General Mattis - The Iraq War of 2003
Back in the early days of the Iraq invasion in March 2003, I watched with awe as 1 MarDiv shot out in front of the invasion force. I had heard good things about the Divisional Commander, but I didn't know a great deal about the man.
As I watched 1 MarDiv launch across Iraq's borders, I thought of Abhimanyu - the son of Arjuna in the Mahabharat War
. As you may recall on the 13th day of the Great War, the Kuru warriors had cast their most formidable defensive formation - the Chakravyuha. Abhimanyu had been tasked with penetrating the arrangement and causing the core reactive elements to mobilize. In doing so his actions would leave the entire defensive perimeter compromised and other Pandava allied units would penetrate the arrangement. Abhimanyu knew that he was to be sacrificed - but from his sacrifice victory could be arranged on the thirteenth day.
For the modern Abhimanyu that was 1 MarDiv - the main target was the Saddam's feared Iraqi Republican Guard armor and mechanized Infantry divisions. As no commander in CENTCOM could be certain that the intelligence reports of Iraqi RG inactivity were correct - the possibility that the entire Iraqi RG had simply gone to ground was always real. Additionally the whole world thought that Saddam Hussein had WMDs and the likelihood of those being used was believed to be quite high.
As with the Abhimanyu of legend - I felt that 1 MarDiv's task was to lure the Iraqi RG
into the open. In the process of-course I believed that 1 MarDiv would suffer grievous losses but the exposed Iraqi RG would be killed by Coalition air power in a repeat of Col. Warden's brilliant strategy of years past.
As hour after hour passed, I sat around waiting to hear what I presumed would be dreadful news of a terrible battle.
The news never came. Stories of a few small events appeared and disappeared in a week or so.
In a fashion that astounded me - 1 MarDiv shot clean across Iraq and encountered no enemy concentration of armor or mechanized infantry. I knew something was completely wrong at that point but I didn't know what exactly was off. I was troubled - I wondered what had become of the Iraqi RG's weapons stashes but all that washed away from view as the words "Mission Accomplished" flashed across the TV screen.
It seemed like the Republican Guard had simply vanished into thin air. The Agency took credit for making that happen in the lay press. I remained baffled.
Enlightenment came to me much later in the form of an unflattering book written by Evan Wright
. And it was a terrible enlightenment.
1 MarDiv and its recon battalion had raced across Iraq and looked under every grain of sand for the Iraqi RG's vaunted armor and mechanized forces.
In this grand quest - driven to the point of collapse by a hard charging commander - the men had made mistakes. Over reacting to the shaking of the slightest bush in the wind - they had launched air strikes and artillery fire on civilian targets. The frantic lunge had left thousands of Iraqi women and children dead as they were simply not able to get out of the way of the division.
1 MarDiv found itself enforcing a peace - something it was never trained to do and no concept of how to proceed with.
Who is responsible for those deaths? And the suffering?
Is it the intelligence community that could not reassure the military leadership of the validity of their information? or the military commander who chose to act as if all intelligence was essentially incorrect?
Who is to blame for the carnage? the politicians who created a false case for a war against WMD? or the general who failed to apprise his troops of a change in the mission profile?
I don't know the answer to this.
If any of you are more informed - please educate me.
Can Demonetization diminish speculation pressure on real estate prices in India?
A perfectly rational way of looking at demonetization is to compare it with an interest rate hike in a credit heavy economy.
In 2004 - the US Federal Reserve began to increase the interest rate and the US market responded positively for about three years. Around 2007 however the market began to fall and in 2008 - the real estate sector collapsed triggering the Great Recession. The effect of the Federal Reserve hike of 2004 was to deflate speculative pressures and bad debt pooling in the real estate sector. Given the exposure of the US government (through Freddie and Fannie Mae) to this sector there was significant direct damage to the USG as well.
In India - a good fraction of every real-estate transaction is "black". The percentage varies between 30-50% depending on the transaction and size. Most of this "black" portion is serviced using cash. The "black" cash is actually laundered after the transaction in the form of "white" transactions that are completely fake and dated to look like they took place at some point of time in the past.
In this fashion a greater portion of the "middle class" families in India maintain a loosely defined family corpus or fund. The family fund is neither "white" nor "black" - it is a "gray" entity - fluid and fungible, and also often legally poorly defined. It can be used to pay for a nephew's education or medical treatment. It may even be in gold or silver. It can even take the form of a good or service - such as free room and board.
I sometimes think that the prevalence of such corpora or funds is what keeps the family as an institution going in India. I also suspect that absence of such corpora or funds is what permits US society to be so different from the Indian society.
