Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

What IR can learn from the NHL

Both Gary and Rebecca cited Marc Lynch recommending “intervening” in Libya:

The appropriate comparison is Bosnia or Kosovo, or even Rwanda where a massacre is unfolding on live television and the world is challenged to act. It is time for the United States, NATO, the United Nations and the Arab League to act forcefully to try to prevent the already bloody situation from degenerating into something much worse.

I petulantly asked whether Mark Lynch had ever seen an intervention he didn’t like.

The answer, of course, is yes, which a moment’s thought about pseudonyms would have made clear. My social radar remains a perfect contraindicator.

But that leaves several questions, not the least of which is “with what Army”? Certainly not the U.S. one, which is overextended in battles of—let us be polite&dubious optimal cost.

NATO and The United Nations suffer similar issues, along with “institutional inertia” (unlike the U.S., they do not jump into wars without a strategy, a purpose, and a plan).


This leaves the Arab League, which has several members—Egypt, Lebanon, Somalia, Bahrain, Iraq, Libya (being the issue at hand), Yemen, the Sudan, Tunisia, and possibly Saudi Arabia and Jordan come immediately to mind—that are rather preoccupied themselves.

It’s not just that the very sharp Mr. Lynch conflates genocides with civil war; it’s that he chooses the wrong strategy for ending the process.

Watch NHL fights. Here’s a good example (fight starts ca. 0:55):

Note that the fight isn’t ended until half a minute later. The referees (especially the one on the left side of the screen) are paying attention the entire time—fallen gloves get picked up or kicked out of the way—but they don’t even attempt an intervention until the players are on the ice.

The corrolary is that as soon as a player falls to the ice, they intervene.

The question for those advocating military action should be seen in that light: how can we quickly and efficiently get the battle to the point where intervention does not involve getting in the middle of two moving targets.

This is an economics blog, so, yes, you can bet that my answer will be economics-related.

If you want to stop a dictator from killing his people, freeze any of his personal assets that are held out of the country.

In cases where the dictator is likely to fall, it sends a clear signal to other countries. (In cases where the dictator is likely to succeed, the worst case scenario is that banking relationships will be damaged, a consideration that the domestic government would have considered before making the decision to freeze the assets in the first place.)

The purpose of financial in lieu of military intervention is to balance the tradeoff. A dictator whose funds will remain unencumbered no matter how many of his people he kills will not change his behavior. A dictator who stands to lose a large (and increasing) portion of $70 billion faces a scenario where extending his time in office may well appear too costly.

(There is the added signalling benefit of the proliferation of asset-freezings that occur. Since each country and institution that freezes the assets is weighing their decision based on political outcomes, the more places that freeze his assets, the more clear it becomes that his efforts are not expected to succeed.)

Again, I premise this on the idea that Tom Friedman’s basic premise is correct: that economic activity mitigates the chance of military activity. But the idea here is much easier to implement uni-, bi-, or multilaterally than managing the logistics of moving soldiers, machinery, and rations to an area that may have ended activities by the time you can start to have an effect. (Even ignoring if the effect will be negative.)

IR recommendations should follow the lead of NHL referees: make it as easy as possible for the fighters to be separated, but don’t put your body between them until then.

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My Job Application Letter

Dear Philadelphia Inquirer,

I also am a native of the City of Brotherly Love. The last two firms at which I have worked have lost billions of dollars.

While I admit that—unlike your latest columnist—I am not responsible for that happening, I believe this qualifies me to write a monthly column for you. While I understand that you must keep the amount you pay for the column secret from the workers who took $25/week pay cuts in an effort to save the paper, I believe that we can quickly agree to an amount in the neighborhood of the $1,750 you pay Rick Santorum, whose Philadelphia ties are much more suspect than mine.

I will, of course, write columns for you specifying that the current financial system is in perfect order, functioning precisely as it should. This should give my column the same truthiness that Mr. Santorum and your latest columnist bring to your august institution, and “promote further discourse.”

You can reach me via this blog. I look forward to receiving a contract.

Best,

Ken Houghton

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Whittle a beak series

Ilsm continues his whittle the beak series:

Professor Theodore Postol, MIT, is a continuing and outspoken critic of Missile Defense Agency, Star Wars and numerous related components such as Patriot and newer science projects. He made news in 1992 pointing out that 37 of 38 disintegrating SCUD missiles fired by Iraq during Gulf War II were missed by the patriot interceptor missiles.

Postol’s latest Op Ed Apr 15 2008 in the Boston Globe, is about the utter dismissal of outcomes of star wars tests of interceptors against ‘decoys’.

He states that of two tests attempted neither gave any positive results and failed against the least difficult decoys. He also states that there are allegations that the missile defense agency hid these dismal results and caused researchers to eliminate all references to failed intercept tests.

