Thursday, March 31, 2005

Central Bank Prisoner's Dilemna

Brad DeLong looks at the prisoner dilemna that Central Banks which are financing the US current account deficit are in. The optimal solution and cooperative solution is that everyone gradually weans their economies from the "export everything to the US" model to a combination of "export more to Europe" and "consume more domestically" economies. However, there is a problem of institutional trust as the incentive to run and bank massive profits are strong.

What this leaves out is that the associated central banks may lose control of the situation. As long as they all act in concert, things continue to work (at least in the short run). But suppose that one decides to hedge its reserve position against the risk that the dollar will decline. What happens then? The other central banks will have to step in to take up the slack--to buy its dollar holdings, and then to take up its share of new dollar holdings. The first central bank to decide that the game is up wins and escapes all risk. The rest are left holding the rotting hot potatoes. As the stakes at risk rise, the strains on the dollar-buying cartel that is the associated central banks of Asia rise. And when those strains become too great and the first one decides to try to get out the door first...

When the associated investors of the world who hold dollar-denominated assets decide on any significant scale that it's time to try to grab the 30% gain from the coming fall in the dollar, the game is over that very week.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Defending Franking

PSoTD at About Politics is riffing off of an informative Lowell Sun article about the practice of franking. (Disclaimer: I used to be a paper carrier for the Scum). PSoTD asks some reasonable questions including the fact that the majority of the bulk mail can appear to be campaign pieces financed by the federal government and that this is yet another advantage of incumbency. PSoTD questions the wisdom of franking and wishes for an honest debate of stopping the practice entirely.

I disagree as I think that the institutional protections in place about explicit campaigning (3 month blackout before an election, strict monetary limits on all Congressional operations expenditures) do enough of a good job to bring the benefits in line with the costs and perverse effects. There is a distinct need for representatives to communicate with their constituents and if the federal government will not pick up the tab to do so, someone else with even more questionable (public policy as a good thing for the general population) motives will be willing to do the communication. (See the GOP use of charities as a way to get around direct gifts to their leadership at the RNC convention last year). There are flaws, but I think that mass mailing that is not explicit campaign material that can not arrive 90 days before an election will not have much of an effect at all on elections.

Non Cash incentives

"O" has a good piece up on the Peduto proposal to subsidize/support the development of Green buildings within the city limits. Peduto proposes to use non-cash incentives to help bridge the short term, initial financing gap between green buildings and conventional buildings so that the long term returns to investment can be realized. This is good policy if we are not operating in a cash rich environment. A lower discount rate of future returns is one of the things that the government should be able to bear if the long term investments can generate significant benefits despite higher start-up costs.

Now the question is which type of incentives are there out there that does not take cash out of pocket. "O" identifies "Green Tax Credits" which function as I can surmise from the brief sentence as an analogy to the Historic Preservation tax credit, but this is a cash incentive from the state. He also IDs permit time reduction processes to reduce the waiting around and interest expenses of a Green building versus a traditional building. Reducing and streamlining the approval process in any manner is most likely a net win for everyone involved. What are some of the other non-tax and non-cash incentives that the city has some power over? Rights to paint "One for the Thumb" on every window? What else?

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Schiavo and Issue Salience

Earlier this week, Dave Johnson of See the Forest took a clue by four to the heads of progressive bloggers to think about the politics of the Schiavo case instead of the details. The details are important, but they are far less important than thirty second snippets and half formed impressions among certain groups. The overwhelming majority of the American public is both opposed to the sudden intervention by Congress and Bush AND say that they are more likely to vote against a Republican due to this action. Yet the Republican Party is still pushing this? Why?

The first and easiest answer is the Steve Gilliard theory that the GOP has finally let loose the tiger of its nutball contingent and can barely hold onto its ears. Donald Rumsfeld once said that if a current problem could not be solved, it would behoove the problem solver to escalate the problem space. Escalation of rhetoric and action could be seen as a desperate attempt to solve this problem of placating the "ultras" of the GOP quickly enough so that they will be happy enough to vote in large numbers for the midterms.

I do not believe that this is the most likely explanation, although it is probably a partial explanation --- compassionate conservatism does not sell when the likes of Randall Terry are on television. The more likely explanation in my mind is that the GOP is playing on the concept of issue salience. They are betting that their more moderate, or at least other issue voters will not care enough about this fiasco to vote against the GOP in 2006. This is Grover Norquist's conception of the Republican Party as expressed in the book, Gang of Five The Republican Party in this conceptualization is a mosaic of non-competing factions that hold single or few issues with high salience and importance and will vote those issues or characterizations of the issues consistently unless there is a significant shock to the system.

If we are to take this as an apt characterization of the Republican Party, I think that we can start to look at the politics of the Schiavo in a more comprehensible manner. The single issue "Christian" extremists (note: the overwhelming majority of Christians are not included in this group) are a core group of the Republican Party and they have been getting fed fundamentally table scraps at the political alter for the past twenty five years as they have only seen marginal changes on their core issue and are becoming more isolated and less important as time moves forward. However everyone knows that if they stay home, the Democrats will win in Johnsonian landslides. They must be appeased. Therefore this idiocy on protecting the sanctity of marriage and life by interfering with the sanctity of marriage, the sanctity of the courts, and the sanctity of the implicit traditions of government is justified. The political gambit is that the ultras will be appeased to see that the Republican Party has done all it could, but was thwarted "activist judges" and thus the ultras are even more motivated in the coming judicial nuclear option fights.

The downside risk to this strategy is that the non-"Christian" issue voters who tend to vote Republican are so disgusted and alienated that they either don't come out to vote, go libertarian/Perot/Third Party, or actually cross over in significant numbers to the Democratic Party. However the Norquist interpretation of the GOP bets thet can hold onto voters like John Pike as he is convinced that no matter how much he despises what the GOP is doing, the Democrats are definitionally worse. So the politics of Schiavo could be an object lesson on issue salience.

Good Times

Last night my fiancee and I were able to get ahold of some free tickets to the Pittsburgh Chamber Music Series at the Carnegie Hall in Oakland. I am not a huge music fan as things called rhythm, tempo, beat, pace and tone are things that I know by definition but not my experience. However, I can differentiate between random noise and beautiful noise, and last night definately qualified as we listened to the Emerson String Quartet play some Beethovan and Brahms. As I was looking in the program, third teir subscriptions for a six show season works out to be slightly more than six Saturday afternoon matinees --- that is something I need to think about as the music was wonderful, the venue amazing and the experience pleasing.

The Off-ramp to the Info Super Highway

I did something a little weird for me last night --- I was completely happy switching out our big phone nameless phone company DSL line for a national dial-up modem for our computers at home. This is the first time since 1994 that I have intentionally downgraded the connection speed for the Internet and that time was due to a crappy modem in the back of a third hand computer. So far I am liking this experiment as the text based pages that I routinely visit load fast enough, and I really do not use any high bandwidth services. I don't download music or video or even graphics all that much --- I guess I can wait the next time that I see a really cute and funny picture of a cat with its head in a glass. I wonder if we are an anomoly or if more people will make this switch out.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Housing as the New Paradigm Buster :)

When I was writing my quick wrap-up of housing bubble thoughts, I was looking for a paradigm quote that justifies the new tulip economy --- no South Pacific Island economy --- no, wait, the Railroad economy --- one more second, let's try the Internet economy --- finally, we got it right, the housing/asset based economy... But I was unable to find what I was looking for quickly enough. However Michael Shedlock has done the work for me.


I am just naturally cautious about anything that claims it can overturn all received knowledge and learning that has been accumulated at great cost with only a few words and fervent hope. Every now and then the paradigm truly does shift, but not that often, so I suspect housing will return back to earth relatively soon, as the language that is being uttered with housing sounds achingly familiar. Barry Ritzholz looks at the same type of rhetoric as expressed through the cultural mediums of high art purchases by the nouveau rich and inexperienced notoriety collector AND the appearance of an issue on high circulation medium analysis magazines as the sign that things are hitting their absolute peak. But both are saying the same thing --- by the time that people are recycling the language of newness and differentness, the phenomena is already old.

Traffic and Regulars

This is a housekeeping post, so it will be boring.
Fester's Place is picking up traffic like the Squirrel Hill Tunnel at 4:30 in the afternoon. This past week, I got over 1,000 hits, and while at least 200 of them are junk hits that came to me due to a post entitled "Sweet 16 Bracket" that scored high on Google, people are actually reading my writing on a consistent basis, and via one of my counters, I know that I have regulars past the people that I know in real life, or people that I link to, or my regular commenters. Now that is really cool. I was looking at my Sitemeter Stats and my worse day this week was better than some weeks when I first started to blog --- I really do not believe that I have become that much better of a writer in eighteen months for that to happen, but as I tap into the network and embed myself within the link structure, I am realizing the profits derived from the cost of posting, tracking back, seeing no one show up, doing it again, and then commenting elsewhere. To me, it is just really cool that I have regulars.... I'm sorry I'll return to my regular programming of foreign policy, Pittsburgh politics/fiscal situation, football and oddball things here and there soon enough.

