Deinonychus antirrhopus: terrible claw


"In a nutshell, [Steve] is 100% unadulterated evil. I do not believe in a 'Satan', but this man is as close to 'the real McCoy' as they come." --Jamey Lee West

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© 2002 Steve Verdon


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Monday, September 30, 2002

Amiri Baraka: Disgusting.

Eugene Volokh on Torricelli Dropping out and the Democrats Questionable Strategy Well I'd call it dumb.

The Washington Post reports that "party officials are hopeful that the state Supreme Court would allow Democrats to replace Torricelli on the ballot with a new nominee." Yeah, that sounds like a good idea. Ask a state Supreme Court to intervene in a federal election by changing state law. Yeah, that's the ticket.

Gee, didn't they learn anything in Florida? I am not a lawyer, but it seems obvious to me that asking a State Supreme Court to change laws governing a Federal election is just asking for more trouble. I have to wonder if the Democrats have hired Homer Simpson as their election consultant.

Lean Left on Deterring Hussein Another lefty blog that discusses the issue of deterring Hussein. Here is part of Kevin Raybould's argument that Saddam Hussein can be deterred:

First, Saddam has a lot to lose. His life, his power, his ability to pass his power onto his son. Second, we already have proof that Saddam is deterable - the Gulf War. No less a luminary that John Major has flat out stated that Saddam was warned that any use of chemical or biological weapons would result in a nuclear response, and the continuation of the war until he was dead. Saddam did not use chemical or biological weapons. The arguments against deterrence must demonstrate why that equation no longer holds. Saletan does not even try.

Yes, I suppose this might be the case, although I wonder about the capabilities of his delievery vehicles. In the article linked to by this post of mine it seems clear that Hussein was using planes to deliver his chemical weapons. During the Gulf War the U.S. and coalition forces pretty much owned the skies. Saying he was deterred if he didn't even have delivery capability strikes me as a bit disengenuous.

Further, this does nothing to the argument of Hussein as a source of instability in the region. If Hussein develops nuclear capablities and his neighbors do not have them, then they are placed at a definite disadvantage. Also, are we willing to make the statement that if Hussein uses chemical or biological weapons at all we will respond with a nuclear response? If Hussein gets into it again with Iran and uses chemcial weapons, are we going to pop a nuke in Iraq? He did before and we didn't.

I am wondering how credible the threat is even for intra-regional conflicts. What about conventional attacks that use his weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) as a sort of shield. That is, what about if Saddam says, "Put up any resistance and I'll drop a nuke on you." Are we going to tell our allies, "Oh don't worry if he does we'll nuke him for you."? Gee, I am sure they'll feel lots better knowing that as they are incinerated a few minutes later so will Baghdad.

I don't know. Even with the deterrence during the Cold War there was still a war being fought! This isn't going to solve the problem, IMO, it is just going to change the nature of the game. Now we will be adding in a game of cat and mouse. Can Hussein keep his WMD projects hidden from the inspectors long enough to develop the WMDs (preferably nuclear) so that the whole issue becomes academic. That is the new game that will be played. Is it one we are willing to lose?

Also, check out my earlier post on deterrence and Hussein and the additional links there.

Turkish uranium suspects released Not only that, but apparently the two men have disappeared. Also, it is now 15 kilograms (about 33 pounds), but further testing is needed to see if it is indeed uranium and weapons grade at that.

Update: The material siezed is not uranium. Link

Correction: As Jesse notes in the comments section, the 15 kilograms became 140 grams.

This Makes me both Sick and Very Angry Even though the suspect is 12 years old if I were on that jury and the evidence indicated the suspect is guilty I'd have no problem locking him up forever. Of course, I have a son that is about to turn 5 and so my views on this are probably a little skewed (to say the least), but I don't think that this 12 year old should get another chance to do this to another child.

Student Arrested At N.J. Airport With Boxcutters & Scissors Great, just what we need.

Torricelli Drops Out of the Race Could this be the end of the Democrats single seat majority in the senate? Repuclicans are claiming that it is too late to put in another candidate, and that the only exception is for the death of a nominee. As for why he is dropping out:

Seven people pleaded guilty to making illegal donations to Torricelli's campaign in 1996. Chang told investigators he gave the senator Italian suits and a $8,100 Rolex watch, among other gifts, in return for Torricelli's intervention in business deals in North and South Korea.

Good riddence I say.

Brad DeLong’s Statistics I was cruising through Brad DeLong’s daily site when I came across this gem:

If I remember CPS sample sizes correctly, the Current Population Survey's point estimate of Black child poverty in 2001 of 30.2 percent comes with a 95-percent confidence bound of plus or minus 1.2 percent--that is, under classical statistical assumptions, there is a 95 percent chance that the range from 29.0 percent to 31.4 percent contains the true 2001 value. In 2000 the CPS's point estimate of Black child poverty was 31.2 percent, meaning that there is a 95 percent chance that the range between 30.0 percent and 32.4 percent contains the true 2000 value.

Now, the problem here isn’t the numbers, heck I have no idea if they are right or not. My problem is with his description of what a confidence interval is in classical statistics. Notice that DeLong uses the phrase, 95% chance. That is just flat out wrong. A 95% confidence interval basically means the following:

If you collect say 1,000 such samples as the one above and constructed 1,000 95% confidence intervals then about 95% of those intervals would contain the true value of the parameter you are trying to estimate.

Note what that says. It says that about 950 of the 1,000 intervals contain the true value of the parameter of interest. The kicker is you don’t know which 950 intervals do and which 50 do not. That is, the intervals either contain the parameter of interest or they don’t. The probabilities here are 0 and 1, or 0% and 100%. That is, a given interval either contains the parameter of interest with a 100% chance or it doesn’t. So when DeLong says that “there is a 95 percent chance that the range between 30.0 percent and 32.4 percent contains the true 2000 value” is false. Now, he might be right that true value of the percent of black children in poverty is between 30 and 30.2, but it is also entirely true that it could be outside that interval. Think of it this way, the confidence interval is basically a fixed interval, once you have the data, no imagine you toss a small bean bag and are trying to get it between the intervals. After your toss, the bean bag is either inside the interval or it isn’t. After your toss there is no more uncertainty, so a statement that, the bean bag is in the interval with a probability of .95 (95%) is ridiculous.

Is this important, I don’t know. I personally expect somebody at UC Berkley’s economic department (and who has written econometric papers) to know how to correctly articulate what a 95% confidence interval is.

Sunday, September 29, 2002

An Austrian Attack on Mathematical Models in Economics Well not really. The article attacks somewhat of a strawman. The article goes after the perfectly competitive market model. This model is an extreme model. Let me highlight some of the assumptions in the model.

1. No externalities
2. No public goods
3. Perfect information

The first two really aren't that relevant for this discussion. Externalities are costs or benefits that one agents actions impose on another agent. Since these costs or benefits are external to the market they are not reflected in the price and hence are either over produced (for costs) or under produced (for benefits). Public goods are goods where one person's consumption does not reduce the consumption for another person. The standard example is national defense. Everybody consumes national defense in equal amounts at the the same time. The problem here is that private provision results in massive under provision.

Most markets are characterized by imperfect information. That is you don't know everything. This can cause lots of problems. Once you try to factor this in you get into even more mathematically intense models, typically game theoretic models.

Anyhow, the big question the article asks is why do this modelling? Well first off lets remember something about modelling...nobody believes in them literally. In fact, I think most economists think the same way Robert E. Lucas, Jr. does.

"Any model that is well articulated enough to give clear answers to the questions we put to it will necessarily be artificial, abstract, and patently 'unreal'."--Lucas, R. [1980] ‘Methods and problems in business cycle theory’ Journal of Money, Credit and Banking 12, 696-715

So the point is to make realistic models; that is an oxymoron. The point is to make models that yeild answers to whatever we are examining. Do the mathematical models in neoclassical economics hold up? I think so. The empirical evidence is that as price increases demand decreases. If income increases, demand at all prices increases. These are predictions of the neoclassical models and typcially they pass emprical tests.

So, the article is correct to a point. These models are not "realistic", but then again they are not designed to be. They are designed to help the researcher strip the phenomenon he is studying to its basics and allow him to simplify it so that he can answers some questions, i.e. make predictions. Of course, you don't want to make your model too simple. Or as Einstein put it:
"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler."

Saturday, September 28, 2002

Krugman Watch The following is from an older article by Krugman on why “We Aren’t All Keynesians”. Anyhow, this quote caught my eye.

True, there was a long stretch - around 25 years - when many economists turned their backs on Keynes. They claimed, with some justice, that he made assumptions that could not be rigorously justified - and purists argued that a theory whose microfoundations are based on observation rather than axioms should be regarded as illegitimate, no matter how well it might work in practice.

