A True Political Dilemma

The New York Times has an informative article on the  difficulties involved in  prosecuting military contractors. The biggest issue is that most defendants were given immunity deals by American officials on the scene:

Mr. Moonen’s lawyer, Stewart Riley, said that his client gave the embassy officials a statement only after he was issued a so-called Garrity warning — a threat that he might lose his job if he did not talk, but that he would be granted immunity from prosecution for anything he said.

In effect, the Blackwater personnel were given a form of immunity from prosecution by the people they were working for and helping to protect.

In military conflict zones the most important thing is finding out exactly what happened. We hear a lot of political posturing about soldiers’ lives, but this is an actual potential life or death situation. Unfortunately,  the only way to get perfect intelligence is to assure people the information won’t be used against them. (This is true in non-military areas of life as well.)  The officers in charge of filing the incident report needed the truth. They didn’t care about justice.  So they traded justice for truth.  Generally justice (i.e. locking up a killer) enhances security. This is one situation where we had to choose one or the other.

The inability to prosecute military contractors is also a  good illustration of how our conception of government is overly simplistic.  We tend to think of “government” as one unified being. In reality it’s a bunch of different agencies with different priorities.  Here we have the Pentagon/Military/State Department effectively screwing the Justice Department. And there are conflicting priorities throughout the government. You can bet Obama’s most pro-business economic appointees  don’t feel the same way about a carbon tax as his EPA appointees do.

Dissertation Fodder

Cheap Talk examines the Justice Department’s lawsuit against Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan over a “most favored nation” clause that stipulates providers must give BCBS a discount over other insureres.

This kind of contract has several effects. Most obviously, it deters entry by other health insurance companies that automatically face higher costs than BCBS Michigan because of the most favored nation clause.  BCBS then has more monopoly power and can charge higher prices for its products. Second, a competitor is going to have a hard time negotiating a low price with a hospital as any low price they negotiate also has to be passed on to BCBS to maintain the 40% difference.

This is a prime example of how barriers and inefficiencies can emerge from unfettered free markets. Although these kinds of episodes are important philosophically for heated “free market vs. government intervention” debates, they’re even more important for figuring out how to get our economy to perform at its peak level.  It seems to me that we should have a lot more graduate students and professors researching these issues of “emergent inefficiencies.”

Selfish Representative Political Death Spiral

Imagine a situation where the economy in a representative democracy deteriorates. As a result, people elect representatives who are more committed to helping their constituents, and less willing to compromise on broader solutions if their constituents aren’t the big winners. This leads to fewer compromise solutions and the economy deteriorates even more. This leads to the election of  representatives who are even more committed to getting a piece of the pie for their constituents, and even less concerned with compromises that will improve the country as a whole. The economy deteriorates more and the cycle continues.

Just something to think about as candidates make outlandish promises about getting help for their districts.

In Theaters, Summer 2013

That’s my over-under for the Michale Mann/Ridley Scott/John Woo film based on the life of David Headley.  Just the premise of an arrested heroin dealer going to Pakistan as a DEA agent should have studio heads drooling. You could turn that into a comedy, drama, or action movie.

On another note, an interesting thought exercise is to imagine what would be happening if Headley was in fact a double agent and wanted out.  He would probably be “arrested” by the U.S. and kept in very tight custody so the whole world didn’t learn America knew about the Mumbai attacks but didn’t stop it. Basically, exactly what’s happening now.

A Baseball-less Future?

If sitting through the monotony of a four-hour playoff game doesn’t convince you that baseball is a dying sport, take a minute to think about all the recent innovations the four major sports have implemented in order to compete for American attention.

The NBA cracked down on handchecking, allowed zone defenses, and sped up the game by trimming the time needed for a backcourt violation and resetting the shot clock to 14 seconds instead of 24 seconds after a foul. The result is a game with more speed and more space for players.

The NHL cracked down on obstruction penalties, forbade the goalie from handling the puck in corners, allowed two line passes, and changed the offside rules to allow “tagging up.” The result is a game with more speed,  more space for players, and 90% fewer arbitrary play stoppages.

The NFL cracked down on the physical play of defensive backs. The result is game with more speed and more offense. (The NFL has actually made few changes, but they don’t really need to because NFL popularity continues to grow.)

Meanwhile, professional baseball has done nothing.  Batters step out of the box after after pitch. If by some miracle they don’t, you can count on the pitcher to take a walk around the rubber.  There is now more time between a pitch in a baseball game then there is between plays in an NFL game. That’s astounding.  A baseball game is too slow to watch on a DVR.  And I won’t even get into MLB’s indefensible decision to avoid instituting a rational instant replay policy (what’s wrong with the NFL’s two challenge system?) until there’s some disastrous poststeason event that allows a backlash-free implementation.

How can anybody associated with pro baseball think it can compete for increasingly short attention spans?  Once baby boomers start dying, the fans (and the pile of moolah everybody has beenn swimming in) will be gone.

Come Out About Something!

I don’t want to impugn on “National Coming Out Day,” but I think it’s a bit of a shame that the idea of “coming out” has become strictly associated with the LBGT movement.  Overall it’s extremely good for a person’s mental health if the image they project on the outside matches the person they are on the inside. It doesn’t matter if it’s sexual orientation, religious beliefs, or your feelings about your wife’s lasagna.

Secrets are hard on the mind. Constantly having to project a false facade leads to untold stress and anxiety. In 95% of cases the long-term benefits of revealing a secret will outweigh the short-term costs.  Generally it’s a good idea to come clean.

On that note, I recommend everybody come out about something. Whether it’s your true feelings about a specific person, sports team, political issue, or even your sexual orientation. Let the world know the truth about you.  It will take a load off your mind.

Google vs. Availability Bias

It’s sad that when I read about all the good things Google is doing with driver-less cars the only thing I can think about is how the first time once crashes there will be such a fear-mongering media shitstorm that the whole thing will get shut down.  Then when we’re once again safe from the handful of fatalities caused by murderous computer cars we can re-focus our efforts on ignoring the tens of thousands of people killed by cars with drivers.