Non-Junk Bond Status for the City

The Post Gazette is reporting that the city has escaped junk bond status. In today's interest rate envrionment, marginal junk bond to marginal non-junk bond does not do a massive amount on the interest rate of the bonds that the city can issue, however it will produce some savings on any new debt AND it is a great sign that things are at least slowing their descent, if not bottoming out financially.

Now at the bottom of the story are these two paragraphs:

The city is considering refinancing existing bonds to free up some $6.5 million to pay capital expenses and build up its fund balance this year. City Council is set to debate the matter next week.

The $6.5 million in refunding savings -- on $197 million in bonds -- meets a 3 percent savings threshold for bond refinancings set forth in the Act 47 recovery plan, said city fiscal adviser Linda Eremita, managing director of National City Investments.

I have a couple of questions here:
  • I seem to remember that the city got into trouble be continual refinancing and deferring of debt
  • I seem to recall that during the initial appointment of the IGC that the financial people said that the city could only save a couple hundred thousand dollars on a refi-deal due to the massive number of non-recallable bonds out there

Are these recollections correct? Where did ~$200 million dollars in higher interest rate recallable bonds come from that were not available two years ago? Also is it neccessarily wise to roll over debt and extend the debt when the city already has extraordinarily high debt:income ratios? I don't know the answers on any of these questions, but I am curious.

Finally, while this is some good news, as "O" noted at his blog, there are some serious systemic problems about neighborhood development, building techniques/cost structure and regional infrastructure that loom over anything that the city tries to do. These solutions will be a pain in the ass and expensive as hell as they are legacy costs for living in an old and non-growing region that had all of its physical capital invested in it before 1960.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Burn, Boil and Bubble --- skim the froth of houses

I am worried about a housing bubble. Pittsburgh is not that much of a concern as the population is declining and the housing stock is old. However we are seeing some amazing home valuation appreciation in the Northeast Corridor, and the California Coast --- which is where 50% of the nation's home wealth is stored. Dramatic declines in value are a significant risk to the US economy for two reasons; first consumption spending in the past five years has been overwhelmingly fueled by the sale of assets, and not through income growth. Price declines will destroy a significant amount of paper equity that would otherwise would have been used for consumption spending. Secondly, if used homes are not selling, that will place pressure (slow, as housing prices are downwardly sticky) on the new home market, thus reducing construction employment and the secondary employment effects.

I am stealing the following chart from Matthew Yglesias as he notes a NY Times article that quotes the National Association of Realtors that at least a quarter of all purchases last year were speculative.

Calculated Risk is noting that refinancing activity is slowing down massively and he speculates that this may be the beginning of the end of the asset based economic cycle as there is no more wealth that can be extracred from America's homes at current interest rates.

Barry at the Big Picture is arguing that there is a danger of homes being overvalued due to the very low interest rates that allow for a constant monthly payment to cover a larger capital price than the same payment in the past. The danger as he sees it is a fall of 20%-30% in home values in selected markets.

Daily Show Question

Last night, I was watching the Daily Show, and the Ed Helms piece about the investigative journalism student from Rutgers was on. The last five seconds of the piece looks like it was filmed coming out of the Carnegie Museum on the Forbes Avenue side --- am I hallucinating, or does that look to be correct?

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Weighted Value Systems

Aaron Schatz of The Football Outsiders does a quick overview of the immediate post-draft rankings of six pundits and the Huddle Report. The Huddle Report ranks players using their own rating system and lists them #1-300. A team does well under this system if they pick players who are ranked at or above the pick --- for instance the Patriots would get a 0 if they picked the #32 player as ranked by the Huddle Report at the end of the first round. They would get a +1 if they drafted the #31 player at the 32cd selection, and a -10 if they drafted the #42 ranked player.

This is a simple evaluation system that will let the Huddle Report put out an analysis really quickly. However, the system is flawed as it assumes three major things; first best player available is the sole drafting mechanism that provides good value, secondly that a difference of one slot is a uniform difference (picking player #222 at pick #221 is the same penalty as picking player #2 at pick #1) and thirdly, that they are that damn good as scouts. The first assumption leads to some interesting scenarios where a team can gain "good value" by picking up 5th round graded players in the 7th even if they blow the 1st and 2cd rounders by reaching despite the superior available talent levels in the 1st and 2cd rounds compared to the more homogenous talent levels on the second day.

I would recommend that the Huddle Report adapt something like the Pick Value chart so that grabbing a player in the first round at #21 that is ranked #12 gives a greater reward than picking a player ranked #220 selected at #229. The point of this post is a combination of complaining about a pet peeve, and also an illustration of the flaws and perverse results that can occur when an evaluation and ranking system is poorly designed.

First Schiavo Post

I have not posted anything on Terry Shiavo circus in the past week because I do not know enough. I know that if I was in a PVS that I would like to have the tube removed after any realistic hope of revival was near nil. This is a political fiasco and a further illustration of the lack of respect of the implicit limitations of power that are needed for effective governance versus effective politics.

I'm home from work because I think I finally got the bug that hit everyone else last week so as I was watching CNN announce that the Supreme Court deny cert to the Schindler appeal, I started hearing that Jeb Bush will seek to seize custody of Mrs. Shiavo's body as part of a political stunt --- why have a constitutional system when you can pose for the cameras....

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

3rd Party Candidate for 2008 Musings

This week's UnPaid Punditry Corps Gravitational Pull-up is an interesting one:

" Who I'd Be Interested in Seeing Run for President in 2008 as a Third Party Candidate?"

This is an oddball choice this far out from 2008, as I want at least a little bit of time before I started think about the run for the White House again, but I am split in two ways as to how I want to answer this question. I could answer this question by acting as an extremely partisan Democrat and thereby thinking of the nuttiest fring Republican with any significant ideological or personal following thereby hoping for a split vote on the Republican right flank in the same manner as provided by Ralph Nader in 2000. Or, as PSoTD outlines, I could go for an idealistic/pragmatic good governance type of third party candidate with the hope that an issue that I care about can be co-opted by the winning party.

I need to do some more thinking on this issue as I want to be a pure partisan and push the name of Judge Roy Moore running on an Evanglicism, hyper nanny state, intrusive public moralism campaign, but I can do better than this. More later this week.


More Recruiting Problems Predicted.

The Secretary of the Army is predicting that the active duty Army, National Guard and Reserves will not meet their recruiting goals for March and April. The National Guard is no surprise as they have been engaged in a fairly significant downward trend for some time now, the Reserves are in better shape than the Guard, but still have been in a downward slope for at least the past nine months, but the regular Army had been meeting their objectives until January. Now they are significantly behind quota, and if it continues into April, four data points can start to make a systemic trend. They expect to meet their quota's this summer, but I have severe doubts that they can make their original quotas AND get enough additional recruits to make up for the winter shortfalls as the recruiting environemnt for all services is getting to be more severe AND the economy is not the helper it was in 2003.

Some good Iraqi News

Al Jazeera is reporting that the outlines for an agreement concerning the formation of a government for Iraq has been reached. The major questions of Kirkuk and regional powers are being punted (again), but some government will be formed, only a couple of weeks behind schedule. Also the Iraqi security forces are claiming to have raided an insugent training base and killed 80 insurgents. Both pieces of good nes --- but definately confirmation that the insurgency is very comfortable operating in platoon and company sized units and realizes that it needs to have mechanisms of shared learning in place. The new government will be facing a well armed, motivated and popularly supported (within the Sunni community) insurgency. Will the country see non-emergency law in the next year?

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Lack of Cooperation Incentives

Andrew Samwick of Vox Baby, is a wicked smart guy and an excellent economist, especially when it comes to Social Security and the economics of demographics. However in a recent post, he makes an argument that immediately fails to include two of the first things you learn in undergrad Econ --- incentives/rewards matter as well as credibility. He was arguing that the Democrats should soon put forth a plan to save Social Security. He outlines three scenrios and the expected outcome in his mind is the expected value of engagement is higher than the EV of non-engagement.

The problem is that he ignores the cooperation incentive and the history of cooperation by the Democrats and the Bush administration. Early on, the Democrats cooperated on the 2001 tax cuts, and now the deficits it has contributed to has been used as a cudgel against domestic spending. The Democrats proposed Homeland Security as a Cabinet level department for several months which Bush opposed, and they saw it as a basepunishing (anti-union) weapon deftly wielded by Bush and Rove in the 2002 midterms (helloe Cleland=Saddam=Osama ads). The Democrats who normally would be willing to cooperate with the Republicans have been successfully targeted by the Texas re-redistricting and normal political action for electoral defeat. In the past four years, the Democrats have learned two things; first Bush is extraordinarily good at saying one thing, signing another and coming out smelling like a rose from the flip-flop... and secondly, there is no real reward for working with him to provide the minimal cover of bipartisanship that would allow for an extremely nasty conference bill to emerge.