Again I am disappointed in Prof. Krugman. Somebody such as Prof. Krugman should now that the above is just plain ridiculous. Why? Well lets give the reader some background on this:

1. Keynesians models of the 60’s and 70’s were derived from the writings of Keynes (the IS-LM models). They are not Keynes’ models. In fact, I don’t think Keynes would be all that fond of his writings being distilled in such a manner, but that is my personal view.
2. These models had a problem explaining employment, and along comes the Phillips curve with noted a relationship between employment and inflation.
3. During the 70’s the relationship between inflation and employment began to break down, i.e. we had stagflation, the “paradox” of rising unemployment and inflation.

The problem it turns out was a violation of a microeconomic axiom. People do not suffer from money illusion. That is if you double the amount of the money in the economy and double the prices people will realize the have not suddenly gotten more income. The Phillips curve ignored this axiom and posited that as prices rose due to inflation more workers were hired. Since inflation is a general rise in all prices it meant people were suffering from money illusion.

So, along came the micro-foundation folks and researchers such as Leonard Rapping and Robert E. Lucas. They basically pointed out the problems with this approach and when monetary policy (relying on the Phillips curve) would be ineffective (i.e., rising inflation and no change in unemployement).

Now the moral of this story isn’t that Keynes was wrong, because the IS-LM models of the 60’s and 70’s were derivatives of Keynes’ writings. The moral of the story is that sometimes just because you have found what looks like a good and stable relationship in the data may in fact, just be a statistical artifact. Until the “discovery" of the Phillips curve, monetary policy was not used to influence employment/unemployment. Hence it is not surprising that the relationship was stable, but that when the government started using it and the public caught onto the trick the relationship changed and the policy prescriptions of the model became invalid. Krugman should know this, and he probably does know this, and that is what makes the statement of his above inexcusable and foolish.

Democratic Underground Update These people must be insane. That is the only thing I can think of to explain this. I have mental images of these people sitting around wearing Aluminum Foil Defelctor Beanies.

Turkish Security Forces Arrest Two Men with 1.5 Kilos of Weapons Grade Plutonium The article is sparse, but I do have to wonder...were these men Iraqi agents making the purchase for Hussein, or are they with some other group?

Thanks to Croooow! Blog for the link.

Friday, September 27, 2002

Consumer Confidence: Not looking good.

Update: I thought I'd add some commentary here. In the left leaning blogosphere there is often lots of commentary that the current economic problems are all due to Bush. However, lets look at this graph of one of the leading economic indicators. Notice when the decline started. It started in the last several months of the Clinton Administration. In fact, the graph shows that consumer confidence stabilized over the summer of 2001, but then dived percipitiously in the latter part of 2001. It then reboundend, flattened out and fell again. This last decline I think Bush is responsible. Perhaps we can dispense with the silly notion that Bush was solely responsible for the recession. It sure looks to me like the seeds of the recession were planted prior to his even being in office.

New Link Added: Ted Barlow I have heard some very nice things about Ted Barlow's blog and thought he'd be an excellent addition to my opposition links. Anyhow check it out.

The Deterrence of Saddam Hussein I have been thinking about this lately since so many of the left leaning blogs and commentators seem to making the argument that Hussein is rational and that deterrence will work on him.

The notion of deterrence is that an offender of some type will be dissuaded from a given course of action due to the potential negative repercussions. I am not 100% sure about the following since many of the leftist bloggers do not put much forward on the notion of deterring Hussein other than ‘deterrence can work’ or ‘deterrence will work because Hussein is not stupid’. Anyhow, in thinking about the notion of deterrence during the cold war the U.S. tried to use its nuclear arsenal to deter the Soviets from their expansionary goals (hmmm, could we say “Imperialist”?). The problem was that the Soviets figured that the U.S. was not going to launch a nuclear attack over a small incident so they were free to make small advances. A little bit here, a little bit there.

I have to wonder if the same problem might not occur with Hussein. So we say, “Okay, you guys on the left have convinced us, deterrence will work.” And we let Hussein continue on his merry way developing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) secure in the knowledge that we (and perhaps our allies) are safe against attacks using these weapons.

Now comes in the little advances. Now Hussein makes a small advance or demand here and there. He flexes his mighty army and even hints at his WMDs. His neighbors might capitulate knowing that the U.S. is pursuing a policy of deterrence and not likely to do much for such a small infraction. Also, once he has his WMDs any type of conventional response by the U.S. becomes several orders of magnitude more problematic. Once Hussein has his WMDs in place then for any U.S. troops in the region the situation has shifted from deterrence with the U.S. having the clear upper hand to MAD—Mutually Assured Destruction.

The only way out I can see for this is to impose an extremely rigorous and thorough program of arms inspection that is continual and unrelenting. But Hussein is not going to like this, and might refuse in an attempt to try and bargain for a better outcome (banking on the fact that he is still open to inspections and the international community will be very upset if the U.S. acts unilaterally). Further, given the ineffectiveness and timidity of U.N. I doubt such a program will be put into place.

Given this it seems that using conventional forces now might be preferable to trying to use conventional forces latter on when Hussein might actually have more and even better WMDs. I am not convinced by the deterrence argument, at least as I have formulated it, that so many seem to put forward so blithely. Please, if anybody has a different view, please use the comments section to let me know. I read them all...even the unflattering ones.

Update: Eugene Volokh on deterrence. (Thanks to Henry Hanks at Crooow! Blog for the link.)

Update II: A deterrence post by Ted Barlow.

Krugman Watch I usually think of Krugman as a very, very good economist (I confess I really like growth theory and his endogenous growth theory work is simply fantastic), but this…this stuff is just silly.

But the evidence is starting to pile up. First there were those Enron memos. Then the California Public Utilities Commission determined that most of the blackouts that afflicted California between November 2000 and May 2001 took place not because generating capacity was inadequate, but because the major power companies kept much of their capacity off line. Most recently, a judge for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has ruled that El Paso Corporation used its control over a key pipeline to create an artificial natural gas shortage.

But why did energy companies think they could get away with it?

One answer might be that the apparent malefactors are very big contributors to the Republican Party. Some analysts have suggested that energy companies felt free to manipulate markets because they believed they had bought protection from federal regulation — the conspiracy-minded point out that severe power shortages began just after the 2000 election, and ended when Democrats gained control of the Senate.

Sure I suppose that is one answer. But are you a kook or a serious academic (note to the reader, Krugman is obviously a serious academic, but writing this kind of stuff makes him look like a kook)? The only evidence you have is that crisis got worse “right after the 2000 elections.” Another possibility is that the generators new that this game could not go on forever. Seems logical don’t you think? It seems very logical to me. So let’s look at a very simple game theory model called the prisoners dilemma. We have two players and each one has two choices to play either confess/don’t confess. If the game has no finite end in sight we can appeal to various mathematical results (folk theorems) that support a number of equilibria that are better than the one shot outcome of {confess,confess}. No suppose we have a game where we know the game is going to end soon. What happens then? Are you likely to see more confessing? Probably. In short, the reasoning used by Prof. Krugman is known as post hoc ergo propter hoc and is a logical fallacy. Without further evidence supporting his claim his claim should be heavily discounted relative to other claims.

How does this apply to the California power situation? Well, it could be that as the prospect of some agency intervening and pulling the plug became larger, the generators decided not to go for the slow death. Perhaps they figured they’d have to pay out something, but the lawsuits, hearings, proceedings, etc. would take some time, and they might not have to pay it all back.

Does that sound like another possibility? I do believe that is another explanation. Further, it does not have to rely on some hardly supported notion of a conspiracy between the Republicans and the energy company executives. This explanation also fits the data we observe and does not appeal to a clandestine conspiracy theory. I have to wonder why Prof. Krugman would prefer his conspiracy theory to a more reasonable theory that does not rely on a logical fallacy.

This is another example of Krugman’s political biases getting in the way of his normally logical thought process. It is embarrassing to me. It is embarrassing because I like economics, I defend it as a subject of study and argue that it can contribute a lot to the discussions of various policies. But when a major theoretician makes these kinds of ill-thought out comments the result is that it reflects badly on the profession/discipline.

And if FERC was strangely ineffective during the California crisis, what can we expect from other agencies? Across the government, from the Interior Department and the Forest Service to the Environmental Protection Agency, former lobbyists for the regulated industries now hold key positions — and they show little inclination to make trouble for their once and future employers.

Precisely Prof. Krugman. This is why you have libertarians out there. They have realized that the government is not all knowing and all wise. That it is fallible and on a massive level. This conclusion is obvious, in my opinion, when you consider that the same self-interested agents that you have not problem modeling as self-interested are also in charge of the government. Voters, bureaucrats, and politicians are all utility maximizing agents. Why do you assume otherwise with the last two groups, but not the first group?

Thursday, September 26, 2002

Reisman on CA Power Crisis--Wrong Reisman has written an article where he points out that typically a firm will not want to withold supply because it means they are operating at a loss. That is a competitive firm will supply goods (or services) up to the point where marginal cost is equal to the marginal revenue. That is the cost of the last unit supplied is equal to the revenue earned from the last unit supplied. Generall speaking if you decrease output below this level means that you are not making sales where the revenue on the unsold unit is greater than the cost, or in other words, you are losing out on profits.

