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Monday, October 31, 2005


For the first time in my life I am in Africa, in a Moslem country, in an Arab country and in a non Democratic country. However, I am visiting my brother in law who has rented a huge house in a very beautiful and very rich suburb of Tunis called Sidi Bou said which, by day, is full of tourists.

In fact the strange thing is how similar to Italy everything is. Arriving in the airport (which looked like all airports) I expected to see people from the Magreb with more rights than Europeans. Indeed in Passport control, there was a, that is one (1) desk reserved for citizens of UMA (Union of Magrebian Africa ?). However, it was closed and citizens had to wait in line with us foreigners. The guy who checked our passports had lighter skin than Elisabetta (to whom I am married).

I noticed one or two women in the long (slow moving) lines with covered hair. This would be about par for the concourse in Rome Fiumicino Airport.

Outside it was dry with wide open flat spaces. At one point I thought (silently to myself) “look at that maniac walking around in a hospital gown”. The I realised he was wearing traiditional Tunisian clothes, while everyone else was wearing pants (mostly blue jeans).

Riding to Sidi Bou said from the airport, I noticed a woman driving a taxi. Now I know that Tunisia is very modern for a Moslem Arab country but I was surprised. Compared to Italy the roads were huge (4 lanes each way) the cars were few and people drove very slowly.

Sidi Bou said has a local ordinance which requires all houses to be painted white and blue. This is one thing that made the similarity to Greek touristy towns more disorienting than striking. Also, sad to say, most people on the beautiful street were tourists. Touristy it may be, but Sidi Bou Said is one of the most beautiful spots I have ever seen. Little winding streets between white walls often overgrown with bougainville and an amazing view of the amazing harbor of Tunis, Tunis and Carthage (which has definitely recovered from the Scipios).

I drank tea in a cafe. Here there were western type tables outside. Inside there were fairly high terraces were one reclined to nibble and drink off of trays. There was perfect 100 % segregation. All of the Tunisians sat on chairs at tables and all of the tourists reclined on the terraces. One odd thing is that the place was all one big room with no back area hidden from customers. Thus I saw a waiter smoking for the first time. Also when accidentally I paid actually more than the waiters opening bargaining offer, I couldn’t help but notice all of the waiters laughing and pointing at me (actually Elisabetta pointed it out to me).

After sunset the street was full of Tunisian twenty somethings 90 % of whom wore jeans. They were walking on the street not in a mall so this was clearly not the USA but it could have been the north coast of the mediterenian as easily as the South. I recognised that global capitalism had definitively engulfed Sidi Bou Said when I saw the one certain sign – a Che Guevara T-shirt.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

You Read it Here First

I predicted that Bush would offer a position on the Supreme court to Fitzgerald just to get him off the case and now it's confirmed by the unimpeachable of the two possible sources

Dear Mr. President,

Although I am extremely honored, and to be honest quite surprised, I must decline your gracious offer to become your nominee for SCOTUS.

After this grand journey is over maybe we can get together for a few drinks, trade stories and tell a few jokes.


Patrick J. Fitzgerald
Your Faithful U.S. Attorney

Isn't it odd that when he is blogging Fitzgerals sounds just like Harriet Miers ?
Harriet Miers nomination withdrawn

Via ThinkProgress

I was actually beginning to be enthusiastic about Miers as her views on affirmative action and abortion were revealed. Also the bit about her boyfriend assuring conservatives that she believed in traditional family values was too wonderfult.
Uber Boo Boo

Looks like the uber insider predicted Fitzmas two days early no ?
Give Aid to Pakistan

This is completely crazy

The Oct. 8 quake killed more than 53,000 people, injured 74,000 and left an estimated 3 million homeless. Tens of thousands of people remain stranded in inaccessible mountain villages, where aid has not yet arrived, and the death toll could double if help is not "immediately mobilized" for them, said the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.


Oxfam, the international aid agency, criticized a number of rich countries for failing to contribute what Oxfam described as their "fair share," a ratio calculated according to the size of their economy as compared to other industrialized countries.


The United States was among those who contributed less than a fifth of their fair share, according to the group.

It is clear that without an amount of money which is tiny compared to the US budget thousands of people will die. It is obviously morally necessary to give. Also Northern Pakistan is the central front of the war on terror. That's where Bin Laden is hiding. It is clear that US generosity now is the most deadly weapon we can use against al Qaeda.

That the combination of moral and practical necessity is not enough to move the US government shows the depths to which it has sunk.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

I am totally honored to appear on a Blogroll immediately after FafBlog here.
Anti Family Republicans Against Personal Responsibility

In the Washington Post Jonathan Weisman reports that Republicans are finally trying to cut spending. It is no surprise at all that they aim to cut anti poverty spending not pork. The bridge to now where is sacred but irresponsible poor people are going to get a break along with irresponsible rich and middle class people.... What ? Aren't the Republicans for personal responsibility ? Well what about this

The House Ways and Means Committee today will begin drafting legislation that would save about $8 billion over five years, eight times the $1 billion target the panel was given in the spring. To do it, Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) would cut back federal aid to state child-support enforcement programs,...

Now child-support enforcement is an anti poverty program, so it makes sense that Republicans want to cut the federal contribution, but it is also an enforcement of paternal responsibility, a punishment for irresponsible fathering and an enforcement of one aspect of the traditional family, the obligation of fathers to support their children. Thus Thomas shows that he doesn't care about personal responsibility or family values.

I am convinced that anger about run away fathers is the driving force behind the "family values" movement. This is the only explanation of why they always use the word family. Also note the way the issue brings non political men to Washington to protest about non political men -- both the million man march and the promise keepers mega event only make sence if American men think the only issue that really counts is standing by their women and children.

Thus I recently proposed child support enforcement as a great issue for Democrats, since it unites helping the poor, holding people responsible for their actions and enforcing at least a tiny little bit of tradition.

Now that the Republicans have lead with their chins, I think it is a mega wedge issue. It clearly divides the interests of rich people who just want to pay lower taxes and connected businesses on the one hand from people who care about responsibility and family. The only problem is that the amount of money involved is so small that the money grabbers would be fools to try to grab money there. Fortunately they are fools.

I think the Democrats should make a huge issue of this. The Republicans' defence

Ways and Means officials said the child-support proposal would change the federal matching rate for child-support enforcement from a 66 percent share to a 50 percent share that would be more in line with other federal and state partnerships, saving $3.8 billion through 2010.

will make it easy to get Republican governors on board. No way a governor can simultaneously be for easing up on dead beat dads and shifting burdens from the federal government to State governments.
Third La Repubblica article on SISMI and alleged Iraqi nuclear projects.

This article is less dramatic than the second. Bonini and D'Avanzo try to blame SISMI (roughly Italian CIA) and its director Pollari for the missinterpretation of the Aluminum tubes too. They really don't have anything new on this. The tubes, which Colin Powell told the security councile were gas centrfuges were in fact casings for an Iraqi copy of the Italian Medusa missile. They have the exact specifications of Medusa casings. This has been known for years, indeed, analysts of the deparmtment of energy pointed this out before Powell's speach. Since the Medusa missile is Italian,
SISMI's failure to note this little problem with the centrifuge theory could not be innocent. However, the failure of the Bush administration to understand that the theory was a silly idea of one CIA analyst could not be innocent either.

All this is, by now, well known.

Aside from that Bonini and D'Avanzo discuss an attempt last summer by Pollari to blame the French for telling the US that the Nigien dossier was OK. In fact, the French said that they knew it was a forgery. Finally they point out that a Parliamentary investigation of the affair was blocked by the Berlusconi administration who claimed that it would endager intelligence sources and methods and the criminal investication of Rocco Martino (the guy who sold the fake dossier to Panorama) was opened and closed in half a hour. Again the exreme unenthusiasm of the Italian Parliament and the prosecutor Franco Ionta is well known. Ionta is, as an Italian magistrate and unlike Patrick Fitzgerald, independent from the executive. It is clear that he is unlike Fitzgerald in other ways as well.

I think the third article is beating a dead horse. It is clear that Pollari was determined to help Bush deceive the world. It is reasonably obvious that Berlusconi should have known what was going on and presumably wanted it to happen. Berluscni is both prime minister and owner of Panorama and clearly had something to do with sending false intelligence to the USA.

However, unlike many of Berlusconi's other activities, that is not a crime.

I think this will be no big deal in Italy. It won't come a surprise to anyone and doesn't rank very high up among the misdeeds of Berlusconi or SISMI.
Second Installment of La Repubblica story on SISMI and Nigerien Uranium.

Yesterday's article was fairly critical of SISMI but this one starts out firing both barrels. Nicola Polari is director of SISMI, roughly the Italian CIA.

CARLO BONINI e GIUSEPPE D'AVANZO quote Nicola Polari, the director of SISMI,
"Sono il direttore dell'intelligence e il mio solo interlocutore istituzionale, dopo l'11 settembre, è stato a Washington il direttore della Cia, George Tenet. Come è ovvio, io parlo soltanto con lui..."
"I am the intelligence director and, after September 11, my only official contact in washington has been George Tenet, the director of the CIA. As is obvious I speak only with him."

