Monday, February 28, 2005

Are Roth IRAs bad public policy? (Or the difference between theory and reality) 
A new blog, Borrow a Trillion Dollars, makes the case here in a series of lengthy posts.

One of his arguments is that the tax-free growth of Roth IRAs simply don't deliver anything more than marginal benefits over a Traditional IRA or taxable account.

I will argue that his premises are flawed, because the substance of his post lies in two key assumptions:

1.) All investments are perfectly tax efficient.

Which means

A.) no company ever issues a dividend (taxable),

B.) no bond ever generates income (taxable, unless you assume that all bonds are zero coupons maturing at retirement, but even then, the imputed interest on zeros are taxable anyway

C.) No mutual fund ever sells anything, realizing capital gains, no matter what.

and 2.) Nobody ever rebalances between these mythical perfectly tax-efficient investments. When you rebalance, you have to sell off some of your winners and buy some of your losers. You can offset capital gains on your winners with losses to some extent, but only to the tune of a few thousand dollars per year. As portfolios grow, there could never be enough deductible losses to meaningfully offset gains.

But because even stocks, as a whole, generate dividend income, which would be taxable outside of an IRA or qualified employer plan (even the S&P 500 issues a dividend of about 1.87%, and other asset classes significantly more than that), tax-advantaged accounts retain much of their allure, even if marginal tax rates remain constant into retirement.

Furthermore, he argues that 401(k)s and traditional IRAs are treated equally for tax purposes. But that's simply wrong, for estate planning purposes, because of the way most 401(k) plan rules work. Here's why:

If the account holder dies, most 401(k) plans require heirs to take all distributions within five years, regardless of tax consequences. The result is the loss of a lifetime of tax-free compounding. To make matters worse, a large 401(k) balance withdrawn within five years -- all taxable as income, can in and of itself drive the beneficiary into a higher tax bracket, while disqualifying them for needed tax breaks, tax credits, need-based financial aid, etc., etc.

An IRA, on the other hand, can be distributed over the beneficiary's entire lifetime. The result is often decades of tax-free (Roth) or tax-deferred (traditional) growth, with all rebalancing and trading activity free of capital gains taxes. (Had the balance been in a taxable account, all rebalancing and trading activity would have generated at least 15% in capital gains taxes, minus up to a few thousand dollars per year in offsetting losses (IF AVAILABLE).

Third, the differences in the way these plans are taxed creates certain planning opportunities for a savvy advisor:

Divide assets into four quadrants: High return/High tax-efficiency, low-return/high tax efficiency, high return/low tax efficiency, and low return/low tax efficiency.

From there, you prioritize which investments should go into your IRAs first (called solving the asset location problem).

For example, high-return and low tax-efficiency asset classes, such as REITs, do significantly better inside IRAs than outside of them, even considering that assets outside the IRA will eventually be taxed at capital gains rates, rather than as income.

High return and high tax-efficient vehicles (i.e., large cap growth stocks with low or no dividends) do much better OUTSIDE of the IRA: they generate little in the way of taxable dividends and any sales are taxed at capital gains rates.

Low return and low tax-efficiency vehicles should go into the IRAs next, until you run out of room, after all high return/low tax-efficiency assets have gone in. But don't sweat it...the difference between the two locations is small, assuming you don't trade too much.

Low return and high tax-efficiency assets should go in last, if at all. You may wish to preserve liquidity in these assets anyway, and you don't have to worry about any 10% penalties for withdrawals before age 59 1/2.

Another aspect of planning this guy misses is the benefit of diversification against tax risk. With assets in a variety of vehicles, the investor is not overly exposed to any major changes in tax law.

For example, if everything he had were held in a Roth IRA, he is dependent on a promise that Roth IRA withdrawals will forever be tax free: a Congressional promise that could be broken anytime. This is a particularly important factor for those in higher tax brackets, who will of course, be the targets of any "soak the rich" tax hikes in the future. Remember that marginal income tax rates once reached 90%.

They could do so again.

Anyone with everything he has in a Roth IRA could be devastated by such a move.

By spreading his assets out among a variety of tax structures, an investor can effectively hedge against the risk of a disadvantageous tax law change in the future.

So while this blogger's ideas aren't far off the mark in theory, in practice, they don't hold up to scrutiny.

Splash, out


UPDATE: For everything you ever wanted to know about determining optimal asset locations, click here.

Kennedy: People fear job loss and lack of health insurance more than cancer. 
Just how dumb can Democrats get?

"People fear cancer but many also fear losing their jobs or their health insurance even more," said Massachusetts Democrat Sen. Edward Kennedy.

Link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A33702-2005Feb17.html

Let's take a survey. Choose between losing your health insurance, and getting cancer.

Let's test out Sen. Kennedy's hypothesis.

Feh. No wonder Democrats lose elections.

Splash, out


Support for reservists dwindling among employers 
This is from the Society of Human Resource Managers (www.shrm.org):

In 2003, 33 percent of employers maintained full pay for those exempt employees and 25 percent for nonexempt employees. That is expected to fall by more than half—to 15 percent—for those with exempt and nonexempt employees serving. The number of employers maintaining full pay for those serving who are nonexempt plant employees fell from 19 percent in 2003 to an anticipated 13 percent in 2005.

These numbers are coupled with a drastic increase expected in the number of employers not offering any pay to employees serving in the Guard or Reserves in 2005. In 2003, 31 percent of employers did not offer any pay to exempt employees, and 33 percent offered none to nonexempt employees serving in the Guard or Reserves. That is expected to reach 50 percent of employers not offering any pay to exempt and nonexempt employees serving.

For nonexempt plant workers, it looks worse, rising from 40 percent of employers in 2003 not offering any pay to 54 percent not doing so.

And while some organizations pay a differential between what the employee earns during military service and his or her normal wages, that number also is decreasing.

In 2003, 36 percent of employers paid a differential to exempt employees serving in the Guard and Reserves. That is expected to drop to 34 percent in 2005. Nonexempt office workers and nonexempt plant workers are expected to fare no better. The respective figures drop from 42 percent in 2003 to 34 percent in 2005 and from 41 percent in 2003 to 33 percent in 2005.

I don't blame the employers. It was one thing in the days where you could offer a pay differential to guardsmen and reservists and reasonably expect that they'd be gone for AT and maybe one more service school each year and that's it. Longer deployments were comparatively rare, and could actually, theoretically, be insured against (i.e., key personnel insurance).

But now any employer who hires a reservist needs to confront not only the possibility, but the near-certainty of deployment within three or four years of hire. And that deployment is likely to last 14-18 months or even more.

Employers cannot afford to pay employees for nonproductive time for that long. If they felt they had to, the result would be rampant discrimination against military employees.

Soldiers are already leaving the military because of rampant job conflicts anyway.

Idea: Maybe it's time to provide civilian employers of mobilized guardsmen/reservists some sort of compensation to defray costs of maintaining benefits, pay differentials, retraining employees to take over the reservists' job function, retraining a reservist whose skills atrophy or become obsolete while he's deployed, and temporary recruiting and hiring.

The idea: make civilian employers happier to hire guardsmen and reservists in the first place, cause them to wince less when a soldier is activated, and encourage soldiers to stay in. Or at least make employers less willing to pressure soldiers to leave the service, which has already happened to me and at least three other captains in my battalion. Two of them left. I haven't. Yet.

Splash, out


He should have done it in Iowa 
A Kansas City man was charged with a misdemeanor Thursday after Lenexa police arrested him a day earlier driving nude and covered in corn oil.

An excellent idea. 
Former treasury secretary Paul O'Neill wants to render Social Security obsolete, by allowing every American as yet unborn to retire a millionaire without Social Security:
1.) The Federal Government should open a tax deferred savings account for every child on the day of his or her birth, and deposit $2,000.

2.) Every year thereafter, the the Federal government will deposit an additional $2,000 into the account, until the child turns 18 years old.

3.) Assuming a 6 percent annual rate of return, that money will exceed 1 million dollars at age 65, and will be enough to fund an 82,000 dollar per year annuity for every retiree.

Nice bit of sales. And yes, we should do something very similar. But the way this is presented is a bit disingenuous, because the article makes no mention of the effects of inflation.

It would be great if IRA rules were liberalized to allow parents to a couple of grand aside for their children from birth.

Of course, Democrats will argue that any such provision will amount to a huge tax giveaway to the rich and will oppose it, tooth and nail, just as they opposed increasing IRA limits for years (Clinton vetoed a bill to do just that), and opposed the 401(k) (arguing that they would undercut traditional pensions). Which tells you a bit about where they're coming from.

Splash, out


Sunday, February 27, 2005

Good Friends 
Josh Marshall wrote in November 2003 that "we're all alone" in Iraq.

No we're not.

And we never were.

From The Tennessean's Tim Chavez:

''Our lead security vehicle stopped in the middle of the street. This is not normal and is very unsafe, so the following vehicles began to inquire over the radio. The lead vehicle reported a little girl sitting in the road and said she just would not budge.

''The command vehicle told the lead to simply go around her and to be kind as they did. The street was wide enough to allow this maneuver and so they waved to her as they drove around.