This is well and fine for competitive markets. But the California power market is not competitive. Suppose you learn that in some hours you are the price setter. You submit your bid and low and behold your bid sets the price. Also, suppose you know that the market is tight (or perhaps there is considerable congestion on the transmission system, or that various plants are down for forced maintence--the Cal ISO convienently tells generators this). So, you decide to experiment. You up your bid in some hours where you seem to be the price setter. It works, you make even more money. So you keep experimenting.

This is the type of model that Frank Wolak posits. The simple form goes thusly:

1. 3 generators each with 200 MW of capacity.
2. Demand is inelastic at 500 MW.

Note there is plenty of capacity. Also the first two plants bidding in don't set the price, the last guy bidding in does. So the last guy can set just about any price he likes. Everybody gets the really high price.

Now, know this what do you do? In this simple model everybody should bid high an about 100 MW of capacity is offline.

The problem is there is no interruptiions or blackouts. But this model is very simplisic. In real life, it'd be much more complicated and mistakes could happen...mistakes that could, in my opinion, result in blackouts and interruptions.

Further, Reisman fails to take into account several key issues.

1. The complete disconnect between the retail market and the wholesale market.
2. The utilities (i.e. the buyers in the wholesale market) are obligated to buy sufficient load to serve their customers (i.e. they can't decide not to buy).
3. Late in 2000 the FERC removed all price caps in the wholesale market--following Reisman's analysis this should have solved the probelm, but it didn't.

All in all Reisman's analysis is based on a simple supply and demand model and is simplistic and shallow.

Hesiod the Comedian And let me tell you he is off to a wonderful start with this funny one:

I looked into installing them [code that allows comments] early on, but elected not to. Not because I'm afraid of criticism [lord knows I get enough of it]. But, because I thought it would kind of clutter up what I was trying to do. Knowing my combative nature, I'd spend all my time battling with people in my comments sections instead of producing substantive posts.

Hesiod's most substantive work is usually flushed down the toilet. Anyhow, looks like still no comments for "The Non-Sequitur Zone".

If, however, you have a blog of your own, and want to comment on something I have written...send me a link via e-mail. I'll update my post with your link.

Unless it is a blog post pointing Hesiod is completely, totally and unambiguously wrong. These he ignores no matter how many times you send him a link.

I reserve the right, however, to make snide or sarcastic comments about you, if you choose to be uncivil. must get alot of insults then.

Prof. Volokh: Bushism-of-the-Day Watch Slate has the Bushism of the day were supposedly they take something dumb President Bush says and post it. Unfortunately as Prof. Volokh has shown, many times the "Bushism" loses its humor when placed in fuller context (unlike Hesiod, Prof. Volokh knows when added text changes the context). Also, Prof. Volokh notes that Slate never links to a transcript so the reader can read the full context for himself. In other words, Slate is dishonest. Big shock there!

An Interesting Article on Moral Absolutes This article, by Tibor Machan, notes that in academia it is not uncommon to find what could, in my opinon, be called moral relativism. That is there is no such thin as absolute moral principles. He also brings up evolutionary biology, although he'd probably have been more on target going after evolutionary psychology, in noting that we do what we do because of our genetic code. That is we do what do because that is how we are made...not because we decide to do something (i.e. exercise free choice). He then asks...where are these people on the issue of Enron, Worldcom, Global Crossing, and Adelphia? How come they aren't saying, "No, no these CEOs and corporate officers are not immoral, because we don't really know what immoral or moral is." Interesting question. I would like to see these types reconcile their apparently inconsistent views. Maybe it can be done, but it does look kind of inconsistent.

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

What the...Hesiod is confused. I'm being generous there. He posts more of the content of a speech made by Gore back in April of 1991 shortly after the end of the Gulf War. In that speech Gore basically points out why Bush stopped after kicking Hussein out of Kuwait and didn't push on to Baghdad. Further, from the tone of quoted section it seems Gore approved of Bush's stopping at that point. This is what conservatives are pointing too when Gore now says he feels betrayed that Bush (G. H. W.) didn't push onto Baghdad. Here is that part of the recent speech:

AL GORE, FMR. VICE PRESIDENT: Back in 1991, I was one of a handful of Democrats in the United States Senate to vote in favor of the resolution endorsing the Persian Gulf War. And I felt betrayed by the first Bush administration's hasty departure from the battlefield.

(Thanks to Hesiod for posting that. Now we can all see that the Gorebot doesn't bat an eye about misrepresenting his past statements/positions.)

It is essentially Gore suddenly redefining a position he held about 11 years ago.

Hesiod thinks that the additional text changes the meaning of what Gore said. It doesn't. The additional text merely comments on how Bush should/could have done more, in the Gorebot's opinion, to help the rebellion against Hussein. It does not suddenly say that Bush shouldn't have stopped at the Kuwait/Iraq border and should have pushed on. It doesn't say troops should have been sent to support the rebellion. It doesn't say air units should have been used to support the rebellion. In fact, it implies nothing about going on to occupy Baghdad.

More Dissembling from Uggabugga In that post one of the issues supposedly favoring Democrats is

Failure to regulate rigged/failed electricity market

I can see that Quack has a problem with the facts. The biggest electricity market deregulation mess in the country is California (followed by New York). I am quite familiar with the California mess, obviously much more so than Quack. The California electricity market deregulation legislation was AB1890 (that is Assembly Bill 1890). It was passed unanimously by the Assembly and Senate in California. So, it follows logically that both Republicans and Democrats voted for it. Both are to blame for the thoroughly messed up market structure that was created by AB1890. To try and blame this on the Republicans alone is highly dishonest.

Further, the problems in California were the result of ill thought out policy. It should be obvious to anyone that you don't hand businesses a situation in which they have market power and then expect them not to make use of that market power. That is precisely what happened in California. Further, it was also under the Clinton FERC that the price caps in the wholesale market were removed. Remember, Bush did not acutally take office until January of 2001. So the Clinton Administration bungled it up alot too...for at least 3-4 months.

Too bad Uggabugga feels it is necessary to mislead people on the facts. Then again, maybe he is just talking about New York.

Uggabugga on Social Security--Horrifying Quack over at Uggabugga points out that early on Social Security had a 35:1 ratio between workers and retirees and that this is to be expected when the sytem first starts. Okay, I suppose that might be true. He then goes on to say that the system seems to be settling down to a steady state with a ratio of 2:1. Okay, fine lets accept that. Quack then goes on to make this amazing statement.

But when people like Russert talk about 35 workers per retiree - and contrast that with an expected 2 per retiree, that's shorthand for implying that the system is hoplessly broken.

And that's a lie.

Ever here of the "fallacy fallacy" Quack? Well that is just what you have done. Even if Russert's reasoning is logically flawed it does not necessarily follow that the conclusion is wrong. In fact, Russert's conclusion is quite right. You can find ample evidence for this by simply logging on to a variety of websites such as the Cato Institute, the Urban Institute or one of the numerious Federal Reserve Board sites. You will find many, many papers written on this subject and depressingly they all note the same thing, the current system is heading for a disaster. The options are

(1) Raise payroll taxes
(2) Cut benefits
(3) Privatize

Or perhaps some combination of the three. However, there are problems with these options. The first imposes highly regressive taxes on people and is more a burden for low wage workers. The cuts in benefits for those nearing retirement will mean a decrease in the standard of living because many people planned their retirements with a given set of assumptions. The privatization approach will be costly in the short term as current and soon-to-be beneficiaries are paid off.

However the consensus amongst the people researching this (and I have linked to a number of them on this very page) is that the Social Security Trust Fund is going to bo bankrupt around the year 2030 if something is not done. So you are quite and unequivocally wrong when you state that the system is not broken. It is broken and Russert, despite possibly faulty reasoning, was right.

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

MediaWhoresOnline Watch By our friend Henry Hanks at Croooow Blog!. Here Henry keeps tabs on Media Whores Online (MWO). Its great watching him point out the misinformation coming from MWO. Here is a sample:

Gee, I wonder why the Horse didn't link to the most recent edition of the Daily Howler:

But there was no war plan that we turned over to the Bush administration during the transition. And the reports of that are just incorrect.

The above is taken from testimony by none other than Sandy Berger, former national security advisor to the Horse's Hero. MHO was among the chorus of Clinton sycophants lauding Time for telling us all about the brave Clinton's "plan" to take-down al Qaeda. Later reports and even comparisons to Clinton's own words showed the Time story to be grossly inaccurate and now even Berger confirms this. Will the Horse issue a correction of the facts? Don't bet the farm on it.

Some how I don't expect a correction...hey, maybe Hesiod writes stuff there too!

Aziz Poonawalla and the Burka and the Bikini Aziz tries to make the case that the bikini is a tool for female oppression much like the burka. That is Aziz attempts to make a correspondence between the burka and the bikini as tools of oppression. I think he fails, but there is still some good stuff there.