The national political parties are realizing this equibilibrium will not change, for as Shamanic points out, the persuadables on the Democratic side are now politically unemployed, and the Republican ones are marginalized from the mainstream of the GOP leadership and base. It will not change as Georgia is in the process of a re-redistricting aimed against Democrats who otherwise may have had an incentive to occassionally cooperate.

Cooperation as a strategy only makes sense when both parties involved in the deal believe that they can advance their own interests most effectively by working and trusting the other side. The first term of the Bush administration has been an object lesson for Senate Democrats at the very least, that this trust and credibility that would lead to a cooperative environment does not exist in sufficient quantity to produce mutually beneficial outcomes. So why cooperate, when the opponent, who has a long history of violating tacit norms, only wants to harm you? That is the point that Andrew Samwick misses; the incentives have changed.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Comp Picks are out

The New England Patriots were awarded three additional, non-tradeable draft picks as compensation for the loss of three free agents before the 2004-2005 season. The comp picks are a third rounder(#100) for Damien Woody, a fifth rounder(#170) for Ted Washington, and finally Mr. Irrelevant(#255) for Bobby Hamilton. The last two players were signed by Oakland, and Damien Woody went to Detroit.

These picks give the Patriots some additional flexibility as the opportunity cost, given roster constraints, of trading normal draft picks to either move up in the draft, or to trade into future years has been lowered. Right now the Patriots own nine picks, one in each of the 1st, 2cd, 3rd, 4th and 6th with two picks in the 5th and 7th. Given that the Patriots are looking to see at least four minimally contributing rookies from the current year going into camp looking for jobs, I have severe doubts that the Patriots will use all nine picks to choose nine players for this year. I do not think that there are enough jobs for 13 unexperienced players on the team.

The only thing that I do not like about comp picks is that they are fixed slots. Teams are not allowed to trade their compensation picks for other rewards. This makes no sense if the objective of a pick is to compensate a team for developping talent to the rest of the league. It would be a Pareto improvement if teams would be allowed the option of using their compensation picks to trade around for either a different set of picks OR for proven veterans. Any idea why this does not happen?

Quickie ED First Round Eval

Gov. Rendell is trumpeting the fact that his economic stimulas package has led to the creation of 70,500 new jobs last year and significantly moved the rank of Pennsylvania up for the rate of job creation. I am going to do something less than wise, and that is do a quickie eval without enough information. I will assume that the $1 billion in bonds that are to be issued have not had any role to play, and the billion dollars for capital improvements has only been 20% expended.

For $200 million dollars, this works out to an outlay of $2,863 per job claimed to be created. This is actually a pretty damm good figure, especially if the projects that were financed in the past year were projects that otherwise would have created public value but were deferred due to cash constraints. The subsidy function of this outlay is most likely significantly less than the $2,863. The problem with the program is that capital projects do not directly produce long term sustained employment; so we see an upward blip on employment which we will be paying off for thirty years. The NPV of the per-job cost is probably closer to $5,000 when we throw in the interest costs. Now if the capital infrastructure investments can lower the cost of doing business, foster new connections or otherwise allow for new production functions to be economically feasible than it is a damm good program. But the worry is that we just build infrastructure and they don't come.

Finally, the above paragraph is fraught with weaknesses as I do not have the spending data in front of me. If the entire $1 billion dollars was spent last year on capital improvements, than the deal is most likely horrendous. And then there is the problem of segregating job growth caused by direct government intervention, indirect job growth from the intervention AND job growth that would have occurred anyways AND any lost job growth due to the increased revenue demands. But that is an issue for a nice little think tank or consultant, not a blogger who has yet to have his coffee this morning.

Monday, March 21, 2005

The Gangs of Iraq

Cernig passed along an article by the Independent that US forces routinely ask for Iraqi criminals to be released so that they can be used as intelligence assets against the insurgency. However, Iraqi police are not happy with this practice:

"The Americans are allowing the breakdown of Iraqi society because they are only interested in fighting the insurgency," said a senior Iraqi police officer. "We are dealing with an epidemic of kidnapping, extortion and violent crime, but even though we know the Americans monitor calls on mobiles and satellite phones, which are often used in ransom negotiations, they will not pass on any criminal intelligence to us. They only want to use the information against insurgents."

An Iraqi government source confirmed that criminal suspects were often released if they agreed to inform on insurgents, despite the dangers to ordinary Iraqis. The Iraqi middle class has been heavily targeted by kidnappers since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Many doctors, a favourite target, and businessmen have fled to Syria, Jordan and Egypt. The police admit that they have been unable to do anything to stop the wave of abductions.

This to me seems like a questionable idea, as I mentioned in comments at Cernig's site; if the objective of the US is to help establish a credible, well respected, widely regarded legitimate government, there must be an environment in which there is security within the context of rule of law.

Chaos is the enemy of the United States for two reasons; first it creates more turbulence and insecurity that fosters an environment in which people will support whomever will credibly promise to bring some order and protection to their daily lives. SCIRI, Dawa and the Sadrists all cemented their power bases by providing quasi-governmental services; after the invasion they were the only institutions that were capable of providing basic public goods to the people. If there is chaos and an ineffective government, these extra-governmental ruling bodies will continue to be relevant and gain power. Secondly, purely criminal actions create distractions from the counter-insurgency fight. Purely criminal kidnappers most likely have a credible belief that the US has a shitty tracking system for them as the US does not have an effective information and evaluation system for the Iraqi police force. So once released back to the general population they can disappear. There is little incentive to cooperate by providing good intelligence.

The story is not this simple, as there is an interesting conversation going on a recent Army War College paper(big PDF) concerning the transformation of gangs from local and national actors to international actors on a systemic scale. Criminal gangs have different objectives than the Sunni Arab insurgents but both can and have been feeding off of each other; chaos created by the insurgents creates pressure points on the state which forces a diversion of limited resources that otherwise would have been used for anti-economic crime prevention and apprehension while non-political crime partially finances political insurgents AND creates and further exploits chaos, thus continuing a trend of increasing societal atomization and delegitimation of any government that claims a wide area monopoly on force and coercian.

There is overlap between these two elements as the insurgents have taken hostages and robbed banks and criminal gangs have engaged US, coalition and Iraqi governmental forces while also supplying arms to anyone with the cash to purchase them. However tolerating one chaos inducing agent to go after another, is, in my opinion, counterproductive to anyone who is trying to create some semblance of stability in Iraq.

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Sunday, March 20, 2005

Sweet 16 Bracket

The damage has been incredible and my bracket has been destroyed all due to Vermont eating their maple syrup and BC blowing the big one --- oh well it has been fun. I'll tally up the damage tonight but I will be lucky if I am right on 8 teams in the Sweet 16.

Soft Support and Recruitment Issues

I am sorry if this past week has been a one note week about military recruitment and retention problems, but that is what is driving my interest right now. I am personally safe as I am aging out of the prime potential draft range in the near future and I have too many things floating in my knees and ankles anyways. However I have a younger brother in good health who is soon to be entering prime draft age, and I also have concerns in general about the draft. And given the information that the Army and Marines are short on recruitment and retention, the Army National Guard and Army Reserves are approaching catastrophic mission failure on recruitment, and everyone else but the Air Force Reserves is below quota for the first four months of the fiscal year, AND given that the Bush administration has no exit strategy and a willingness to continued saber rattling, this is something to be concerned about. The draft is a non-zero probability event.

In the European and Pacific Stars and Stripes, General Cody, vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs said the following:

" “We’re seeing right now mothers and fathers and school teachers and other influencers that maybe are not talking about service to this nation,” “So, when you say, ‘Army, you have a recruiting problem,’ I say, ‘America, you have a recruiting problem.'.....What kind of Army do you want to have? Is service to this country important to you?”

That is true if you believe that the youth of America must respond to the sound of the guns no matter when or why they were fired. If that is the case, then it is America's problem. If this is not the case, then it is a problem of why are we in Iraq and why do so many people who nominally support the war not run down to the enlisting station.

Ol' Froth summarizes the basic reasons why the recruitment problem is here:

I do not think that Americans are reluctant to serve their country in a shooting war, but I do think they are very, very reluctant to put their asses on the line for an administration that sends our armed forces into ill-advised conflicts with nations that did not present a significant threat. Hence the recent problems with Army and Marine recruitment.

The Iraq War was not an overwhelmingly popular war, as this December, 2002 LA Times poll demonstrates. There was not overwhelming public and political support for this war (thus violating part of the Powell Doctrine's criteria for employment of force); popular support was only gained when the Bush administration decided to scare the everliving daylights out of the American public with a combination of misleading but technically true rhetoric, faulty information and outright lies. It gets hard to recruit people for wars of choice that were embarked upon for fuzzy, and changing justifications and do not have a clear exit strategy. It is hard to recruit people to bear the entire burden of sacrifice upon a very narrow base, while asking very little of the American populace.

According to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll", a small majority of the country believes that going to war, overall, was a mistake as the benefits have been exceeded by costs. To paraphrase John Kerry -- why would you want to be the last man to die for a mistake ---

Iraq was sold to the American public as a cheap, short victorious war of necessity and national defense -- the Congressional Authorization for the Use of Force contained one reference to democracy or democratic government, and five pages of a national security argument for war; senior Bush administration officials stated that the war would be short with troops greeted as "liberators", and it would finance itself as the remnant force would be down to 30,000 by September 2003.

