Yellowcake analysis

by Henry Farrell on August 10, 2004

Joseph Cirincione and Alexis Orton at the Carnegie Endowment have just put out a very useful short “analytic brief”: on Iraq’s putative efforts to obtain uranium in Niger.

Their conclusion:

bq. The numbers tell us that Iraq’s alleged interest in Niger uranium – even if true – never represented an immediate or significant threat to the United States. Simple math and common sense confirm that the claim should never have appeared in administration statements as evidence of an Iraqi nuclear weapon program.

The Road from Surfdom

by Henry Farrell on August 10, 2004

“Tom W. Bell”: has a fun post analyzing surfing as a system of non-state enforced property rights. Surfers apparently have a very-well developed set of norms regarding who gets which wave. Bell, who is a hard-core libertarian, sees this as mostly reflecting surfers’ “profound respects for property rights.” Surfers, by his account, behave like Lockeans when divvying up the waves. However, there’s an alternative explanatory framework that does a better job, I reckon, of explaining what’s going on – Lin Ostrom’s “account”: of common pool resources, and the rules governing them.

[click to continue…]


by Henry Farrell on August 10, 2004

Both “Dan”: and “Matt Yglesias”: provide us with empirical evidence that the number of insurgents in Iraq is snowballing. It’s a far cry from the ridiculous predictions of “Andrew Sullivan”: and “Glenn Reynolds”: that jihadists from across the Arab world would get sucked into Iraq, leaving the US safer. Indeed, if the “Brookings people”: are right, the number of foreign insurgents has grown only slightly since December, while the number of domestic insurgents has grown fourfold. Flypaper, my ass. This whole nonsensical theory was never more than _ex post_ wishful thinking masquerading as foreign policy analysis – as I “argued”: last year, it seemed to be based on the fallacious notion that there was a limited “lump of terrorism” floating around in the international system that could be absorbed by a conflict in Iraq. Instead, entirely predictably, we’re seeing what seems to be an enormous increase in recruitment to anti-American forces – an eightfold increase over the last fifteen months. The dynamic effects are swamping the constant ones. I don’t see how this can be anything but bad news.

Update: I’d forgotten that “Ted too”: posted on this eleven months ago.

bq. I’m going to make a prediction that I feel pretty good about: a year from now, no one will be very proud of the flypaper theory.

And I reckon that Robert Schwartz owes him $100 …

Egalitarian Capitalism

by Kieran Healy on August 10, 2004

I’ve mentioned this book before, but now that it’s been published so I thought it worth mentioning again. “Egalitarian Capitalism”: is a new book by my new colleague “Lane Kenworthy”:, who’s just joined us at “Arizona”: It’s a comparative analysis of trends in income inequality and household pre- and post-tax transfers in sixteen wealthy capitalist democracies. Lane’s approach is to ask whether the data support the idea that there are tradeoffs between a low degree of inequality, on the one hand, and strong growth, high employment and growing incomes on the other. The short answer is “not really.” The longer answer has interesting discussions of which approaches work and which seem not to. It’s a good book: the argument, the writing, and the data analysis are accessible and easy to follow. As has often been said around here, policy and public debate in the United States hardly ever looks around to see how other countries organize the relationship between economy and society. Maybe the current climate provides an opportunity to change that: To see how equality is compatible with various measures of economic success, read the book. (To get a sense of how these countries compare to Neoconservative ideals, just continue to follow the news about Iraq.) You can “read the first chapter”: to get a better sense of what the project is; “look at the cover”:; or just “buy it”:


by Ted on August 10, 2004

Either Bob Somerby has invented a transcript out of whole cloth, or he has caught Vice-President Dick Cheney lying on tape.

CHENEY: John Kerry is, by National Journal ratings, the most liberal member of the United States Senate. Ted Kennedy is the more conservative of the two senators from Massachusetts.