For example,

Contrast the Qur'anic prescription of modest dress with the tribal custom of imposing oppressive dress on women. It's not exaggeration to say that Islam, Judaism, and Christianity brought the first concepts of equality between genders to tribal peoples who at the time had decidedly primitive notions of gender roles. To take one self-aimed example, pre-Islamic customs of burying first-born daughters alive was stridently condemned by Muhammad SAW. Yet these practices still persist in modern times - for example in Nigeria, where a woman was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery. Also recently a woman was sentenced to be buried up to her neck in sand and again stoned, for having a child out of wedlock. And there is the case of the gang-rape of an innocent girl in Pakistan, and riots in India.

These kind of barbaric decisions are always made in remote villages by a band of grizzled elder men, who invariably call themselves an "Islamic court". The truth is that these are immoral primitive tribal customs, which are used by the tribal elders as a power play of enforcing their authority. They are wrapped in poorly-argued Islamic reasoning, often bundled with some selective out-of-context Qur'anic verse, so that no one dares argue. But this is not Islamic, it's purely a primitive cultural practice, with its sole aim as a power play of I-have-control-over-you.

As to why I think Aziz fails with the bikini is that he fails to lay out any solid evidence that the women in cultures that have bikinis have to wear bikinis. There is still a choice. A woman does not have to wear a bikini. In some cultures not wearing the burka results in the woman being dragged into a soccer stadium and shot in the head with an AK-47. In contrast if a woman in Southern California shows up to Zuma beach wearing a t-shirt and shorts she is not going to be killed. In fact, there are some women I am glad decide not to wear a bikini and there are some who I wish would decide to wear a burka to the beach!

At best all I can see is that the woman wearing a bikini is oppressed because her physical form is on display...uhhhhh okay. Aziz, you need to come out to California. We'll go down to Holleyweird and you can check out what passes for young female attire for yourself, let me just say it makes me really glad I have a son and not a daughter. Anyhow, isn't it up to women to decide for themselves how much of their body they want to show off? Isn't up to them to deicide if they want to be viewed solely as a sex object? Seems that way to me.

I suppose one could argue that that decision is in reality an illusion, that societal pressure is "forcing" these women to wear these provocative types of clothing (and I am not saying Aziz is saying this), but if this is the case, then no matter what one decides to wear it is a symbol of their oppression by their society. I don't care if you are wearing bell bottoms and a tie-die t-shirt and flip flops or an expensive suit, dress shirt and tie with nice shoes. You are oppressed and there is nothing you can do about it.

Perhaps, Aziz means that by wearing the bikini and being leered at by horny males some how oppresses women (and I am sure Aziz will post a comment clarifying if I am worng here), but dang. Again no matter what they wear, short of a burka, they are going to be oppressed by horny males leering at them.

Anyhow check out the link and the links Aziz has. Its worth the read and it'll make you think which is always a good thing.

Who Pays and When an Assessment of Generational Accounting—Part One This is a study done by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). What is generational accounting? Well, that is a very good question. It is a method of determining the impacts of fiscal policy on different generations. The technique was developed by Alan Aeurbach, Jagadessh Gokhale, and Laurence Kotlikoff. Fine you say, but what is it? Well here is what this paper says:

Generational accounts estimates who pays for all that the government ever buys. Such purchases are used to provide defense, building roads, educating children, etc. People pay for these with net taxes--that is taxes less transfers (government payments, such as Social Security, welfare). The accounts therefore, estimate the real (that is, inflation-adjusted) net taxes ever to be paid by the average member of each generation (today's newborns, one-year olds, and so on). They also estimate the net taxes of the average member of the representative future generation (those not yet born). The accounts do not try to estimate who benefits from what government buys, only who pays for it with their net taxes.

Still doesn't answer all the questions but it does help. In constructing the accounts two fundamental ideas are utilized.

(1) Present Value
(2) Zero-sum constraint

Most people know what present value is. That is if you have an income stream over time how much is that stream worth right now in a lump sum amount? The future payments have to be discounted to their present value and summed up. The zero-sum constraint is probably new to most readers. What this means basically is that whenever the government spends money...somebody must pay...eventually. That is even if government spending is financed through the sale of bonds (i.e. issuing debt) sometime in the future somebody will have to pay for that debt plus interest.

Using these two ideas generation accounting basically plays a "what if game". What if the current policy is unchanged what would the effective tax rate be for each generation. Thus, generational accounting is not a method for determining the efficacy of policy, but for determining the quantitative impacts of a given policy.

Who Pays and When an Assessment of Generational Accounting—Part Two In the report they offer the following table based on an analysis by Alan Auerbach, Jagadeesh Gokhale, and Laurence Kotlikoff, "Generation Accounts: A meaningful alternative to deficit accounting," Tax Policy and the Economy, vol. 5.

Estimated Lifetime Net Tax
Rates by Year of Birth
1900 24
1910 28
1920 29
1930 31
1940 32
1950 34
1960 35
1970 36
1980 37
1990 37
Future Generations 78

Pretty scary, if you ask me. Now you know one of the reasons I am a libertarian. You can't trust the bastards that you put into office, they will keep on spending because it isn't their money. They'll keep taking more of your money to spend it since it is a race to see who can out compassion the other, who can pander to their constituents the best, and so forth. I want a government/politicians that think the best thing to do is leave the rest of us alone (for the most part) and keep their damn hands out of our wallets. I find it rather sickening when these guys (both Democrats and Republicans) want to show how generous they are with other people's money. That's easy, try doing it with your money first at least.

But note that final number. Assuming nothing changes, look at that final tax rate! That is what your children will be paying if they were born after 1990. Moreover, if you think it isn't that bad since there will be a bunch of government programs to pick up what they can't pay for...think again. The assumption here is that policy does not change. That is they will have the same crappy government programs we have today. There will be no universal health care, no government subsidize housing (at least no more than today), etc. They will have to find a way to get buy on that piddle fraction that is left for them.

Not looking too good is it. So, what can be done? Cut spending. Cut it, cut it, cut it. Cut it now, cut it deep. Sure it'll hurt now, but it seems to me to be more responsible than saying to your children, "Tough shit, we just didn't want to pay for all this stuff we you get too." Another option is to let in more immigrants. Open the borders and let them in...millions and millions of them. Then make sure they pay taxes.

Robin Roberts comments on the Gorebot's speech. And let me tell you it is pretty funny at least at the begining. Gore does seem to be completely unable to take an actual stance on issues.

Update: Vodkapundit on the Gorebot's speech.

It is one thing for a candidate to slowly backpedal away from a small stand. But Gore did a near-about face on the most important issue we face right now...

FERC ALJ finds El Paso Corp Manipulated Gas Prices at the Cal. Border Curtis L. Wagner, Chief Administrative Law Judge at FERC, ruled that:

The Chief Judge finds that El Paso Pipeline withheld extremely large amounts of capacity that it could have flowed to its California delivery points in violation of its certificate obligation and in violation of its 10-year settlement agreement which substantially tightened the supply of natural gas at the California border significantly broadening the basis differential.

This would drive up the prices of natural gas, and in looking at the prices of natural case at the So. Cal. border the prices were extremely high.

Looks like El Paso Corp. will be facing a penalty.

The Chief Judge recommends that the Commission institute penalty procedures, both for violation of the Commission’s Standards of Conduct for Pipelines With Marketing Affiliates by El Paso Natural Gas Company and El Paso Merchant Energy Gas, L.P., and El Paso Merchant Energy Company, and for the unlawful exercise of market power by El Paso Natural Gas Company.

The amount I have heard on the radio is about $200 million or the equivalant of the profits recieved due to the high prices.

Monday, September 23, 2002

Croooow Blog! I have added a link to this site over on the left. A very funny site that pokes alot of fun at the news and not in a nasty spiteful manner such as Mediawhores. For example, the latest on Dan Blather. You gotta love it.

Lynne Kiesling on the CPUC's Report on Generator Manipulation This is a very infromative piece and people who are interested in the energy crisis in California should read it. The first part that I have a very minor problem with is this:

The study did not take into account the fact that many facilities in California were operating as “reliability must run” (RMR) facilities for the California Independent System Operator (ISO), and that therefore much of who put power into the grid in what hour and in what amounts was under the automated control of the ISO. In fact, the authors claim that any and all hours in which plants did not comply with ISO orders to offer power were the deliberate actions of the generators, when many other studies and news reports have indicated the extent to which the ISO engineers were completely overwhelmed and could not keep up with the volume of system balancing
work that was required of them.

Uhhhm, yeah. If in a given hour the RMR load is sufficient to meet the system's demand then I can well imagine a independent power producer (IPP) not bidding into the system. Why do that when the RMR load is going to cover it all. So yeah, it is the result of a deliberate action, but not one that necessarily results in high prices.