The Bush administration blew its credibility in both the creation of a threat and its prediction of what would happen. America has a recruiting problem only if the citizens of this country do not see the social contract is upheld by its leaders. If that is not the case, then we have a mission alignment problem, and not a recruiting problem.


Saturday, March 19, 2005

Car Bombs in the MidEast

A car bomb went off in Qatar this afternoon, killing at least one British citizen.

A car bomb went off in Beirut earlier this week.

The normal level of violence in Iraq continues...

Is there any connection here, or is the expertise needed to create moderately powerful bombs distributed widely enough to a sufficient number of disaffected individuals and groups throughout the Middle East that these are unconnected and comparatively random events?


Friday, March 18, 2005

Republicans I respect (Pt. 3 of 3)

If you read my blog during the heady days of Spring '04, the depressing days after Iowa and before the transformation of Dean for America into Democracy for America, and the headrush of weeks after the election hangover subsided and the election of Howard Dean as the DNC chair, you will have noticed a trend in my desire for Democrats; contest every seat even minimally and nominally for the seats that you know that you have no chance of winning. My logic behind this position is simple; develop the bench, maintain visibility and force the Republicans to work to defend their seats to some degree and force an expenditure of resources that are completely out of proportion to the threat of a challenged seat. The off-chance of something "amazing" happening in this cycle is a nice side benefit, but the primary benefits for the Democrats to challenge every seat are long term.

I have to respect the candidates who know that they are longshots, who know that they are facing extremely difficult demographics, who know that they are insufficiently supported by their party, but still decide that this is something that is worth doing even if the odds of them winning the election are only slightly better than me finding rhythm.

And for this reason, I have made a surprising third choice for Republicans that I respect --- whomever the Republicans run for Pittsburgh City Mayor deserves a lot of respect. In 2001, it was a nice, moderate philosophy profressor from Carlow College, Jim Carmine, and now a dahntahn lawyer, Joe Weinroth. As this 2001 Pittsburgh Business Times article notes, the Democratic:Republican registration ratio is 6:1, and as I have noted before, off-year election voters tend to be even more Democratic than federal election voters. So the odds of winning are still horrendous. Yet someone wants to run and makes an honest go at it; attending debates, holding rallies, outlining policy positions etc.

I would not respect the candidate if this is a quadrennial hobby of several decades as I would start questioning their sanity on the basis of the AA definition of insanity: Expecting different results from the same action. However as long as there are new candidates who are willing to take one for the team, and can provide at least one light moment and two awkward moments for the Democratic nominee, I am forced to respect them. So my final answer is that I respect Joe Weinroth as a Republican politician. I know nothing of his positions beyond the fact that he is running.

Good Meme

Via Pike Speaks is this wonderful commentary on gay marriage by Ace Pryhill. I may need to buy him a crowbar to get his tongue removed from his cheek and now let me steal his entire post:

Reasons Gay Marriage is wrong
Top Ten Reasons Why Gay Marriage is Wrong:

Homosexuality is not natural. Real people always reject unnatural things like eyeglasses, polyester, and air conditioning.

Gay marriage will encourage people to be gay, in the same way that hanging around tall people will make you tall.

Legalizing gay marriage will open the door to all kinds of crazy behavior. People may even wish to marry their pets because a dog has legal standing and can sign a marriage contract.

Heterosexual marriage has been around a long time and hasn't changed at all;
women are still property, blacks still aren't supposed to marry whites.

Straight marriage will be less meaningful if homosexual marriage were allowed;
the sanctity of Brittany Spears' 55-hour just-for-fun marriage would be destroyed.

Heterosexual marriages are valid because they produce children. Homosexual couples, infertile couples, and old people shouldn't be allowed to marry
because our orphanages aren't full yet, and the world needs more children.

Obviously gay parents will raise gay children, since straight parents only raise straight children.

Gay marriage is not supported by religion. In a theocracy like ours, the values of one religion are imposed on the entire country. That's why we have only one religion in North America.

Children can never succeed without a male and a female role model at home.
That's why we as a society expressly forbid single parents to raise children.

Gay marriage will change the foundation of society; we could never adapt to new social norms. Just like we haven't adapted to cars, the service-sector economy, or longer life spans

1st Day Bracket

I think that I did relatively decently on my bracket yesterday. Of the eighteen games, I have fifteen of them right, including the upset by Milwaukee; I figured wrong that UTEP, Iowa and LSU would win, oh welll. If I actually threw any money into the pool I think that I would have a significant advantage as most of my co-workers had Pitt getting into the Elite 8 while I had them getting knocked out yesterday, so the odds of me getting points from that side of the bracket go up dramatically.

Finally, I love how the official NCAA bracket has the following disclaimer:

" This bracket should not be used for sweepstakes, contests, office pools, or other gambling activities"

What other uses are there for the brackets which are published everywhere?

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Republicans I Respect (Pt. 2 of 3)

The first installment of this series was my contrarian choice. The second installment therefore will be a playful choice with far less reasoning or principle behind it. A Republican that I have always respected is former Governor Bill Weld of Massachusetts. I am not arguing about his budget/tax policies or his abortion position --- as I am cool with those but there are many other Republicans who are leave us alone on social policy and grounded in reality that occassionally taxes need to be raised to provide needed services. Instead my respect for him is the result of a negative endorsement.

Anyone who can royally piss off Jesse Helms has to be doing something right beyond public school reform programs and it is even better if that pisser offer is a Republican. I know that this is no deep reason here, but Weld is someone who if I was old enough to vote in 1996 I would have spent quite a lot of time deciding between two pretty good candidates for the Governor's race. This is not an earthshattering revelation of respecting an engimatic choice of Republicans, nor are the reasons particulary deep --- Moderate Republicans would be Democrats in most states that I was not born in--- but more of a fun burst of pique.

More on recruiting and retention

Agence Franec Press is reporting some more bad recruiting news for the US military:

" The Army reserve and Army National Guard respectively met only 87 percent and 80 percent of their overall recruiting goals in the first quarter of fiscal 2005, according to the study by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress.

The Air Force Reserve attained 91 percent of its target, the Air National Guard 71 percent and the Navy Reserve 77 percent."

Now this is odd, given that the Air Reserve, Air Guard and the Navy Reserve are not the primary ground combat components in Iraq. I wonder why there is a general decline in reserve component recruiting across the board instead of just in the ground combat arms? I really don't know.

Now looking at a recently released GAO report on recruiting and retention (big PDF) there are a couple of negative facts being highlighted:

* "GAO's analysis also shows that 7 of the Army's current occupations (e.g., infantry and cavalry scout) and 6 of the Air Force's current occupations (e.g., combat control and linguist) are on both their "hard-to-recruit" and "hard-to-retain" lists."

* "In terms of retention, the active components generally met their overall retention goals for the past 5 FYs. The Army, for example, met or exceeded overall retention goals from FY 2000 through FY 2004. The Army and the Air Force, however, missed retention goals in the first quarter of FY 2005."

* " However, for January 2005, the Marine Corps missed its overall active duty recruiting goal by 84 recruits and narrowly missed its goal again for February 2005. The Army also missed its overall recruiting goal for February 2005 by almost 2,000 recruits. This is significant, given that the Army has also already called up members from the Individual Ready Reserve and moved new recruits from its delayed entry program into basic training earlier than scheduled."

So overall there is a shortage of personal who want to join the military, those who want to join don't want to go to the high need and high usefullness areas for the Army and Air Force, and there is a potential brain drain as retention is looking to be an uphill battle now. Somehow that prediction by the end of 2005/early 2006, the force would be showing extreme strain made in November of 2003 is looking to be prescient than most of my predictions.


Adjustments taking place?

People are pretty stubborn in not changing their driving patterns and preferences in the short term due to higher costs of inputs. The most volatile priced input is the cost of fuel, and if it goes up by 100% for a month and then collapses back to baseline, the overwhelming majority of drivers will not change their habits. However, long term sustained pricing changes will drive changes to both behavior and purchasing decisions. I do not have any public transit ridership figures nor real estate data in front of me, but the recent announcement by GM that the combination of high health care cost increases AND the declining proportion of the market share taken up by low efficiency but high profit SUVs will be killing any chance of profitability this year is the most obvious sign that economic behavior is starting to change due to the sustained price increases in petroleum products that started two years ago. And given that yesterday's OPEC production increase announcement was overwhelmed by bad inventory news to give us a new nominal record price for spot crude, it is a damn good bet that we won't be seeing what we considered cheap oil from the 2000 time frame any time soon.


Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Dollar worries

I know I am a broken record; I do not think that a 5% or more of GDP trade and current account deficit is a sustainable or healthy course for a national economy that is not saving all that much money anywhere. Last year was a record trade deficit in both absolute terms and as a percentage of the economy. This year, without any other serious adjustments, looks to be even worse as the price of oil looks to be significantly higher this year than last, and US exports are not growing at the same rate, much less the 1.5x faster rate than imports that is needed to start closing the deficit.