Then they argue that he is lying. Thus open war between La Repubblica and Polari. They also quote un-named secret agents that Polari set up a non institutionale (impropoer) co-ordination with the Berlusconi administration and and the media.

Bonini and D'Avanzo, who, in my opinion, are relatively reliable as Italian journalists go, claim that SISMI was determined to help the Bush administration find excuses to invade Iraq and didn't care about the truth.

Reviewing their earlier article they make their accusations very clear. Today they definitely claim that SISMI as an organisation was in on the fraud from the beginning. they ingnor anonymous sources' assertions that it was4 crooks trying to cheat the French. This is a worrying pattern as the same evidence supports stronger conclusions when summarized than when analysed in detail (very common at La Repubblica).

Breve riepilogo. Il Sismi di Nicolò Pollari vuole accreditare l'acquisto iracheno di uranio grezzo per fabbricare una bomba nucleare. Lo schema del gioco è alquanto trasparente. Le carte "autentiche" su un tentativo di acquisto in Niger (vecchia "intelligence" italiana degli anni Ottanta) le porta in dote il vicecapo del Centro Sismi di Roma (Antonio Nucera). Vengono affastellate con altra cartaccia costruita alla bell'e meglio con un furto simulato nell'ambasciata del Niger (se ne ricavano carta intestata e timbri). I documenti vengono mostrati dagli uomini di Pollari agli agenti della stazione Cia di Roma mentre un "postino" del Sismi, un tale di nome Rocco Martino, li consegna a Londra al MI6 di sir Richard Dearlove.

that is

Brief summary. Nicolo' Pollari's SISMI wants to support the claim that Iraq bought raw Uranium to make an atomic bomb. The scheme is quite transparent. The "authentic" papers on an attempt to buy in Niger (old Italian intelligence from the 80s) is given to the vice director of the Rome SISMI office (Antonio Nucera). They are combined with other paper amateurishly constructed using a fake burglary at the Nigerien embassy (with which they obtained letterhead and seals). The documents are shown to SISI, to agents at the CIA station in Rome while a "mailman" of SISMI named Rocco Marino, gives them in London to MI6 directed by Richard Dearlove."

SISMI as an institution is identified with Nucera and Pollari. This might be excessive counterspin.

Now my quick summary of the article.

October 15 2001 Pollari is begins working as director of SISMI (he had worked on intelligence in Palazzo Chigi roughly the Italian White House). On the same day SISMI reports, without details, that in 2000 Niger agreed to sell Uranium to Iraq. Berlusconi (after great effort) Visited the White House (this is all the same day).

The CIA is unconvinced by a claim without evidence and State Department INA is very unconvinced.

The CIA station chief in Rome is unreceptive so Pollari talks to Michael Ledeen.

Pollari keeps the SISMI station chief in Washington completely in the dark as he is considered to friendly with the CIA. Instead, according to Italian sources, he talks with Rice and Ledeen. Us sources say

"Un funzionario dell'Amministrazione dice a Repubblica: "Posso confermare che il 9 settembre del 2002, il generale Nicolò Pollari incontrò Stephen Hadley, il vice dell'allora consigliere per la Sicurezza nazionale, Condoleezza Rice". "

that is

A dependent of the administration told La Repubblica " I can confirm that on September 9 2002, general Nocolo' Pollari met Stephen Hadley, then vice director of the NSA."

Josh Marshall notes that Laura Rosen confirms this important claim (which shows that Pollari lied to La Repubblica). Rosen writes "National Security Council spokesman Frederick Jones confirmed the meeting to the Prospect on Tuesday." Note the nonymity.

Pollari reported twice to parliament fall 2002. In the second but not the first report he claimed SISMI had documentary proof.

One amusing twist "Panorama" a not very reputable weekly which belongs to Silvio Berlusconi reported in Sept 2001 that Iraq had bought 500 kilograms of Uranium from Nigeria. Probably a good faith effort to report the SISMI story marred by extreme incompetence.

As has been widely reported the documents were given to Elisabetta Burba who concluded the story was bogus. They were also given to the US embassy and sent to Washington. Bonini and D'Avanzo claim that the CIA ignored them for 3 months (it has been unclear to me if the CIA said they were fake no way the CIA could have failed to notice).

So the claim's in substance are that Pollari is a liar and the very strong suggestion (presented with little evidence) is that he was in on the forgery from the beginning. There is no real evidence that SISMI did more than pretend to believe unreliable sources (the 4 crooks). The theory however is that Berlusconi was eager to help Bush get his war on and that Pollari is totally dishonest and willing to give Berlusconi whatever fake intel he wants.
Full Nelson

Steve Clemons Writes

An uber-insider source has just reported the following to TWN (since confirmed by another independent source):

1. 1-5 indictments are being issued. The source feels that it will be towards the higher end.

2. The targets of indictment have already received their letters.

Pop the uber champagne.

I think the uber insider might feel that his anonymity was not respected. Got to find some new cliches.

Josh Marshall confirms that the source is indeed the uber insider ehm I mean an uber insider.

update: Just to belabor an obvious point. Steve Clemons and Josh Marshall can no more claim that when they write uber insider they refer to anyone but Chris Nelson than Robert Novak can claim that when he writes "CIA Operative" he doesn't mean covert operative. Google makes this clear with a search of Clemons's blog for "uber insider" and neither indictment nor indictments

In fact a google search for "uber insider" and neither indictment nor indictments makes it pretty clear that, according to cyberspace, Chris Nelson is the insider uber ales (just don't tell Mrs Schlongy)

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

World O'Crap demolishes the Crap on the WSJ editorial page.

Unfortunately comments don't seem to be working over there so I comment here. I can add to the refutation of WSJ crappy point 18

18. Media reports say Mr. Fitzgerald is also exploring violations of the 1917 Espionage Act, for leaking classified information. This law has rarely been enforced, and if leaking classified information was routinely prosecuted half of Washington would be in jail.

Big Lie: "Half of Washington" leaks classified information to the press. While it may be true that half of all senior Bush officials do this, they actually compose only a small percentage of the people in Washington (and they're only a drop in the bucket when compared to all of the humble government employees who hold clearances but never, ever leak stuff to Novak, Judy, and the rest).

Lie 2: That the 1917 Espionage Act is rarely enforced.

Excellent rebuttal but two words might usefully have been added. The are "Larry Franklin" recently nailed under the espionage act for giving classified information to AIPAC which is as US based and as much a part of the DC establishment as Robert Novak. Poor guy, he only did it because AIPAC had more access to the top ranks of the Bush administration than he did.

On the other hand he was in Rome around the time they were cooking up the forged Nigerien Uranium dossier.
The Last chance to leak before Fizmas frenzy is getting extreme.
"Cheney Told Aide of C.I.A. Officer, Notes Show" in tomorrow's NY Times. The notes (written by Scooter Libby) imply that Cheney told Libby that "Wilson's wife" worked for the CIA on June 12, 2003. They further imply that Cheney learned from George Tenet.

Mega big. Obviously this means that there is proof that Libby lied to investigators and, thus, that he is a felon. The dramatic part is the direct link to Cheney.

It is reasonably clear that the source for this leak is Libby's lawyer, who, by the way refused to say anything about whether Libby just got a target letter.

I think one condition for the leak was that Johnston, Stevenson and Jehl had to write "Disclosing a covert agent’s identity can be a crime, but only if the person who discloses it knows the agent’s undercover status." Of course this is not true. The agent's identity is classified so disclosure is a violation of the espionage act. Knowledge is required only to violate the IIPA.

I'd say a small price for the info that Cheney was in on it from the beginning.
La Repubblica has an article about the fake Nigierien dossier.

This is absurdly obvious forgery which purported to show that Iraq had sought to buy 500 tons of yellowcake from Niger. The story first recalls that the dossier passed through the hands of Rocco Martino, an ex officer in police/military intelligence who was fired for misconduct in 1977 but kept contact with Italian intelligence and, in particular, SISMI (roughly the Italian CIA). This is well known since he sold the dossier to Elisabetta Burba an journalist at the weekly "Panorama" who gave a copy the the US embassy and also investigated the story and concluded that the dossier was bogus. To be as polite as possible Panorama does not have the highest journalistic standards in the world, so the fact that the President of the USA went with something too dubious for Panorama caused great hilarity in my family. Oddly CARLO BONINI e GIUSEPPE D'AVANZO don't mention Panorama, and, in fact, say the dossier was passed directly from SISMI to the embassy.

Bonini and D'Avanzo report that Martino was helped in forging the dossier by Antonio Nucera vice director of the Sismi office in viale Pasteur Rome. Josh Marshall confirms that Nucera was involved, although he and co-authors did not publish the name referring only to "a SISMI agent".

