Saturday, April 29, 2006

Fool me twice, shame on me
WaPo's Dafna Linzer provides context to her article on the IAEA report issued yesterday on Iran's nuclear activities.
Cary, N.C.: Why does not the media makes very clear to us that the Iranians are allowed to do what they are doing. So the mere suspicion message is published in such a way that the public tends to think the Iranians are building a nuclear bomb. Should not the media (and The Post) make it bold faced that the Iranians are allowed to enrich uranium for energy related use? Thank you.

Dafna Linzer: We haven't reported that the Iranians are building a bomb - we've reported that the administration says the Iranians are building a bomb. U.N. inspectors have no proof of that, but they also aren't getting full cooperation. We also report that Iran says it has no interest in building a bomb. A (sic) urge readers to take careful looks at the stories and the language that all players are using on this issue.

In response to the report today, for example, John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said:

"I think if anything the IAEA report shows that Iran has accelerated its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons," but he then added: "although the report doesn't make any conclsusion in that regard."

I may be nitpicking, but the wording of her article surely gives the wrong impression that the IAEA slammed Iran:
The IAEA will include these findings, sources said, in what they characterized as a brief and highly negative report to be delivered today, the end of a 30-day deadline the Security Council set for Iran to stop enriching uranium until inspectors are confident the program is exclusively peaceful. (emphasis added)
Notice that "they" refer to the "sources," not the IAEA. Who are these sources? My guess is from the previous paragraph:
It remains unclear whether Iran managed to enrich a small quantity of uranium to a level of 3.5 percent, as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced April 11. That level would suffice for nuclear energy but is far too low for a weapons program, which the Bush administration contends Iran is clandestinely developing. (emphasis added)
Remember, the administration "had proof" on Iraqi WMDs. If the administration doesn't even try to "prove" Iranian nukes, I remain highly skeptical on the real proof of an imminent Iranian nuke threat. Professor Juan Cole is skeptical too. Read the IAEA report for yourself and draw your own conclusion.

With the IAEA report, we draw one step closer to "Operation Iranian Freedom." Reuters says Iran just offered to address the report's concerns (except for continuing the enrichment) if the UNSC drops the case back to IAEA. I'm skeptical that the administration will take Iran's offer.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Core Inflation
The rise in price of oil is well documented and its importance in Iraq and Iran are well speculated. But only a few sources discuss uranium like Eric at Wampum. Check out his wisdom.

Friday, December 16, 2005

A Bartlett PSA
Dan Bartlett says taxes will have to increase in future years.
As the end of the year approaches, tax bills loom. That may not seem particularly pleasurable, but enjoy it while you can - taxes are going up. Not right away, economists say, but almost certainly in the coming years.

And not just liberals are saying such things.

While the Bush administration and its Republican supporters in Congress still contend that they can deal with fiscal imbalances by clamping down on unnecessary spending, some of their close allies are beginning to argue that the budgetary circle cannot be squared with spending cuts alone.

"The current trend points to tax increases in the long run," said Brian M. Riedl, lead budget analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group opposed to raising taxes. "The political will to make the difficult decisions on spending is lacking."

Some in big business also seem ready to bite the bullet. The Committee for Economic Development, a research group that often represents the views of Wall Street and major corporate figures in public policy debates, issued reports this year arguing for tax increases plus spending restraints to avert what it called a fiscal crisis in the offing.

Unhappiness over the projected budget deficit is eroding conservative support for the White House. Bruce Bartlett, a leader of the supply-side tax revolution who worked as an economic aide to President Reagan and the first President Bush, has turned on the current president in a coming book, "The Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy," excoriating what he sees as the government's spending spree over the last five years.

Mr. Bartlett, a conservative economic thinker who for years argued that cutting taxes was the best way to "starve the beast" and restrain government's growth, now recommends the introduction of a value-added tax - a kind of sales tax used in Europe and most other advanced industrial nations - to bring in the large amounts of new revenue he deems necessary to close the enormous budget gap.

"I do believe tax increases are absolutely inevitable," Mr. Bartlett said.
Kash at Angry Bear has this great graph of Federal Revenues and Spending excluding Social Security from 1962-2010. Doesn't it seem like revenue is a bit low at present?
It appears that the agenda is for Value Added Tax (VAT).
Mr. Bartlett would go further. Reversing his previous stance that low taxes would force lawmakers onto a spending diet, he now says that adding a steadily increasing value-added tax is the best way to deal with what he now sees as an inevitable rise in federal spending, to as much as 30 percent of the gross domestic product, to cover expanding entitlements for baby boomers.