Now, the theoretical. On page 14 the report’s authors assert that “the generators should have offered all of their available power supplies to the ISO at all times. Indeed, after FERC imposed comprehensive market controls in June 2001, including a price cap, trading barriers to prevent some types of market manipulation and a ‘must-offer’ obligation, blackouts and service interruptions nearly ceased even though California’s power demand was at its highest in the summer.” Suggesting that generators should have offered all of their available capacity at all times is economically absurd.

Well, I don't know about that. In a competitive market a firm has no incentive to offer less than its full output. To do so means operating at a loss. I'd say, that this is (weak) evidence that there was gaming going on. This fits well with what Frank Wolak's model predicts, at least at a first glance. That is, in some instances it is possible that IPPs will not schedule all of their load as a result of attempts to drive the price up. Still, the idea with markets is that firms, like individuals, have the choice of entering the market or not. So, it is, I think, more correct to say it is logically absurd to assume that IPPs will bid in their full capacity (well assuming that the capacity is not off line due to maintenence).

Contrary to what some politicians would like to believe, generating electricity costs money, those costs fluctuate even in functioning markets, and those costs were unusually high in the period in question. Two of the cost components that increased the most were natural gas and emissions permits.

Yes, this is true. At the So. Cal. border the price of natural gas during this time was fact it was so high that it prompted investigations, if I recall correctly. As for the emission permits that was a long time coming. It was known for sometime that the cost of emission permits was going to go up and the other option was to install abatement equipment which was supposed to be cheaper than the permits. I wonder how come firms didn't respond "rationally" to this price signal?

Furthermore, statements like “Generators Failed to Bid in All Supplies During Blackout and Service Interruption Hours Even Though the Power Was Needed” on page 56 seem to indicate that the PUC expects the electricity industry to operate on the basis of charity, not on the economic exchange of value for value between buyers and sellers.

Now now Lynne, yeah that does sound kind of dumb, but lets be fair and note that on the same page there is this:

(1) It may be that the generator’s scheduling coordinator simply chose not to bid power in to the market on that day, citing economic considerations or giving other reasons. The ISO’s rules did not require generators to bid in their available capacity until the FERC’s “must offer” requirement was imposed on June 19, 2001.

(2) The scheduling coordinator may have bid in the power, but the ISO may not have accepted or used the bid.

(3) It is also possible that a given generator failed to generate in accordance with ISO instructions on a given day even after the ISO had accepted that generator’s bid or bids.

Of course, then the report turns right around and states:

None of these reasons provides any justification or excuse for the failure of the five generators to bid in all available power.

And then offers counter arguments to the ones stated above:

(1) In view of the crisis the state was facing, the generators’ failure to bid raises urgent questions about regulation that depends largely on markets to assure the reliability of electric service.

(2) Given the unprecedented nature and enormity of the energy crisis, it is likely that there were lapses and/or failures in the ISO’s management of the transmission grid during the crisis. For example, the ISO may have failed to dispatch some available bids. But by not bidding all available power, the generators made it impossible for the ISO to dispatch all available supplies, except through last-minute out-of-market deals in which the ISO paid exorbitant prices under duress.

(3) At base, a generator’s failure to generate as much power as the ISO asks for is inexcusable in a crisis situation. Although the generation of power in excess of the ISO’s request did sometimes help meet load, all such deviations from ISO requests, both positive and negative, interfered with the ISO’s ability to monitor and manage the grid.

Number one above is a problem with the design of the market, IMO, and that was primarily the responsibility of the CPUC. Number two, actually disproves your claim here:

In fact, the authors claim that any and all hours in which plants did not comply with ISO orders to offer power were the deliberate actions of the generators, swhen many other studies and news reports have indicated the extent to which the ISO engineers were completely overwhelmed and could not keep up with the volume of system balancing work that was required of them. Because of the interplay of the utility bid underscheduling and the generator movement of transactions into the ISO real-time market, the ISO ended up processing many more real-time transactions than had ever been intended, or for which it had been designed. Thus the ISO was scrambling to keep the grid in balance, and probably did not perform optimal dispatch, but the PUC study does not acknowledge that reality.

And it is also a good point too, IMO. Sure inefficiencies in the bidding system and at the ISO may have exacerbated the program, but if capacity is not being bid in, it cannot be accepted by the ISO. Number three sounds just whiney to me.

Another economic feature that the study fails to understand or interpret correctly is payment and credit risk. In almost any transaction there will be some credit risk. In the dysfunctional universe that was the California wholesale market in 2000-2001, credit risk was huge – one reason why prices went as high as they did was that generators factored in the probability that they were not going to get paid. Given that PG&E subsequently declared bankruptcy to avoid its creditors, that risk premium in the wholesale electricity price looks like it was pretty important.

I think this is an example of post hoc ergo propter hoc. Sure there is credit risk, but early on there was little risk of getting paid. To stay in the game the utilities had to pay, and pay the did. They kept paying until they almost literally were out of money to pay. Then they stopped paying. So the issue of credit risk isn't that much of an issue, IMO, in the early days of the crisis and the crisis started prior to November of 2000. That date is when it became obvious to everybody there was a problem. The utilities started to voice concerns about this at least 3 months earlier when prices would routinely hit the whole sale price cap and stay there all day. Later in the game one would be on more solid ground regarding the problem of credit risk...but the State stepped in with its check book at that time. So I am still not sure there is all that much weight to this argument.

There is not one single mention in the report of the role of exports, or the fact that California gets much of its power from plants that are located out of state and were not required at the time to sell into California, although it counts that capacity as part of what the five generators should have sold into the ISO upon demand.

Yeah, that is a rather telling omission.

The report also invokes the studies that showed that generators had incentives to withhold power to raise prices, and that they did in some hours. Again, though, they add no economic insight or nuance to what has been shown in those other studies. Most importantly, they fail to acknowledge the role that poor, politicized policymaking processes and bad rules played in creating an environment in which generators did have market power. As many have said before me, and many will after, the dysfunctional California restructuring labyrinth gave the generators market power on a silver platter.

On the last part I agree. Complaining that the generators had market power in a system whose setup was overseen by the CPUC is pretty darn whiney. I commented on such as soon as I found out how the market was structured.

FERC has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in their standard market design process, and the California PUC continues to perceive FERC’s moves as a threat to its power over and control of the electricity industry in California, as this article suggests.

Well can you blame them? The poor guys, PG&E might spin off all of its remaining generation assets off into FERC jurisdiction. FERC is trying to fix this mess which will undoubtedly step on CPUC toes. Of course, that this is also in large part their own making is...well...ironic I guess.

PG&E Reorg Plan Gets New Life A federal judge ruled that PG&E could spin off its generation units to an affiliate thereby circumventing CPUC regulatory authority. Early the bankruptcy judge Montali had ruled that PG&E could not spin off its generation assests.

This plan would have several ramifications. First, it would remove the remaining PG&E assets from CPUC and State jurisdiction and place it under FERC jursidiction. This wold allows PG&E to value those assets at a higher dollar amount which PG&E would use to sell bonds to pay off its creditors. Under the PG&E plan all creditors would be paid off rapidly with either cash, bonds or a combination of the two.

Needless to say, the CPUC is opposed to this idea. My guess is that PG&E might try to use this victory to gain leverage in negotioations with the CPUC.

This news article indicates that there will be a second round of voting by creditors on which reorginization plan they prefer.

Speaking of Right Wing Christian Kooks Well I am with Aziz in the thread on Islams judgement of the West, and I gotta tell you Kent Hovind is...well...really freaking loony.

Atrios on the California Energy Crisis

Now, tell me again how hard price caps wouldn't have solved this problem...

Here's what Bush said at the time:

"The California crunch really is the result of not enough power-generating plants and then not enough power to power the power of generating plants." —George W. Bush, Jan. 14, 2001"

Well, Bush's comments aren't entirely wrong (although the second part of Bush's statement...uhhh...a great Bushism, IMO). Part of the problem, if we assume the PUC's report is completely correct, is that there were only a few market participants and as anybody who has taken intermediate microeconomic theory knows, when there are a few participants and capacity is fixed (at least for the short term) then you have the very real possibility of non-competitive pricing. Frank Wolak has come up with a nifty model that demonstrates just how prices could go sky high. The simple version goes like this. Suppose you have a market where at some point the demand curve is highly inelastic (this means the quantity demanded does not respond much to changes in the price. Now suppose that the capacity demanded is 500 MW. And there are three firms each with 200 MW of capacity. The first two will bid in at whatever price they decide upon. The last guy bidding in will be the price setter. Since the first two cannot cover all of the demand the last guy can bid practially whatever he wants assured that his bid is going to be accepted.

Then given the structure of the California ISO's bidding system each firm is paid an amount that is equal to the highest bid accepted to "clear the market" (i.e. so that there is no excess demand or supply). This may sound whacky, but this is how acutal markets work.