Bonini and D'Avanzo go on to claim that Martino and Nucera were assisted by a woman who's name they do not report who works at the Nigerien embassy in Rome and who agreed to be interviewed. Marshall et al also mention a woman whose identity they shield.
Bonini and D'Avanzo further claim that the three obtained the assistance of the "primo consigliere" of the embassy Zakaria Yaou Maiga (I'm not sure if that is Italian for charge' d'affairs). I think this accusation is new.

Bonini and D'Avanzo report a novel explanation of the whole plot. They say that the original plan was to sell the dossier to the French who were concerned about smuggling of Nigerien Uranium, and that the dossier was, indeed sold to the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure. An un-named DGSE agent says that they immediately recognised that the obvious forgery was an obvious forgery since the dossier presented a long since retired foreign minister (Allele Habibou IIRC) as foreign minister at the time of the alleged deal. Getting the signature right is level one forgery. Getting the forged name right is level zero.

Then, they claim, after 9/11 the new head of SISMI's WMD branch Alberto Manenti askes Nucera (who was about to retire) to stay on as a consultant. Anonymous sources blame the head of SISMI Nicolò Pollari.

The extremely unreliable Rocco Martino is quoted as saying "Alla fine del 2001, il Sismi trasmette il dossier yellowcake agli inglesi del MI6." That is, "At the end of 2001 SISMI transmitted the yellowcake dossier to the English, that is, MI6"

dando pane per focaccia (tit for tat in Italian) Pollari said "Seguivamo Martino e avevamo anche le foto dei suoi incontri a Londra. Volete vederle?". 'We followed Martino and whe have photographs os his meeting in London. Do you want to see them ?" That is, Martino gave the dossier to MI6.

The one good source Bonini and D'Avanzo seem to have is Greg Thielmann at the State Department's bureau of intelligence and analysis. Translating Theilmann back into English I get "I received a report in fall 2001. It was a synthesis that Langley received from its field officer in Italy. The field officer reports that Italian intelligence showed him some papers which document the Iraqi attempt to buy more than 500 tons of pure Uranium from Niger."

This does suggest direct official SISMI involvement.

Doubts are raised by the assertion that more confirmation is provided by the fact that Wilson was sent on his mission. It is generally reported that Wilson was sent before US officials got news of the dossier. Actually, I guess, it is possible that he was sent after a CIA agent saw the dossier but before the dossier arrived in Langley.

Josh Marshall warns that, in his experience, when any facts emerge in Rome they are immediately obscured in a cloud of leaks, innuendos and lies. This corresponds to my experience in reading Italian newspapers. I agree that it is a standard operating procedure for Italian politicians and institutions who want to obscure the truth to cover it with wild leaks.

In this case, as is typical for La Repubblica and, in particular, d'Avanzo, they are trying hard to fight the spin arguing that SISMI as an institution deliberately misled the CIA "il Sismi affida quelle informazioni, che sa essere false, alla Cia"
SISMI sent that information, which it knows to be falsee, to the CIA." Unfortunately the spin vs counterspin struggle arrives at the truth only by accident, so I tend to agree with Marshall who suggests we take it all with a grain of salt.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Stop the presses Bush does something right !

Guess it had to happen sooner or later.

Bush names Ben Bernanke chairman of the federal reserve board.

Atrios finally loses a bet.

My first thought is that Bernanke is a great choice. He has made a major contribution to economic thought, but, unlike many other such contributors is down to earth and in contact with the real world. First class intellect with first class common sense (except for the incomprehensible decision to accept the post of chairman of the Bush administration CEA).

On second thought I tried to remember any other head of a major central bank who had previously made a major contribution to economic research. Maybe it's my ignorance but I drew a blank. So now we will find out what happens when top research economists are in charge of the economy.

Somehow the thought makes me very very nervous.

late Update: Now I'm really scared. When I told her about Bernanke Elisabetta Addis, the feminist to whom I am married, actually applauded. The update is late since it took me a while to regain conciousness after witnessing Elisabetta applauding a Bush decision.

Now Kevin Drum points out that Max Sawicky and Lawrence Kudlow agree that Bernanke is a relatively good choice. I never expected them to agree on anything until doomsday. I am looking for signs in the heavens and counting my horsemen.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Vision Thing

Kevin Drum has an excellent post "What Democrats Stand For" which takes off from the observation of David Adesnik in "What Democrats Believe"

A few months ago, Kos wrote:

Ask 10 people what the Democrats stand for, and you'll get 10 different answers. Ask me what the Democrats stand for, and I'll stare back speechless.

Yet in our focus group, almost every answer was exactly the same. The purpose of the Democratic party is to help the poor and the disadvantaged.

Adesnik asks how can Democrats win elections, since most Americans don't think they are poor or disadvantaged and are less inclined to wax altruistic as the Ivy league activists in the focus group.

Keven Drum has a candidate answer. Increased inequality implies increased risk for the currently middle class. More and more Americans have reason to fear that, without state intervention, they might be poor in the future. This means that the Democrats can use the old dodge of achieving massive transfers to the poor as a side effect of social insurance.

Drum has a point. After all such fear has always been a key reason for support for policies which help the poor and disadvantaged. The programs which have done most for the poor and disadvantaged are untargeted programs, such as social security pensions, which are very popular.

I have long suspected that the apparent lack of Democratic party vision, the tendency to wonkishness and a focus on the details of policy, is based above all on trying to hide the true vision "we should help the poor and disadvantaged" of the Democratic party from the voters. Oddly some younger Democrats seem not to believe that they are hiding their true beliefs and really care about designing effective policies for agreed goals.

I think the idea of presenting anti-poverty programs as social insurance is as excellent as it was when Lasalle came up with it (as shown by the fact that Bismark stole the idea). Roughly the idea is to hide transfers to the poor amid payments to all including the non poor. Most people aren't actuaries and don't calculate ex ante expected transfers. If there is a huge unmet demand for insurance (as their is) most people's approach is reasonable.

I have other suggestions. If our aim is to take from the non poor and give to the poor, we can gain popular support by careful choice of the non poor from whom to take. Roughly I would say that, just as it is useful to hide transfers to the poor amid payments to the non poor it is very useful to uhm soak the rich and spread it out thin.

So for example a plan "let's keep (reinstate) the inheritance tax but keep the money away from the spendthrifts in congress by dividing it equally as refundable tax credits for each child" The is take from the very poor and give equally to everyone under 18. It would be a big increase in income for poor families.

I think the utter hysteria with which Republicans shriek "class war" shows how afraid they are of this approach. I happen to think it is the best policy as well, but I am sure it is great politics. Clearly "take equally from all non poor and give to the poor" appeals only to the altruism of the majority, which election after election has shown to be not strong enough to win on. "Take from the rich and give equally to the non rich" is a winner. The upper tail of the income distribution is a Mt Everest. There is gold in that hill.

Now this has been tried (more or less) and it wasn't a big hit politically. I am talking about the Clinton tax increase which took 85% of the revenue gains from the riches 1 %. I think the problem was that 85% is less than 100%. If he had taken 110% of the revenue increase from the richest 2 % and distributed the rest as a fixed (refundable) credit to be calculated as the last line on the 1040, then Al Gore could have claimed he invented the internet and the computer and the slide rule and he would still have won.

Matt Yglesias never tires of pointing out another way to help the poor and win elections. Do something to help over worked moms. Something like a serious refundable child care credit or day care voucher. The reasons this helps the poor is first a fixed credit is much larger compared to the income of the poor and second (and less importants) single moms are especially overworked and they and their children are most of the poor.

Speaking of single moms, I think there is a huge opportunity to help the poor and win the votes of cultural conservatives. I don't know any "family values" types, but I think it is very likely that the people who are driving them wild are runaway dads. I think this explains the magical power of the word "family." Irresponsible fathers are also a major source of poverty in the USA. Cracking down on them could help their poor children and the abandoned mothers of those children. It also is a way for standing up for traditional values etc. Everyone except the runaway dads themselves should support such a policy. So why isn't it done ?

Partly it was done some by the Clinton administration. The tools are simple and available now that people have stopped pretending to believe in federalism and are willing to give up some privacy. A big part of the problem is caused by divorced men who don't pay child support. This can be solved by tracking them via the social security administration and subtracting the support from their paychecks. The is federalizing a state responsibility and asking big brother to help his little brothers. The past 5 years have shown that these arguments against the program are made hypocritically and that there is much less sincere support for federalism or privacy than has always been imagined.

I think one problem is that feminists are big on privacy and this prevents them from screaming that dad's better not try to keep their income and wealth private from the mothers of their children.

Also one of the least popular programs ever is the legal services corporation but what if it had a special branch to help women with child support and paternity cases.

I think this addresses the root cause of social conservativism all by fighting to take money from relatively rich dads and give it to their relatively poor children.

Why don't I hear about it all the time ?

Maybe the dead beat dad interest group is small but they know exactly who they are and they vote on this issue alone. I don't know.

In sum you want to help the poor. Your fellow citizens aren't so enthusiastic. Find ways to help the poor as a side effect of popular policies. Finding the policies is easy.