"Whose beast was being starved?" Mr. Bartlett asked. "There's no evidence that it was working. We need to deal with reality."

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Triple Witching Winter
USN&WR sounds the "triple threat" alarm for this winter: Shortage of natural gas and electricity could make "a frozen New Orleans" in areas like New York City. It may be a bit of a post-Katrina hysteria, but add in high prices of other petroleum fuels, inflation, slowing economy, bursting real estate bubble, rising trade deficit, and crushing household debt levels: it sure looks like something wicked this way comes...
With the season's first snowfall hitting the Northeast last week, it is becoming apparent that Hurricanes Katrina and Rita did far more to the nation's energy equation than spoil Labor Day vacation drives. The storms upset the already precarious balance of the nation's supply and demand for fuel. So much Gulf of Mexico oil and natural gas production remains in disarray that even with a mild winter, Americans face a Big Chill: astronomical heating bills--on average, 38 percent higher than last year's record costs for natural gas and 21 percent higher for oil.


It is not just about money. Damage to rigs, pipelines, and processing facilities means a shortage of natural gas, the fuel that heats 52 percent of U.S. homes. The industry says 2.3 billion cubic feet per day, or 23 percent of the Gulf of Mexico's natural-gas production, will be offline through March. But even before the deadly storms struck, the country was consuming more natural gas than it produced and prices were at record highs. Demand grew nearly 16 percent from 1990 through 2004, driven mainly by the companies that generate electric power. Policymakers viewed natural gas as cleaner than coal and more palatable than nuclear, so it was easy to get required government approvals to build much-needed electric power plants that run on natural gas. And everyone bet heavily--and incorrectly--that prices would stay cheap. The United States now relies on Canadian imports by pipeline and has begun to call on a new source, tankers from Africa and the Middle East filled with liquefied natural gas, or LNG. But the imports haven't been enough. "The hurricanes--they hit a sick patient," says Roger Cooper, executive vice president of the American Gas Association, representing utilities. "We're vulnerable. If we were hit in the 1990s, we would not have been in this situation. But when you are consuming 100 percent of your supply, there's not much room to maneuver."


The second threat is a severe electricity shortage in the Northeast--with possible brownouts or blackouts. Deregulated natural-gas-fired power generators, under no legal obligation to serve customers as the old monopoly electric companies were, can simply stop generating power. Some plants will be interruptible customers with no backup fuel source. But in other cases, power plants that have firm natural gas contracts will stop generating electricity anyway and sell their fuel at enormous profit. That is precisely what happened during the three-day January 2004 cold snap, when more than 25 percent of New England's generating capacity went off line and the reserve margin was near zero. The market weathered that storm, but ISO New England, the organization responsible for managing the electric grid, says that even under normal weather conditions, electricity demand this winter most likely will set a new record surpassing that of the perilous 2004 cold snap. The grid operator has taken steps to head off a shortage, spearheading a public-relations campaign to urge New Englanders to conserve electricity, attempting to work out agreements with big customers to curtail demand, and asking the Coast Guard to station ice-breaking barges in locations that will assure fuel oil deliveries can make it downriver to electric plants. But Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal says as long as power generators are allowed to shut down and sell natural gas during a weather crisis, there is a risk of the kind of market chaos, as well as manipulation, that roiled California in 2000 and 2001. "The result could be a calamity," he says.


A winter failure could prove catastrophic, because any extended loss of heat could cause water pipes to burst in residential and commercial buildings alike. Also, the thousands of "traps" where steam escapes (and billows from manhole covers) could freeze and fail, causing distribution pipes to crack or lose pressure. Former Central Intelligence Agency chief Jim Woolsey, now active on energy issues, argues that parts of the city "could resemble a frozen New Orleans." Also, repressurizing the system could prove laborious and hazardous, because of the power of steam escaping from cracks. "Nobody could simulate the kind of disaster that could happen," says Adam Victor, president of TransGas Energy, a company that has been trying to build a backup power plant in the city but has run into opposition from residents and city officials who prefer building parkland at the old industrial waterside location. Con Edison downplays concerns about the system. "You can't say never because something can always break," says Chris Olert, utility spokesman. "But we've upgraded the plant so it's in tip-top condition, and we've bought plenty of gas for the steam system." Power will be available for New Yorkers, he says, though at a cost up 30 to 35 percent over last year.

Whether because of cost or cold, officials are bracing for human suffering across America this winter. "Forces can come together that turn crisis for some into disaster--that's really what I think we could be looking at this winter," says Iowa energy assistance director McKim. "I hate to sound like the voice of doom, but somebody has to say this stuff. It's just like Hurricane Katrina. They knew it was coming, but little was done to prepare an effective response. And the same thing is happening here."

