Saturday, February 25, 2006

Gone Snorkeling

I will be snorkeling, sipping Pina Coladas and otherwise enjoying a decadent honeymoon with my amazing wife for the rest of the week --- so I'll see you on the flipside.

Ridiculous

Within a week of meeting my wife, I wanted to introduce her to my friends, my family, and everyone else, for I felt a rush that I had never felt before. I had the certainity that somehow this amazing woman who I had just met was going to be very important to me, and I wanted to share this joy and the complete bubble bath of endorphins and serotonin waterfalls that is the physical sensation of falling in love. And I was able to do so fairly quickly as she met my friends and family within three months. When I introduced her to them, all I had to fear was the typical fears of a guy bringing a girl home --- my friends having long memories of all the really dumb things that I have done or said and broaching the perpetual favorites into conversations at the wrong [right] time and me without the credible threat of massive future retaliation as the relevant friends were already in long term relationships heading towards marriage, and my family being my family. Again the normal worries of introducing someone new and important to everyone.

I had it easy, as I just had to worry about these issues, which although somewhat terrifying, are minor in comparison to the great worries of life. My friends approved of my girlfriend and starting giving all the great advice that only good friends can give --- mainly ---"She rocks, so you better not fuck this up." Three years later, we were married. Our wedding day was easily the happiest day of my life, and I think once I stopped trying to help my wife set up the table centerpieces, it became the happiest day of her life also. We want children in our home, and we'll want them relatively soon. Our only worry at that point is a matter of plumbing and coming up with a good boy's name, as we already have a girl's name that we like a lot. These are deeply personal decisions and concerns and are respected as such by society and the state. This is how it should be.

However, this is not the case for every loving couple who wants to bring children into good homes. This is wrong. USA Today (via FireDogLake) reports that Pennsylvania is one of sixteen states that has some legislative attempt to ban gay couples from adopting children.

I look at my friends who, like my wife and I, are in loving, caring, stable, happy relationships and who want children, and I can see no valid and moral reason for some of them to be condemned and cast aside just because of whom they love. This may set me out as a flaming liberal, and on this count, I gladly plead full responsibility and acceptance of that label, as I believe that America should not discriminate, should not restrict the rights of others as long as those actions do not impinge on further individuals' rights.

Right now Pennsylvania is trying to pass a discriminatory and rights restricting amendement to the commonwealth's constitution, that enshrines a ban against gay marriage or any incident there-of. The PA ACLU is one of the organizations leading this fight. I know and applaud State Senator Jay Costa is with us on this one. We need to contact him and other friendly legislaturers to pressure them towards pressuring their colleagues to fulfilling the American charge of becoming a more inclusive and therefore a more perfect union.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Importance of the Shrine

Stealing this entirely from Brian Ulrich @
American Foot Prints
:

The two largest branches of Islam also disagree over what
the nature of that leadership should have been, with the Shi'ites
believing that God sent Imams, beings filled with the light of
creation who were to guide the people toward him.

Most Shi'ites today belong to the Twelver sect, which takes its name
from the number of imams they recognize. The al-Askari Shrine
important to the spirituality of the last three. Ali al-Hadi, the
tenth imam, was seen as a threat by the ruling Abbasid dynasty, and
forced to leave his home in Medina and live in Samarra, then the
capital, where he was under constant guard by the caliphs' Turkish
soldiers. He died there, as did his son Hassan al-Askari, the
eleventh imam. (Shi'ites claim both were poisoned.)

At the time of his death, Hassan had a five-year-old son, Muhammad.
Shortly after his father's funeral, this son vanished. In Twelver
theology, this is the Occultation, and Muhammad is the Hidden Imam,
who continues to guide and protect believers and will one day return
as the Mahdi to inaugurate an era of peace and justice. The shrine is
the burial place of Ali al-Hadi and Hassan al-Askari, and next to the
cave where the Occultation took place. Because this is the period
between Ashura and Arba'in, this is roughly analogous to someone
destroying the site of the Crucifixion during Lent.