Class war update: I just got an informative spam at my hotmail account. From Spambot Bruce A. Berman with the subject "what the super rich don't want you to know" clicked to an ad that said "earn $5,000, 10,000 or even $ 15,000 a month or more". Note the hostility towards the super rich. Note also that the super rich seem to be interested in rather small incomes for such super rich people. I actually misread at first, since I would assume a scammer would promise an increase of $5,000 a month, but no income of $ 5,000 a month is enough to make some people salivate. The idea that over $ 15,000 a month makes you super rich shows a bit of naivite' about the upper tail of the income distribution which is as useful for political spin as for con jobs.
October 17 2005 big day in US history:
Babes rule.

according to the WNBC MARIST poll completed October 17, women come in number one in both Democratic and the Republican presidential preferences.

WNBC/Marist Poll. Oct. 12-13 & 17, 2005. Nationwide.

"If the 2008 Democratic presidential primary were held today, whom would you support if the candidates are [see below]?" N=393 Democrats and Democratic leaners who are registered to vote; MoE ± 5

10/12-13 & 17/05 Hillary Clinton 41

followed by a bunch of guys in suits (some of whom have nice hair).

"If the 2008 Republican presidential primary were held today, whom would you support if the candidates are [see below]?" N=312 Republicans and Republican leaners who are registered to vote, MoE ± 5.5

10/12-13 &17/05 Condoleezza Rice 21

bunch of guys in suits
The Third Third Way meets the Third World

I have finally read Sam Rosenfeld and Matthew Yglesias's article about how liberal hawks refuse to learn any more than they have to from Iraq. A key quote

administrative bungling is simply not the root source of America’s failure in Iraq. The alternative scenarios liberal hawks retrospectively envision for a successful administration of the war reflect blithe assumptions -- about the capabilities of the U.S. military and the prospects for nation building in polities wracked by civil conflict -- that would be shattered by a few minutes of Googling.

The subtitle of the article "The liberal hawks now say the idea of the war wasn’t bad, just its execution. This saves face -- and serves a more dangerous function." made me think of Pietro Ingrao, hence the third way. I can't resist the temptation to conflate the liberal hawks with the DLC third way (the third third way by my count, one was social democracy (which historically came before Leninism, one was Ingrao's third way between social democracy and communism and the third is, as far as I can tell, a brief interlude between liberalism and neo-conservativism). The third way was an allegedly new approach to domestic policy including enthusiastic support for welfare reform and hard to distinguish from hard headed conservative opposition to welfare. Still there is a link with the liberal hawks, largely based on wealth of Martin Peretz' wife.

Ingrao responded to each new horror of communism during his, so far, 60 year career in public life by saying that communism had been betrayed and that the idea of communism was not damaged by the crimes of Stalin etc etc etc etc. Thus he invented a new rhetorical form the dialectical monologue of historical idealism.

The similarity with the liberal hawks will be obvious, but I would like to stress that Ingrao is an absolutely honest polician which is rare and that he opposed the invasion of Iraq.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Dean Baker asks

Just for the record, the U.S. government already spends $30 billion a year on biomedical research.... Why shouldn't we believe that if we doubled this appropriation, to replace the $25 billion that the drug industry claims to spend on drug research?...

Brad DeLong applauds Baker and (but) replies

The answer is that we don't trust the NIH to be able to set up procedures that cover all the bases in drug research. Low-probability but high-payoff projects are likely to be underfunded by the government--but properly funded by private companies willing to roll the dice.

I think Brad is totally wrong. The idea is that the private sector is willing to take risks for huge potential profits. This is very true of startups where decision makers are effectively protected by bankruptcy law. The patent holders in the pharmaceutical industry are huge corporations which will not benefit from the services of a bankruptcy court. Decisions are made by people who will do very well if they just keep on keeping on. A sporty business compared to retailing, but not one that requires particular daring.

In contrast, the US Federal Government is willing to shoot for the moon (literally) spending huge amounts of money for purely speculative possible advantages. It is just a fact that the most daring research and development is publicly financed mostly by the US DOD. A closer look at what big Pharma and the NIH do with their money makes this very clear. Big pharma takes chances with drugs which might be valueless because of side effects or something. They bet with a worse than 50 % of a big payoff. The NIH bets with a miniscule chance of a huge payoff, as is typical of public sector research.

The Federal government has very deep pockets.
It should have huge risk tolerance compared to well anything else. Consider the invasion of Iraq. Huge cost, low probability of setting off democratic dominoes, they did it.

The fact is that long shot research is already mostly publicly funded (mostly via investigator initiated peer reviewed grants where 85% of the NIH budget goes compared to 15% spent in house).

Or what about DARPA ? It's just not true that public research is more cautious and short term. Quite the opposite.

The private firms often come in when the basic concept is proven and details need to be fixed, roughly the development stage not the research stage. A pharmaceutical company issue is making a drug so that we don't digest it in our stomach, piss it away immediately or metabolise it (pharmacokinetics).

While outstanding original path breaking research has been done by drug companies, they generally come in at the relatively low risk close to market phase.

In fact, the advantage of the big drug companies is the advantage of a large firm whih can coordinate a huge team. Thus agents developed by say biotech startups are brought to market by big pharma.

Oddly NIH employees interact with big pharma roughly the same was biotech start ups do. The NIH is huge, but to avoid bureauschlerosis it is organised in an immense number of tiny fiefdoms with senior investigators who can't be fired and do what they want (think full professors but there are many more of them proportionally).

The NIH budget is spent on an absolutely immense number of tiny organisations (think of an NSF grant and that's like an NIH grant except there are many fewer NSF grants).

Often the orincipal investigators have no reason to fear risk, can shoot for the moon and do.

So why is it that the federal bureaucracy is better than the private sector at daring original high risk research and worse at anything requiring organisation ?

Well I think one big factor is ideology. The NIH is in the USA and for it to develop drugs and bring them to market would be socialism. Can't have that even if it works (see general debate about health care).

Another is that too much freedom is licence.

Public researchers do what we want. This means that NIH funded researchers study things which are interesting scientifically. Congress tries to push them towards more applied work (failing to calculate the return so far on pure and applied work which shows that more bang has consistently been obtained for the pure research buck).

The boring work of improving a molecule and testing and testing and testing it (after applying and applying and applying to the FDA for permission to do so) is something few people will do without pressure indirectly from shareholders via ruthless managers.

You could ask how many principal investigators at the NIH have ever received FDA approval for an IND (Investigative New Drug) a necessary step in the drug development process.

Now if you suggest that they and they alone get to divy up the 20 billion a year, then I'm all for it.

Conflict of interest disclaimer. I only know of one such person and he is my father.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Sticky Situation for the 3 M Girls

The special prosecutor has personally interviewed numerous officials from the CIA, White House and State Department. In the process, he and his investigative team have talked to a number of Cheney aides, including Mary Matalin, his former strategist; Catherine Martin, his former communications adviser; and Jennifer Millerwise, his former spokeswoman.

I was struck that VP Cheney has a whole lot of women in his inner circle, then I noticed that all three have last names beginning with "M". I'm not sexist, I called them the 3 M girls in reference to some oinker calling the admirirable ex congressman Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky "the 3 M girl". Margolies-Mezvinsky was the freshman respresentative from a conservative district who put the Clinton tax increase over the top knowing that the vote would probably end her congressional career.

This remains one of the most admirable acts by a politician which I can remember so I find it especially ironic that the 3 M aids of Cheney are involved with some of the least admirable acts by a politician that I can remember.

The coincidence is even more remarkable if one considers the private sector co-conspirator Judith Miller, but 4 M would ruin the feeble pun.
Odd I didn't notice this until the FT pointed it out to me.

In a more ominous sign, Ms Miller said Mr Fitzgerald's questions went beyond the leaking of the CIA name to probe the administration's selective leaking of intelligence information ahead of the Iraq war. During the hearing, she said he repeatedly asked how Mr Libby handled classified information and showed her some documents.

I only now realise that, if Fitzgerald intends to ask for indictments under the Espionage Act and not the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, leaks of classified information other than the identity of Valerie Plame Wilson's true employer are, according to the letter of the law, fair game.

I would be distressed if Fitzgerald prosecuted people for leaking classified information other than Plame's employer. The espionage act is dangerously vague and, as written, is already a US official secrets act. I think the classification system is abused (enormously by this administration) to close off debate. I think it is generally very damaging to punish leaks to journalists as espionage, since I think that such leaks do more good than harm on balance.

Now I was very pleased to learn from Mark Kleiman that the Plame Burners will not escape conviction by appealing to one of the clauses meant to restrict the IIPA to Phillip Agee and anyone who acted just like Phillip Agee. For example, it would be very hard to prove that they knew that Plame was covert. However the espionage act makes it a crime to leak classified information that the leaker doesn't know is classified. In this respect the IIPA is silly and the espionage act is reasonable. It is impossible to prove someone knew something at any given time. This is the H.R observation (stated by H.R Haldeman not H.R. Clinton). No one can prove that you remembered something. Thus even proof that the leakers were told (by top secret on a file and (s) next to a paragraph) that Plame's occupation was secret, they might not have remembered and thus not have known it when they were leaking. There is no doubt that K.R. (who is a disciple of H.R.) is going to rely heavily on the amnesia defence.