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Hurricane Trends
Via LATimes:

LATimes: hurricanes

Sure looks like we're in for hurricanes next few years. I wonder if oil/gas prices reflect this.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Godwin's Law
The Principle:
As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.

The Archetype:
[In] a staged attack against a German radio station in Gleiwitz (nowadays Gliwice) on the night of August 31, 1939 . . . a small group [of Germans] seized the station and a message was broadcast that urged the Poles (of Silesia) to strike against Germans. German convicts dressed in Polish uniforms and carrying Polish weapons were used to stage the attack. They were given lethal injections and firearm wounds and placed in attacking positions as a 'proof' to the invited press and police officials.

The next day in the Reichstag, Hitler announced that there were 21 border incidents in total, including three very serious ones, and used this as an excuse for the "defensive" attack launched earlier in the morning against Poland, thus starting the Second World War.

The Derivative:
RAF bombing raids tried to goad Saddam into war

THE RAF and US aircraft doubled the rate at which they were dropping bombs on Iraq in 2002 in an attempt to provoke Saddam Hussein into giving the allies an excuse for war, new evidence has shown.

The attacks were intensified from May, six months before the United Nations resolution that Tony Blair and Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general, argued gave the coalition the legal basis for war. By the end of August the raids had become a full air offensive.

The details follow the leak to The Sunday Times of minutes of a key meeting in July 2002 at which Blair and his war cabinet discussed how to make “regime change” in Iraq legal.

Geoff Hoon, then defence secretary, told the meeting that “the US had already begun ‘spikes of activity’ to put pressure on the regime”.

. . .

Tommy Franks, the allied commander, has since admitted this operation was designed to “degrade” Iraqi air defences in the same way as the air attacks that began the 1991 Gulf war.

It was not until November 8 that the UN security council passed resolution 1441, which threatened Iraq with “serious consequences” for failing to co-operate with the weapons inspectors.

The briefing paper prepared for the July meeting — the same document that revealed the prime minister’s agreement during a summit with President George W Bush in April 2002 to back military action to bring about regime change — laid out the American war plans.

The Conclusion:
There is a tradition . . . that once such a comparison is made, . . . whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever argument was in progress. In addition, it is considered poor form to invoke the law explicitly.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Marriage History
Note: this post originally posted on July 20, 2004. I'm reposting it because I thought this would be helpful to Adam O'Neill (it's about time, I've taken without giving back long enough).

Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday. Mawage, that bwessed awangment, that dweam wifin a dweam...”

Many conservatives and Christians fear that the traditional family values are under siege. They feel that they must combat any beachhead on the assault against the institution of marriage. Thus, many slippery-slope arguments are used to multiply the arguments against the two main offenders, same-sex marriages and legalized abortions. But what is the traditional family?

marital percent history

From the Percent of Population chart, we see that less people are married in recent decades than in the 1960-1970 because more Americans have divorced or have never married. But looking back to even more "traditional" times, we see that, compared to recent decades, even larger percent of Americans were never married in the first four decades of this century.

marital rate history

While marriage rate per 1,000 population has decreased since 1980, the divorce rate per 1,000 population has decreased the same proportion, so that the ratio has remained constant since 1977. Each year, Americans marry twice as often as they divorce.

It is very likely that a large factor of the rise in the divorce rate from 1965 to 1975 was the advent of no-fault divorce laws. However, I hypothesize that the increase in divorce rate is merely the delayed consequence of the prior increase in marriage rate.

I suspect that the marriage rate data paints a worse picture for the institution of marriage because more of the denominator of 1,000 population is constituted from the againg baby-boomers, whose marriage/re-marriage pattern is less important for the health of the institution of marriage. Furthermore, the already-married status of the immigrants are not counted, further diminishing the rate per 1,000. The immigration bias probably does not exist for divorces because emigrants seem to be a lot fewer in numbers. It would be nice to be able to isolate marriage and divorce rates among only the younger generation, or only the first-time marriages and divorces, but such data are unavailable to me.

Americans seem to be marrying less, but maybe not. Americans are definitely getting divorced less, but still at a higher rate than "traditionally." However, about the same percent of Americans are married at the end of the 20th Century as at the beginning. In that century, about 10% of Americans have been "liberated" from the never married category, but the ranks of the divorced Americans have swelled by almost 10%.

In the future, I will examine other measurements of "traditional family values." But as expressed through marriages and marital rates, I do not see an unprecedented crisis of the institution of marriage. If I am blind, help me see through your comments.

Is the conservative goal to have 70% of American males in holy matrimony again?