Laying out an Iraq Scenario

I really, do try to be optimistic about Iraq, but as I read reality, it is delusional to maintain an optimistic state for all that long. The past two days of rioting, sectarian shootings, political and military escalations and isolations fall under the category of "really not good things"


Juan Cole wrote the following this morning:

Astonishingly, Sistani seems to be threatening to deploy his own militia, Ansar Sistani, if the Iraqi government doesn't do a better job of protecting Shiites and their holy sites. One lesson Sistani will have taken from the bombing of the Askariyah shrine in Samarra is that he is not very secure in Najaf, either. But all we need in Iraq is yet another powerful private sectarian militia................
Abdul Aziz al-Hakim said during a press conference in Baghdad that the statements of the US ambassador in Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, had "contributed to greater pressure [on the Shiites] and gave a green light to terrorist groups, and he therefore bears a part of the responsibility." Al-Hakim has long wanted to unleash the Badr Corps, his Shiite paramilitary, the Badr Corps, but has been checked by the Americans so far.

One of the major strategic crisis that the US military in Iraq has to worry about is it supply lines. The western route from the Red Sea to Jordan and then through the Anbar desert is not a good and stable logistical route because that is where the Sunni Arab insurgency is the strongest. Also there are few good routes and the infrastructure as a whole is not that good. The Syrian route is a no go for the US military because the Syrian government won't allow US logistics convoys to land on the Mediterranean Coast and then pass through. This makes good Syrian strategic sense. The same applies for the eastern routes into Baghdad from Iran. The northern route from Turkey is a decent route but there are a couple of problems with it. The first is that there are few good roads, secondly Baghdad and the major FOBs are a long, long, long way from the Turkish ports that could supply the US military, and finally, the last 100 + miles of that journey go straight through Sunni Arab territory. The final, and by far the largest supply route is the Southern route, where supplies land in Kuwait City, US convoys form up at the Kuwait/Iraq border, and then drive their way up to the major FOBs that surround Baghdad. From these central distribution nodes, supplies then get pushed forward to combat units in the central part of the country.

The southern supply line carries the overwhelming majority of US supplies into the country and its capacity can not be easily or quickly replaced if those highways are cut. This is a strategic nightmare for the US, for the US military is an extremely intensive user of consumable supplies. If those supply lines are cut, then within days forward US units will be running short on fuel, ammunition, and spare parts. US airlift is sufficient to make sure that US units are not overrun or besieged, but any active presence and patrolling that forward deployed units are doing would have to be sharply curtailed if US supplies lines were severely crimped if not cut entirely.

If US units can not or will not patrol, and Iraqi government forces get their civil war on, desert, or find a damn good reason to spend the next week painting the rocks outside of the barracks as they keep their heads down, then any semblance of credibility that the US may have attempted to gain through the ink blot strategy will be destroyed. The removal of active patrols would allow an easy assaination, intimidation, and rolling up of informers, cooperators, and marginal deciders by the insurgents. Once the umbrella of public safety is pierced, the public trust in the promises of protection made by the counter-insurgent force to protect its allies loses credibility.

This is one of the things that occurred in April of 2004. The combination of the Fallujah assault and the first Sadrist rebellion forced US units to scramble. The Sadrists were the greater threat because they had the ability to sit on the US southern supply route at Najaf. It was for this reason that the 1st Armored Division was turned south and told to clear the cities that the Mahdi Army had seized. US supply lines were imperiled between the combination of ambushes, and bridges being dropped. At one point the US was within forty eight hours of having to evacuate the Green Zone due to supply problems.

The US supply lines are even more tenuous today because there are fewer international units in the south that could perform basic security functions. The Poles are pulling out, the Spanish are gone, the Ukranians have reduced their contingent. There is less “slack” today than two years ago. That slack was supposed to be taking up by the Badr Corps --- I’m sorry, the super duper new Iraqi Army, but if those forces decide today is time to engage in a civil war, those supply lines become extraordinarily exposed. This may be one of the reasons why most of a US brigade was left in Kuwait as a surge force --- it can pinch up the highways to clear the southern choke points while US forces can move south from Baghdad.