This shows one of the great foundations of weapon testing: tests ‘not failed’ are passed. Goes for tests not done and ignored.

Missile defense agency’s very busy public affairs office responded that there have been 5 tests of decoyed targets and all have provided “actionable” results. Got lots of things to fix. Tests are supposed to show things work, not show what is wrong with the object being tested. There is huge scrap and rework, and it is far more expensive to fix design errors after the system is in the field, but the tests succeed in justifying more money for these wooden beaks.

Star wars is so important it will be funded, built and deployed in Poland and be as useful as the Maginot Line.

Tests are success oriented. Never will a failure slow the profits. Disregard the failed tests full speed ahead! Scrap and rework is business development, revenue growth reward for failure.
This is not new, in Fall 2000 the Director of Operational Test stated that the MV 22 Osprey did not complete effectiveness tests and failed reliability and maintenance tests. The DoD was going to build it anyway, despite the negative report until an MV 22 crashed killing the crew in Dec 2000.

Congress needs to sustain these superlative design companies. As the interceptors are deployed no tests have been done to show that the interceptors can launch from alert with no script, will complete a mission cycle and get to target if needed. All the tests are highly scripted, and look like shuttle launches delayed for maintenance weather or what ever. Good thing North Korea cannot feed their children lest they might nuke us through star wars.

Might as well whittle a beak for all the good the untested interceptors will do.
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This by ilsm.

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US Legislators Profiting from War? Say it ain’t so, Joe

Seems it’s not just the executive branch and their friends that have “invested” in this war. From IPS comes a news article about the money invested by our legislators.

Members of Congress invested nearly 196 million dollars of their own money in companies that receive hundreds of millions of dollars a day from Pentagon contracts to provide goods and services to U.S. armed forces, say nonpartisan watchdog groups.

The article is based on a report by the Center for Responsive Politics, via their site: Opensecretes.org

Before we get to the meat of this, consider that I found this via Common Dreams.org’ copying the news article. The article is not a US based media article. Oh nooooooooo! It is a nonprofit, global news organization out of Rome publishing an article on a report by a US based watch dog group. THANK GOD FOR THE INTERNET!
Ok, I feel better. Don’t you?

The original article, Strategic Assets has a wonderful chart. Of the top 10 legislators invested in our military industrial complex, can you guess who has the most tied up? A hint: Of the top 10, 3 are democrats and they don’t include Nancy or Diane.

According to the most recent reports of their personal finances, 151 current members of Congress had between $78.7 million and $195.5 million invested in companies that received defense contracts of at least $5 million in 2006. In all, these companies received more than $275.6 billion from the government in 2006, or $755 million per day, according to FedSpending.org, a website of the budget watchdog group OMB Watch.

In 2004, the first full year after the Iraq war began, Republican and Democratic lawmakers—both hawks and doves—had between $74.9 million and $161.3 million invested in companies under contract with the Department of Defense.

Our esteemed colleagues have seem to have no concern about the image such investing may present:

The minimum value of Congress members’ personal investments in these contractors increased 5 percent from 2004 to 2006,…

Granted, some of the companies counted may seem unlikely candidates for being considered defense until you read:

As the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have expanded and transformed, so, too, has the need for goods and services that extend beyond helicopters, armored vehicles and guns. Giant corporations outside of the defense sector, such as Pepsico, IBM, Microsoft and Johnson & Johnson, have received defense contracts and are all popular investments for both members of Congress and the general public. So common are these companies, both as personal investments and as defense contractors, it would appear difficult to build a diverse blue-chip stock portfolio without at least some of them.

So, what’s a person to do with their 401K money if they want to be in the good, secure companies but does not want to promote war profiteering? As noted in the article, even without war, the solder needs tooth paste. But we are exercising our military currently and we’re using it up, which means replacement costs are accelerated. Though maybe tooth paste is used at no greater rate. Though we did call in all those reserves. Which might explain Pepsico getting $187 million in 2006 but it does not explain:

In the case of Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chair of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, his stock in Pepsico, which is worth at least $1 million, is actually held by his wife, who is on the food and beverage corporation’s board of directors.

Nor does it explain this:

Petraeus will speak on April 8 and 9 to the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees. In 2006, members of these two committees had between $32 million and $44 million invested in companies with DOD contracts. Foreign Relations member Kerry’s investments accounted for most of it—between $28.9 million and $38.2 million. Members of the two committees held between $3 million and $5.1 million in defense-only companies.

What is there to say? Military spending of war does increase GDP for the good? Privatization of the military goes far beyond mercenaries? The USA is an economy of war making? It’s just business? I’m a fool for not riding the money wave?

The army and the empire may be falling apart
The money has gotten scarce.

One mans word held the country together
But the truth is getting fierce.

END

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