The most likely serious adjustment that could occur is a run against the dollar as we are extraordinarily vulnerable. Almost all of the new debt issued since 2003 is being absorbed by foreigners, and the majority of that is being held by governmental agencies which are playing mercantilist games and not profit maximization games (thankfully from our POV for the past two years) but the risk is steadily increasing. They are increasing so much that we are starting to see a series of "gaffes" as there are increasing rumbles and informed speculation that the plug will be pulled and the pace of dollar reserve accumulation at the present interest rates will dramatically slow in the relatively near future as China is allegedly already diversifying its reserves into more Euros.

If this happens, OUCH is the nicest word that I can use.


Lincoln Chafee Speculation

Lincoln Chafee is an odd duck in the Senate -- he is one of the most vulnerable Republican Senators as he is an old fashioned Rockefeller Republican who represents a very blue state based on the fact that Rhode Island loved his father. He is also one of the most liberal members of the Republican Caucus, but also to the right of the Democratic caucus. His major issues are fiscal responsibility and the enviroment. Currently he sits on the Environment and Public Works, Foreign Affairs and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committees.

From this position, he has already defected on one relatively large GOP issue, helping to kill Clear Skies in committee. He is introducing the amendment for PAYGO which would severely hamper the GOP ability to pass tax cuts wrapped up in the budget reconciliation process and thus tax cuts in general. He is being a general pain in the ass for the GOP leadership.

Now the rest of this piece is pure and unadulterated speculation so please bear with me.

Given that Chafee is the most likely GOP Senator to buck the party on big issues.
Given that Chafee is extremely vulnerable to the most probable Democratic nominee.
Given that there are very few cases where 54 GOP votes is much different than 55 GOP votes...
Is there any chance of the GOP leadership stripping Chafee of his committee seats and replacing him with a more reliable member. The cost is fairly low as it is extremely likely that Chafee would caucus with the Democrats but the RI seat would be doing that in 2007 anyways while it also frees up a couple of bottlenecks AND serves as a warning to the remaining GOP moderates to toe the line more often.


Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Pre-mature Iraqulation

One of the problems about being right about Iraq is that it requires time and does not provide a lot of great pictures on television, while being wrong on Iraq allows you to simplify problems massively, proclaim grand solutions and self-evident pictures for a single day (see the SpiderHole, Fallujah Pt. 2, the Statue, and now Blue Index Fingers) and then believe that everything else is ancillary to reality for the next couple of months until another moment is needed to reassure you that this time, Iraq is almost completely 100% great. Yet there is always a need for another moment....

Running up to the elections, critics about the Iraq policy were worried about security, Sunni participation and the Kurdish/Shi'ite ability to agree to agree about almost nothing other than elections were a good way to grab some power out of the exiles backed by the US. Thankfully we were mostly wrong about the security problem on election day --- amazing what shutting down all economic life can do for a day or two. But the other two areas have been proven true. The Sunnis fundamentally did not participate and the insurgency has not been cleaved from its support base by the political action of elections, and the Shi'ite demand for a relatively strong central government (controlled by them) is running headlong into the Kurdish desire of de-facto independence with a shared flag.

So while one can hope that the elections can produce political solutions and panaceas, but the reality is there are no good solutions, no magic moments and no denial of the fact that the US is seen as an occupier, not a liberator and is treated as such even by Iraqis who are taking our money and not shooting at US forces.

The elections were just another slightly messy case of pre-mature Iraqulation


Penn Hills Real Estate Question

Last night I was bored so I spent some time on the Howard Hanna property searcher and for the first time I looked into Penn Hills as I have pretty much exhausted the current listings of the inner ring neighborhoods. Between that and the County Tax Asssessment Info System there was plenty of good information on the homes that I was interested I was extremely impressed and now slightly puzzled at the overabundance of 40-50 year old homes on the market that look to be in good shape on a decent plot of land, near transportation that were going for very, very reasonable prices. I can think of a couple of downsides here:
  • Taxes --Penn Hills has a very high school tax, so the combined tax rate is higher than Pittsburgh property taxes
  • School District --- Looking at the PDE academic unit report card, PHSD is okay with good enough elementary schools but weak junior and senior high schools.
  • Commutes -- The vast majority of the land in Penn Hills is not right off the highways thus adding extra commuting time and decreasing value.

What am I missing that would drive prices this low?

Iran Hysteria

John Pike at his blog, Pikes Speak has a post up on potential Isreali planning for a potential preventive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. He then makes an odd argument given the context: "America may have lost some of our moral high-ground over the years; yet we still are the only ones interested in the maintenance of our current civilization"

I am absolutely puzzled by this piece of implicit argumentation that Iran is a threat to the maitenance of our current civilization and that we are doomed if they are able to build and deploy a working nuclear weapons system in sufficient numbers to have any faith in its surviability given a US first strike. Iran building and deploying nuclear weapons is a bad thing but there are many bad things in the world that are not existential threats to American or more broadly Western civilization; half a dozen nuclear weapons fall into this category. On the other hand October, 1962 was an existential threat to American civilization --- there are scale constraints against this argument that Pike is implicitly making.

If Pike is worried about anti-American, potentially non-deterrable nation state actors, then he should be focusing on seeing what the North Koreans want to charge to be bought out of their nuclear arsenal; that is a government that has gone on to starve its own people, and isolate itself out of ideological fear for the past fifty years while developping nuclear weapons as the instinct for self preservation which is needed for deterrance is more debatable. Iran is more deterable and has a pretty long history of acting in its own best interests (see most interestingly Iran, Nov-Dec 2001, see Iran v. Al Quaida in general, and Iran v. Taliban for most of the 90s)

I really do not get the civilizational threat that John believes he is seeing. I can understand a national existance argument from the Isreali perspesctive to attempt to justify a preventive strike, but I do not see the civilizational argument as American and Western civilization is pretty damm resilent, and faced a far greater threat for fifty years than anything Iran could assemble.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Republicans I respect (Pt. 1 of 3)

I have recently become more involved with a group of bloggers called the Unpaid Punditry Corps which is a multipartisan group blog with a pretty diverse group of writers and characters. One of the exercises that hopefully will keep the conversation civil, interesting and moving forward is a series of Gravitational Pull-ups which are short think pieces that will be almagamated, dessicated and spun out in a chewy and yummy paste eventually. This week's assignment is the following:

write a bit about three living politicians that we appreciate and respect from an opposing political party from our own

I could list off the New England moderate Senators, and at least one will be included on that list, but that would be the easiest way out of this assignment. Instead, I am going to be looking at a couple of national figures that I often disagree with but often look forward to hearing what they have to say as I know that their thoughts are well reasoned, grounded in reality and firm to principles that I may disagree with but I can understand and respect. I'll start off with my surprise choice, namely Senator Lyndsay Graham of South Carolina.

On economics, cultural issues and foreign policy, there is a very wide divergence of opinions as to optimal or at least better than status quo choices constitute. However, on a couple of issues I can see that he is serious about solving urgent problems using a good set of decision processes that are informed by his conservative philosophy. I disagree with the philosophy but unlike most national GOP leaders, I can actually see where he is coming from without putting my head into a pretzel.

First, on Social Security, he is leading a talk group that very early on realized that privatization is not a panacea to solvency and that solvency can only be assured through some combination of better than (OASI actuaries) projected economic growth, increased revenue or decreased expenditures/benefits. If he was to have his ideal plan, it would be significantly different than my ideal plan, but both plans would be looking to actually solve the problem that we theoretically are supposed to be solving. I have to respect that, although I will argue with any details.

The second major issue that makes me respect Graham was his initial statements about Abu Ghraib; ""The photos clearly demonstrate to me the level of prisoner abuse and mistreatment went far beyond what I expected, and certainly involved more than six or seven MPs...............It seems to have been planned." He did not go for the "few bad apples" defense or the 'frat prank' defense. Instead he saw reality and stated that this is not what America is or should be about.
He has maintained his reality based approach to Iraq. He has been on the ground, and has stated that everything is not going perfect and it is not the exclusive fault of the news media or the three Habib Brothers Dead Enders Society but something greater than that motivating the insurgency.

He is firmly attached to reality. For this I have to respect him although it took a while for me to get to that point given his role in the Clinton impeachment charade.

Pts. 2 and 3 later this week.


New Urban Living Spaces

I am an urbanist; I like cities, I like crowds, I like variety, and I like a little bit of unpredictability. My fiancee and I will may try to raise our yet to be born kids in a dense urban area if we can find a good school solution. Yet cities are wonderfully inefficient in that the production of their best features; diverse, mixed used, mixed user, mixed income neighborhoods are very seldom market driven as the profits of such an area are externalized and spread to the majority of the participants and users of the space and not just the owners of the private space. The market pressure in most situations will be to mono-build to a single market segmant within an area UNLESS there are either pre-exisiting infrastructure of diversity or significant outside sources that are willing to pay for positive externalities.