This is a low probability event, although the probability has increased in the past three days, but due to its high costs, it will draw a large US response.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Foundation query

Over the past week or so, several little birdies have perched on my shoulder and whispered some very interesting rumors to me concerning the Pittsburgh Foundation. I have done some digging and am coming up with dry holes, but the birdies are well placed to overhear the chirping that is going on, so I am looking for some confirmation of the following info:

The Pittsburgh Foundation is undergoing a significant redirection of its mission. All or a significant portion non-restricted and non-committed funds will go towards reducing the racial achievement gap in Pittsburgh Public Schools effective immediately. This measure will significantly reduce cultural institution, economic and community development and health programs funding

I know that the Pittsburgh Foundation has been moving towards a more educational focus over the past couple of years, for as of 2004, the biggest long term grant it had ever made was to an educational service support non-profit. However, as the most recent grant list (PDF) shows, the Pittsburgh Foundation has a strong tradition of being a broad service provider. So if anyone can confirm or deny what my sources are telling me, drop me a line at fester986@yahoo.com

Samarra Shrine Attack

I have to echo Steve Gilliard's reaction to the news that some insurgent group blew up one of the holiest Shi'ite shrines in Iraq. His reaction was "This is bad" and "Holy shit." It is not the deepest, or most analytical piece I have ever seen, but it is a good summation, especially as new news comes into play.

The Daily Star of Lebanon is reporting that Shi'ite crowds have attacked at least 90 Sunni mosques.


In Baghdadalone more than 50 moaques were attacked, three of which were destroyed with explosives, The Iraqi Islamic Party said. mobs killed three clerics and three worshippers in the assaults on 27 Sunni mosques.

Crowds machine-gunned numerous religious sanctuaries and torched at least one, the officer added.

Elsewhere, Shiites took over more than 40 Sunni mosques, hoisting banners with new names over the sites.

In the Shiite south, a crowd stormed the Basra offices of the Islamic Party, killing two people and wounding 14 others, police said.


Grand Ayatollah Sistani silently appealed for relative peace and quiet, but for the first time that I can remember, he has been effectively ignored. At the same time the Sadrist militia, the Mahdi Army, is back out on the streets, and the Badr Brigades and other non-Sadrist, but also Shi'ite militias are rumbling that they do not trust the Iraqi government to provide basic security. This attack will continue the disintegration of the moral authority of the central government and its claims to have a legitimate monopoly on violence. Up to this point, most of its effective and quasi-effective units were reflagged Kurdish peshmerga and Shi'ite Badr Brigade militia units, but this trend is now at risk.

Beyond the probable emboldening of Shi'ite militia units, which is contrary to one of the major demands of the Sunni population, this attack, and the reaction will continue to marginalize any chance of significant Sunni Arab participation in the political process. The Washington Post reports:

In Baghdad, Shiite militia fighters converged upon at least one Sunni Arab mosque and the headquarters of the Sunni-led Iraqi Islamic Party, witnesses said. Gunfire broke out at both sites, sending families in the neighborhood diving to the floors of their homes to escape bullets. U.S. military helicopters backed Iraqi security forces as they tried to get the Shiite militia fighters there to withdraw.


Other press reports indicate several other Sunni political offices were attacked in the south. As Swopa notes;

They [Al-Quaida in Iraq] appear to have figured that out, and realized that they can accomplish the same goal (keeping Iraqi Sunnis out of nonviolent politics) by pushing the Shiites further against the wall. And so the most hard-line groups on both sides keep becoming more dominant, just as they have steadily for the past three years.


Politics work only when there is some degree of trust that allows for deals to be made. If one side does not believe that the other is credible and there are no other enforcement mechanisms in place, then participation is pointless time wasting. Right now the Shi'ite parties have no reason or political ability to even think about includind any of the Sunni Arab parties in the government, thereby contributing towards the continued spiral of chaos --- Sunni Arabs are excluded, therefore they gain no benefits of governance, therefore they continue to fight, while Shi'ites have the benefits of governance, but are under constant stress and no one can afford to take the risk of engaging with publicly seen to be non-credible actors to get out of this cycle. Rinse, repeat, and continue until exhaustion sets in.

This attack is not good news because of the location of the shrine. If the attack had taken place in Karbala or Najaf, areas where the primary security responsibility is local, it would not be as damaging to the ability of the US to credibly claim that it is a legitimate provider of security. However Samarra is a city in the central part of the country and security is provided by US troops. The US is in the process of a third attempt of handing security off to Iraqi police, after the first two attempts failed miserably but the security responsibility is still the US Army's. An attack of this sort illustrates how poor security is in the central part of the country.