This enthusiasm is based on the sense that blowing Plame's cover was a very bad act. One can argue about what information should be classified but almost everyone agrees that intelligence sources and methods must be kept secret. The prosecution would not be hampered if the espionage act were modified so that juries would be instructed to find a defendant not guilty if they conclude that the classified information shouldn't have been classified. Similarly, the prosecution would not be hampered if the jury were required to find that the leak had bad consequences.

I don't like the law as it is written, but I am delighted by its application in a case where the law of my vague confused dreams could be applied.

In the case of burning Plame, there is no shred of a halfway legitimate reason to make the information public in July 2003 (recall my post on Mickey Kaus's failure to grasp the concept of time). While the question of Iraq's nuclear ambitions was still open, no serious purpose would have been served by considering the possibility that Plame proposed Wilson, since his qualifications are obvious and his conclusions were solid and shared by 3 other investigators. However, after it was clear that he was right, to blow Plame's cover in a feeble attempt to argue that the Bush administration had reason to ignore him is totally idiotic. I'm sure they did it to retaliate and intimidate.

If Fitzgerald prosecutes the leaks of other classified information, he may well create a precedent for damaging application of the law.

I have been mystified by the idea on the right that Fitzgerald is moving beyond the issue he was originally assigned to investigate. Prosecuting the act he was supposed to discover under the espionage act instead of the IIPA would not be such moving beyond. Prosecuting other leaks would. I remain mystified how people who supported Starr can sleep at night after arguing that Fitzgerald is casting his net too wide.

Finally such a prosecution would come close criminalising politics and punishing people for business as usual.

I am very sad to say that a lot of recent pronouncements which seemed totally idiotic to me can be explained if Fitzgerald's critics have reason to believe that he will prosecute any leak of classified information he discovers. I am not going to name the names of the possible non idiots, because I don't want to go overboard.

By the way, I think the espionage act explains the very careful choice of words by the Bush administration which was repeatedly noted by Josh Marshall. The line was that x y or z had not "revealed classified information". Marshall's suspicion and mine is that they always carefully put it that way, because apparently similar claims were going to be demonstrated false in the end.

Now I think they were making sure the denial fit the crime. That is that they denied violation of the espionage act and not just violation of the IIPA. In fact, the choice of words could have been a hint to grand jury witnesses to mention no leaks of classified information at all, whether or not they were related to Plame.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

(I'm Not) Voting In Italy's First Ever Primary

The Italian center left opposition coalition is trying be modern and show up the distinct lack of intra coalition in the governing CDL (a wholy owned subsidiary of Mediaset SPA) by holding Italies first ever nation wide primary to choose it's candidate Prime minister. The idea is that ordinary Italians will choose the prime minister not the usual gaggle of party bosses. It is assumed that the vast majority of the voters will vote for Romano Prodi, the candidate chosen by the leaders of the large opposition parties.

The only way this could fail to happen is if supporters of Berlusconi (who are getting rare on the ground) vote strategically for an unelectable alternative such as the still communist Fausto Bertinotti or the sureally unprincipled Clement Mastella who spent the day he could theoretically be elected to lead l'Unione denouncing l'Unione.

Public buildings aren't available for the primary which is legally just like the election of a club president or something so voting took place in gazebo's next to normal voting places.

One important normal feature of Italian elections (in contrast to the unusual US approach) is that people don't have to register to vote. The state keeps a registry of all citizens who must have a legal (voting) address.

L'Unione, being progressive and all, decided that imigrants incuding extracomunitari (imigrants from outside of the EU) could vote so long as we have been legally resident in Italy for 3 years.

I was curious so I went to ask if I could vote. I learned that I would have been allowed to vote (I would have voted for Prodi) if I had registered at City hall 4 or more days ago.

Thus I am one of the very few people in human history who has lost the right to vote in an election in Italy by failing to register.

While laughing at myself, I was very impressed by the people who volunteered to man the gazebos and the actually rather numerous voters who showed up to display support for the Unione and to make absolutely sure that an electable candidate was nominated.

L'Unione claims that 3 million people voted (40 million eligible) which is a lot for an unofficial election whose outcome was not in doubt. So far 70% of the counted votes are for Prodi.

The turnout around here was impressive.

Almost 4 million voters. Prodi received over 73 % of the votes

The turnout was clearly much higher than expected. also note that the Unione of opposition parties in Italy managed to count votes a bit more quickly than the USA did in 2000 (not that this was a squeaker).

Second place went to the still communist Fausto Bertinotti.
Victoria's Secret or

It depends on what the spelling of Plame is

Mark Kleiman makes a point which I considered obvious, but which I haen't read elsewhere.

Doesn't it seem odd that Judith Miller would get Valerie Plame Wilson's name wrong twice in her notebook? Once as "Valerie Flame," once as "Victoria Wilson."

Of course, that's exactly the sort of thing a careful reporter (with a security clearance from her "embed" service) might do when writing down in her notebook something she knew to be highly classified: write down enough to remind herself of the name, but not enough to reveal it to someone who might see the notebook if it were lost or stolen.

I assumed that Valerie Flame and Victoria Wilson were code for Valerie Plame Wilson.

Kleiman's theory is generous to Miller. In fact I think it is seriously over generous. It is clear that the notebooks contain references to "Joeseph Wilson's wife" so the Victoria Flame code wouldn't have protected Valerie Plame's cover.

It might be only because of hindsight, but I think the note is like saying "There is no sexual relationship between me and that woman" or whatever. The transparent code is not enough to obscure the identity of the woman in question, but it is enough to make it legal to say, under oath, that Libby did not reveal Valerie Plame's name.

This might be very useful to Libby, Rove and Miller if any or all are accused of perjury. My own theory was that the transparent code was, like Clinton's, planned in advance to sidestep a perjury trap. that "Somebody was calling Valerie Plame, Victoria --- Judy isn't the only one to make that mistake."

Now consider the leakers' defence "I didn't name her. I didn't know her name". Don't you think it is helpful to such a leaker to use the wrong name so as to be able to say that. It isn't enough to protect Valerie Plame's cover, but it is enough to prepare a very misleading non lie.

Tinfoil sure I love tinfoil.

The headline is short for "Victoria is secret" not "that which Victoria keeps secret"

update: Kevin Drum clearly believes that the Flame Plame switch was an error not a transparent code. I'd believe one error but not the Victoria Flame (victory fuoco) pair.
Another Conservative Bagged in the Abramoff hunt

Also forget about Avian Flu there is an epidemic of amnesia in DC

Abramoff quietly arranged for eLottery to pay conservative, anti-gambling activists to help in the firm's $2 million pro-gambling campaign, including Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition, and the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition. Both kept in close contact with Abramoff about the arrangement, e-mails show.


A spokesman for Reed -- now a candidate for lieutenant governor of Georgia -- said that he and his associates are unaware that any money they received came from gambling activities. Sheldon said that he could not remember receiving eLottery money and that he was unaware that Abramoff was involved in the campaign to defeat the bill.

Sheldon is Chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition. His memory might be aided by bank records since

Abramoff asked eLottery to write a check in June 2000 to Sheldon's Traditional Values Coalition (TVC).

I guess he is a little fish compared to Norquist and Reed and an insignificant micro-organism compared to DeLay. However the pattern of eagerness of leaders of the Christian right to betray their alleged principles for cash might make ordinary Christian rightists think.

naaaaaa not gonna happen.
This Post got a real live comment which is actually interesting
(many get comment spam) I repeat the relevant part of the post.

Some theoretical results are of the form that finitely repeated games are like one shot games (true for the prisoner's dilemma). The second law of thermodynamics guarantees that the game we are all playing won't last forever. Infinitely repeated games can't fit in this particular universe (oddly I hadn't thought of this when Brad DeLong told me). The fact that analysis of such games is very common in applied game theory shows, to me, that people delibarately avoid the implications of game theory knowing them to be false and prefer to make impossible assumptions in order to reconcile game theory with reality.

Now the comment
maybe I understood the interpretation of an infinatly repeated game wrong but I thoguht the infinatly repeated game analysis of game theory (changing some parameters, that is making cooperation harder mainly) hold for games which can be played some probabilitic number of times.

so for example lets say that at any given round there is a 0.1% chance that the game will end, the I thought we could look at the situation as an infinatly repeated game and that there was even a way of putting the .1% in there (through i forget which)

this is just a note on why the thermodynamics comment is irrelevant. but mostly it is to check that i have not forgotten all my game theory.
# posted by Anonymous : 9:53 PM

My reply

Anonymous remembers his game theory perfectly. Games with a constant chance of ending each period are similar to infinitely repeated games. Cooperation is possible for a narrower class of parameters, but the game is essentially a super game (infinitely repeated game). The risk of the game ending causes players to discount the future more. In game theory it is almost always necessary to assume players discount the future in order to handle infinitely repeated games (last I heard there was one exception matching pennies without discounting).