''As the vehicles went around her, one of the Marines soon saw her sitting there, and in her arms she was clutching a little bear that he had handed her a few patrols back. Feeling an immediate connection to the girl, he then radioed that the convoy was going to stop.

''The rest of the convoy paused as he got out to make sure she was OK. The little girl looked scared and concerned, but there was a warmth in her eyes toward him. As he knelt down to talk to her, she moved over and pointed to a mine in the road

(See Blackfive for the provenance of the story, and a glimpse into how stupid professional cynics can be.)

More importantly, though, send toys to:

SSgt Tranchitella

1st Intel Bn (AFP)

UIC 42498

FPO AE 96426-2498

Splash, out


Life in Ramadi 
MSG Earl T. Harris, former S2 NCOIC for the Hurricane Bn, tells it like it was...
...and how lucky we were.

Minor correction...

The battalion was not significantly under strength when we deployed overseas. But we were 30% understrength by the time we got back, between our sick, wounded, a few hardship cases, and at least one outright desertion.

Our equipment was definitely substandard, though. And we were an enhanced brigade!

Splash, out


Saturday, February 26, 2005

Never stop killing terrorists. 
Never, ever, ever, ever stop killing terrorists.

Israeli security officials also said they may resume assassinations of the leaders of the militant Islamic Jihad group, which claimed responsibility Saturday for the bombing. The officials said on condition of anonymity that the recent cease-fire forged with the Palestinians no longer applies to Islamic Jihad, which has links to Syria.

A resumption of Israel's targeted killings of wanted militants, which Israel recently agreed to halt, would likely mean the end of the cease-fire declared by the Israeli and Palestinian leaders at a Feb. 8 summit in Egypt.

Terrorists will never honor an agreement. If they were honorable men to begin with, they wouldn't be terrorists in the first place.

The minute you stop going after them with everything you've got, you cede the tactical and strategic offensive to them.

The minute they can begin using their cell phones secure in the knowledge that the transmission won't attract a Hellfire missile from the horizon, they will begin using them to organize meetings, transfer funds, contact their operatives, and strike.

If the Palestinian Authorities will not arrest the militant extremists, the Israelis should reserve the right to vaporize them themselves.
Con mucho gusto.

Splash out,


UPDATE: More on the strategic offensive here.

Jarvis under attack from the left 
Jeff Jarvis is under assault from the foam-at-the-mouth left.

Today over at Kos, Armando calls me a "right-wing media gadfly." Commenters then pile on, as is their sport, and say that because New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller has been hanging around me, he must be right-wing, too. What liberal media, indeed. And then my bete taupe, Eric Alterman, uses his column in The Nation to call me "a self-styled evangelist for right-wing bloggers." And when I say that we're all journalists now thanks to the internet, he says: "That, of course, is nonsense. Journalists aspire to standards of fairness, accuracy and research that are not generally observed by Jarvis's pajama-clad army." These are standards not generally observed by Alterman in his spreading of innuendo not backed by the slightest reporting or fact. But I digress.

Jarvis then shows his moderate, rational Democrat credentials, and continues:

This is no way to win elections and no way to enact change and no way to influence policy. If this wing continues to be the loudest voice of the party and, in fact, takes over the party, then you can bet that the Democrats will forever be in opposition -- a role these folks love like cultists who feed on attack -- or, worse, even sink into extinction. I'm not a third-party guy; never have been, never want to be. But being attacked for daring to disagree on one issue or with one self-proclaimed leader is no way to win friends and influence elections. I hope the Clinton wing retakes the party from the spitting fringe.

The bottom line: The left's turning on and betrayal of Jarvis demonstrates how out of touch with the country they have become. Dean will be an electoral disaster for the Democratic party. Their election of Dean to the DNC chair position demonstrates at once a failure to learn from any of the mistakes of the McAuliffe era -- mistakes that have caused the Democratic party to lose ground and credibility over a full decade -- and a touching devotion to maintaining their status as a minority party.

Splash, out


The Wiggles Way 
The Chief has something to say.

I can't usefully exerpt it. Read the whole thing.

And by the way, stop by the Chief Wiggles store! All proceeds go to Operation Give.


A deft observation 
...from Ed Morrisey:
This interview practically asks aloud why Powell gave his first post-office interview to a British conservative broadsheet instead of any American media outlet. Perhaps Powell, ever the diplomat, intended on sending yet another subtle message.


"It's slimming, you boob!" 
Cori Dauber's deflation of the Washington Post's Condi Rice Fashion Deconstruction is not to be missed.


I wanna see Condi spliced into a Robert Palmer video.

Better yet, let's remake the Guy Ritchie-directed video of "What It Feels Like for a Girl," with a black leather-clad Condi offing all these middle eastern dictators, and soaking Mubarak's crotch with a water pistol.

It can end with a piano crashing into a light pole.

Yeah, that's the ticket.

Madeleine Albright can ride shotgun!


UPDATE: I can't link to it directly, but you can see the video on Madonna's Website. Click "Media", then "complete list of videos."

It's spreading... 
Looks like the Iraqi election is a pretty difficult phenomenon for Arab dictators to explain away to their people.

From the Associated Press:

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Saturday ordered a revision of the
country's election laws and said multiple candidates could run in the nation's
presidential elections, a scenario Mubarak hasn't faced since taking power in

I'd love to say "it's gotta be the boots, man."

And yes, the announcement comes just a day after the U.S. government, through the Secretary of State, publically bitchslapped Egypt over the recent arrest of a pro-democracy Iraqi dissident.

But all the diplomacy in the world failed to convince Saddam to pull out from Kuwait or comply with the UN resolutions since his expulsion. And it failed to contain Slobodan Milosevic in Bosnia and Kosovo. So I don't have a lot of faith in diplomatic pressure in and of itself.

But I do have a lot of faith in an unstoppable groundswell of popular sentiment... a zeitgeist, if you will, like the zeitgeist that provoked the people of Rumania to overthrow Ceaucescu, and pushed the rest of Eastern Europe into freedom.

Ceaucescu was so corrupt, so far removed from his people, that he ignored it. And wound up getting himself and his wife slaughtered like pigs.

Mubarak is smarter. He sees what happened in Iraq. He sees that his people see what happened in Iraq. And he sees the momentum building in Lebanon, and sees the stars aligning themselves against the Ba'athist regime in Syria.

Mubarak's Egypt is responding to internal stimuli.

Lebanon, I believe, is the lynchpin of the Middle East, now.

Iraq's democracy, while popular internally, was imposed from without. It never would have happened without the U.S. forcing the issue.

But Lebanon has a chance to seize democracy under its own power. People power. That's not to say the Lebanese people aren't going to need a lot of help. Turkey needs to lean on Syria. Egypt needs to lean on them. The Israelis probably need to be publicly agnostic, but support the right of the Lebanese people to determine their own form of government themselves, so long as they do not provide succor to Hezbollah and their crossborder attacks.

Iraq can put them under a great deal of pressure, as can the U.S. via Iraq.

But the engine has to be the will of the Lebanese people.

And if Lebanon can do it...if they can shed the yoke of Syrian domination and create a free and fair election in their own country, then the pressure for reform in the secular Arab states increases exponentially.

And the neo-conservative strategy pays off. Which has the added advantage of pissing off all the right people.

Splash, out


Friday, February 25, 2005

Congress members more likely to have relatives in the military than general populace 
One of the peanut gallery on LaShawn Barber's blog was challenged to back up an assertion that, contrary to Michael Moore's film, members of congress are actually more likely than the general population to have relatives in the military.

He let fly with an impressive bit of number crunching:

• Congressional Republicans are more than twice as likely as congressional Democrats to have close family members in the military.

• Members of congress are significantly more likely than the general population to have close family members in the military.

• Congressional democrats are no more likely to have close family members in the military than the general population.

Link is here:

You'll have to scroll down a ways.

I think his numbers on Congress are strong. His numbers on the general population are weak. I don't think there have been a million servicemen rotated through Iraq... the number is probably closer to 400,000. Which would reduce the percentage of parents in the general population who have had their children serve.

Also, he mixes his data points - counting congressmen's nephews for this purpose, but only counting sons and daughters for the general population.

Splash, out


Cluelessness in San Francisco 
I wonder how many soldiers are normally in the 579th Engineer Battalion Company?

Is it commanded by a light captain?

How about those desert camoflage fatigues? Is that a solid green DCU?

"the company's field commander" is a quaint little touch.

This reporter's heart is in the right place. But his word processor is writing checks his fund of information can't cash.

No big deal, if he's got solid editorial support. But apparently there's nobody at the SF Gate newsroom who knows the difference between a battalion and a company, or knows that the U.S. Army hasn't worn "fatigues" since sometime before Grenada.

Now, if journalists can't get this stuff right, how can they be expected to do any kind of analysis? How can they explain context to their readers?

After four years of war, and with a local unit gone for more than a year, can't the SF Gate be bothered to educate itself about this important beat?

Editors, how many veterans do you have in your newsroom?

Splash, out


New York Times public editor concedes need for more veterans in the newsroom! 
A few days ago, I sent this email to the New York Times public editor:

Actually, I can see why your paper would miss a story about a Congressional Medal of Honor winner.