There is a chance that there will be a positive upside to this attack in that there will be moral dismomemtum to the symbolic attack against the Al-Quaeda in Iraq group and fellow travelers, which then would lead to unify the rest of the country, including the home grown insurgents, in disgust and positive nationalistic feelings of unity. Therefore creating common ground and future crediblity and trust which would enhance the positive probalities of the political process. However, I find this unlikely given the immediate response by the Shi'ite communities. Everyone feels that they are under pressure, under seige and over stressed. That is not a good environment for making deals.

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Monday, February 20, 2006

2 Good Rules

A friend of mine from college just sent me a great rule:

but then again I refuse to do
anything serious before 3pm on mondays .


And Angry Drunk Bureaucrat has laid down the law, the Alpha and Omega, the Id and the Ego, The Source and the Destination of all rules:

Rule #0: The Rules of Bureaucracy are mutable, non-canonical, non-ordinal, and contradictory, except in the cases where they are not. [cf. Beggers v. Choosers, 207 U. S. 161 (1907)]


Two good rules to live by, or at least assume that some proportion of the population that you are working with lives by.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Woohoo

My punk rock piece on the nature of creativity and conversations within a fixed versus expanding community got picked up by the National Journal's Blogometer.

Wahoo!!!Woohoo!!!

Cernig argues against my thesis, and rather convincingly and with way more music cred than I have:

The real punks are the ones who are showing up on the doorstep of the A-Listers and making noise. There used to be an unwritten rule in punk rock - if you called yourself a punk, there would always be someone there who would call you a poser.
Which, I have to say, is exactly how I remember it.

But the real punks were always the ones with a mission, too. It wasn't about the money and it wasn't always about the love of music. It was about a third option that Glenn Reynolds, as he riffs on a similiar theme, fails to contemplate. The best of the punk movement (at least in Britain, and I admit it may have been more hedonistic in the U.S.) was about the politics and the protest. Bands like the Cramps and the Clash, events like the Rock Against Racism concerts, protest movements giving rise to cross-fertilizations like the punk alliances with the likes of acid-bands Hawkwind and Gong which gave rise to the heady free festivals like Stonehenge and Glastonbury and eventually to the whole "techno" rave movement. Back then, we were faced in the UK by a regime every bit as authoritarian, as fat-cat and as fascist as the current Bush regime and the feelings ran similiarly high. Punk began as a backlash against the musak that said nothing that was in our hearts as that regime ruined our young lives and almost immediately became the voice and direction of our outrage.

True punk reached out, was grassroots active and eclectic in it's alliances and influences. You didn't have to be a punk to be a friend of Punk - just have that protest singing loud in you.

So it should be with the Left of the current blogosphere.


Seeing as he has been there and had the mohawk to prove it, I defer to him that punk as a conceptualization will always be a vital element of some part of the creative means of communication; however its prominence and salience across time will widely vary.

Duh

I just opened up my Yahoo homepage and saw the following screen capture with a couple of additions:



So what is the bigger surprise that our media is reporting --- riots often have surface causes that trace back to underlying causes or that men inflate their sexual prowess/ability/history.

I have trouble deciding.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Hair Metal Blogs?

Are we due for some monster ballad spewing, hair spray using metal band blogs as there is a debate on whether or not the progressive blogosphere's short time as the scene of "punk" political action may be coming to an end.

Jane at Firedoglake in January noted the following about the blog scene right now:

We both concurred that the blog world has the feel right now that the punk rock scene of the late 70's had, and for much the same reasons.

The music business in the 70's had grown bloated and moribund and disconnected from its audience. Record executives busied themselves buying Rolexes for REO Speedwagon and paying millions for Casablanca records and nobody cared. They were perfectly horrified at the spectacle of kids paying $3 to see the Clash play a benefit for Marxist youth at the Geary Temple in 1978, but even as a kid it was perfectly obvious where the energy was, where the zeitgeist was shifting. Punk rock became a beacon for creative people of all walks, and oh so many years later the shadow it casts looms far greater than the corporate culture merchants of the time were able to envision.........

creativity is a very fluid thing and when it becomes difficult to achieve any kind of satisfaction in a particular medium the quality talent will siphon off into an arena that allows it expression........