Now some might say, okay Steve, but are the generators bidding sequentially and do they know each other's bids. As for bidding simultaneiously that is not a problem, in this case we look for what in game theory is called a mixed Nash equilibrium. Qualitatively we end up with pretty much the same high prices.

Another nice thing is that as we can see this model could explain the amount of capacity that was off line during the crisis.

One solution is to increase the number of participants. As that number grows relative to the (for the short term) fixed demand the prices would tend to decline. The problem is that this is not a short term solution. It can take a long time to get a power plant sited, licsensed and built. As such a price cap that is based on the marginal cost of the least efficient producer would restore the market to a more competitive pricing mechanism.

Sunday, September 22, 2002

Kotlikoff's "The Coming Generational Storm"...again For those who think that Atrios is doing a good job discussing the problems of Social Security by pointing to the Cato Institutes changing of its Social Security projects name, this link is to give you something to read that actually has some substance besides shrilly crying "LIAR". That may pass as enlightened and intelligent discussion in some circles, but not here.

An additional paper on Social Security, Demographics, and the U.S. Fiscal situation.

Cato no good? Oh...okay how about the Urban Institute...they liberal enough?

Under current law, Social Security will start to see a serious shortfall of revenues relative to promised benefits once the baby boom generation begins to retire. Benefits growth will outstrip revenue growth, as declining fertility rates and greater longevity result in fewer adults paying taxes and more retirees collecting benefits. Indeed, increased longevity and earlier retirement have already resulted in the average retiree collecting benefits for about one-third of his or her adult life. Moreover, regardless of birth rates and retirement spans, the current benefit formula grants continually higher levels of lifetime benefits to each succeeding cohort of retirees.

Another paper from the Urban Institute (with one of my former professors as a co-author).

To try and ignore this issue by posting something as stupid as what Atrios did is irresponsible, IMO.

MEMRI: Arab Countries as a whole record economic decline for 2001 According to the site and the Arab Monetary Fund GDP for Arab countries as a whole declined 1.9% for 2001. Also, exports declined as well to the tune of about 8.1% while imports rose. Moreover, government spending increased while revenues declined resulting in deficit spending.

There is also some bad news for the U.S.:

According to a study by the World Economic Forum, an affiliate of Morgan Stanley, there is growing concern in the U.S. about the effects of possible Saudi withdrawal of their investments from the U.S. market. It is estimated that Saudi investments in foreign markets amount to $750 billion of which 60%, or $450 billion, are invested in the U.S. market, including $290 billion in real estate. With its trade deficit of approximately $350 billion a year, the U.S. would need to attract $1 billion a day to alleviate the pressure on the value of the dollar.

It is a fairly long article with additional information on Al Qa'ida's finances, Iraq and other topics so check it out.

Atrios at Eschaton LIAR? Looks like least according to his own criterion. The post "claims" that the link provided notes the Cato Institutes name change for the project related to Social Security privitazation, but that in describing the project they used the same name when noting the project started in 1995. Thus, according to Atrios the Cato Institute is nothing but a pack of "LIARS". However, the provided link does not link to what Atrios claims. Therefore using Atrios' own standard he is a liar. Also note, that none of the comments actually address any of the points raised by the Cato Institute. Instead of responding to the arguments, data, and evidence. No, instead this minor issue is sufficient to dismiss everything. Is this typical of the liberal viewpoint? First we have Hesiod who can't even follow his own thought process. Now we have Atrios who can't formulate a cogent thought.

DeLong and Levine on Welfare Reform In this Op-Ed peice Brad DeLong and David Levine take a look at what they call "Real Welfare Reform". I think there are several problems with this op-ed that as economists DeLong and Levine should know better than to make. For example,

Thus the likely outcome of welfare "reform" is catastrophe: hundreds of thousands of additional homeless children as mothers without skills, without childcare, without help to search for jobs in the low-wage sector of labor markets that already have considerable excess supply are cut off from welfare benefits for the rest of their lives.

I wonder if this is really going to happen? The mothers that they are referring too sound to me to be teenage mothers. Do DeLong and Lavine have such a horrible view of people that they would cast their own daughters and grandchildern into the street? Should all single mothers recieve monies from those who do work, took the time ensure that their children would have a home (or have put off having children), so that they (the single mothers and their children) can have their own place? Seems to me this is setting up a system of perverse incentives. Want to have your own place and some spending money? Squeeze out a kid or two. Not only that, but we will now pay you to essentially go to school (but we'll call it job training) and we'll pay you to look for a job when you are done too. What a strange world view this is. The grandparents are nasty, mean, vindictive S.O.B.s who throw their children and grandchildren into the streets, but the single mothers are virtuous in that DeLong and Levine appear to think that these single mothers wont abuse this system.

Not only that, but I think a compelling argument can be made that the government bureaucracies that over see the programs actually have an incentive to try and move people onto their programs and even keep them on the programs. Afterall, if these programs were truly successful then the government bureaucracy would in a sense be working to put itself out of business. Yet...when was the last time we saw a government bureaucracy shutting its doors saying, "Well our job is done here"? I can't think of any...maybe a reader can (this is a hint to use my new commenting capability).

Further, I object somewhat to the "scare tactics" of DeLong and Levine. I consider it a hallmark of junkscience, when I hear the cry "we must do it [insert pet cause for it] for the children!". This cry can often be used to hide the fact that there is little or no evidence supporting the action that is desired for other reasons. Personally when I see such a cry I'd like to see something...anything backing up that cry. DeLong and Levine fail completely and utterly here. They offer nothing to support the claim that hundreds of thousands children will joining the homeless I see in downtown L.A. They assert this prediction based on nothing which immediately makes me wonder if they even have any evidence at all for this. My guess is no. David Levine is an economic thoeritician (and a damned good one). DeLong is a macroecon. guy. In short, one is not used to dealing with lots of empirical data and the other just doesn't look at that kind of data. Well and the article is an opinion piece after all and they don't have to supply evidence...but given the shoddy history of these scare tactics it weakens their argument in my opinon.

Of course, this doesn't mean they are wrong...or more accurately completely wrong. Some children and single mothers might find themselves homeless and with few options. And these people are precisely the ones that will need help. But I think that DeLong and Levine haven't made the case that private sources of help or welfare wont be sufficient. When you look at events like 9/11 and the fact that hundreds of millions of dollars were raised over a very short time it is obvious that people are generous (and I submit this invalidates DeLong and Levine's apparent view of people as being uncaring save for the single mothers). Why must the response always be from the government? How come this is the default solution? Again no answer is provided.

All in all, a bad op-ed peice, which given my tremendous respect for David Levine's work a painful thing for me to write.

New Link Added I have added a link to Lynne Kiesling's blog, The Knowledge Problem: Commentary on Economics, Information and Human Action. Looks pretty good from what I can see. Check it out.

Saturday, September 21, 2002

Islam's Judgement of the West Okay, that is a bit much after all this is just one website and I don't know that the views expressed there are universal. Still I have a hard time taking Aziz Poonawalla's criticism of Steven Den Beste's essay seriously when I find this kind of a statement.

The ethical and moral degeneration of the western society and the predominance of suicide, drug abuse, and crime, seem to clearly indicate that spiritual health of an individual and a community is as important as physical health.

Seems to me this is quite similar to the idea the Islamic countries are inferior to Western countries. Seems to me that if Aziz is going to be consistent, he'll have to condemn this site just as he condemns me and Steven Den Beste.

Also there is this quote:

Islam shows ways of dealing with the world around us; the responsibilities of a person to oneself, to parents, to siblings, to offspring, to spouses, to neighbors, to society, to nation; what habits to cultivate and what to avoid; what things to possess and what to give away; what time to sleep and what time to wake up; when and how to make love and when and how to refrain from it; when to speak up and when to remain silent; what to eat; how to eat; how to seek knowledge, etc. In short, Islam teaches values and priorities concerned with every walk of life.

Now, to me that looks rather authoritarian. Islam seems to tell the practitioner how to do just about everything. I was perusing the site further and found the section on Islamic laws, and it is pretty amazing. It does indeed cover many things one would encounter in one's daily life. For example, the Kinds of Blood as seen by Women. I am assuming this deals wth a woman's menstural cycle. This section seems to deal with everything right down to what kind of pad to wear.

I guess I find it ironic to find these kinds of things associated with Islam.

The Moron Storm I don't consider myself strongly in favor of war with Iraq. I think Hussein is a son of a bitch and if he were to die tomorrow as well as the rest of his family it would be a good thing. But this idea that people who haven't been in the military and/or seen the horrors of war cannot comment on whether we should go to war and that are deserving of the term of "chickenhawk" just shows how moronic those using the term (Hesiod, Atrios, etc.) are. This should be a double edged sword, IMO, if they have an integrity (and from all appearances, most of them don't). It seems to me that the argument should goes as follows, if you haven't been in the military and/or seen the horrors of war then you should not offer an opinion on whether the U.S. should or should not go to war with Iraq. Of course, logical thinking and rationality never stop these airheads. They chug ahead full steam oblivious to their own internal inconsistencies.