I think I figured it out: Your editors can't even tell the difference between the Congressional Medal of Honor and an award for songwriting.

This is from your Corrections pages, January 23rd:

"An Op-Ed article last Sunday about the Plaza Hotel misstated details about an award given to the songwriter George M. Cohan. He won the Congressional Gold Medal, an award also given to other songwriters. He did not win the Congressional Medal of Honor. "

So how many layers of fact-checking did THAT one go through?

See, I'm a big believer in diversity. REAL diversity. You might want to think about reaching out and getting some veterans in the newsroom, so your paper wouldn't make embarrassing gaffes like that anymore.

Errors of omission are one thing. But THIS one takes the cake!

Just for kicks, how many veterans ARE on staff in the editorial department of the NY Times?

I received this courteous reply from Mr. Arthur Bovino, the assistant to Dan Okrent, public editor of the New York Times:

Mr. Okrent has been lobbying management for more intellectual and experiential diversity in the newsroom -- and veterans are certainly a group to be desired, as evidenced by the superb work of C.J. Chivers, a former Marine officer

I'd love to say we got results - but it's too soon to say. It's one thing for Okrent to lobby management. It's quite another for the Old Gray Lady to actually budge.

Meanwhile, the Times still has not deigned to run a story on SFC Paul Smith's posthumous medal of honor.

Splash, out


UPDATE: Paris Hilton gets plenty of press, though.

Coalition casualties lowest in eight months. 
Coalition fatality rates in since the January 30th Iraqi elections are the lowest they have been since July, according to the Iraq Coalition Casualties update.

Coalition forces have suffered an average of 2 fatalities per day so far in February -- less than 50% of the daily rate for January (4.1) and the lowest since the 1.87 recorded in July, and well below the long-term average of 2.34 fatalities per day.

The number of wounded in action has also dropped sharply of late: the 442 wounded in January 2005 is sharply lower than the 531 wounded in December 2004, and the lowest monthly figure in almost a year - since March 2004. January numbers reflect data through 29 January.

Month-to-date figures in February were not yet available.

Coalition troops have suffered 1,659 fatalities in Iraq since March 2003 -- 1,487 of them American.

Splash, out


Romance Novels, Remixed 
Funny stuff!

(I gotta learn how to photoshop!)

Hat tip: B.L. Ochman

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Send me. 
I'll go.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

An empty shell of a story 
Here's a story about Guantanamo JAGs who supposedly objected to "aggressive interrogation techniques" at the prison.

Military lawyers at the Guantanamo Bay terrorist prison tried to stop inhumane interrogations, but were ignored by senior Pentagon officials, The New York Daily News has learned.

Judge advocates - uniformed legal advisers known as JAGs who were assigned to a secret war crimes task force - repeatedly objected to aggressive interrogations by a separate intelligence unit at Camp Delta, where Taliban and al-Qaida suspects have been jailed since January 2002.

But Pentagon officials "didn't think this was a big deal, so they just ignored the JAGs," a senior military source said.

Well, jeez...you think you might clue us in to what those "aggressive techniques" might have been?

I guess not. We can't be bothered with the facts. But since the reporter doesn't bother to let us know what those techniques are, for all I know, the Pentagon officials were right to ignore the JAGs. JAGs are pretty good at writing memos and filing protests through channels. It's what they do.

But they aren't very good at getting information out of intransigent detainees. Yes, they argued that long interrogations and isolation are "effective."

But not too many JAGs hold "top secret" clearances. So it is quite possible that the JAGs are not even in a position to evaluate what "effective" means.

Nor are we told how routine or widespread these aggressive practices are. Are they used on everybody? Or just a few hard core Al Qaeda types?

Moreover, the JAGs may hold a legal opinion - but the cost-benefit tradeoff is not theirs to decide. The commander holds the final say, subject to the guidance of the chain of command and the law itself. The JAGs are advisors, but they hold no veto power over command authority.

If a subordinate commander breaks the law, it is the senior commander, or his designated representative, who prosecutes. Not the JAGs. And while Colonel Miller's legal reasoning may be sound or may be unsound, all the reporter bothers to give us is a "he said/she said" argument.

This democratic republic cannot make an informed decision based on the facts in this story, because there aren't any.

Come to think of it, there's not even a single, solitary, on-the-record source.

There's just no "there" there.

Splash, out


Monday, February 21, 2005

Quote of the day 
From Mickey Kaus:

Another round of explosive front-page revelations from secretly recorded phone conversations like today's and Bush's approval will hit 70 percent. ...

One Man Circle Jerk 
The New York Times' executive editor Bill Keller reveals what a classy guy he is here:
Keller also sees “blogging,” or online writing that blurs news and commentary, as a mixed blessing. While he celebrated the blogger’s ability to uncover breaking news, he noted that a blog’s inherent bias might be detrimental to the reader. “A blog is still a view of the world through a pinhole,” he said, noting that it can sometimes fall as low as being a “one man circle jerk.”

“There is a pressure to feel well informed without ever confronting an opinion that confronts your prejudices,” he said of blog readers.

Gee, kinda like a liberal working in a Manhattan news room?

So what is Maureen Dowd's column, if not a one-woman circle-jerk?

Splash, out


The strategic offensive 

Bush is confident enough of his momentum in Iraq to put the screws to Saddam's sister Ba'athist state, Syria over Lebanon. The Lebanese are jumping on the anti-Syria bandwagon, demonstrating openly, and pushing for free elections themselves.

Bush patches things up with France, and issues a double dog dare to France to stand tall and use its influence to promote democracy in Lebanon (it CAN happen!!!!!).

Momentum is building for stronger international support of the fledgling democracy in Iraq. The recent successful elections change the terms of the debate in Europe a great deal.

The Israelis are confident enough to release 500 Palestinian prisoners and withdraw from Gaza (perhaps an economy of force move to free up troops in case of a crisis with Syria?). A chance of a real Israeli-Palestinian deal is within reach.

If Syria can be defanged, and denied a base of support in Lebanon in which its proxy, Hezbollah, can operate against northern Israel while Syria can maintain plausible deniability, then momentum for such a peace deal will build even faster.

Meanwhile, if enough pressure is put on Syria so that it's hold on Lebanon begins to collapse, and Lebanon successfully holds elections, then Syria's Ba'athist regime will be hard pressed to maintain power while surrounded by emerging democracies Lebanon, Iraq, the Palestinian territories, and long-time democracy and NATO ally Turkey.

Syria's people will want their shot at democracy, too.

Meanwhile, George Bush is turning up the rhetorical heat on Saudi Arabia to grant more freedom to its people.

North Korea backpedals from the brink (again).

Hillary Clinton jumps on the Iraq bandwagon, actually admitting that much of Iraq is functioning "quite well."

Time Magazine reports that Ba'athist insurgents are now putting out feelers to create a separate peace. Al Zarqawi is forced to threaten to murder secular insurgent leaders if they dare break ranks.

That can't last long. Someone, somewhere, will betray him.

Can the stars be aligning in their courses? The middle eastern autocrats are under a good deal of pressure.

When the end came to the Soviet Union and their domination of the Eastern Bloc, it came quickly. It came in a Tolstoyan flood. Perhaps democratic revolution in the middle east will come the same way.

This is what the strategic offensive looks and feels like.

The middle east has never looked better.

Splash, out


NY Times publishes unsourced data 
That's about all I can say for this piece (click the graphic in the upper left corner, too.)

Iraq remains, however, a country with high unemployment, mediocre public services and some of the highest crime rates in the world (probably worse than the late Saddam Hussein years).

Of course, no need to bother mentioning that Iraq's high crime rate is largely thanks to Saddam opening up his jails and releasing thousands of violent criminals back into the population on the eve of his departure. Nope...that would add needless perspective to the story, wouldn't it?

As for the graphic, the editors note the increasing death toll on civilians in Iraq.

But they make no effort to delineate the difference between civilians who are truly the unintended victims of war, and those who are deliberately targeted by terrorists.

Gee, you think that might be a useful distinction to make?

Note also the troop level numbers. The artist shades the most recent number a deep shade of gray, indicating a deteriorating situation. But the most recent number is from January 2005, coinciding with the transition between OIF II and OIF III, and a deliberate spike in available manpower coinciding with the Iraqi elections.

I have no idea why the exponential increase in the number of trained Iraqi security personnel is shaded dark gray, indicating, it seems a deteriorating situation. Why?

The increasing number of children in primary school is also given a steadily darkening hue of gray. Why?

I'd love to see the sourcing in the table. Unfortunately, the New York Times can't be bothered with transparency, can it?

I guess the graphic comes from Amy Unikewicz, a graphic designer. I also suppose it's reasonable to source the data to the Brookings Institution, though somehow I doubt that Iraq is saturated with teams of Brookings Institution researchers collecting reams of original, primary data.

So the underlying numbers come from somewhere else. Where?

Iraq Body Count?

Well, maybe. Iraq Body Count lists 462 fatalities in the month of January as their high estimate, and 437 as their low, by my count. So it looks like the Brookings institute just split the difference.

Does the New York Times plan to make a habit out of publishing unsourced data?

You know, just asking.


Rituals of War 
Here's a new blogger (to me anyway), a major stationed I guess in Baghdad, a recent arrival, marvelling at a veteran unit's coping and bonding mechanisms.