Summerset at Frick Park is a public-private partership that is trying to create a new urban neighborhood on the back end of Squirrel Hill atop an abandoned slag dump. The basic design of the development is New Urbanist --- walkable streets, interesting fronts that are not dominated by parking etc. However, the basic problem of most New Urbanism developments (those by Buff Chase excepted as far as I know) is that the first generation of building creates an economic monoculture as the supply of good walkable neighborhoods is far smaller than the demand for such space. It is only with the paying off of the first couple rounds of mortages can most of these New Urbanist developments support a wider array of income levels and diversity.

The Summerset development was supposed to have a mixed-user/income base to it, but the market forces seem to be creating short term pressure to go to an economic mono-culture, or at least allowing the growth of two varieties of the same species as an apartment complex with forty eight units is being removed from the plan and is instead being replaced by 36 condos going for $275,000 to $500,000 and a median price of $375,000. The city can not complain too much as this should increase the taxable property rolls by a relatively substantial margin, and the city needs every penny it can finnangle right now, but at this point, I question whether Summerset at Frick is worth public subsidy if the payoff in positive externalities are getting deferred, again.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Two good ideas

Jonathan Potts has two good ideas this afternoon:

First he follows up on the great discussion of last week in which several people were looking at whether or not Democratic activists should sit out the general Senate election. He argues that the GOP has done a much better job of falling in love and then falling in line, most notably the 2004 PA Senate race as the conservative activists definately liked Toomey more than Specter, but Santorum came through to hold the seat for the Republicans. If the Dems can not pick-up the winnable seats and lose the loseable seats, it won't matter if the Republicans invoke the nuclear option against the filibuster as they would have the majority that they need.

Secondly, he endorses a proposal made by Bill Peduto that some outside body be empowered and embiggened to close unneeded Pittsburgh public infrastructure. I like this idea, but I would have had hoped that the Act 47 or the intergovernmental cooperation board would have realized that one of their greatest potential services to the city would have been to act as the "bad guys" to get the city to make the tough choices. I don't know if yet another board will do all that much to help out.

My first 2005 Mock for the Pats

Now that the first couple weeks of free agency is done, the Combine completed and the draft still in the quasi-distant future, I think this is a good time to look at what I think the Patriots may do in April's draft. Before I do that, let's review quickly. On the salary cap, the Patriots are in okay shape. They currently have enough space to sign their rookies, add a practice squad, add the 52cd and 53rd players to the regular salary cap on the first day of the regular season and maintain a small injury replacement reserve. The team has a couple of sources to free up new money, namely a Brady restructure/extension and a Corey Dillon extension, but I think that the Pats would only want to make these moves if they are given an amazing opportunity that would dramatically increase the odds of winning another Super Bowl for another million dollars. On the free agency front, the expected play for David Givens and Jarvis Green, two restricted free agents, has not occurred. The first round tenders have been sufficient to scare off any competition.

The Patriots have been fairly inactive in free agency; only acquiring veteran wide receiver Tim Dwight. The major area of activity has been on retaining several key back-ups and starters. The other major addition to the Patriots has been the addition of cornerback Duane Starks, as the Patriots sent #95 and #159 for the cornerback and #136 from the Arizona Cardinals. The Patriots have lost guard Joe Andruzzi and wide receiver David Patten to large free agency contracts, and have released cornerback Ty Law, receiver/cornerback Troy Brown, and inside linebacker Roman Phifer, to cap cuts.

So where does this leave the Patriots? In decent shape for the draft, as there are still a couple of serious needs, but the Patriots have fundamentally two draft classes to address the needs as the Pats are seeing a first round tight end, a second round defense lineman, a third round safety and a fifth round wide receiver coming back from injury or what was effectively a red shirt year, plus whatever rookies the Patriots do draft. The Patriots have some flexibility, as it AdamJT13 from KFFL is projecting that the Patriots will be receiving compensatory 4th, 5th and 7th round picks for free agents lost last year. This will give the Patriots #32, #64, #127,#135, #140, #167, #207, #240 and #250. After #64, the slots could be off a little bit due to the slotting of compensation picks.

I believe that the Patriots will retain David Givens for another year, as well as Jarvis Green. I am not projecting any further losses to free agency, and I am anticipating that the Patriots will not count on Tedi Bruschi returning to the game after he suffered a minor stroke in February. The weaknesses of the Patriots are age at inside linebacker, a lack of competent depth in the secondary, and big question marks at back-up wide receiver, running back and left tackle.

#32: CB/S Marlin Jackson Michigan ---- The Patriots have had a great deal of success playing Eugene Wilson as a free safety despite the fact that he was trained as a cornerback in college. I think that Jackson has more raw talent than Wilson and he would give the Patriots the ability to cover four wide from the nickel package.

#64: DE Jason Tuck Notre Dame --- Tuck is a tweener and is just too good to let go by as he should be able to supplement Willie McGuinest as a rush 3-4 OLB and can play the elephant position in an aggressive 4-3. The Pats are loaded at OLB (McGuinest, Vrabel, Colvin, Banta-Cain) but one of these vets could move to the inside to take over Bruschi's role as the core of the defense.

#127: WR Larry Brackins Pearl River CC The Patriots take a flyer on a big wide receiver with some serious speed but is raw. (Sounds a lot like PK Sam)

#135 (comp for Woody) Rob Petiti OT Pittsburgh --- The Patriots have had some serious problems with injuries at offensive tackle and would be completely screwed if Matt Light got injured (see the regular season Steelers game); Petiti needs to work on his run blocking, but he is an adequate pass blocker who can develop into a reliable player for the Pats in a year or two.

#140 Travis Daniels CB LSU --- The Pats had a great deal of luck finding Randall Gay last year as an UDFA from LSU --- Daniels was one of the players that kept Gay off the starting squad for LSU, and he has some damm good tackling abilities. Well worth the gamble.

#167 Ryan Fitzpatrick QB --Harvard --- Smart quarterback who works hard, good medium range accuracy and is able to work on his game. Rohan Davey has not shown much as the young QB project, so why not take a flier on a Harvard grad.

#207 Maurice Clarett RB Ohio -- Why not take a gamble on greatness pick with a 6th rounder -- costs the Patriots almost nothing to see if Clarett has any speed and cuttability.

#240 Derek Curry LB Notre Dame -- He is a little small to play ILB for the Patriots, but he has decent range and could potentially develop into a cover linebacker like Roman Phifer was for the Pats.

#250 Chris Meyers OG Miami -- Yet another player for the Patriots O-Line assembly line (hey its one of the last picks of the 7th round, I am getting desperate.)

Friday, March 11, 2005

Taiwan Defense and Credible Promises

Matthew Yglesias is linking to a CATO Op-ed that is arguing that Taiwan is not taking its defense seriously enough as it is relying on the implicit US security guarantee contained in the TRA of 1979. The main thrust of the CATO op-ed is that the offer by President Bush to sell $20 billion in US arms over the course of the next several years is being reduced in the Cabinet to a request to the legistlature by 9%. I think that the op-ed is missing the point on a couple of areas and completely overestimates, in my opinion, the viability of a US security guarantee in the medium term. The CATO op-ed contends that Taiwan’s air defense, anti-missile capability and anti-sub capability are insufficient and not being addressed to correct these gaps.

However, the arms sale contains requests for eight diesel electric submarines, 6 PAC-3 SAM batteris, and 12 P-3C anti-sub patrol aircraft. Additionally, the US is transferring 4 NTU Kidd class destroyers which are still some of the best medium range air defenders in the world that possess decent anti-sub capabilities. To me, it looks like the procurement side of the Taiwanese defense equation is reasonable given the threat and needs. Taiwan needs to be able to keep its airfields open, fighters in the air, and the Straits of Taiwan a bloody mined mess for at least two weeks so that the US 7th Fleet can park a couple of carriers offshore and make any invasion attempt a bloody failure for the People’s Republic. In a long attrition seige/blockade scenario without any US or foreign intervention, Taiwan loses even though it will most likely inflict an extremely favorable loss ratio.

But these arm sales are not the most relevant factor of defense readiness. The greatest weakness of the Taiwanese military is training and maitenance. It is a force partially based on short term conscripts and it lacks some of the institutional knowledge and high levels of training needed to be a fully modern and fully trained force. The past several rounds of advanced weapons purchases have led to difficulties integrating them into the current force structure AND significant maitenance/training problems as the conscripts are unable to fully utilize the capabilities of new weapons. I would suggest that command and control, airbase hardening and training dollars would be a better indicator of whether or not Taiwan is taking its own defense seriously, and not on the purchase of weapons systems that they know that they can not fully use.