It’s true. All you got to do is go look at the ratings systems. And that captures a lot, I think, in terms of somebody’s philosophy. And it’s not based on one vote, or one year, it’s based on 20 years of service in the United States Senate. (emphasis added)

That’s not a matter of interpretation; that is a baldfaced lie. The National Journal ranking that Cheney is referring to is based on one year, 2003. Kerry and Edwards missed a lot of votes in 2003, because they were out campaigning. When the National Journal looked at their lifetime voting records, both Senators were in the middle of the Democratic pack. Here are the ten most liberal Democratic senators currently serving, according to the National Journal:

1. Mark Dayton, D-Minn.
2. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md.
3. Jack Reed, D-R.I.
4. Jon Corzine, D-N.J.
5. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.
6. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.
7. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa
8. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.
9. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.
10. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt

When Republicans say that Kerry was ranked as the most liberal Senator, that’s an extremely misleading claim, but it’s technically true (for one year, according to one publication). When Cheney said that the ranking applied for 20 years of Kerry’s service, that’s not even technically true.

It’s fun to see Jon Stewart humiliate Rep. Henry Bonilla on this issue (the video is on the right). It’s not nearly as fun to realize that Kerry’s opponents get away with it constantly in front of professional journalists.

P.S. Googlebomb for most liberal senator. Pass it on.

Bounty hunting

by Chris Bertram on August 10, 2004

The Onion “TechCentralStation”: on unleashing the power of the free market to capture Osama Bin Laden. Priceless!

Only good news, please

by John Q on August 10, 2004

The Allawi government’s decision to ban Al-Jazeera has received a lot of attention. Rather less has been paid to a subsequent announcement of a wide range of rules to be applied by the new Higher Media Commission. Prominent among them is a prohibition of “unwarranted criticism” of Allawi himself. This was reported in Australia’s Financial Review and also in the Financial Times (both subscription only) and also in a number of Arab and antiwar papers, but not in any of the general mainstream press.

For those inclined to a “slippery slope” view of censorship, this is certainly a case study.

Here’s a protest letter from the Committee to Protect Journalists.

How many troops does Sadr have, exactly?

by Daniel on August 10, 2004

Another entry in my occasional role as co-ordinator of the Campaign For Real Body Counts; grateful for any comments that might help me make sense of these numbers:

As recently as the April uprising, the Sadrite Al-Mahdi militia was estimated by Iraqi experts to be between 3,000 and 10,000 strong, with the Pentagon suggesting that the hard core of fighters could be as small as 1,000.

In the May offensive against Sadr in Najaf and Karbala, it was once more credibly estimated that 1,500 of the Al-Mahdi Army were killed (note that this reference suggests that, as of the beginning of May, only 1,000-2,000 of the militia were located in or around the city of Najaf).

In the more recent episodes of fighting, official sources have told us that the Najaf branch of Sadr’s forces have taken a further 300 casualties, and lost a further 1200 men captured or surrendered.

So to recap … a force which was meant to have only 1,000 serious fighters, has had 1,800 of them killed and continues to fight on. Sadr had about 2,000 fighters in Najaf, has lost 3,000 of them and continues to fight[1]. Something doesn’t add up (or to put it another way, nothing does add up). Either:

  • original estimates substantially underestimated the size of Sadr’s forces, or
  • we have substantially overestimated the amount of Sadr’s force which has been neutralised, or
  • Sadr has managed to recruit very substantial amounts of force indeed over the last three months.

To be honest, each of these three possibilities looks as bad to me as each of the others. Someone wake me up when it finally becomes acceptable to make comparisons to Vietnam.

[1] Even allowing for the likelihood that the Najaf militia would have been reinforced after May from Sadrite forces elsewhere in the country, I still can’t get this one to pass the laugh test. I’d also note that the 1,500 figure refers to Sadrite casualties in the whole of Iraq and probably shouldn’t be conflated with the Najaf figure of 300, but the qualitative conclusion is unlikely to be affected.