Eric Alterman: Stuck in the Past Alterman asks the supposedly "tough questions", but it looks more like Monday morning armchair quarterbacking to me. He asks:

Why did the Bush national security team ignore the Al Qaeda briefing it received from President Clinton's National Security Adviser, Sandy Berger, in the fall of 2000?

I don't know? Did they? Also, why was Clinton ignoring Al Qai'da in the fall of 2000? After all if we are going to play, "Why didn't they do something before it is too late...?" lets at least be fair and apply it to Clinton. I mean come on, is lobbing a few cruise missiles sufficient? It reminds me of that Monty Python bit from Monty Python's Holly Grail:

if I went around saying I was an Emperor because some moistened bint had lobbed a scimitar at me, people would put me away!

Perhaps Clinton's reaction was in part a function of what appears to be some sort of personal problem with the military and using it as a policy tool.

You know, not only does this article demonstrate Alterman being stuck in the past, it also quite nicely demonstrates his bias. Notice how everything from 2001 has the name Bush in there, but stuff prior to that is miracuously missing the name Clinton. For example:

Why, in August 2000, was the FBI unable to locate Al Qaeda operatives Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaq al-Hazmi, both of whom had been placed at a terrorist planning meeting by Malaysian intelligence in December 1999? Hazmi was listed in the San Diego telephone directory and Midhar was using a credit card with his name on it. Both were active at the San Diego Islamic Center.

Excuse me Mr. Alterman, but August 2000 was under Clinton's watch? How come you aren't taking Clinton to task? Oh, I don't want to bad mouth the guy you like.

Regarding this question:

Why did the President ignore the August 2001 intelligence briefing warning him of the likelihood of an Al Qaeda hijacking?

Ummmm...exactly what were the supposed to do. And is the President even alerted to this kind of stuff? For that matter why didn't Clinton do anything after the embassy in Kenya was bombed. He might have been able to prevent the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole or something.

Yes, it is legitimate to ask why the intelligence failure? How come the CIA and FBI can't communicate better? Such questions must be asked, but do you have to try and use them for crass political gain or smearing the other side? I guess the answer is 'yes' for Mr. Alterman.

Friday, September 20, 2002

Recent Changes After my exchange with Aziz below in the comments section to this post and by e-mail I thought I'd add a section to blogs that have a different view than mine (well that and Aziz put up a link to me--what a guy, we disagree but he adds a link on his site to my site). Anyhow, I am doing this in the spirit of honest discussion. Also I have added a section for links to websites, blog posts, and other things I find interesting. The one I have included is on the term Jihad. I am trying to learn more about this term and what exactly it means. To most of us in the West it simply means holy war, and yet from what I have been reading this might be an oversimplification.

Another example of Hesiod's imbecility. Hesiod writes, in response to Steven Den Beste:

Den Beste also make the ridiculous argument that you need disciplined, motivated and well-trained troops to succeed in urban warfare.


As Somalia showed, all you need is an armed mob.

Actually Hesiod, that is a rotten example. Sure the U.S. troops had to pull out. But consider what they did. They held off a huge mob of armed militia for hours. A few hundred men vs. thousands. The death toll for the militia was staggering, perhaps reaching as high as 1,400. So yeah, to be effective at urban warfare disciplined, motivated, and well-trained troops are a necessity. If you just want to take the sledge hammer approach an armed mob will do fine.

This is just another example of Hesiod's inability to do even a modicum of research on something he is talking about.

Update Rob Crawford at Kloognome provides additional commentary on this topic that is pretty good.

Also, Hesiod's e-mail response have been a hoot. They demonstrate Hesiod cannot follow a logical train of thought. The guy is constantly jumping the tracks. He should changes the description of his blog from "First Amendment Zone" to "Non-sequitur Zone".

Thursday, September 19, 2002

I added the code for comments. So feel free to respond to anything I have written, both of you guys reading this stuff.

Update on Den Beste's article, "Who is Our Enemy" After posting his article Den Beste has recieved comments that both support and attack his position. I'll address them seperately.

Hesiod's Pablum: Hesiod basically resorts to the old stand by argument of, "when you can't criticize them in a meaningful sense call 'im a Nazi!" Yep, He offers virtually nothing in the way of criticism. His best efforts is in pointing to other blogs for support, or as I like to put it, the only time Hesiod comes up with something original is when he is on the pot.

Demosthenes: Here we get to see a great example of the Strawman fallacy in action. Demosthenes somehow manages to come up with the idea that Den Beste is actually advocating actual genocide. Demosthenes writes the following:

Perhaps he insane belief that deliberately erasing an ethnicity and culture is somehow not genocide (which has absolutely nothing to do with PoMo and everything to do with the difference between genocide and mass murder.)

What?? What?!?!? What?!?!?!? Did you actually read through the entire essay or just stop when you got to parts you didn't like and then decided he was going to go onto genocide? Den Beste never advocated wiping out an ethnicity, that is the people. He was talking about, at the very least, of altering Islam in a fundamental way so that it would be better able to compete with Western nations. This would, in literal terms, destroy Islam as we know it today; a backward and barbaric religion. Notice that Den Beste correctly points out that centuries ago Islam was dynamic and competitive. It was the bright center on the planet. The problem seems to be that while it was successful then it was unable to adapt to keep pace.

Demosthenes goes on:

Heck, even the silly "they're just jealous of our freedom" argument rears its ugly head,...

No it does not. That is not anywhere in Den Beste's essay from what I can see. Again Demosthenes is attacking a position that Den Beste has not put forward. Den Beste does point out that countries that have a free flow of information are more often than not better off than those countries that restrict the flow of information.

Demosthenes continues his dance with his strawman:

...when time and time again arabs in the region say that they don't particular dislike the U.S. itself... just its foreign policy. (Whether that dislike is justified is quite suitable for debate, but doesn't remotely fit this "jealous" paradigm.)

It isn't jealousness but the fact they have failed to be dominant, strong, leaders, part of the first world, whatever you want to call it. Not so much because they want to be first, the best, or whatever, but because by following the dictates of Islam they have ended up in a position of considerable weakness. The implication is that their culture/religion is not capable of beating the accursed Western culture. The implication is that their culture/religion is, by comparison, weak, ineffectual, or wrong. Den Beste has also outlined three possible responses which can be summarized simply as follows:

1. Turn inward and cut off contact with the outside world and continue to stagnate.
2. Reform and change those parts of Islam that are causing the problem.
3. Lash out and attack those that by their very existence underscore the failings of your culture.

To be sure, I am quite sure there are elements of all three in the Islamic world/Middle East. Still this does not mean the U.S. and the West can be complacent and sit back and hope that the groups who advocate approaches 1 and 2 above win out. Further, this war does not have to be one in which the military might of the U.S. is brought to bear, although it is one of the primary tools.

Demesthenes continues:

It's even coupled with the traditional breast-beating statements that the United States is the best country in the history of the world, "economically and technologically and militarily and even culturally", a statement of dubious validity at the very least, and abject hilarity to anybody who isn't trying to rally the faithful.

Well I have been trying to resist this urge, but I can't any longer. This is, in my opinion, a flat out intentional lie. What Den Beste really said was:

...the United States, which is the most successful of the western democracies by a long margin. America is the most successful nation in the history of the world, economically and technologically and militarily and even culturally.

Swapping "best" for "most successful" is highly dishonest. Den Beste almost immediately goes on to point out that "most successful" does not necessarilly have to mean best. He uses the example of Baywatch which is undoubtedly a highly succesful television show, but is utter dreck in terms of art.

While I could continue, there is little point. Demosthenes has shown himself to be a non-potty mouth version of Hesiod. Unable to form a cogent response to Den Beste's article so in absence of actually thinking he resorts to dishonesty, innuendo, and unsupported Bravo Sierra. Although there is one more point that Demosthenes gets wrong that I would like to point out:

And all because 12 Al Qaeda Members flew some planes into some buildings hoping to start exactly the cultural war that SDB is calling for?

Wrong again. This war started long before this. It started when Al Qaeda bombed our Embassy in Kenya, unfortunately Clinton and his administration didn't realize it.

Aziz H. Poonawalla: This critical response is anything but. Again like Demosthenes, Aziz relies of the good old Strawman argument. For example, Aziz writes the following:

Of course, Steven (despite having voted for Gore) will surely consider Bush to be a mastermind who has fully grasped the intricaicies of the cultural war that he is describing.

Of course...yeah, Aziz is actually a mind reader and knows exactly what Steven was thinking. Steven expressed no such opinion in his essay. He may think this, or he may think like I do, that Bush and his administration may or may not realize who exactly our enemy is.

Aziz goes on:

Every setback is interpreted as part of the plan ("rope a dope"). Bush announces to the UN that he seeks Security Council resolution, but also insists that he is willing to go it alone. He is preparing to ask Congress for approval despite insisting that he doesn't need it. If you believe that we don't need UN approval OR Congressional authorization to wage war against Iraq, then fine. But why, then, bother with the public requests for approval from these entities?