I understood completely.

My little ritual used to be shouting "Here we go!!!!" and singing "The wheels on the bus go round and round" every time we left the gate.

Apparently, it was effective.

It's hard to tell for sure, but that looks like a 29th Infantry Brigade patch on his shoulder.

My first unit was Delta Company, 1st Bn, 299th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Brigade (Separate), Hawai'i Army National Guard.

I'd go to war with those guys any day.

Especially with (at that time) SFC Milton Yee, the best platoon sergeant any brand new, 22 year old 2nd Lieutenant ever had.

The very first day I met him, he told me "lots of amateurs study tactics. Professionals study logistics."

Best piece of advice I ever got.

Except I keep drawing HHC command. (think herding cats)

E ma'akala kakou.

"Together, we all watch out."


Torture revisited 
Patrick Lasswell posts a thoughtful response to my last post regarding the death of an Iraqi detainee here.

The old adage, "cheat but don't get caught" has shown its frailty possibly due to the expansion of Special Forces operations and personnel. This is a serious problem, and I don't have a ready answer. I suspect that the decision to handle the death of Manadel al-Jamadi as a Non-Judicial Punishment (NJP) matter instead of a Court Martial is probably wise. While Court Martial's make better headlines, NJP makes better changes in an operational military.

Lasswell brings up a very good point: Jamadi may well have been doped up. That may well have escalated the level of violence required to subdue him (as anyone who's had to restrain anyone on crystal methamphetamine or PCP can attest to).

Still, I've been involved in hundreds of physical restraints of some awfully pumped up people. Three years of working in hospital psychiatric wards and doing emergency room crisis responses will do that to you. So I think there's got to be more at work.

At any rate, IF this guy really was involved in the Red Cross bombing, then the SEALs are smart enough to realize that you can't get any intelligence out of a dead man.

Alan Dershowitz and others have constructed arguments justifying torture for the greater good - i.e., the "ticking bomb" scenario. I'm sympathetic to that argument as a matter of morality (but not as a matter of policy) But in no case have any torture theorists of the utilitarian school of thought even attempted to justify torture or beating to the point of death as a way of gathering information. And that does not seem to have been the purpose of the beating Jamadi sustained.

I have also not seen any evidence reported that he WAS involved with the bombing. He may have been, but the reality is that coalition forces also bring in the wrong guy quite a bit, too. We'll get a tip, and then we'll round up every adult male in the house, and leave it for the translators to sort it all out.

But the man is dead. Which means he's not ratting out his colleagues like a good little stool pigeon should.

There's no way his death contributed to the war on terror. Maybe he was a prime candidate for waterboarding, I don't know. And maybe the SEALs acted heroically by not simply perforating him center of mass when they had the chance.

That's a finding of fact for the command.

But once in custody, by law, professional soldiers are obligated to safeguard their prisoners, and ensure they receive needed medical attention.

That didn't happen.

Let's not pretend that doesn't matter.

Splash, out


Reporters, sit up and take notice... 
This is how to write a story.

A keen grasp of detail, a sensitivity to the subjects. The writer does not call attention to himself. He becomes a medium for the marines to tell their stories.

It's obvious he's developed a rapport with these men, and lets it come through.

Best of all, there's no stupidy masquerading as "insight." Imagine the New York Times showing such self-mastery and restraint.

Outstanding stuff. We need more writers like this guy.

His name is Scott Peterson.


Sunday, February 20, 2005

I like Condi. I think she's going to be a great Secretary of State. Plus, she's a musician. Actually, a GOOD musician. And yes, that's important. I don't remember the last Republican musician in the White House (though we've had two Democrat musicians, Harry Truman (piano) and Bill Clinton (saxophone.)

But I'm not jumping on the Condi for President bandwagon. Condi's a great cabinet level type, and that's where she should stay for now.

American Thinker explains why, and I'm very much in agreement.

The qualities necessary to exercise executive power are completely separate from the qualities necessary to be an advisor, for the same reason that great staff officers don't always make good commanders, and great commanders sometimes struggle as staff officers.

I'd like to see Condi run for a lower elected office, and hold the job for a while. I don't see her a governor, but stranger things have happened. Senate would probably be an easier jump. But the governorship is a much better training ground for future Presidents.

Then, Condi in 2012 or 2016?

I'll man the balustrades for her.


Prisoner Abuse, Revisited 
Froggie Ruminations has been following the charges and proceedings related to the death of suspect in the bombing of the Baghdad Red Cross headquarters.

His most recent post on the subject, "Let my people go," points out that Jamadi was plenty feisty even as he was transferred to Abu Ghraib, and was "resisting his captors," according to court martial testimony. (Earlier testimony that the suspect was semiconscious seems to have been discredited since the witness appears to be unreliable).

Well, the fact that he was still resisting would explain the handy pummeling he received. And would also explain the restrictive position in which he was restrained. If true, then binding him in such a way does not necessarily indicate that it's a standard procedure. What's more likely is that the window bars in the shower room were handy, and more stable than the shower heads. And binding him like that is a reasonable, and I think preferable, alternative to beating on him some more. Which exposes both U.S. personnel and the prisoner to further injury.

But his resistance does not explain his being beaten to the point of death.

And it certainly does not explain the AP's lousy reporting and writing in this story.

It's got the SEALs howling, of course. But a man is dead. He was alive when we had him. He never received medical attention. He's not supposed to be dead. While these guys are authorized to use reasonable force to subdue a prisoner, once he's been subdued, killing him, or allowing him to die because of neglect, is a war crime, whether it's a SEAL who does it or a West Virginia reservist PFC.

And these guys know better.

Now, Froggy does leave open the possibility that the SEAL beating wasn't lethal, and if he was still resistant, maybe the CIA guys beat on him some more, after the SEALs left.


The SEALs have already admitted beating Jamadi with their rifles, in sworn testimony.

This ain't a "witch hunt," people. It's the workings of a nation of laws. If you can't stand being investigated, then don't leave dead detainees in your wake. Not only did you kill the man (apparently), but you

I still don't see why SPC Grainger gets 10-years, though, and the SEALs, who apparently beat this guy to death go with non-judicial punishment.

Maybe they could be convicted of battery but not murder? Dunno.

Splash, out


Bury the Lede 
So, it seems that there's been a secular trend over the last two or three decades of European Jews gradually parting company with European leftism - largely because of the left's embracing of the Palestinian cause - and supporting the moderates and right wing.

Seems reasonable enough to me.

So, if you're a New York Times reporter, what do you put in the top paragraph? What do you see as the most important part of the story?

Why, Jews are supporting Nazis, of course!

(nevermind that 95% of them don't.)

Splash, out


(Via Cori Dauber, who's got lots of good stuff up today.)

No worse enemy.... 
...and no better friends anywhere.

Semper fi, Mac.

And thanks.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Saw a bumper sticker today from the 700 Club that symbolically described the equation "Marriage = man + woman."

What a bunch of idiots.

If that were true, then the absolute value of man would be equal to the absolute value of the difference between woman and marriage.

The correct equation should be Marriage = (man + woman)^2 + x, with x being equal to the sum total of dowries, wedding presents, insurance discounts, and the net present value of half of one partner's social security benefits in future years.

I don't think that will fit too well on a bumper sticker. But if you disregard x, then you pretty much capture the central point: Marriage enhances the value of both the addends, and therefore represents more than the sum of its parts.

Which is to say, marriage is greater than any two of us alone.

Which, to sum up, is to say...

...Happy anniversary Mr. and Mrs. Captain Ed.


Dispatches from the Leftestmost of the Leftest Coast 
Via the great 2Slick comes Reaganesque, an 18 year-old college student blogging from the bowels of the People's Republic of Santa Monica.

Should be a lot of fun. I hope she regails us with oodles of tales of confronting lefist college profs.

The pictures she finds are precious.

Bonus points: she's hotter than Ar Ramadi asphalt.



Riverbend on the elections 
I disagree with a lot of what Riverbend has to say, obviously. But she certainly reflects the views of a lot of secular Sunni. And so any serious western follower of Iraq ought to check her out regularly.She doesn't post as often as I'd like to see (there's still a lot of electricity problems where she lives), but you can read up on her take on the elections here.

Basically, she's a little alarmed at the Shia dominance of the electoral results, and is nervous at the prospect of deliberalization of women's rights.

Iraq had been a relatively forward-thinking Arab country when it came to women's rights, at least since the 1950s - the sadistic nightmare of the Saddam regime notwithstanding, I guess. Though it's hard to imagine a nightmare of over two decades and hundreds of thousands of deaths to be "notwithstanding."

But again, her family apparently prospered under Saddam. She certainly received an excellent education - her command of the English language is better than many English speakers.

She reminds me, though, of a character in a Tennessee Williams or Arthur Miller play -- I can't recall which one -- in which the scion of a wealthy family comes to the realization that his family fortune is based on corruption and fraud. The family owned a factory, and made a lot of faulty cylinders for aircraft engines during WWII.

Men died as a result of the cracked cylinders. But the father of the family told his son something like "Don't you understand? I did all this, and I built all this for YOU!!!! And you reaped the BENEFITS of it!"