However, this does not mean that thermodynamics is irrelevant. If each year there is a 0.01 % chance of all life ending, then the analysis of infinitely repeated games may be relevant. Indeed, if each second there is a 99.99% chance of all life ending, the analysis of infinitely repeated games may be relevant.

However if it is certain that life will last at least a billion trillion years and is also certain that it won't last a trillion trillion years, then, according to standard game theory, cooperation in the prisoners dilemma is impossible (there is a unique Nash equilibrium in which everyone always finks).

Now any theory whose predictions about human actions right now depends on what will happen in a trillion trillion years is clearly silly. The point is that the distinction is between games that last a finite number of periods and games which can go on forever. Finite can be very very big it doesn't matter.

The fact that it seems clear that a 99.99% chance of ending every second is a shorter life than a life which lasts a trillion trillion years means that game theory seems like nonsense to us. Since we have to grasp it reliably for it to be true, this means that it is false.

Update: Another comment which I pull up here

I cant believe I find myself defending game theory, you are a strange economics profesor indeed Dr Waldman. But let us go on with this argument;

I think you will agree that most likely by accident and not by design, that the asumption used in game theory in infinatly repeated games of people expecting to live forever with some infinatly small probability epsilon is likely correct. Now if they understood thermodynamics admitedly they would nto hold this belief. but i think introspection will show you many of us against our own will likely ac t as if sucha small epsilon is actually real.

through then again i could be completly wrong...

(anonymous == econ geek == nikete) evaluates to true.

I agree entirely with nikete, econ geek and anonymous. Especially I like to think of myself as a strange economics professor indeed. one little thing the chance of living forever if there is an epsilon chance of dying each period is zero. It's just for any finite T the chance of living to T is positive. This is what is needed to invalidate the proof of always finking in the prisoners dilemma.

On the main point, my guess is that infinite horizon games were introduced because the implication always fink in the finitely repeated prisoner's dilemma was know to not correspond to actual behavior. The problem is that economic models can always be fiddled to fit any facts and, if we do so, we are allowing our emprical research (formal or casual) to guide theory to the predictions we make from experiend. We might as well cut out the middle man. When I write down models in economic theory I always start from the conclusion and work back to the assumptions which imply that conclusion. No one has ever mentioned that my models are unusual in this regard and I'm afraid they aren't.

Yet another comment from the same trinity

furthermore, if there is chance epsilon that thermodynamics is wrong about this prediction then the infinatly repeated game result still holds, right?

Absolutely right. Excellent point.
John Quiggin writes of rationality

"Shorter JQ: the word ‘rational’ has no meaning that cannot better be conveyed by some alternative term. Avoid it."

in longer JQ he considers various definitions. The one which is used by economists would be

5 logically consistent as opposed to inconsistent

Of these points, the last may require some further explanation. Various consistency properties have been proposed as requirements for rationality. The one that is most obviously reasonable, though not invariably compelling, is transitivity. If I prefer A to B, and B to C, I should prefer A to C.

I would like to amplify on the comment "not invariably compelling".

Consistency is really a red herring. The reason is that it is really a clearly false statement that utility functions are time separable and not a statement of rationality at all. If given a chance for Pizza or conversation I choose Pizza then given a choice between reading a book and conversation I choose conversation then given a chance between reading another book and shoving another Pizza down my throat I read a book this just shows I had a very empty stomach and now have a full one. It does not mean I am irrational.

All of the alleged implications of rationality such as trasitivity revealed pref etc are really absurd claims about time separability. If they were what economists really mean by rationality then all economists would have long since admitted that no one is rational. Instead they are silly arguments which have nothing to do with anything and are accepted only by theorists who have lost track of the concept of consumption.

Got to admit that Amartya Sen said this long ago but it was clear to me before I heard it from him.

The whole idea of rationality as consistency requires that one may face the same choice twice. This is impossible if the choice made in the past has an effect on the objective in the present. All know that past choices do have such effects. Thus rationality means transitivity when there is no really good reason to think that non separabilities are important, that is to say, nothing.
Victoria's Secret or The Flame Wars

Judas Miller and Judith Shiller attempt to explain to her colleagues how the names "Valerie Flame" and "Victoria Wilson" found themselves in the notebook she used when interviewing scooter Libby.

Ms. Miller said her notes leave open the possibility that Mr. Libby told her Mr. Wilson's wife might work at the agency.

That is it is possible that Libby said that Ms Wilson might work for the agency but they prove that he didn't say that she defnitely does work for the agency. That must be some special notebook. Ms Killer might be using might in every sentance because she might prefer to keep everything as vague as possible but I don't see how notes could be so clever.

Ms. Miller said in an interview that she "made a strong recommendation to my editor" that a story be pursued. "I was told no," she said. She would not identify the editor.

Ms. Abramson, the Washington bureau chief at the time, said Ms. Miller never made any such recommendation.

Now this doesn't mean that Miller is a liar. She is just very devout of the "God is my editor" school. It is clear she considers no mere mortal worthy of the role.

Mr. Abrams told Ms. Miller and the group that Mr. Tate said she was free to testify. Mr. Abrams said Mr. Tate also passed along some information about Mr. Libby's grand jury testimony: that he had not told Ms. Miller the name or undercover status of Mr. Wilson's wife.

That raised a potential conflict for Ms. Miller. Did the references in her notes to "Valerie Flame" and "Victoria Wilson" suggest that she would have to contradict Mr. Libby's account of their conversations? Ms. Miller said in an interview that she concluded that Mr. Tate was sending her a message that Mr. Libby did not want her to testify.

Sure sounds to me that Mr Tate was suborning perjury no ? I agree with Mark Kleiman that that lawyer needs a lawyer.

Even more explicitly

Three days later, Ms. Miller heard from Mr. Libby.

In a folksy, conversational two-page letter dated Sept. 15, Mr. Libby assured Ms. Miller that he had wanted her to testify about their conversations all along. "I believed a year ago, as now, that testimony by all will benefit all," he wrote. And he noted that "the public report of every other reporter's testimony makes clear that they did not discuss Ms. Plame's name or identity with me."

When Ms. Miller testified before the grand jury, Mr. Fitzgerald asked her about the letter. She said she responded that it could be perceived as an effort by Mr. Libby "to suggest that I, too, would say that we had not discussed Ms. Plame's identity." But she added that "my notes suggested that we had discussed her job."

This and the part about conversations in July (not mentioning the conversation in June and thus telling Miller that she shouldn't) are clearly obstruction of justice.

Update: In her own article Miller wrote "My notes indicate that well before Mr. Wilson published his critique, Mr. Libby told me that Mr. Wilson's wife may have worked on unconventional weapons at the C.I.A." May and might are both weasle words but, don't you think the Paper of Record would be more precise when quoting itself ?

Somewhat importantly Miller herself is quite definite about her notes. Sounds like Libby was leaking the fact as a possibility in an effort to avoid the IIPA. Too bad for him that he clearly broke the espionage act. Miller's article definitely states that Libby committed a crime.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Polls Close in Iraq

It is a sign of my diminished hopes that my first reaction was relief that al Qaeda in Mesopotamia didn't massacre huge numbers of people waiting to vote. Again the courage of Iraqi voters should be an inspiration.

To be cynical it is true that the vote is an excercise in Democracy typical of the US House of Representatives, since people were required to vote on a text which they had not read and which was modified at the last minute.

One thing makes me worry about the future of US style Democracy in Iraq

Bashar Ahmed, 30, ... said “I wrote no for there are a lot of clauses that contradict each other, which gives the idea it is not solid. Also, I found that the federalism is not for unity but to divide Iraq.’’

Hmm a guy in the street who actually knows what is written in the constitution. Have to work on that.

A big purple thumbs up for the Iraqi voters.
How about that Times Picayune ?

In all of the Katrina horror one of the most shocking moments was Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard's tearful tirade against FEMA. At one point Broussard seemed to don a tinfoil hat claiming that FEMA had cut Jefferson Parish communications.

It is now clear that he wasn't exagerating one little tiny bit. The Times Picayune writes

Jefferson Parish officials say the Federal Emergency Management Agency knocked out their radio communications with field workers for several critical hours on Aug. 31, two days after Hurricane Katrina made landfall.

Telecommunications Director JoAnn Becnel said Tuesday that a contractor investigating the failure discovered that radio cables and equipment leading to an antenna atop the Galleria office building in Metairie had been disconnected and replaced with cables and equipment belonging to FEMA.

Now the Times Non Picayune has to figure out some way to regain credibility after the Judith Miller follies. I suggest that they might unscrupulously attempt to acquire the much greater credibility of that other paper by renaming themselves The New York Times-Picayune.
Uh Oh Tamiflu resistant "H5N1 bird flu virus found in an infected Vietnamese girl"
(who recovered)
Not really surprising but revolting that Bush was afraid that Blix would clear Saddam Hussein and that he cared more about his image than human life and death.