How about this for an analogy. You and I are in my car. I turn to you and say, "Hey mind if I smoke?" Its called being polite. And in Foreign Policy and Politics consulting with the "other guys" can sometimes head off problems that don't need to occur. Using my (admittedly simplistic analogy) I could just light up and you could get really pissed that I'd not consider your feelings on the matter. You might even say something to which I could respond, "Fuck you, it's my car." Guess what Aziz, I'd be right. I'd also be an asshole. So instead I say, "Hey, mind if I smoke." So there is no inconsistency in the above (italicized) quote of yours.

Aziz continues with:

The problem with Steven's long post detailing the Evil Arab Culture...

Stop! Stop right there. Let me go look at Den Beste's essay. Okay, done. Den Beste never claims Islam is evil. In fact, I don't believe he has ever implied it is evil even indirectly. He is instead pointing out that it is the culture of our enemy. The fact that they are our enemy does not necessarily make them evil. To be very simplistic for Aziz, some of the Muslims are our enemy, some are not. We should try to reach out to those who are not our enemies and kill those that are our enemies. Is that simple enough?

Again we see that the post is wide of the target...Hell it misses the target by a mile. Try again Aziz.

One of the reponses that was supportive that had something interesting was this one by Eric Raymond. Eric seems to be stressing the Jihad component of Islam as the primary problem. I am not sure I agree with this. Den Beste's essay pointed to a number of problems with Islam and Jihad would only be one part.

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Steven den Beste This has to be, simply put, one of the best essays on what this "War on Terrorism" is about. It isn't so much about terrorism, although that is a symptom. It isn't about Osama bin Laden and his cronies, although they are a symptom. It is about a culture that is dying and cannot handle this fact. The Islamic culture, when you get right down to it is bankrupt by today's standards. It is a culture that practices what many in the West would consider barbarisms and anachronisms.

1. Public maiming as punishments for crimes.
2. Subjugation of all women.
3. Intolerance for other religions.
4. Repressive governments of all stripes.
5. An almost pathological contempt for modernization.

With characteristics such as these it would be virtually impossible for a culture to compete against a culture that is in diametric opposition and would reject all such characteristics. Further, the prospects of Islam jettisoning these types of characteristics are very slim since to do so means to risk one's eternal soul. What good is success if in death you will spend eternity damned?

So part of the problem, as den Beste points out, is our success. Our success puts in the starkest terms the failures of the Islamic culture. Another part of the problem is that the primary guide for how a Muslim is to live his life, the Qur’an states that by adopting the characteristics above they will rule the world, that they will be successful. So not only does our success highlight in no uncertain terms their failures, but it also is blasphemous. The Muslim is left with two choices here:

1. That the Qur’an is full of Bravo Sierra
2. Well there is no number 2.

The reason is that there is no number two is because, how can God be wrong? The Qur’an, AFAIK, is supposed to be the word of God as told to Muhammed. So the only real option left is that God lied (or maybe Muhammed was rotten at dictation).

So not only does our success highlight the Islamic worlds utter failures to compete in the modern era, but it strikes a deadly and lethal blow to the very heart of the Islamic culture, the Qur’an.

Now think about that for a minute. Suppose everything you believed in turned out to be a lie. What would your reaction be? You’d probably be pissed. And you’d have one of two possible reactions. You’d either be pissed at whomever demonstrated everything you believed in to be a lie, or those who taught everything you believe. Thus, Osama bin Laden has tapped into this reservoir of animosity and is using it to try and destroy the offenders. By doing so, by destroying Western culture (this means Europe too, so you Europeans had better get your heads’ out of your asses) you remove the offense and restore faith in all that you believe.

This war is for keeps, IMO. There is no room for negotiation here. The other side cannot abide the existence of Western Culture and the U.S. in particular. For as long as “we” exist the problems above exist. Since they cannot give any quarter, we should not delude ourselves and ask for it or offter it. The problem is that if we offer mercy to our enemies in this war they will use to their advantage and our detriment.

This is why Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, and other Arab nations should not be considered allies, but competitors at best and enemies at worst. And make no mistake…what this war will eventually boil down to is the destruction of Islamic culture as we know it today.

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Krugman's Dishonesty Again I am pretty sure I posted this link before, but in reading it again something leapt out at me that I missed the first time that highlights Krugman's own dishonesty when discussing Social Security and Medicare. In the link above Krugman uses a simple example as follows:

Imagine a static economy - no growth in productivity or wages - in which people live two periods. They work for one period, then retire for the second (so you should think of a "period" as something like 30 years). We assume that the real rate of return on private investment is 100% (remember, again, that these are long, multi-year periods), so that one real dollar invested during working years yields two dollars in retirement.

Now suppose that there is a Social-Security type pay-as-you-go system, in which all workers pay some fixed amount - say $1 - which is not invested, but instead used to pay current benefits to retirees. Since given our assumptions the number of workers equals the number of retirees, this means that every individual will put in $1 when young, then get $1 back when retired - a zero rate of return.

This is great...when you live in Fantasyland (also known as Princeton apparently). Note the assumption of essentially no growth. This a nice way of getting around problem with the current program. This ignores the fact that there are going to be 77 million retirees taking advantage of Social Security and Medicare. By ignoring this problem and focusing only on the costs Krugman is, is just as dishonest as those he excoriates with this blurb. Kind of costs him the moral high ground doesn't it. Makes him out to be just another partisan dissembler.

The Great Terror by Jeffery Goldberg Wow...I mean wow. This is a very disquieting article. I highly recommend it. This is a very long article that looks at some Iraq and Saddam Hussein and the horrors he has inflicted on people.

The people in the cellar were panicked. They had fled downstairs to escape the bombardment, and it was difficult to abandon their shelter. Only splinters of light penetrated the basement, but the dark provided a strange comfort. "We wanted to stay in hiding, even though we were getting sick," Nasreen said. She felt a sharp pain in her eyes, like stabbing needles. "My sister came close to my face and said, 'Your eyes are very red.' Then the children started throwing up. They kept throwing up. They were in so much pain, and crying so much. They were crying all the time. My mother was crying. Then the old people started throwing up."...

The story of Halabja did not end the night the Iraqi Air Force planes returned to their bases. The Iranians invited the foreign press to record the devastation. Photographs of the victims, supine, bleached of color, littering the gutters and alleys of the town, horrified the world. Saddam Hussein's attacks on his own citizens mark the only time since the Holocaust that poison gas has been used to exterminate women and children.

Given that Hussein is the only person in power to use weapons of mass destruction, and on the citizens of his own country no less, the idea that Hussein will not use such weapons is...stupidity beyond belief.

Gosden said that she cannot understand why the West has not been more eager to investigate the chemical attacks in Kurdistan. "It seems a matter of enlightened self-interest that the West would want to study the long-term effects of chemical weapons on civilians, on the DNA," she told me. "I've seen Europe's worst cancers, but, believe me, I have never seen cancers like the ones I saw in Kurdistan."

You'd think this were true, that it is in the self-interest of the West to investigate this problem and address it. However, I see very little being done to try and keep Hussein form making and using these weapons. Hesiod, for example, seems to revel in the idea the Hussein will somehow out smart Bush which will result in Bush losing in the next election. He seems to have no concern for the people who have to live with the threat and the very real possibility they might be attacked by such weapons.

Is the IRA training Palestinian Terrorists? Pipe bombs found at Jenin were of the same make as those used by the IRA, concludes a Bristish explosives expert. Also there are other indications that perhaps the IRA has turned from conducting terrorists activities to opening a "continuing education" program for other terrorists. Maybe the pay is better and it is less dangerous.

How Democracy is Preserved This is an interesting and counter intuitive article on how one goes about preserving democracy. The conventional wisdom is that one does not preserve democracy by curtailing liberties; that doing so in fact helps accomplish exactly what the terrorists want, namely the undermining of democracy.

This article points out that once democracy is in place rarely does it ever get lost due to internal events. The sole exception being the Weimar Repbulic in Germany. The author points out that the internal situaiton in this case was very, very strained. Germany had just lost WWI, was suffering from massive unemployment and unbelievable hyper-inflation. Further, there was a tremendous amount of internal strife within the government. These factors, some conjecture, led to the rise of Adolf Hitler.

The idea, according to the article, is that by doing little or nothing to address such problems is what has the potential to lead to democracy being undermined. I have to say, the argument is rather compelling. The idea is that by curtailing some liberties early one to solve the problem(s) one ensures that democracy will survive and that latter when the problem(s) have been dealt with the constraints on liberties can be removed. However, I am still conscerned about a form or creeping totalitarianism. My view is that once politicians get their hands on some power they are reluctant to let go. So while they might remove some of the prior constraints they may not remove all of them.

Still, I have to agree that this concern is not enough to declare John Ashcroft is some sort of dictatorial religious fanatic as some seem to enjoy doing.