The son has nothing to do with it. "Men's lives were hanging in the air by those cylinders!"

Riverbend seems not to have made the connection, though.

The results won’t really matter when so many people boycotted the elections. No matter what the number say, the reality of the situation is that there are millions of Iraqis who will refuse to submit to an occupation government. After almost two years of occupation, and miserable living conditions, we want our country back.

News flash, Riv:

The people of Iraq never had their country in the first place.

Splash, out


Friday, February 18, 2005

New York National Guard Unit Deployed 
The 42nd Infantry Division includes soldiers from Manhattan and the Bronx.

But the National Guard troops say they are up to the task of assuming the responsibilities they have inherited. They may give up a step to the younger active duty soldiers, they say, but they bring the wisdom of age, past combat experience and the skills from their civilian lives, including law enforcement, marketing, finance, computer technology and utilities maintenance.

Heh. I wonder how many of them are journalists? How many at the New York Times, CNN, Time, Inc., CBS, NBC, ABC? Not engineers or accountants, but newsroom employees. Editorial.

My guess: zero.

A whole division.

Well, at least people on the Upper East Side will actually KNOW an Iraq war vet.

Splash, out


Prisoner abuse 
First of all, let me be very clear in stating that the U.S. should not tolerate the abuse of prisoners or other detainees, and where evidence of abuse is sufficient, the U.S. should prosecute the perpetrators, as well as leadership in a position to know of the abuse and who failed to stop it, to the fullest extent of the law.

Now that the disclaimer is over with, I have some serious problems with the way this AP piece is reported.

1.) In the opening paragraph, the article states that the prisoner in question was "suspended by his wrists, with his hands cuffed behind his back," in "a position condemned by human rights groups as torture."

But it's not until the reader gets to the very end of the article -- IF he gets to the end of the article -- that we learn that the prisoner was not "suspended" in such a position at all. He was still able to support himself on his feet. Or would have been able to, had he remained conscious.

2.) The reporter uses the term "Palestinian hanging." Why? Because hanging someone by their wrists behind their back is a torture technique that goes back millennia. It is by no means unique to Israeli forces (if the allegations are true, although I'm agnostic on that point for now) and didn't even originate with them. So why use an unnecessarily loaded term?

Oh, other than to slime the Jews again, of course.

3.) The pathologist stated that the position this man was bound in "may have contributed to his death." But again, you have to read to the end of the article to learn that the REAL cause of death was that he had apparently had the crap beaten out of him by the SEALs who made the snatch. Yeah, that would explain the internal bleeding, evidenced by the blood flowing from the mouth.

4.) The REAL story, then - that this man was beaten so severely prior to arriving at Abu Ghraib that it caused internal bleeding sufficient to kill him within a few hours has been buried, and not even seriously dealt with, except in passing.

5.) The "green plastic bag" was almost certainly a sandbag. They're plastic, and they're green, and were commonly used at the time to hood prisoners. Not the most comfortable things in the world, in hot weather, but they're porous and you can breathe in them. That's a small, but important detail to get right. The reporter probably had no way of knowing it was a sandbag. But that's because most reporters are clueless.

6.) Again, we don't find out until the end of the article that this guy was allegedly among those who bombed the Baghdad Red Cross center. Don't you think his identity might be relevant to the story? (It would certainly explain the richly deserved pummeling courtesy of the swabbies.)

All in all, this would be a better news story if it were written upside down.

There IS a story here, and an important one. But it's not the story the AP wrote. What we have here is a pretty clear case of a reporter wanting to hop on to the Abu Ghraib torture angle, and therefore he presented the story in the most sensational angle possible.

But the most sensational aspects turn out not to be true. The truth is something far more mundane, although equally -- I hate to say that this guy's death was tragic -- equally unacceptable.

It was not the case in May 2003. But by November, there were certain due process safeguards put in place for all detainees. If I turned someone over to interrogators, I had to muster some evidence against him, and document that evidence, which would eventually go before a joint U.S./Iraqi tribunal.

Now, the reporter blew the story. So I'll lay the story out for him another way:

Was this man actually involved in the Red Cross bombing? The evidence is probably out there somewhere. I had to write down the evidence on the Coalition Forces Detainee Processing Form, along with providing photographic or physical evidence implicating the man.

Now, it may well be the case that we cannot divulge how this guy was identified - often it's by a HUMINT or SIGINT methodology best kept under wraps. But there may have been physical evidence at the guy's house. Can that be produced?

If not, are SEALs and other Superfriends-type outfits exempt from following the due process safeguards set up by CJTF-7? If so, why?

Finally, riddle me this, ladies and germs: How is it that an Army Specialist in an obscure reserve MP unit can put a pair of panties on someone's head, and pose for a bunch of tasteless pictures, and get 10 years in jail, but group of Navy SEALs can beat a man to death (the facts don't seem to be in dispute here) and walk away with Article 15s?

Enquiring minds want to know.

Splash, out


Lying Headline 
This Reuters report is headlined "Greenspan Won't Say Social Security in Crisis."


Except that's exactly what he did say, and that's exactly the term he used.

When he rolled it back, it was not to say that Social Security was not in crisis. He rolled it back to say that it really doesn't matter a whit whether you called it a "crisis" or not, since the measures required in order to address the long-term funding shortfall don't change, whether you call the shortfall a "crisis" or a cockle.

Really, what he was doing was a backhanded slap at Democrats obsession over semantics as an excuse to avoid dealing with the real fiscal issues posed by demographics.

Of course, that's probably way over the head of the typical reporter.

Splash, out


Thursday, February 17, 2005

Gee whiz, the military is not a bunch of "bloodthirsty maniacs." 
Who woulda thunk it?

The panel member who, one would have thought, would have the most to say about the subject of a "reporter as citizen" was Mary Beth Sheridan. But, she explained, she hadn't realized she would have to make a speech at the breakfast, and that her remarks about her experiences in Iraq would be just "free-flowing" — and, indeed, they were.

First of all, she said she was "overwhelmed by the military," but she did learn by being embedded that members of our armed forces were not "blood-thirsty maniacs." Yes, she really did say that.

In fact, she said, they were "really decent people." And even "sweet." Of course, after being shot at they were eager to shoot back — a military attitude that seemed to surprise her.

She also reported that when she asked soldiers why were they in Iraq, every single one told her, "to help the Iraqi people." Again she was surprised that the military could create such a unity of purpose even though, she said, she didn't see any "brainwashing" going on. She also noted that many soldiers had no opinion about the war. They had gone where they were ordered to go, like all good soldiers. Such an attitude seemed to dazzle her as well.

She didn't have anything much to say about "reporters as citizens," but clearly she appeared to be one citizen who had very little familiarity with, or understanding of, or even quite possibly respect for the military before her tour of duty. In a way, it is kind of sad that only after some first-hand experience did she learn what most American citizens believe: that American soldiers are "decent people." And that it is those soldiers, not our journalists, after all, who protect our freedom of the press.

That's from Myrna Blyth, a former editor of Ladies Home Journal and founding editor of More. She also published an interesting insider's account of the kneejerk liberalism, shallowness, and condescending attitude rampant in the magazine industry called "Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness - and Liberalism - to the Women of America."

The way the mainstream media's been foaming at the mouth trying to crush dissent lately, I'm surprised noone took the opportunity to shove a pencil in her neck.

Splash, out


Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Can the New York Times get any more clueless... 
about military matters?

Unfortunately, yes.

An Op-Ed article last Sunday about the Plaza Hotel misstated details about an award given to the songwriter George M. Cohan. He won the Congressional Gold Medal, an award also given to other songwriters. He did not win the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Meanwhile, the New York Times' pages are still silent about a real Congressional Medal of Honor winner.

Although they somehow make room for stories like this.

Splash, out


I think they're losing their minds 
The nation's newspapers, that is.

I've had a bit of correspondence with Jamie Gold, the Los Angeles Times reader representative. I followed Patterico's lead, and wrote in objecting to this passage in this February 3rd editorial:

That's because contrary to what Bush said in a previous State of the Union speech, we now know the threat posed by Hussein was not imminent.

Now, the blogosphere's been all over this "imminent threat meme," and it's been decisively established that the President never said the threat was imminent. What he said was that we should not wait until the threat was imminent in order to deal with Saddam.

So I wrote as much to the LA Times, complaining that they had gotten their facts 180 degrees wrong, and then ascribed the quote back to the president.

Patterico made the same complaint, and Gold told him that the story was "uncorrectable," since the factual error took place in an editorial.

I guess it's ok to lie in an editorial in the LA Times?

Well, I got this nonsensical reply from Jamie Gold:

You're writing about a subjective piece -- an editorial.
Any speech made by anyone is going to be interpretated in any number of ways.
The editorial board interpreted the president as meaning one thing, you read it
as meaning another. I can send you the entire text of his speech if you want to
see what else he said besides that one reference that led them to write what
they did. I'm sorry that you find this response obtuse or Kafkaesque, but the
key here is that it's an essay, and that is a matter of opinion -- the editorial
board's opinion. The opinion pages are allowed to present many viewpoints whose
interpretation you might question. That doesn't make them wrong, it means only
that you don't agree. Had it been a news story I would have responded

Yes, the editorial is a subjective piece. And editorial writers are entitled to their own opinions. They are NOT, however, entitled to their own facts. The President's speech was predicated on the assumption that the threat was NOT YET IMMINENT, or at least, that its imminence was not knowable, and would not be knowable until it would be too late to react.