We thought punk rock and the energetic counterculture it produced would last for ever, but it didn't. It was over quite quickly.


Already, we saw in the New York Metro article the whining about how being a derivative of a derivative style of blogging is not allowing people to strike it rich. Forget the fact that there are very few rich bloggers who are doing unique and immensely high value added work at the same time either. My colleague, Cernig has repeatedly, and effectively railed against the nature of the network embedded features of blogging in that there is a massive first mover advantage to anyone who can credibly stake out some piece of blogging intellectual real estate even if there are superior content producers who come online several months to several years later. There are exceptions of course, as exhibited by FireDogLake and more recently Glenn Greenwald who have both created a new space for themselves at a very high level of traffic and linkages.

This diaryat D-Kos complains that too many politicians are coming into the conversation and thus are elbowing outsiders or self-perceived outsiders aside. I see in that diary "D-Kos is losing its essence man, selling out to the politicians....."

Mystery Pollster links to a Gallup survey on blog participation and the conclusion is that there was next to no positive growth in readership over the past year. There has been shifting and redistribution, but very little growth. Chris Bowers, looking at a slightly different data set, concludes that progressive blog readership has plateaued for the past six months or so.

Once growth stops, the nature of the conversation and interactions changes. One of the first pieces that I wrote that got picked up by a blog with more than ten readers, looked at the Dem Meet-up numbers through the Fall of 2003. By November, I had concluded that " Dean is fundamentally tapped out.... but he can not count on the internet to provide new sources of support for him any more" and at that point the energy of the campaign which was very high got converted into a traditional (and poorly run) one to many broadcast campaign. And then he fizzled. This potentiality exists here also.

One of the more creative, perceptive and confident voices of the blogosphere, Stirling Newberry, has already started to see the fluid give and take become a bit more viscous and a lot less satisfying as the energy that has been created in the past three years has turned both inward and outwards, but recently more dangerously inward, and thus the spectre of the overweening indy cred comparing music store clerk phenomna.


Scott Shields of MyDD lays out an elegant argument that the zeitgeist is still DIY punkish, but I fear that he could be the magazine cover contrary indicator in that the scene is so crowded that no one goes there anymore.

So are we do to see blogger Quiet Riot and Warrant emerging; or have we already seen that with the Denton blog empire of Gawker, Wonkette etc.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Inverting Incentives

I was at a very boring meeting this morning where the primary speaker was just about as funny as I tend to be when I am trying to be clever. He launched a couple of lame one-liners which did not prompt even a chuckle or a grimmace of feigned pain, and then jokingly said "Anyone who does not laugh at the next joke will be forced to leave"

This is a complete inversion of incentives here, and it was symptomatic of the entire thought process that made this morning's meeting less productive than it could have been.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Yield Curves for May

I saw at Angry Bear this Market Watch item with the following lede:

The Treasury yield curve turned completely upside down early Friday, pushing the 2-year yield above the yields of both the 10-year and 30-year instruments, intensifying a debate over whether the inversion signals a looming recession.

The inverted yield curve effectively undermines the incentive for making long-term loans.


Kash notes that this is a full inversion of the yield curve

"Given that this morning the 30-year yield is 4.48%, the 10-year yield is 4.52%, the 2-year yield is 4.63%, and the 6-month T-bill yield is 4.67%, I guess that fairly qualifies as a modestly, but fully inverted yield curve. I stand by my earlier assessment that this is a Not-Very-Good-Sign for the economy in 2006.


Dave Altig at Macroblog performs a vital and useful service in posting weekly implied short term interest rate probabilities. This week's probabilities are not pretty:



The easiest interpretation of this chart is that there is a slightly better than 90% chance that there is at least one more quarter point hike in short term rates by May 2006. Right now there is little upwards pressure against the long end of the yield curve as there is significant demand for the newly reissued 30 year T-bills by major institutional investors. So it looks reasonably likely that we could be seeing at least another three months of inversion and that this inversion could deepen.