By demonetizing certain currencies, one essentially forces a fraction of these corpora to become worthless. As these funds are "gray" entities, only the fraction that is not captured in fake "white" transactions is likely to be affected adversely. That fraction can be quite small if the fund is managed intelligently. As long as this fraction is small - the "middle class" family can afford to overtly support "Prime Minister Modi's bold initiative to end corruption" while covertly scrambling to get receipts to cover the "black" portion of the fund.
This gets me to why there is such a large amount of speculation in the real estate sector in India. Like most other countries, India has a massive shortfall in housing. The number of people who want houses is much higher than the number of houses for sale and the supply demand curve is heavily in favor of the seller. This keeps the price high. This trend is not likely to change in the near future, the population will outstrip housing volumes for the foreseeable future. This perception drives up the house prices. Given the lack of tools to efficiently compute how the prices will really trend - the price of a house is completely driven by speculation.
With such a steady trend in housing prices, most people in India and abroad feel safe using Indian real-estate as place to locate the family corpora or funds (way better than investing in Dubai or America or Britain - where you have to be super rich and friends with the top politicians). The ease with which any transaction in India can be anonymized ensures that investors from all parts of the world are drawn to the Indian real estate market.
When you take those things together - you realize that the real estate bubble in India is driven by two forces. A steady flow of capital from within and outside the country that is blowing up the balloon and an extremely slow rate of infrastructure growth that is preventing a major shift in the supply-demand curve for housing. The former is driven more by patterns of international trade (and basically by the returns on the US 10 year treasury bond) and the latter is driven by India's internal (socially driven) limitations on growth.
As discussed earlier - government regulation (like demonetization or the Electronic Property Pass Book - EPPB) can only shift the desirability of Indian real-estate by small amounts. The biggest impact may be on the "gray" corpora and funds of "middle class" Indian families and if the EPPB is introduced, then perhaps there will be reduced anonymization of the transactions but it is not going to make a dramatic impact on the real-estate bubble.
As long as that bubble exists in India, it will pose a similar threat to the Indian economy as the US real estate bubble did a decade ago.
The Bankers Bubble or the Derivatives Bubble - A mathematical certainty?
A bubble usually develops when people artificially jack up the price of an asset based on the speculation that it will continue to be massively profitable in the foreseeable future. There is some truth to the basic notion, however the amount of interest and desperation in purchasing such an asset is far in excess of the amount of real growth the asset is able to support.
An asset can be anything - it could be a unit of productivity, a physical object or a piece of paper that legal binds two parties to a transaction. Each asset has a "price" associated with it.
One peculiar financial asset is a "derivative". A "derivative" is a financial instrument that derives value from the rate of change of another asset - usually a stock. As the derivative is computed from financial data - like *all* mathematical operations - it is vulnerable to computational noise. If the underlying asset price itself is noisy then the derivative can end up being even more noisy.
Generally speaking governments in the world heavily regulate trade in derivatives. One particular point of agreement is to avoid creating assets that are derivatives of derivatives (or Greeks
as the financial people call them) - although you are allowed to use Greeks to model the behavior of the derivative.
Given the way that noise pervades all transactions, it can be extremely challenging to estimate the true derivative of an asset price.
Perhaps the most secular way to look at a bubble is to realize that speculation takes hold when the true growth rate of asset value cannot be efficiently computed. As the computational crisis continues speculation dominates pricing and we see mass psychology effects kick in. The bubble builds and then bursts.
In more advanced modeling, historical data on asset value is fit to a model and the derivative is computed from this artificially smooth function. This sounds find in theory - but what happens in actual practice is that the excursions from the mean value of an asset can rise rapidly and this makes the fit (or the model) pretty worthless. A derivative of a worthless fit leave the field wide open to speculation.
It seems from the above logic that this is a mathematical certainty.
Another weird thing that few seem to realize is that "secure"/"safe" government bonds and annuities are actually *implicitly based on derivatives*. The whole idea of a bond is based on the assumption that economic productivity will grow.
You can think of this as taking a derivative based on a very long average where the randomness is somehow evened out. But this is the proverbial Golden Calf. There is no clarity on what the randomization timescale associated with market fluctuations is. We cannot claim that productivity fluctuations will necessarily average to zero over a long enough timescale and a clear trend will actually be visible to a trivial mathematical operator.
Given the high exposure of major banking institutions to explicit and implicit derivatives - the implications of such a crash are likely to be catastrophic.
Deregulation of banking sector (especially of the kind anticipated by Trump supporters) will allow financial institutions to shift the visible bad debt into less visible forms. While that might temporarily improve the optics - it will ultimately set the market up for an even bigger fall.
