts+Outgoing Profits+Interest Paid to foreigners Repatriated Profits+Change in Debt+Outgoing FDI + Outgoing Capital Flight. To all of this add i,j as subscripts to everything where I=Country I and J =country J) and Xij is X going from I to Country J and Xji is X going from J to I.

In the grand scheme of things, global economic activity as measured by the accounts held by nations sum to zero. Everything balances, even if we have to add some extra accounting terms to make sure of that. By that I mean that the Earth's economy, or more accurately the Sol System economy as there is some minimal level of economic activity that occurs in space, is a closed system. Unless someone is hiding something from me and you, we are not trading with Sigma Draconis. (Okay, I am a sci-fi nerd and read way too many space operas). Trade is just the spatial relocation of activity to places that are particularly good (=cheap) at a particular task. So in a closed system, re-arranging the desk chairs does not produce any new chairs. This means, that when we analyze trade flows, we should expect things to eventually balance.

Do that as a pairwise comparison of every possible pair of countries, and then sum up every pair, and it should be equal to zero in the closed Sol System economy. ( I would be doing all of the cool math as MatthewYglesias did at his blog, but I can’t figure out to get the symbols on the blogger interface.

When we speak of the trade and current accounts deficits in the United States, we are mentally shortening the equation and canceling things out (yes, remember that concept from pre-algebra class.) So if I owe you a beer from last night, but you owed me a beer from last week, we each have a debt to each other, but they cancel each other out. We are only concerned about the net debts or balances that we owe different people. So the US exports, some stuff, and imports a lot of stuff. The difference is not an outright gift, but a claim upon future US assets. These claims are either explicit debt such as the sale of US Treasury bonds to the Chinese Central Bank or as the result of direct foreign investment in US assets such as the Toyota plans that have sprung up in Ohio. Neither of these things are intrinsically bad, nor good. The big question that causes concern is that the US does not appear to have any intention of cutting consumption enough to make paying back all of our debts in full. The big Bush policy proposals are designed to significantly increase public debt and consumption for at least another 30 years, the war in Iraq is not producing any productive goods, and the tax cuts are starving the federal government of revenue. So right now, the only significant growth export for the United States is debt.

This debt is not given out of the goodness of the Chinese or other Central Bankers hearts. They are letting the US borrow for some reason, the question is what reason? We can almost immediately discount the idea that this debt is going to the United States because we offer the best (risk adjusted) return on investment. There are several significant risks, including the distinct possibility that the US federal government wants to starve the beast and destroying the fundamental creditworthiness of the nation. A much more realistic possibility is that the United States will inflate the debt that is currently being incurred away, thus instead of paying the couple of kegs worth of beer that we have borrowed back with a couple of kegs and then some good burgers thrown in as interest, we'll be returning only a couple of cases and some Grade D meat. That is a significant haircut risk.

4.28% for a Ten Year Treasury is not a good rate of return for this type of risk that is sucking up ~80% of the world's savings. So what are the Chinese buying when they loan the US cheap money so that we can buy lots of their goods? And what is the rest of the world buying?

The Chinese are buying social peace, or at least an acceptable level of unrest. Andy Xie at Morgan Stanley (via General Glut) thinks that the Chinese are relatively happy, not extremely so, but happy enough with their ever increasing exposure and the future guaranteed losses that they'll absorb to continue to buy dollars and allow the US to sell very cheap debt to them in order to facilitate the movement of their massive rural population into the urban coastal regions that are the worlds' factories right now. Social stability is an extremely expensive good. Brad Setser is arguing that the Chinese Government is willing to face losses of up to 10% GDP to maintain social and political stability by subsidizing US consumption and Chinese employment.

What is everyone else buying when they buy US debt? That is the more interesting question, and they are buying time and internal employment protection. Most economies in the world are structured with the assumption that the United States is and will always be the consumer of last resort in the global market. Our policies have contributed to this fact, as well as the basic fact that the US dollar is the reserve currency. Since the US imports more than it net exports, the world (ex. The US) by definition exports more to the US than it imports, which means those export producing workers have jobs that are dependent on the US buying more stuff. If everyone but for China was to reduce their trade surpluses with the United States, by cutting back on currency interventions and debt buys, the Chinese would gobble up international market share, the US would pay a bit more in interest, and unemployment would hit the rest of the world. Theoretically we should be seeing some of these negative effects in Europe, although EPI is showing a delinking of this traditional means of balancing the global books over the past two years. The rest of the world is not buying US debt per se, they are buying price competiveness with the Chinese.

So our current ability to consume, to be irresponsible and to be governed by people who do not believe in fiscal reality is contingent upon the Chinese Central Committee instructing their central bankers to not be homo-economicacus rationalis in the non-pursuit of the best returns to their capital, but to be a political actor among the tides of modernization. Do you want to bet the future wealth of the US on a Chinese factional play?

CROSS POSTED AT Left of Center


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