The effects are fairly predictable --- a whole lot less money available to be lent out long term, as banks make their money lending long, borrowing short because short rates tend to be lower than long rates on average, and it is really dumb way to quickly lose money. If credit growth continues to slow down or decline as it has been doing for a couple months now, the consumer fuel expansion looks damn anemic as General Glut points out that a constant savings rate of 0% instead of the negative savings rate that we saw for the year would have cut yearly growth in half. Cheap loans are getting tougher to find, and therefore marginal consumption is getting tougher to fund, especially as the US consumer is maxed out on supposedly cheap debt within a historical context according to the US Fed Reserve's Debt Service Ratios.

We are in a squeeze here, and this squeeze is beyond the personal. Brad Setser wrote the following about the federal budget:

shift has already been programmed in - the US took out lots of cheap external debt from 2002-2004 that is in the process of being repriced, and we are continuing to add to our debt stock.


We are in a rising rate environment where there is very little cushion at the personal or governmental level. The boom times of the Bush economy have been consumed by debt and eating the near and long future. The near future from 2002-2003 is today. We might luck out if the Chinese Central Bank continues to recycle dollars into yuan and back into dollars, but that just adds another speed on the commodities price inflation (oil et al) that has been going on for a couple of years now. We also might luck out if every one else in the world goes into recession or at least significant below trend and potential growth while continuing to shovel money our way. But do you really want to count on this type of luck?

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Cascading Systems Failure (Pt.3)

Baghdad is home to roughly a fifth of the entire Iraqi population, and it is the center of Iraqi non-petroleum industry. It was a reasonably modern city at one point in the not too distant past. Now it is undergoing a repeated series of systems disruptions. These system disruptions are not entirely caused by insurgent attacks, although second and third order effects can be linked back to insurgent attacks that created new or exploited pre-exisiting chokepoints and societal bottlenecks. These disruptions feed on themselves in a positive feedback loop.

Right now half a million people in Baghdad are without clean water due to infrastructure breakdowns. These infrastructure breakdowns have minimal direct guerilla input, but the high costs of providing any security for infrastructure projects combined with limited funds due to the successful anti-pipeline campaign is showing its effects here.

"It's the first time we don't have water during winter," said Jawad Hakeem, resident of a Baghdad suburb. "They say it's a problem with the pipes, but I believe that careless maintenance and corruption are the main factors behind the shortage."


The insurgency sees three direct positives here. The first is the direct physical effects of cutting water supplies; it reduces industry, economic activity, and diverts government resources from other projects. The second is illustrated by the above quote --- individuals believe that their government is ineffective, incompetent and corrupt. Finally the systems failure in the water delivery system will increase systemic stress on other systems. For instance, the Iraqi medical system is already under severe strain with significant brain drain and constant trauma operations; low fresh water availability will lead to an increase in waterborne diseases thus placing more stress on a critical subsystem of a modern state.

Oil and refined fuels are another area of critical systems disruptions. We learned via Tim Lambert that a signicant amount of new electical capacity that has been installed in Iraq is next to useless because there is no capability of the newly installed units to be fueled. There is no fuel for the generators because of a combination of US incompetence (not listening to the Iraqi engineers and technocrats on what makes sense in Iraq in 2003 is kicking us in the nuts) and high levels of violence that prevents relatively "easy" fixes from being made to the fuel distribution network. Instead, these generators which cost a third of a billion dollars in lost opportunity cost sit still or consume $85/bbl Turkish diesel fuel. The price is that high because of the high transportation costs that are directly related to the lack of security.

And if you remember a previous post of mine, that Turkish diesel is no longer reliable supplier because the Iraqi government can not pay for their orders with cash on the barrel, and their credit is not that good.

Right here are three examples of systems being disrupted in order to create interacting ripple effects that are targeted against both the physical means of supporting a modern quasi-industrial state, and the moral support of the current political order.

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Friday, February 03, 2006

Eccentric Friends

One of my friends will be turning 29 again in the near future and the following line was in the birthday announcement:

No gifts please,
but I will accept orally recited haikus in praise of my legacy. Realize
many of you are very busy currently, so if you cannot attend, all that I
ask is that you respond with your regrets in limerick form.


Now I am a very bad poet, so haiku shall be difficult, and limerick worse --- can I just reply in free verse.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

A good idea

I am stealing the rest of this post from PSoTD:

Dear John Stewart, I have a suggestion for your show.