Okay, I have geeked out enough on hardware integration. The more relevant question is how credible are US security guarantees in the time of large US foreign deficits funded by mainland China, ground force overstretch caused by Iraq and a general global stretch. The main intervention force by the US would be based on naval and air power which are in much better shape than ground combat forces. So the capability of an effective intervention is still there, although it is possible that the intervening force for the next couple of years is smaller/less capable than it would have been without a war in Iraq (more operations $$ going to Iraq sustainment plus rotating squadrons to the CENTCOM AOR). However this assumes that China would not be willing to horizontally escalate if the US intervenes by say seizing the Spratleys or encouraging a North Korean attack into South Korea. At that point the US has the capability to seriously either defend South Korea OR Taiwan given the limitiations of US sea and airlift. So how credible is an implicit US security guarantee given that any military action initiated by the People’s Republic of China to retake Taiwan signifies a high stakes gamble that would lend credence to horizontal escalation.


Thursday, March 10, 2005

The ever shrinking Coalition

Bruce R from Flit has a good rundown of the status of non-US foreign forces in Iraq --- a grand coalition indeed:

This leaves the coalition (non-US) or Iraqi forces comprising:

3 UK Division, with one Italian brigade and a Romanian battalion (11,000 total);
A South Korean brigade (2,800);
Single battalions from Denmark, El Salvador and Georgia (3-500 ea);
A battalion group en route from Australia.

Everything else is non-combat, or tokenistic. With the exception of the Salvadorans, the entire Multi-National Division (South), which also comprises a Polish brigade, a Ukrainian brigade, and a Bulgarian battalion, is headed home by the end of the year, at which point the division will presumably be stood down.

And remember, the senior US military leadership is publicly stating that securing the victory in Iraq will require 120,000+ foreign soldiers for most of a decade --- and remember the current rotation problems and recruitment problems that the US military has, and remember no other country (Iran potentially excepted) really wants to commit a corp sized contigent to Iraqi urban security and counter-insurgency operations any time soon. I remember that I have some damn bad ankles and one bad knee. That could be important in the future.


3rd Deployment Round

Recently there has been a lot of news about the inability of the US military to meet its recruiting targets for all of its ground combat branches. A slightly better economy, continual casualties in Iraq and a non-zero probabilty of another invasion in the next eighteen months all contribute to this problem. However I think that one of the larger drivers of this problem is the expectation that enlisting now pretty much makes renting a PO Box in Kuwait a damm good idea as the entire enlistment period will be spent either somewhere in Iraq OR getting ready/recovering from somewhere in Iraq at CONUS bases.

The Chicago Tribune looks at the first Marine battalion(3/4) to have three tours of duty in Iraq, and the unit is showing some strain as they have spent at least 16 months in a combat zone since March 2003 and will spend at least another five before they can rotate home. It is basically 1:1 combat/recovery ratio, which is a tiring pace. The Marines are working on 7 month rotations (in most cases, excluding emergencies) so some Army units which work on 12 months rotations (ideally) have spent as much or slightly more time in theatre.

This pace and an open ended mission date is grinding the military away. During Vietnam, the professional force that entered the country in 1965-66 was held together until the senior NCOs decided that the third and fourth tours of duty were no longer worth it. Will we see the same here?


Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Running down Casey in 1992

I've been running down some more of the Casey snub for the 1992 convention and the story is a bit more mixed than either of us have written --- Media Matters has a piece from last June that links to a 1996 New Republic piece that asserts the Casey convention snub was about the non-endorsement of the Clinton-Gore ticket. And via Digby does some digging and pulls up this Ron Brown quote concerning Casey:

"We decided the convention would be totally geared towards the general election
campaign, towards promoting our nominee and that everybody who had the
microphone would have endorsed our nominee. That was a rule, everybody
understood it, from Jesse Jackson to Jerry Brown.... The press reported
incorrectly that Casey was denied access to the microphone because he was not
pro-choice. He was denied access to the microphone because he had not endorsed
Bill Clinton. I believe that Governor Casey knew that. I had made it clear to
everybody. And yet it still got played as if it had to do with some ideological
split. It had nothing to do with that."

And further more several pro-life Democrats such as "Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley Jr., Senators John Breaux and Howell Heflin, and five governors, did address the delegates in 1992." They all endorsed the Clinton Gore ticket, so to me it looks like the endorsement was a neccassary condition of speaking and speaking against the pro-choice position was not a neccessary or sufficient filter against speakers.

Now on the other hand, Kevin Drum has done some serious Lexis-Nexis-ing of this issue and it is overwhelmingly that the press reported the issue as a Pro-Choice/Anti-Abortion fight.

I am not sure where this leaves us, but it is interesting to add some complexity to the muddle.

Gas Price Expenditure Diversions

Gas prices are expected to hit $2.15 a gallon for regular unleaded in the next week as oil is hitting $55/barrel right now on the combination of cold weather, a weak dollar, and increasing demand from China as well as the secular seasonal trend towards increased consumption in the OECD. I have harped on this a lot, and it is definately acting as a break on further income fueled spending, and thus encourages even more debt to be taken out to finance current consumption in the US, but how big of a deal is a rise of 20 cents in a gallon of gas.

It depends on how much you drive and how efficient your vehicle is. Personally I am fairly well insulated from the economic effects of gas prices as my work vehicle is the company minivan so they reimburse me for the gas, and the actual family vehicle is a spiffy and small compact car that gets 35+ in the city and we don't drive much at all most weeks. So using some of my free time as I waited for a massive print-out and data crunch to finish up, I made up a nifty little Excel sheet and each additional dime in gas prices are costing us $2.75 a week from a stable price environement. Not a lot of money as the substitution effect is the equivilant of not buying that really good cookie at the corner bakery every now and then.

However the vehicle that we drive and our driving patterns are unusual. For people who drive 250 miles a week (~12,000/year) and only get 26mpg, an additional dime in price leads to an increase in $14.00 in gasoline expenditures. Seeing that gas prices are expected to rise by a quarter between last week and two weeks from today, that is another $35.00 a week in expenditures for a commodity that is in the short term, extremely inelastic. This increased expenditure stream has to come out of the variable cost side of the personal income/expenditure equation which means less entertainment, less clothing, less savings, less food, less of a little of everything else in the short term.


Tuesday, March 08, 2005

PA Democratic Party thoughts

I need to get around to fixing my html and sidebar problems so that I can put up a Chuck 2006 Senate button soon as I want a contested primary for the Democratic nomination to take on Rick Santorum. Chuck Pennachio is the only announced candidate besides Bob Casey. And it looks like the PA Democratic establishment would love to see an uncontested primary. I just do not understand this. I really don't. Money won't be a problem as this is the PREMIER Senate showdown in the 2006 cycle and free media is almost always good media. A contested primary should give the Democrats a good opportunity to pound on Santorum and drive up his negatives and unfavorability with the Mainline counties that vote Republican for economic reasons and not cultural reasons. Let's get the Man on Dog comments and other such gems imprinted into the minds of soccer moms.

I also do not get the antagonism of the PA Democratic Party towards the new activism. As this MyDD diary by Tim Tagaris points out, the state Party is unwilling to engage in active two way communication. This leads to the shitting upon of the activists which seems to be one of the major complaints of those who get Sister Soulijahed on a weekly basis until they are asked to pound the pavement. You haev a bunch of intelligent, dedicated and partisan people who want to be active and helpful but also want to be able to effectively communicate. Not a massive request --- talking to your volunteer base and small donor base. Yet the PA Democratic Party seems like it is not inclined to do this even as MyDD and Atrios, two very successful, very large and partisan blogs are PA based and willing to advocate for open debate.

I just do not get it. As PSoTD notes, this is a subject that should not be dropped. A lot of the reformist and Deaniac base (speaking as one) are not particulary frustrated about Democratic policy objectives or ideology per se; they are concerned about process and against the bossing of primaries and top down command and control systems. I also believe that the vast, overwhelming majority of the reformist grassroots activists are also extreme pragmatists, we will get in line after we fall in and out of love. But give us this chance to fall in and out of love, for we are not robots; without this chance, even a successful partisan gain is not protection for the command and controllers.

Dollar Dump?

Via Angry Bear the BIS released their quarterly central bank deposits report. Asian Central Banks are limiting their exposure to US dollars in bank deposits, and this includes China. And why not, as Stirling Newberry ably demonstrates that there really are no unusual or profitable returns in the US compared to the rest of the world once you take into account either realized currency re-valuations OR the future impact of currency revaluations. My basic question is where is the money that is being lent to the US going, as we are sending dollars out of the country and they are going somewhere. Some of it is going straight to OPEC and other oil exporters, while the rest is going somewhere other than deposits --- maybe straight up reserves, or more likely, as Warren Buffet is talking his position that the US is selling itself out cheap.


Monday, March 07, 2005


Before I start this post, I need to pick a wedge from my asbestos underwear --- thank you. The previous post has drawn a massive amount of response with insightful comments by Maria of 2 Political Junkies, Jonathan Potts and Mr.M of Left of Center all throwing in interesting, insightful and passionate comments.

These three commentators are Democrats who each hold several principles very dear and also are extremely pragamatic as I believe we all want to see a Democratic Senate because that will at least increase the odds of seeing our principles as expressed by policy to be acted upon than under the current Republican domination of the federal government. I am assuming good motives of everyone here and I am assuming pragmatism interacting with principles that has produced the conversation below.