Logically, the postulate of the non-imminence of the threat, or the uncertain imminence of the threat, cannot be considerd equivalent to an argument that postulates the PRECISE OPPOSITE CONDITION.

Further, making reference to "what President Bush Said" in a prior State of the Union address is not expressing an opinion: It is stating a fact.

It's too bad the people at the LA Times didn't take Freshman Comp in college so they could have this confusion beaten out of them.

The last sentence is revealing:

"Had it been a news story I would have responded differently."

Why? Because they got their facts wrong about the President?

The Press are circling their wagons now. It's worse than I thought. These people are willing to undergo any stretch, any Cirque du Soleil convolution of logic, to save face in the shallowest way imaginable, and avoid having to concede the point to the great unwashed.

Once you give up the pretext of, you know, intellectual honesty, anything's possible.

Splash, out


Social Security: Two Heavyweights Weigh In 
Two of the world's top financial thinkers have weighed in on Social Security reform.

Bill Gross, the 800 pound gorilla of the bond market, citing Rob Arnott of Research Affiliates, LLC, expresses skepticism:

"Pre-funding these systems...is basically irrelevant...It matters little whether the system is pre-refunded with Treasury bonds or privately held stocks. The truth is that both of these assets represent a call on future production. If that production could possibly be saved, like squirrels ferreting away nuts for a long winter, then Treasury IOUs or corporate stocks might make some sense. But they can't. Future healthcare for boomer seniors can only be provided by today's teenagers, twenty-somethings, and even the yet to be born. We cannot store their energy for a rainy day.

...As Chart I points out, the ratio of retirees to workers - the dependency ratio - soars from 0.2 retirees for every worker to 0.35 over the next 20 years or so. There's your problem, and neither privatization nor any goodly number of government bonds deposited in the Social Security trust fund can solve it."

I'd say "read the whole thing, but with Gross you are usually better off skipping the first two paragraphs.

The URL is http://www.pimco.com/PIMCO_US.Site/Template/LateBreakingCommentary.aspx?NRMODE=Published&NRORIGINALURL=%2fLeftNav%2fLate%2bBreaking%2bCommentary%2fIO%2f2005%2fIO_Feb_2005%2ehtm&NRNODEGUID=%7bDE7ABDBC-7DDA-4CD7-934A-C7E2BFFFFB26%7d&NRCACHEHINT=Guest

Gross is right. If we try to convert the current "pay as you go" system to the fully funded model, it STILL relies on the continued productivity of future generations of workers, because if their productivity falls flat on its face, then equity values collapse, along with corporate bond prices, and along with tax revenues.

Could it happen? Sure. But that's not an argument for keeping everything within Treasuries, because you're ultimately exposed to the same risk. If U.S. worker productivity collapses, taking equities and bond prices down simultaneously, the ability of the U.S. government to fund its huge entitlements will then be called into question, and the value of U.S. Treasuries will plunge and interest rates will soar. Or, more likely, taxpayers will repudiate the debt to America's retirees.

Either way, retirees lose, and sheltering them from securities markets for fear of a productivity collapse won't shelter them from very much at all.

Rather, the risk of a U.S. productivity collapse is an argument for expanding the investment pool to include global investments - including foreign bonds and stocks.

Let's face it...if the US should falter, the rest of the world will be happy to pick up the slack. The world will continue to generate and build wealth. And that's a bet I'm comfortable making.

Moreover, if we're so concerned about the Chicoms holding so much treasury debt over our heads like the Sword of Damocles, then expanding U.S. ownership of a diverse pool of foreign debt as a diversifier against U.S. markets can't be a terrible thing.

And if the whole world craps out simultaneously, well, then we've got bigger problems than retiree concerns then, and it will be time for them to go back to work, anyway, digging mass graves.

As an added benefit, over and above the diversification benefit, diversifying globally will also serve to dilute the erasure of the small-company risk premium, which is actually my biggest concern about a TSP-style Social Security plan.

The second heavyweight to weigh in is William Bernstein, an indexing and asset allocation guru and one of the big influences on my own investment thinking, though not on my Social Security writing.

Like me, he's suspicious of Wall Street, and is vigilant against the Street's tendency to set fees at a 1-2% level which will rape investors of half their returns or more over a 40 year career.

Viewed from the other side of the ledger, toss the following four items into the mix: 3% real returns for stocks, 1% for short-term bonds, a 60/40 portfolio, and 2% to 4% overt and covert expenses from your friendly neighborhood brokerage house or fund company. The result is an after-expenses real return that compares unfavorably to the canned goods in your cellar. Even those of us in the low-expense/multifactor crowd shouldn’t be too snide—if we can get an overall 1% portfolio boost from small and value and cover our expenses with skilled rebalancing, the only path to a small fortune is to start out with one. (Remember that while we’re peddling as fast as we can, real productivity and wages will be increasing by about 2% per year; thus, the best-case scenario is keeping up with the working Joneses, and just barely at that.)

Of course, the country’s wealth would not wind up entirely in the hands of the nation’s brokerages and fund companies. As publicly traded entities, some would be distributed to shareholders in the form of dividends and capital gains, but even more would be wasted on obscene management perks and corporate acquisitions that would make the Time Warner-AOL deal look like a tip at the Olive Garden.

URL: http://www.efficientfrontier.com/ef/105/goldrush.htm

But eventually, like, me, he comes to believe that such a plan is workable: IF we place strict limits on Wall Street scumminess, and IF we take steps to protect investors from the disruptive swings of market sentiment they themselves create. This is, to me, essentially the same as looking at Social Security as an insurance program rather than as an investment program - even if we use individual accounts. Require sound asset allocation principles, and the judicious use of annuities to provide a floor income for the life of the retiree and his or her survivor.

Fortunately, that seems to be the way the debate is headed.

More from Bernstein:

A grand bargain is called for, which might look something like this: The Left embraces the inevitability of private accounts, in return for which the Right gores the financial-services ox with a uniform and strictly regulated indexed portfolio structure. After retirement, beneficiary assets would then be liquidated for living expenses as well as exchanged in staggered fashion for inflation-indexed fixed annuities, again, under strict government control.

Privatization can work, and one does not need to be a libertarian to realize the empowering nature of individual accounts. But in order to avoid great slaughter, the sheep will have to be separated from the wolves.


Splash, out


Invisible Hand Job 
From a cantankerous economics newsletter writer named Richard Daughty -- also known as "The Mogambo Guru."

"When the government requires the provision of free health care, the explosion in demand makes prices go up, although apparently this is never mentioned in any of the economics books that anybody in government has ever read."


(No I can't provide a link. These antiquated computers my employer has me work with can't handle the blogging script. They're THAT BAD!)

Makes sense to me. And this is at the heart of the perverse nature of government entitlements, except for a very few of the neediest: Every time you increase benefits, you increase demand while doing nothing to increase supply - and necessarily drive up prices.

With most traditional insurance programs, the larger the pool becomes, the more efficient the program is. Actuarial data becomes more accurate, and economies of scale are realized.

But without a healthy deductible, or a copay large enough to get people to truly wince, any benefits are quickly undercut by rapid price inflation, which - in a diabolical tautology - will almost by definition race ahead of benefit increases.

How bad is the problem?

National health care expenditures rose 9.3% in 2002, to $1.6 trillion.
Health insurance premiums for employer-sponsored plans rose 13.9% in 2003.* That's several TIMES the rate of inflation (Currently 3.26%, but it was lower last year) and even higher than the devastating inflationary years of the late Carter years (inflation peaked at 13% in 1979,** and the problem was deemed severe enough for the Volcker Fed to forcefully plunge our head under the monetary waterline until we gave up our inflationary ways. For now.)

To make matters worse, the availability of free or cut-rate subsidized health care may well cause people in good risk categories to self-insure. Meaning they DON'T insure - they'll go suck on the taxpayer's teat.

Don't believe me?

There's a whole subindustry within the financial planning field devoted to HELPING people suck at the government teat, called "Medicaid planning."

Indeed, the very ability of medicaid is a powerful incentive for the middle class NOT to buy long-term care insurance. Advisors are advising the middle class NOT to buy LTC insurance precisely BECAUSE Medicaid will kick in.

It's the silliest incentive I've ever seen.

There are people who legitimately need assistance with health care. Those with long-term disabilities, for instance. My suggestion: Push to have employers offer long-term care insurance as part of their standard benefits package, along with major medical and disability. Make the package fully portable, and charge extra for it. So much extra, in fact, that the premium is fully paid up by the time a worker reaches retirement age at 65.

This is a lot more important than dental plans, anyway.


* Opiela, Nancy. Health Care Costs a Nightmare for Retirement Dreams. Journal of Financial Planning, February, 2005 (You can find it on www.fpanet.org)


Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Recruiting shenanegans 
Sounds like some Florida National Guard recruiter got caught misrepresenting the truth to high school students in St. Petersburg.