Douglas Jehl reports

But Bush was also said to be "worried about Saddam playing tricks" and the possibility that Hans Blix, the top United Nations weapons inspector, would report "that Saddam was beginning to cooperate."

"His biggest concern was looking weak," the British document said, describing Bush.

It said that the two leaders had agreed that United Nations inspectors in Iraq should be given "weeks not months," to complete their work.

The United States and Britain led the invasion of Iraq that was launched seven weeks later.

I recall Blix saying he needed "months, not weeks not years months" soon after the conversation between Bush and Blair.

via consortium news via Suburban Guerrilla

Friday, October 14, 2005

Mark Kleiman comments on Game Theory and Michael Mandel

Update: Shorter John Quiggin works fine as shorter and smarter Robert Waldmann

Shorter JQ: the word ‘rational’ has no meaning that cannot better be conveyed by some alternative term. Avoid it.

I think very highly of Mark Kleiman, but I can't understand what he thinks he is saying here. Roughly his conclusion amounts to saying that economists aren't totally confused and can be considered scientists (broadly speaking). I am an economics professor and have been exposed to this view freequently over the past 20 years. I still can't convince myself that anyone can possibly seriously believe such a thing.

Kleiman notes that game theory is a branch of mathematics. Game theorists do not necessarily claim that their models have anything in particular to do with the world we happen to inhabit. It is math as p-adic analysis is math. No one thinks that anything much in the real world can be be analysed using p-adic numbers (the real world can pull some funny tricks, Gauss and Lobachefsky thought that non Euclidean geometry was the purest of pure math). So far so good. I have no problem with given John Nash a Fields medal.

Separately one can consider considering the "hypothesis" that the world is in Nash equilibrium (Von Neuman for one was quite sure this was not true even of zero sum games). I use the scare quotes because, as noted by Kleiman, this alleged hypothesis has no implications without assumptions about peoples aims. In some experimental settings it seems reasonable to assume that people are largley motivated by the desire for prizes and also eager to not seem totally stupid. This rather weak claim about motives is enough to test the hypothesis that they have such a combination of motives and are rational in the sense that they play Nash equilibrium strategies (from now on I will just write rational)

As noted by Kleiman experimental results strongly reject the Nash equilibrium hypothesis. Thus Nash equilibrium is a mathematical concept. With assumptions about aims, which basically everyone considers reasonable, one can derive testable implications of the hypothesis that the world is in Nash equilibrium. These implications are inconsistent with the data. This makes game theory a branch of mathematics which gave rise to a false hypothesis in the social sciences.

Kleiman, however, seems to feel that the developement and rejection of a theory has not effect on its scientifid standing or usefulness. Roughly Kleiman agrees that people are not rational. For game theory to be useful to social scientists it is necessary that people be fully rational (apparently tiny deviations from 100% rational 100% of the time often completely eliminate implications of the theoretical analysis). This seems to me to imply that one can't use game theory as a guide when studying society. The implications might or might not correspond to reality. Somethimes you get the right answer with game theory. Sometimes you get the right answer flipping a coin. Neither is a reasonable approach to trying to understand the world.

Kleiman's positive claim is qualified to the extent that it is almost meaningless, but does manage to be meaningful enough to be false "In terms of real-world applications, if I want to act rationally (in the economist's sense of that term) myself, and have reason to think that someone I'm interacting with will also act more or less rationally, then game theory can help me figure out my optimal strategy."

This is actually a statement about game theory. Roughly if standard game theory implies I should do something if everyone is 100% rational then I should do something like that if people are more or less rational. I suppose I have to admit that game theorists (Roy Radner in particular) have proven the useful theorem that this is totally absolutely not true at all. It is well known from theory that tiny deviations from rationality can cause huge differences in outcomes and in optimal strategies. Unfortunately it is not possible to define all possible small deviations from rationality so positive implications of "more or less rational" have not been developed. It is however known that analysis of Nash equilibria can be totally misleading if people are a tiny bit irrational in some arbitrary ways of being irrational which were chosen for tractability.

My main concern was to understand when I should " someone I'm interacting with will also act more or less rationally,". It seems to me that the thing do do would be to solve for a Nash equilibrium,
then use data to find out what happens in such situations,
then my empirical analysis shows that the outcome in situations like this corresponds to the Nash equilibrium use the game theoretic analysis to predict the outcome in situations like this.

This is what economists do. However there is a more efficient strategy which is effective in solving exactly the same problems.
When you want to figure out what happens in some situation use data to find out what happens in such situtations. Since we know that "All Nash equilibria have this property" doesn't imply "the real world has this property" the game theory adds nothing to raw data analysis.

This, by the way, is my personal experience when I have mixed game theory and empirical work.

back to Kleiman "The Nash Equilibrium, the Prisoner's Dilemma, the difference between one-play and repeated games, the difference between constant-sum and variable-sum games, first-mover advantage (or disadvantage), focal points: these are all vital tools in any analyst's toolkit. Mandel can take them away from me and my colleagues only by prying them from our cold, dead fingers."

I disagree on Nash Equilibrium (when it comes to game theory Nash equilibrium is most of it). The Prisoner's Dilemma is a game in which clear implications of game theory are correct predictions only of the behavior of economics PhD candidates. In theory there is a huge huge difference between fixed sum and variable sum games. This mathematical result has no noticible verified implications. Focal points are work of Schelling (brilliant and empirically confirmed). However, they are not respectable game theory (maybe the problem is that the idea is contaminated by correspondence to mere reality). The other two points are negative claims. It is not always an advantage (or a disadvantage) to move first and different situations (one shot or repeated) make a difference. Some theoretical results are of the form that finitely repeated games are like one shot games (true for the prisoner's dilemma). The second law of thermodynamics guarantees that the game we are all playing won't last forever. Infinitely repeated games can't fit in this particular universe (oddly I hadn't thought of this when Brad DeLong told me). The fact that analysis of such games is very common in applied game theory shows, to me, that people delibarately avoid the implications of game theory knowing them to be false and prefer to make impossible assumptions in order to reconcile game theory with reality.

Now I stress that I have no particular complaint about Kleiman. His position is the standard view in the field of economics. I am regularly amazed that people can say such things. Look at the definition of a degenerative research program, look at economic theory, try to find any difference.
Now seems like a good moment to quote Matt Yglesias.

(Now seems like a good moment for an aside about an obvious point. I appreciate that Kaus' schtick is trying to piss off liberals while also saying he's a liberal. Nevertheless, it's a bit hard to believe that he's genuinely bothered by the (alleged) fact that Davis-Bacon gives us less new construction per taxpayer dollar than it otherwise might in light of the fact that he seems to have no interest whatsoever in the various large inefficiencies that the Bush administration's corruption and mismanagement have introduced into the contracting process. Obviously, I can't convince Kaus that bashing Davis-Bacon isn't a good way too annoy liberals and since that's what he's actually interested in accomplishing there's no real purpose in debating the merits of the issue.)

I revise my question "Why the hell does anyone publish that idiot" to "Why the hell don't the idiots who publish Kaus hire Matt Yglesias instead since heclearly has some spare time or he wouldn't blog so much."
Standard Errors in Extreme cases

According to the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll 2 % of African Americans approve of the job George W Bush is doing. That's impressively close to unanimous (though I think that Abbas back when he was prime minister of the Palistinian National Authority managed to bottom it).

Amusingly Judd at Think Progress writes "To be fair, the margin of error on the poll is 3.4%. So Bush’s actual approval among African Americans could be anywhere from -1.4% to 5.4%." I assume he is joking. Of course there are no negative African Americans (not in the sense of nattering negroes of negativism but less than zero people) so no matter what Bush has done it is not possible that the true population fraction of African Americans who approve of him is -1.4%.

So what is the standard error really and why is the usual calculation of plus or minus two standard errors wrong in this case ? First of all, the standard error of a poll depends on the true fraction of people in the population who answer yes. The convention of pollsters is to calculate the standard error assuming that the true population is half and half. This gives the largest standard error. If the true fraction who approve is p then the standard error of the percent in the sample who approve is p times 1 minus p divided by the square root of the sample size times 100%

(1-p)pN^(-0.5)100%. A consistent estimate of this standard error can be obtained by using the fraction responding yes in the sample in place of p. In this case the consistent estimate of the standard error is about 0.5 % not 1.75%. Clearly pollsters use the higher number because they don't want to frighten people saying standard errors for percentages for different questions are different so they give the upper bound for all questions.

now the plus or minus two standard erros gives a 95% confidence interval only works if the statistic has a normal distribution around its expected value. This is an excellent approximation for proportions of yes answers if the population fraction of yes answerers is near 50% and the sample size isn't tiny (30 observations are plenty if the true fraction is 50%). Of course it can't be that the percentage of respondents answering yes in a sample is normally distributed, since that percentage can't be negative or greater than 100%. The normal approximation is no good for a population percentage of yes answerers areound 2 % unless the sample size is huge. Clearly the NBS/WSG sample is no where big enough for the percent of African Americans in the sample who approve of Bush to be normal distributed around the percent of all African Americans who approve of Bush.