I think you should create a brand new awards show and hold it on your program one night. This show would actually allow viewers to vote for nominees before the award announcements on your program.

The award? Why, The Toady Awards, of course! These would be given to "news" people who most reverently accept without question the information fed to them from "sources" within the scope of their reporting. Award categories could include:

Toady of the Year (of course)
Best Supporting Toady for Republican Party Spin
Best Supporting Toady for Democratic Party Spin

Print Toady of the Year
Television Toady of the Year
Radio Toady of the Year

Lifetime Toady Achievement
Rookie Toady of the Year

I'm sure there are other categories that would make great television. Before anyone dismisses this as just being mean, realize that these "news" people live in worlds somewhat insulated from readers or viewers, and might find this useful feedback. Or, it could just be funny!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Things I learned today

Just a quick punch post:

  • Campaigns do not not run on money. That is an additive to the caffeine needed.
  • I am no longer in grad school and thus I require sleep.
  • The Unpaid Punditry Corps was a failure as a group blog multi-partisan project. However it has a good burst of young campaign operatives, with myself, Goose at Comments from Left Field and now Lokester being hired by Tim Murphy (R-Upper St. Clair) as one of his senior campaign staffers. UPC would have been a damn interesting project if we were able to find some way to resolve the stress points that fractured the group dynamic.
  • I am convinced that the GOP generic campaign plan is to dust off all of the 2002 campaign material, and do a find replace all Aq's with An's. And I am very doubtful that the Democratic Party is expecting this.
  • I was not drinking but I wish I had when I heard a liberterian candidate support universal healthcare. I'm confused.
  • I vaguely remember most everything I learned in my one and only IT class and I actually had to use that stuff today at work. Scary --- it worked correctly.

Iraqi Desertion Rates

One of the long cants that President Bush enjoys is that "As Iraqi forces stand-up, we'll stand-down." The current plan is for the 115 Iraqi Army battalions to stand up by the end of this year, and to allow the US to drawdown at roughly the rate of one American unit for three similiar echelon Iraqi units that stand-up. However there are several significant hurdles to this cant. The most basic is the one of primary loyalty; how many recruits are signing up because they believe first and foremost in the same vision for Iraq as believed in D.C. compared to the number of recruits who are signing up because they want to get cheap training for their local defense militia, or they need a job. The second is the sheep/wolf filter is pretty damn bad, with numerous and continous stories about insurgents infilitrating the training process for intel purposes. The third is that the back-end support for the military forces is very poor with high levels of corruption and inefficiencies that basically render forward formations useless for sustained operations. Finally, and this is a factor that is derived from the first three factors, is most Iraqi units quickly lose cohesion.

The AP on Jan. 31, 2006 reported the following:

American commanders said an entire Iraqi brigade, about 2,500 troops, has taken
over parts of the nearby city of Khaldiyah and an adjacent agrarian area from
U.S. troops. But U.S. military advisers who mentor the Iraqi unit said just over
half those assigned Iraqi soldiers were actually present. The Iraqi brigade
already was short several hundred soldiers before they deployed to Anbar
province from the northern city of Mosul, the advisers said, and about 500 more
deserted when they arrived in late August and faced their first insurgent
attacks.....Moreover, an Iraqi army policy giving soldiers 10 days of leave each
month means even fewer soldiers are available. Fewer than 1,000 Iraqi troops are
consistently stationed in this area if the soldiers on leave are deducted — so
this brigade was in reality about a third of its size on paper. "A lot of them,
when they were told they were coming to Jazeera and Habaniyah, they quit," said
Marine Staff Sgt. Juan Santiago of New York City, speaking of two towns just
outside Bidimnah. Santiago saw more than half his trainees quit the Iraqi army
over the fall. The number of Iraqis in the brigade has stabilized over the past
two months as increased patrols have helped control the violence, Santiago said,
but "it's always possible that more will quit......" "Unfortunately, the (Iraqi)
officers here are much like their soldiers — they're not in it for any sense of
patriotism. They're doing this to get paid," Newell said.
This is not a new problem:

ParaPundit, has a good rundown of the desertion rate evidence at the second battle of Fallujah for Iraqi forces. The short story is that of the four Iraqi Army battalions that fought, three faced serious desertion problems of at least 25-50% even before the battle started. Only one battalion, composed of Peshmerga and Badr Brigade fighters was considered useful.