Maria, at her blog, 2 Political Junkies writes: ""But as everyone should know by now, the way to garner a Democratic win statewide is to get enough Dems to come out and vote in Philly and the Burgh. And how, may I ask, does anyone intend to accomplish this by running an anti-choice Democratic candidate?....Just who do you think does the GOTV in PA's two biggest cities? If you have any doubt, just go and volunteer for a Democratic candidate (like I do) and you will find that much of the grunt work is being done by PRO-CHOICE WOMEN. Her argument, derived from her principles, is that the ground game that is needed to equalize the currently better GOP GOTV campaign is based on motivated pro-choice women. Long term self-interest of the Democratic party implies that it is a damm good thing to keep these volunteers motivated OR find equally motivated and competent replacements who derive their motivation from other sources. Telling these volunteers to shut up and take one for the team is okay every now and then, but not when it is the consistent pattern of behavior.

Mr. M looks at the team nature of politics and approaches the entire issue as an extreme pragmatist; politics is very rarely about getting everything that you want, but more often it is about getting something of what you want, and there is a wide array of options and trade-offs. A Casey Senate term is a more progressive than a Santorum Senate term, even if both are way less progressive and desirable from my point of view than a moderate to liberal Democrat holding the Santorum seat from 2006 to 2012. Mr. M is arguing that we need to "practice the politics of patience" and take "slightly better while working towards for good" approach to politics. He is more of a trade-off voter in this case, if he was to live in Pennsylvania. Jonathan Potts is arguing in the same vein but with different examples, and different priorities.

Everyone here is being pragmatic, they are just focusing on different levels of pragmatism; Maria is looking at the ground level of actually getting any Democrat elected to state wide office and the creation, nurturing and continued health of the Democratic volunteer base. Mr. M and Jonathan Potts are looking at the issue of pragmatism from a national perspective. In this case, I think they are wrong, for it is extraordinarily unlikely that a Casey term will be the marginal seat in 2006 or 2008. Pissing off the volunteer base by continually Sister Soulijahing the foot activists is a damm dumb idea --- one often proposed by Al From ---. If after an open and contested primary, the Democratic voters of PA decide that Casey is their choice, then let's get back into line but let us have that choice first, and see if Casey makes any movements to addressing the extremely legitimate concerns as expressed by Maria.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Casey In

Bob Casey, Jr. has announced that he is in for the Senate race against Santorum. I like his initial statements about Social Security; I hope that the Democrats can nationalize this issue effectively for '06. On other news, Barbara Hafer has withdrawn from the race after announcing earlier this week. I want a contested primary if for no other reason than to get ideas out and to get a lot of free publicity for the eventual nominee --- this worked for the Republicans last cycle, while the CW of uncontested primaries as a good thing failed miserably for Democrats.

Army Recruiting

The active duty Army missed its recruiting objective for February by roughly 28%. This is a massive drop-off and I have to believe that this is a one-off trend as there is no previous month where recruitment was below quota. The Army Reserves saw a monthly shortfall of 25% also.

This is confirmation of a trend that all of the land combat services are facing significant recruiting pressure as the Marines have missed their monthly quota for two months in a row, the Reserves are seriously hurting and have been for a while now, and now the Regular Army has a horrendous month. Any one data point can be explained away, but there is a signifigance that everyone is unable to convince healthy non-college bound teenagers and young adults that Iraq is worth "IT".

And guess what, if there are a couple more jobs reports that generate enough (262,000 initial) jobs to actually increase workforce participation rates, recruiting becomes even harder on economic grounds.


Thursday, March 03, 2005

Santorum, Social Security and 2006

According to a messaging phone call with the National Review, Senator Santorum is still "optimistic" about deforming and looting Social Security. He is arguing that the American people just need to listen to Bush engage in a high energy rollout of the koan like plan that is not a plan to significantly divert cash flow from the Social Security committments and defaulting on both an explicit promise and the implicit social contract that was drawn up on Greenspan's recommendations in 1983.

Right now the polling is looking good for the Democrats. Most importantly, people overwhelming distrust Bush personally on this issue. However, that has not particulary stopped the administration from trying to get what it wanted before. There is still a lot of fighting left to go Hesoid is worried about the coming Dem screw job where Bush will take credit for whatever comes out of the entire mess as his original plan.

The resulting fiasco of a bill will be declared pristine and truly American as Apple Pie, underage drinking and driving fast cars without a muffler, and opposition will be the greatest threat to American life EVAH. This, I believe, is what Santorum must be counting on; that the GOP can run the same scam that they ran on Medicare, they ran on Iraq, they ran on NCLB --- get something that sounds really good, well labeled and for a cause that everyone agrees with, frontload some benefits, and defer the costs for as long as possible. However, I do not think this scheme will work well as the Democrats actually are organized and acting as an opposition party. We still need to convince the public that Democrats hold firm principles, as argued by Democracy Corps, but I am convinced that we will be able to do this.

Barbera Hafer has thrown her hat into the ring and Bob Casey is dithering right now --- although that is too strong of a word to use 20 months out of the general election, and 14 months from the primary. That would put at least three candidates in the race, including Chuck Pennachio. An open and contested primary with a pre-existing agreement that not too many knives will be twisted too hard in random backs, would be a damm good demonstration of the different principles and priorities within the Democratic Party of Pennsylvania. Each of the three declared candidates have different strengths, beliefs and priorities of principals. That is to be expected, and I think it shows the strength of a party to have some tension and public examination of the different assumptions. Pennsylvania has had enough of Senator Santorum, so let's win both the seat and fight back against the perception that Democrats will do anything to win a seat. Let's show the public that there are differences of principle within the Democratic party with an open and contested primary.


Productivity and Wages

An interesting revision just came in this morning. Productivity in the fourth quarter grew at a revised annualized rate of 2.1% versus the initial estimate of 0.8%. While this 2.1% growth rate is a slow down from the previous super hot growth of productivity it is still a damm respectable number (the low cost estimate of Social Security assumes 1.9% productivity growth long term).

However wages are not moving in line with productivity growth. The last two months saw minimal real wage gains despite the good productivity numbers. This is the norm in the Bush economy; good productivity, good output numbers, mediocre at best employment numbers, and plenty of slack in the labor market. Kash at Angry Bear, as usual, has a great post and graph that examines the divergence. During the 1990s, and before, productivity and wage gains tended to march fairly close to each other and showed a tendancy to quickly regress back together when there was divergence. This makes sense as a perfectly competive economy will see people paid what their marginal production value is and productivity increases that value as time goes on.

However since 2001, there is a new trend in place. Real hourly compensation is growing at a much slower rate now than during the '90s while productivity is increasing at a much faster rate than it was in the early 90s. Compensation and wages are behaving as if we are still stuck in economic neutral, while productivity is behaving as if we are still in a boom. So what is going on here?

A couple of different things. First, if we look at the National Income Table** we see that the ratio of compensation to corporate profits has been decreasing and thus, profits have been grabbing a larger proportion of the national income pie, and thus grabbing a big chunk of the new income being generated by the output gains fueled by productivity gains. Secondly, I think that the tax structure has definately given strong incentives to favor capital. (estate tax repeal, dividend tax reductions etc.)

Let's be simplistic here and assume two different stories. The first one is that we draw straight line projections. The second, and more interesting projection is a freeze frame projection where wage growth and productivity growth grow at the same rate from tomorrow onwards. These two scenarios will be used to look at Social Security long term.

The first projection increases the gap between wages and productivity growth at an exponential rate (base+3% annual growth)^75 years v. (base+1.5% annual growth)^75 years is a massive difference. The increased productivity and income being generated that normally would be distributed to labor, would instead be distributed as corporate profits and returns to capital. It is an economic agenda of an enriched aristocracy where productivity growth positively diverges from wage/compensation growth.However, it does not seem politically likely that this scenario could last for that long as it is ripe for basic economic populism of the lines-- you're busting your ass, these stats back up what you know is true, and you're not able to make the American dream work for you much less your kids.

The more interesting projection for Social Security wonks and junkies (I can walk away any time I want.. I swear, but just one more time please) is a freeze frame projection where both wages and productivity grow at the same rate and never converge again. This scenario would lead to a lower cost scenario to emerge for Social Security as long term benefits are tied to an adjusted indexed wages (the AIME). If wages grow slower than the economy as a whole, the new set of annual AIMES and initial benefits get proportionally cheaper. Currently Social Security actuaries assume wages and productivity converge and move in long term lockstep.

I do not think that there is a long term possibility of a significant wedge between compensation and productivity growth as both political and economic concerns dictate against that, but a continuation of this wedge would further push back any possibility of a Social Security crisis.

UPDATE Andrew Samwick at Vox Baby has some interesting thoughts on this issue. Defer to his expertise as he is an honest to god real expert, but I think that he is assuming real lower wage growth rates while I am assuming relatively lower wage growth rates with good productivity: He is seeing a smaller economic pie, while I am seeing a pie with just sized pieces being cut up. That is the difference in the two posts.
** BEA Table 1.12 Table of National Income by Type of Income (1983-2002)

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