Update: the Poll included 89 African Americans. 2% would be, in plain English 2, that is two of the African Americans who were polled said they approved of the job Bush was doing. Assuming random sampling, it is possible to calculate the exact probability that two people in the poll would so answer as a function of the fraction (p) of all African Americans who would say they approve. This probability is

(1-p)^87*p^2*89*44 where * means times and ^ means superscript so to the power of.
This means that it is possible to reject the null that true population approval is 7% or above at the 97.5% level using a one tailed test and that it is possible to reject the null that true approval is 0.3 % or below at the 97.5% level using a one tailed test. This gives a 95% interval of a sort from 0.3% to 7 % (not a confidence interval in the standard sense of the word but something which is the same as a confidence interval for normally distributed statistics and a more reasonable interval for inference in this case).

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Mark Kleiman modestly discusses the theory which I consider the the Hamsher-emptywheel-Kleiman Mousetrap Theory. Briefly that Fitzgerald caught Judith Miller in a perjury trap and used the threat of prosecution to make her answer questions she would not answer when threatened with mere civil contempt.

Kleiman notes one fact which seemms to undermine the theory. "Against the theory: Miller's testimony lasted only 75 minutes. No doubt that seemed like an enternity to Miller, and it's ample for her to confirm what was in her notes about the June meeting with Libby, but it's hardly enough for her to testify "voluntarily" on matters further outside the scope of her agreement with Fitzgerald. After Miller's testimony, the contempt citation was lifted; unless Fitzgerald wants to issue a new subpoena and fight it back up through the courts, she's done as a witness until it's time to start impanelling trial juries."

I don't follow. If Fitzgerald has Miller on perjury, he doesn't need a subpoena. He can just invite her to voluntarily testify and, if she does, voluntarily choose not to prosecute her. If Fitzgerald was done for the day and Miller had answered all his questions he really can't continue to say she is in contempt which she isn't. My guess is that he will now call people whose lies are contradicted by Miller to testify again then re-invite her.

I just mean if the mousetrap theory is true then a subpoena is no longer needed to obtain further testimony so why is the duration of the testimony evidence against the theory ?
Cheney Rumour mill spinning faster than a gas centrifuge grinding finer the weaponized anthrax.

Omigod it looks like the rumours of rumours of Cheney being a target are heating up.
a tease from Huffington, disappointment and now what might actually be a real live authentic leak from close to Fitzgerald (via firedoglake)

Jason Leopold writes

Two officials close to Fitzgerald told RAW STORY they have seen documents obtained from the White House Iraq Group which state that Cheney was present at several of the group's meetings. They say Cheney personally discussed with individuals in attendance at least two interviews in May and June of 2003 Wilson gave to New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus, in which he claimed the administration “twisted” prewar intelligence and what the response from the administration should be.

Cheney was interviewed by the FBI surrounding the leak in 2004. According to the New York Times, Cheney was asked whether he knew of any concerted effort by White House aides to name Ms. Wilson.

No way Cheney refrained from the temptation to obstruct justice. There is certainly at least enough evidence to name him as an unindicted co conspirator even if it can't be proven that ordered the leak.

Discussion of the White House Iraq Group during trials should be deadly to Bush. Most Americans now think invading Iraq was a mistake. An extensive debate about what means were used to convince them it was a good idea beginning August 2002 and lasting for months during which Bush claimed no decision had been made will force them to face the fact that Bush lied to them again and again.

It is likely that, when reporting on the trials, the press will focus on well you know guilt or innocence. The Democrats have to make the connection to the clearly legal but depraved standard operating procedure of lying to the public.

Oh and I stand by my cynical suggestion. The only way the Bush administration can protect itself from Fitzgerald is to nominate him to the supreme court. It's reaching the point that I'm not even sure I am joking.
Mark Kleiman writes "Michael Mandel admires Schelling but seems dismayed that game theory isn't a perfectly predictive Theory of Everything. ([snip] If you doubt the utility of game theory, just ask an evolutionary biologist.)"

To be more specific ask Richard Lewontin who attempted to apply game theory to population biology and found it useless (at the time he was one of the worlds two leading population biologists). It is true that evolutionary biologists and game theorists have a mutual interest in so called "evolutionarily stable strategies."
However the concept was developed by an evolutionary biologist named Maynard Smith (the reason Lewontin was one of the two top population biologists). As far as I know, Smith did not draw on the work of game theorists. I see no reason to imagine he would in order to address an issue which is clearly germain to population biology and only arguable relevant to games.

Game theorists adopted this idea from evolutionary biology. Thus if you doubt evolutionary biology is useful, but are confident that game theory is useful, you are ignorant of the intellectual history of game theory. The reverse does not follow.

I'd say my objection to game theory is not that it isn't "a perfectly predictive Theory of Everything" but rather that predictions based on game theory about behavior in the simplest settings for which game theory was developed are consistently refuted by experimental evidence.

I challenge Kleiman to come up with an implication of game theory which is neither obvious nor false. This is not a satisfactory standard for a field of research like economics which aspires to be a science. I hasten to add that I don't have anything in particular against game theory which is, at least, more interesting than the rest of economic theory.

update: I'm sorry I was rude to Prof Kleiman. Based on the hints about it in his blog I think that I would like *his* research if I bothered to read it. Also, to be clear, I am pleased that Schelling won the prize. I just don't think that there should be a Nobel prize in economics until economists come up with some research worthy of the prize. Also I absulutely don't think that theoretical research in economics is as valuable as empirical research with identifying assumptions based on common sense. My rule is that if the average guy in the street doesn't immediately understand and agree with all the theory in the paper, then it's probably wrong. This does not eliminate all economic research or even all fun and interesting economic research. Suggested catch phrases "good instrument", "natural experiment" or catch word "experiment".

Oh I would guess that, if Kleiman were to notice my challenge, he would mention tipping points. I count that as true, related to game theory and obvious but maybe it wasn't always obvious. I learned about the idea in elementary school (ok maybe junior high) so it seems obvious to me.
A Perfect Match for Mickey Kaus

The similarly chronologically challenged Laura Ingraham

Ignoring Novak's July 2003 column, Ingraham suggested Plame compromised her own undercover status in Jan. 2004

[huge snip]

I think for Kirsten to say he's outed Valerie Plame -- Valerie Plame, the last time I checked out with her, she was on the -- in Valerie -- in Vanity Fair with her scarf and her sunglasses on.

via media matters.

One more thing. Given their problems with uhm you know time and stuff they better not use the rythm method unless they want a really really big family.
The END is near I agree with John Podhoretz

There are not many matters of tax policy about which you will find unanimity of opinion across the political spectrum, but a Bush-appointed commission's gambit to raise federal revenue to offset the elimination of the alternative minimum tax by raising taxes on middle-class home-owners and small businesses is one. The home-mortgage interest and health-insurance deductions, which the panel has now proposed eliminating, are not called "popular" for nothing. John Podhoretz at the National Review's The Corner writes: "This may be the dumbest major independent-commission proposal in all of human history."

I had to cut him off at one sentence. He went on to write "t would be one thing to trade the home-mortgage deduction for a serious flat tax, because that would, in the end, even everything out." which leads me to suspect that he has a very very weak grasp both of arithmetic and of the distribution of income and wealth in the USA. Also note that an independent commission of just J Pod would have come up with a worse proposal.

Still I do agree with his very strong claim. I" trying to think of a dummer independent commission proposal .......... OK I don't know enough history. I'll have to ask Brad DeLong.

To me the unbelievably incredibly unspeakably dumb idea is to tax employer provided health insurance. This is crazy. The USA has a huge problem with employers not providing health insurance and hence free riding on employers who do. Their unfortunate employees pay out of pocket and forego some health care but mostly they get care (expensive because delayed) and employers who do provide health insurance pick up the tab. The idea of increasing incentives to free ride is insane. Also the companies who would be hammered are large well known and at risk of bankruptcy (ever heard of GM?) They are high wage firms paying their workers much more than they could get anywhere. This means that anything which causes them to contract (or collapse) imposes huge negative externalities on their employees. This is both true (ask Larry Katz) and a huge major obsession of populist hacks (ask Gephart). Only fools challenge the combined might of the facts and the hacks.

I heard of hints of this possible proposal a while ago. I thought it must be some kind of joke.

Now in normal times, I would actually support eliminating the mortgage interest deduction. Basically I think the world would be a better place if more of US capital was plant and equipment and less consisted of absurdly huge houses. However these are not normal times. The US economy is flying on a wing a prayer and a housing bubble. Bursting the bubble is bad policy so long as there is any hope of a soft landing. It is also political suicide. All in all I guess I hope Bush follows the advice of the manchurian commission (congress will protect themselves and therefore the USA).

Finally, the commission is doing all of this partly to eliminate the alternative minimum tax. That's right eliminate not index to inflation. That is for even more tax cuts for rich people.

Beyond belief