The GAO reported that 80% of Iraqis in government employ who were deployed to Western Iraq deserted in April 2004 during the combined Sadrist uprising and Fallujah fighting. (Thanks to Critical Montages for the digging on this one)

The Air Force Times reports that an Iraqi battalion that was hit hard in December 2005 saw an immediate 10% desertion, and as soon as a follow-up attack occurred, 40% of the battalion decided to go home.

American combat doctrine asserts that units at less than 90% of authorized strength will be mission limited, and units at 75% strength should be pulled back and reconstituted in order to be able to get things done. We know that the Iraqi Army due to the low level of banking development is consistently 30% on leave. This is a tough situation even if there was no desertion, and no combat refusal. However the Iraqi Army has a long history of desertions especially among the units with a significant proportion of Sunni Arab recruits that are deployed in mixed-areas or Sunni Arab dominated areas.

So I'll start believing Iraqification stories as a success if I don't see stories about battalion or large size units seeing 50% desertion rates for six months. I just don't think that this is going to happen any time soon if ever.

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New Iraq Poll and Analysis

There is a new poll of Iraqis concerning what they think about the United States, other coalition forces and desired future end states. The poll was commissioned by World Public Opinions.

Here are the highlights:

  • 80% of the country thinks that the US wants long term bases
  • 76% of the country thinks that the US would not withdraw even if it was asked by the Iraqi government to do so.
  • 70% of the country wants the US out in 2 years or less.
  • 47% of the country, including 88% of Sunnis approve of attacks against US forces:





There are a couple of things that I want to tease out of this poll. The first one is that this is another point in polling that should allow us to establish trend lines. These trendlines are not perfect as the polls that I am using are using different questions, and interview methodologies, but assuming that all of the polls are done professionally, broad generalizations can be derived from the data. I wrote in October 2005 about two other polls that had the following information in them:

British military sponsored poll --- 2005:

• Forty-five per cent of Iraqis believe attacks against British and American
troops are justified - rising to 65 per cent in the British-controlled Maysan
province;

• 82 per cent are "strongly opposed" to the presence of coalition
troops;

• less than one per cent of the population believes coalition forces are
responsible for any improvement in security;

• 67 per cent of Iraqis feel less
secure because of the occupation;

• 43 per cent of Iraqis believe conditions for
peace and stability have worsened;

• 72 per cent do not have confidence in the
multi-national forces.



Now there is also an April 2004 USA Today poll that had the following highlights:

  • 30% believed that attacks against US or British troops could at least occassionally be justified

  • 25% believed they were worse off while 51% believed they were better off

  • 57% wanted immediated withdrawal, and excluding the Kurds, the Arabs wanted withdrawal totalled 62-65%.
  • So what are the pull points here. There is a strong increase in the percentage of Iraqis who believe that attacks against US and UK forces are justifiable when compared against 2004 (pre-Fallujah). There has been no significant change in opinion on this matter between the British poll and the most recent post-election poll. The insurgency has a very strong base of support within the Sunni Arab population. Remember most insurgencies can continue to survive and cause damage if they can gain support from 10% of a population group; the Iraqi insurgency has had that figure covered for quite a long time now.

    Withdraw now has gone down a bit, but the withdrawal sentiment is extremely high. Timetables also seem to be very desirable feature of any American withdrawl. At the same time, I would be worried becaues in both the British poll and the WPO poll, there is very, very little trust in the word of the US or UK on major issues.

    Now moving onto the second point, I want to steal quite a bit of good short bit of analysis from Swopa at Needlenoes: Same country, different worlds

    The most noticable thing about all of the polling is that the Sunni Arab alienation and differentiation from the rest of Iraqi public opinion. Even in cases where the majority of opinion agrees with Sunni Arab majority opinion, Sunni Arab majority opinion is significantly higher than Kurd or Shi'ite Arab opinion. We already know that the Iraqi Kurdish population sees themselves as distinct and unique from the rest of Iraq, and now the Sunni Arab population is undergoing the same type of transformation and internal cohesion building that helps define a group of people of their internal likeness and external dissimiliarities.

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