The coming crisis in US agricultural markets
For those in love with real "corn porn" - I give you - the Market Journal
. Very reminiscent of "Aamchi Maati Aamchi Manse" on Doordarshan-1 back in the day.
As things stand reports today morning suggest oil is due to rise after OPEC nears an agreement
that will effectively cap the production at lower levels.
As Donald Trump talks about bringing down the TPP and NAFTA, US agriculture faces the prospect of disruptions to trade with the biggest purchasers of US corn, hog and steer - Canada, Mexico and Japan.
Most people who voted for Trump probably don't know that the oil, corn, dairy, beef, pork and chicken markets are all linked. You break one link in that chain and pandemonium reigns.
In March - South American producers are likely to bring added volume to the markets. March basically closes out the seasonal high that US corn (and hence pork and beef) enjoys.
Prices today for corn are roughly half of what they were last December.
Will Donald Trump give some new kind of subsidy to keep corn prices high? (He should do something like that - after all these people voted for him
Or will he simply let his trade-tariffs-trumpeting screw them six-ways-to-Sunday? (Well, he is kind of known in the real estate business for screwing over small investors without big legal support.)
The price of corn essentially is deeply tied to the price of Beef and Pork. Beef and Pork production deeply affect the price of poultry - the livestock markets are interlinked
As the price of oil rises - the low price of corn cuts into net farm income as operating costs. This deeply affects the ability of farmers to make any profit off the farming.
In a perfect market, the farmers would cut back on production in those scenarios and the price would go up. However in a global economy, if the US farmer lowers production, producers elsewhere (China, Australia, South America etc...) will step up to fill the gap created.
If most of the US market was only domestic - then a tariff would work well, it would insulate the domestic price of corn in the US from these international pressures.
But the bulk of the US market is international - almost 45% of all US agricultural production is sent to foreign markets.
Any move to raise tariffs on agricultural foreign trade (or any other foreign trade) would result in trade partners targeting agricultural imports from the US.
This would catastrophically hit states like Nebraska that voted for Donald Trump.
What is the saying? - Fool me once, shame on you... Fool me twice .. shame on .. err.. won't get fooled again.
Demonetization does nothing to end "Black Money"
I know that demonetization has been projected as a moral project that seeks to "clean up" Indian society and cure its addiction to "Black Money" but this demonetization plan does exactly nothing towards that apparently noble purpose.
Leaving aside my libertarian leanings (which prompt me to say "why should a poor Indian who works her/is ass off and gets next to nothing from her/is government directly pay taxes or bank fees so that the GoI can track their income etc...") - we all have to accept that even in its most awesome ideal form - the demonetization does exactly nothing to prevent the accrual of "Black Money".
People are still going to break laws. This defiance is rooted in India's deeply libertarian social thought. Unlike the American Libertarian consciousness which is largely a vehicle for certain members of the billionaires club to seduce useful idiots - the Indian libertarian ideology is the byproduct of centuries of mistrust of government.
One of my early mentors in the ACRE labs at IITB - Dr. Venkatramani once said something that has stuck with me for my entire life. He said to me -
"Look at people at a road crossing in India and in Germany or US. In US or Germany - if the crossing light is red - the people will stand there until they become skeletons. In India - people will cross even if the crossing light is red and the traffic is flowing at 100 kph. You could say we are just fundamentally different from these other nations. We do not like rules or to follow laws."
In honor of its creator - I call this "Venkatramani's Postulate"
As long as Indians remain like that - they will break the rules and laws of the land.
As long as they break the rules and laws of the land - they will need to bribe the enforcement agencies to prevent accountability.
That is where the bribery will kick back in. If you change the notes - the denominations of the bribe will change, it will not go away.
A much better way to think about the demonetization (instead of this moral project bullshit) is to compare it to an interest rate hike in a credit based economy like the US.
When the Federal Reserve wants to dampen speculation in the markets, it raises the interest rates. This deflates speculatory impulses in critical markets like commodities, bonds etc... The Fed does not have a choice in this matter (despite what you hear on YouTube about a Rothschild conspiracy). If the Fed does not do this - you will see major fluctuations in the price of critical commodities and you will risk a collapse of the foundational elements of the economy itself.
In a similar fashion - we need to acknowledge some key facts about India's current situation.
Given the unusually large amount of money that Indian expats are sending back to the "home country" - we are seeing a massive speculation bubble in India's real estate sector. This bubble is driven by people who want to buy housing in India, never occupy it and keep it as a means of wealth storage in a time when everyone agrees that developed world economies are heading for a major depression. The debt crisis in the developed world is so severe, no rational Indian expat wants to plough any real money into these markets. The ROI on a subterranean real estate investment in India is far in excess of anything that even "Value Investing" can bring in the US or UK or Europe.