I've got a full-time recruiter who works trying to bring people into my unit. There's no doubt that the Guard is turning on the full-court press to step up recruiting and retention: Reenlistment bonuses have tripled, and recruiting/retention goals are receiving far more visibility when it comes to officer evaluation reports than I've ever seen in Florida (although it's still not as heavy-handed as in Kentucky, where it seems we spent more command and staff time discussing recruiting than we did training).

I've talked to my recruiter and others at length about what interests the kids today and what motivates them. I don't go down to meet with the kids or shepherd them through the recruiting process. But as a unit commander, it's MY recruiting and retention program, and my recruiter knows I intend to be straight with these kids, and that includes being very clear that there is a possibility they could be deployed overseas, to Iraq, to Afghanistan, Kosovo, or anywhere else the US Army has or will have a presence and a mission: and why would they want it any other way? Who wants to be part of a nondeployable, second-rate outfit?

Still, looking over the recruiting office and literature, my overwhelming sense is that the Guard is downplaying its involvement in Iraq. You walk in the recruiting office, and there's not one picture of the unit in Iraq, nor do any of the official-looking brochures I've seen contain photos of soldiers in action in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Everyone's wearing green.

I've seen one poster for Operation Enduring Freedom taken in Afghanistan, with the soldiers in DCUs, but I usually see that one around the units, not in the recruiters' offices.

Do I agree with the approach? Not really. But I don't particularly disagree with it, either, as long as we're up front about disclosing that we are part of the Army and could be Federalized and deployed anywhere in the world by order of the President.

I'm not out there in the trenches, though, talking to the kids and their families. The recruiters are telling me that a lot of the time, the kids are receptive to deployment, and even willing. It's their parents who won't sign off.

Splash, out


Saturday, February 12, 2005

Jeff Gannon 
Well, it wouldn't be right for me, a media blogger, to ignore the Jeff Gannon story (although while warbloggers have reeled in a Great White Shark in Eason Jordan, it seems that the lefty bloggers are hooping and hollering over netting a guppy.

For the life of me, I'm not seeing what Jeff's great sin was -- other than being in the White House press corps and not being a liberal. And I guess within the White House press corps, that's probably a crime.

I think that any press room that's big enough for the whacky old bat that Helen Thomas ("Condi Rice is a monster, monster monster") has become is big enough to hold the odd conservative, too.

Yes, the guy used a pen name. Think that's a crime? Take it up with Samuel Clemens.

Yes, the guy may have been involved with setting up porn sites. Last I checked, that's not a crime, either. Is Gannon an anti-porn crusader? Many on the White House press corps are probably subscribers to similar sites. Which is also not a crime. It's interesting, though, to note the glee with which Gannon's detractors report that some of the websites were, in fact, gay male websites.

Can you say homophobic?

Did he possibly leak a classified memo?

Maybe. But remember that the beltway blatherers wax orgasmic when discussing the sainted Daniel Ellsberg and Katherine Graham. Remember that much of the Pentagon Papers were classified, too.

(Some of these same idiots are also still maintaining Alger Hiss's innocence, too, no doubt.)

Was his crime lack of objectivity? Well, what's Helen Thomas doing in there, after calling President Bush "The worst president ever?" Good God, what does she think of Lincoln, and why?

After all, Lincoln emancipated four million slaves. That's only half of the number who voted in Iraq's elections, and not counting Afghanistan.

So the lefty bloggers have extracted their pound of flesh. And done absolutely no one any good.

No surprise here.

Splash, out


In Defense of General Mattis 
Villainous Company provides the REAL General Mattis. Not that the press would bother presenting, you know, context today.

From General Mattis:

Our fight is not with the Iraqi people, nor is it with members of the Iraqi army who choose to surrender. While we will move swiftly and aggressively against those who resist, we will treat all others with decency, demonstrating chivalry and soldierly compassion for people who have endured a lifetime under Saddam's oppression.
You are part of the world's most feared and trusted force. Engage your brain before you engage your weapon.

And this:

"If they choose to fight they are going to regret it, but we also believe that part of the physicians’ oath that says first do no harm. If to kill a terrorist we have got to kill eight innocent people you don’t kill them."

Now, here are General Mattis's comments that got him in trouble:

(Just look at that loaded lead!)

"You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for 5 years because they didn't wear a veil," Mattis continued. "You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them."

The General isn't the most articulate guy around. But he didn't say anything young Winston Churchill didn't already say when he said "There is nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at and missed."

There is no greater feeling than winning a sharp firefight with a terrorist without loss to one's own side. I was thrilled, too, in Iraq, when we drew blood without loss to ourselves. So in one sense, it IS a helluva lot of fun to shoot some people, although a closer analogy for me is the feeling I imagine one would get dispatching a sick animal.

By luck of the draw, I never had the opportunity to close with and kill the enemy (I remember part of me being disappointed that the enemy chose not to screw with me when I was traveling strong, with a couple of infantry platoons in tow, but I'm grateful they pretty much left me alone when it was just me, two or three trucks, no armor, no crew served weapons, and eight people, one of whom was an unarmed chaplain.)

So the coverage you see here, it's not the result of a media that's concerned about getting the story straight, of relaying the truth and the whole truth accurately.

This story was about an idiot reporter thinking he or she had a scoop, when in reality the General was talking to AND REACHING an audience in a language the reporter wasn't even equipped to comprehend.

So here's the reporter, looking down his or her nose thinking this General is an unenlightened neanderthal. The reality is that it's the reporter who's the clueless one. As are the news editors who gave the story such play.

It's become popular to say that what the general said was stupid or boneheaded. I don't think that's the case at all. Maybe blunt, maybe inarticulate. But those who know what he's talking about, know exactly what he's talking about, if you get my meaning.

Splash, out


P.S., you'd think San Diego news stations would know how to cover the Marine Corps. Especially after more than three years of war. But they can't even get Mattis' job right. He is not commanding the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq. That was his OLD job. He is now heading Combat Development in Quantico.

Reporters: Engage your brain before engaging your pen.

Friday, February 11, 2005

A Poynter Institute Reader Gets it 
Here's a frustrated comment on the Poynter Institute message board from Logan Anderson, a weekend/business news editor from Lynchburg, VA

Reading the letters and the news items on Romenesko, I've been struck by a couple of things:

1. the level of professional navel-gazing going on here (why are our
circulation numbers dropping, why don't people trust us anymore) and
2. the lack of any significant mention of the firestorm raging around
CNN and Eason Jordan, either in the news items posted or in the letters.

The two are, I believe, inextricably linked. Too many journalists (N.B., I did NOT say "reporters") these days are like the vast majority of academics: stuck in our cubicles (the newsroom version of the Ivory Tower) talking to folks just like us on the beats we cover rather than combing the streets talking to everyday folks.

When one of our gets into trouble, we circle the collective wagons and say hardly a word until forced to, kicking and screaming, which brings
me to the Jordan/CNN controversy. On the Romenesko site, do a search
and you'll find just two mentions of the matter: one a siderail link and the other a main news link to Howard Kurtz's apologia that ran in The Post. Nothing else ... no links to any of the blogs, any of the other media that have written about the matter, nothing. It's as if the Dan Rather/Memogate game plan is being run all over again.

Has anything moved on the AP wire about the controversy? If so, I haven't seen it. Guys, if Eason Jordan were the head of any other outfit as large and as important as CNN and had made comments such as he's made, we'd be in full-attack mode. Why are we holding back?

Which brings me back to the question of navel-gazing. Our readers, our
viewers -- more than half of whom believe we're biased and base our
reporting decisions on our personal politics -- aren't stupid. They know what's going on ... and they're tuning out. Or at least not tuning into us.

I agree wholeheartedly.

Romenesko and the Poynter Institute failed utterly in its mission to the journalism community, by all but ignoring the story.

Meanwhile, now that Eason has resigned and there is simply no way to sweep the controversy under the rug, outlets like the New York Times are still failing to note the precedents for Easons remarks, presaged in Portugal and the Guardian.

And no, the New York Times doesn't bother mentioning WHICH bloggers kept the story alive, either. No links, no cites, nothing. Oh, they'll profile light satirists like Wonkette. But when it comes to crediting the work of serious journo-bloggers who do their own reporting, forget it.

Meanwhile, Captains Quarters, Hugh Hewitt, and Powerline are quick to credit and recognize the legwork of smaller blogger/reporters.

The contrast in professionalism could not be more stark.

And the reporting...it's all been laid out at the Times' feet. The bloggers have already done all the legwork except for nabbing the tape itself...and the New York Times reporters STILL managed to blow the story. They apparently did no original reporting of their own, besides checking their own archives for Jordan columns and calling a CNN flack.

Once again, a shameful showing on the part of Big Media.

Splash, out


Bloggers bring down head of CNN! 
Eason Jordan resigns.

CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan quit Friday amidst a furor over remarks he made in Switzerland last month about journalists killed by the U.S. military in Iraq (news - web sites).

Jordan said he was quitting to avoid CNN being "unfairly tarnished" by the controversy.

Well, CNN was already tarnished by his very presence.* But CNN didn't have to be further tarnished by it. All they had to do was cover the story honestly.

Eason Jordan is really quitting to avoid putting CNN in a position where they had to cover the story.

Really, it's not so much what he said that tarnishes CNN or anyone else. Anyone can say something stupid, and anyone can mispeak himself.

What disgraces CNN, and what really disgraces Big Media, including the Washington Post, including the New York Times, including AP, is their refusal to seriously cover the controversy in the first place.

Splash, out


**Let's not overplay that, though. I think a lot of people would have made the same decision Eason did not to report some of the horror stories he was finding out about Saddam's regime. I am sure I would have done my best to avoid endangering the lives of my employees, too.

I don't know why he couldn't have leaked the stories to other news outlets, though, with the details masked in such a way that the real source, CNN, could not be identified.

Could he just not bear a competitor getting a story?

Thursday, February 10, 2005

First and Goal on the Eason Jordan story... 
since Captains Quarters and Michelle Malkin pretty much do all the original reporting on the story, all the NY Times had to do was prance the ball into the end zone.

So what does the Times do?

Well, on first and goal, of course, it's time to punt.

Despite comments that may have left a different impression, CNN's chief news executive said Thursday that he does not believe the U.S. military intended to kill journalists in the Iraq war.

No. Just target them, arrest them, and torture, them, right?

One Web logger has already called it ``Easongate,''


and an online petition is circulating calling on CNN to release a full transcript of what Jordan said.

Why just the online petition? Why isn't the New York Times pounding the table for the release of the video?

(What the hell kind of idiotic organization VIDEOTAPES a conference intended to be "off the record," anyway?

Jordan, speaking at the Jan. 27 panel in Davos, Switzerland, said he believed that 12 journalists who were killed by coalition forces in Iraq had been targeted.

Ok, so the AP is willing to accept the testimony of Rep. Frank and others indicating that that is, indeed, what Jordan said.

So how is it that the 12 journalists were "targeted" but not deliberately killed? Does this guy just not know what "targeted" means?

Further, the article makes no mention of the context of Eason's earlier remarks to the UK Guardian - which others have already noted. I guess the pros couldn't be bothered with doing the reporting of the rank amateurs.

This is really a pathetic effort.

All the more so, since the Times apparently thinks the story's not worth devoting any of their reporters to...they farm it out to the A.P. It's called "plausible denial."

And then there's this bit of odious, backhanded tripe:

``We have not concluded that U.S. forces have deliberately targeted journalists,'' Campagna said. ``But we remain very concerned about whether U.S. forces are adequately working to insure that journalists who are civilians are not harmed in areas of conflict.''

I feel like bitchslapping this idiot. As if we're the problem. Just what does he expect US forces to do? Who was it that killed Danny Pearl? (Hint: it sure as Hell wasn't US Forces. Unless he wants to blame the Pentagon for causing its own collision with a jetliner, killing Barbara Olson.


Splash, out


The Iraqi Army Sprouts a Pair 
From Bill Faith,, quoting a translation of the Iraqi newspaper Nahrein

“Iraqi security forces foiled a trap set for a local security patrol by 40 terrorist in the village of Abu Mustafa south of Baghdad. After a confrontation between the two sides, the terrorists fled to a near by school. The Iraqi security forces among other forces pursued the terrorists and surrounded the school. The ensuing gun battle resulted in the killing of 12 terrorists and the arrest of 30 more. Mr. Thair Alnaqeeb the official spokesman of the Iraqi prime minister said: “The Iraqi security forces are specially empowered since the elections, with the strong popular support by the Iraqi people, due to the tenacity and courage they showed during the elections”. Iraqi forces will no longer wobble in the face of terrorists who are trying to shake the security of Iraq and veer Iraqis from their path to democracy.”

Democracy spreads 
Looks like George Bush has inspired the Student Coordination Committee for Democracy in Iran:

In this line, the usual fear of the mullahs and their Islamist technocrats has been amplified by the statements of President Bush, in reference to the unwillingness to use military force against Iran, and his declaration and compassion for the Iranian people, by saying, "As you stand for your liberty, America stands with you."

The students are calling for Iranians to stain their fingers with blue ink, "in the now well-known sighn of RIGHT OF SELF DETERMINATION!"

Amen, brother.

For some time, know...since I arrived in Iraq, at least, I had argued that we ought to translate everything Thomas Paine wrote into Arabic, recast some of the biblical references to relate to Sharia law, print a zillion copies, and air drop them all over Iraq.

And see that a few million found their way across the Syrian and Iranian borders, too.

Let's engage this war of ideologies. And fight it to the hilt.

If Imperial Japan could become a moderate democracy, it's possible anywhere.

Splash, out


(Hat tip: LT Smash)

Blogging and employers 
Well, my employer has asked me to write an article on blogs in the workplace, for a human resources company's newsletter. (Heh heh heh. If they only knew...)

The idea will be to advise employers of the new phenomenon, and to advise them what policies they need to adopt in their employee manual to protect their options if the need to discipline or terminate employees should arise.

But there's another side to this story, too -- where an employee blog might actually do a great deal to enhance a company's reputation, or to create buzz and generate business.

I know there are a few corporations with "official blogs," of course.

Bearing in mind the audience: business owners and HR specialists reading the newsletter for practical tips on employee relations, I'd love to hear from anyone who has any experience with the intersection of blogs and the workplace - be it from a blogger/employee's perspective or employer's perspective.

Especially if it HASN'T been covered in the media already.


P.S. Look, boss, I'm blogging from my desk. During WORKING HOURS!!!!! BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!

(Collapsing in fit of maniacal laughter)

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Tanks for the memories... 
Neil Prakash is spinning more yarns from Fallujah.

I spent a few years as a tank PL in the Kentucky National Guard, and hold both a tanker and infantry MOS. I was pleased to read that they're arming tankers with M16's now. Before they just used to arm us with 9mm's, or some useless little grease gun that wasn't worth a damn. (What they really need are MP5's but the Army logistics system is still too hidebound to figure that out.)

Splash, out


For those of you who still take the New York Times seriously... 
I wrote the Times' public editor yesterday and asked him why the Times chose not to cover Paul Smith's being awarded the Medal of Honor.

This is the entirety of the reply I received from Arthur Bovino, Dan Okrent's assistant:

Can you direct me to news articles from other sources reporting on the issue you're saying The Times hasn't covered?

Do you laugh or cry?

Splash, out


Bad dog!!!! 
Victor Davis Hanson rubs the liberal press's nose in the mess they made on the carpet.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Amber Alert: Missing Headline 
Following up on an earlier story, Countercolumn is issuing an Amber Alert for a headline still missing from the pages of the New York Times.

The missing headline reads "Soldier Wins Medal of Honor for Fighting in Iraq."

If anyone has any information as to the whereabouts of this headline, or wishes to inquire of the New York Times public editor why it's missing, please email Dan Okrent at public@nytimes.com

Splash, out


Monday, February 07, 2005

Break, break, break! 
Howard Kurtz splashes the Eason Jordan story in the Washington Post.
I take back what I said about being disappointed that Howie chose not to mention Jordan in his Talkback Live chat. Howie was just preserving his scoop.

The shameful thing is that it's been so many days since the story broke in the blogosphere, and as far as the mainstream media is concerned, Howie still has a scoop!

Splash, out


UPDATE: Now that I read it, it looks like it was written by a savvy CNN PR flack, wishing to put a subtle but deadening spin on the story. And a PR flack might be what Kurtz has become.

Mickey Kaus agrees.

So does Captains Quarters.

Rice on American Policy 
Here's Condi Rice:

"There cannot be an absence of moral content in American foreign policy," she says. "Europeans giggle at this, but we are not European, we are American, and we have different principles."

Well, no, we don't. We are all children of the Enlightenment.

It's not that we have different principles. It's just that unlike in Europe, they actually mean something to us.

Splash, out


(Hat tip: Spiced Sass, who has some lovely stuff on her blog.)

Wretchard, as usual, demonstrates a masterful grasp of international power politics and game theory:
It is debateable whether al Qaeda was ever deterrable and the hypothetical Islamic faculty cell would be no different. What the GWOT did was deter the states which may have considered supplying al Qaeda-like organizations with the material for building nuclear weapons with the threat of collective responsibility. Deterrence has always, from its inception, been based on this immoral principle and it isn't necessary to approve to recognize it was the case. For most of the Cold War, opposing nations held each other's civilian populations hostage. Early delivery systems were too inaccurate to target the threatening military assets themselves. With the so-called "counterforce" strategy unavailable, only "countervalue" was available. That meant, in effect, that America was prepared to incinerate every man, woman and child in the Soviet Union in response to a nuclear attack. In most Cold War-game scenarios enemy leaders buried deep in bunkers or circling in command aircraft would be the last to die. Some believed they should not be targeted at all in order to preserve a command structure with which one could negotiate a post-holocaust peace.

To the question 'who might America retaliate against if a shadowy group detonated nukes in Manhattan' the probable answer is 'against everyone who might have stood to gain'.

I'm not sure where he's going when he says that the only thing worse than waking up to find New York incinerated by a shadowy group is waking up to find Islamabad destroyed.

Either eventuality sucks. But I still haven't gone to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Lara St. John lives in New York City. So I'm still rather more attached to New York City than Islamabad.

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