As this speculative bubble inflates it puts the Indian economy at grave risk of a collapse. When it collapses (and it will given time) unless the GoI is in a position to support people with credit to make up the cash short falls that will inevitably occur with such an event. The Indian economy will suffer the onset of conditions similar to those that led to the Bengal Famine.
The key thing from an economic security perspective is to keep the speculative bubble in India's real estate sector at a manageable level. The size of the bubble has to be kept as small as possible, and in the event it bursts - one should make sure that resources available are able to provide credit to people who lose cash in the process.
Demonetization is one of the tools that one can use to achieve that end. It is an extremely blunt tool. It will do more harm than good.
A much more precise tool would target the specific means by which expats drop money into real estate in India. A simple system of increased fees on real estate purchases by non-residents would lead to significant inflow into the GoI coffers.
Another technique is to declare a certain day of the month as a tax holiday where specific sums of money below a certain cap can be dropped into bank accounts with no questions asked and no back taxes owed. Once deposited the amount will generate interest income that will be taxed appropriately but the depositor will not be asked how they earned the money or if they paid taxes on it earlier.
Carrying out demonetization without appropriate consultation with the relevant departments - specifically without reading the Agriculture Ministry into the process is just wrong.
Why are Trump supporters celebrating the market shifts?
A lot of Trump supporters have heard that the market is booming as a result of his electoral victory and they are cheering that but...
When you actually look at the market - you see two disturbing trends.
1) The dollar is rising against other currencies - This does the opposite of what most Trump supporters say they want - it makes it easier and cheaper to outsource to places like India, China and Mexico.
2) The bond yield rose - A lot of the rise in the market is due to people moving to bonds and the bond yields are rising which usually means inflation is coming. Again this is the opposite of what the Trump supporters
Look at this Trump surrogate talk about the market
- do people just not get it?
These market changes point to shifts that work against the very people that support Trump.
Will the Indian economy enter a recession on account of the demonetization?
I am sure you have all seen this video by Ray Dalio
. If you haven't please see it - it will help you understand what I am saying here. I really like it even though it misses a few things (see below):
1) An very important part of the picture i.e. the role of probability in the economic cycles. What I would like to see added to the discussion is an element of random fluctuation on top of the smooth curves. Obviously as this fluctuations reflect the randomness in each transaction, they would occur on much smaller timescales (daily) than the short-term debt cycle (5-8 years). The collective effects of such randomness over longer timescales (like the long term debt cycle - 75-100 years) is harder to anticipate.
2) The productivity line is actually a wiggly curve just like the short or long term debt cycles. It is easiest to see this behavior in agricultural productivity in various regions of the world [1
]. The broad curve trends upwards but there are significant wiggles on it that reflect shifts in the land use pattern. In the combined productivity curve (industrial+agricultural+services+financial) the wiggles are basically representative of the age of the average worker, as the working population ages the cost of keeping the workers on the line rises due to health costs [2
]. Unless this real decline in productivity is matched by new technical advances that improve production efficiency - we see a significant decline in economic growth - something that can easily compare with a short-time debt cycle. One would also have to account for things like great wars which can deplete the population of entire countries, one normalized correctly to the population size - the net curves should reflect the behavior of a real economy up to the collective effects discussed previously.
3) In Ray's picture - we only see the behavior of a credit heavy economy. The equivalent processes for a cash-heavy economy are not discussed.
This last point brings me to the real topic of this post.
In a cash-based economy (like India) the equivalent of an interest rate hike in a credit heavy economy (like the US) is demonetization.
That demonetization creates the same kind of inflationary pressures inside the system. In a cash economy, unless demonetization is matched by increase in credit (something the RBI and private banks hope to do with all the deposits that come in from this demonetization) - the spending pattern shifts and a recession occurs.
Now fortunately for India, the age of the average worker is low (~28 years) and the debt to GDP ratio is low (~40%) . The likelihood of a short-term debt cycle coupling to a longer term deleveraging is low.
This means the Indian economy could go into a recession on account of this demonetization.
Unfortunately for the US, the age of the average worker is high (~45 years), the debt to GDP is high (109 %) . The likelihood of a short-term debt cycle coupling to a long term deleveraging is high.
The US economy unfortunately stands perilously close to a depression.
Was the election rigged in favor of Donald Trump using insecure Direct Recording Equipment (DRE) machines?
There is strong evidence to support a shift in the rural white vote in key states like Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania [1
]. This trend however is not reflected in other states where similar demographics and economic conditions exist (see Menemonie county in Wisconsin). An interesting question now is whether this shift the loyalty of white voters is enough to explain the distribution of electoral votes? This question is the focus of a very serious debate.
One idea that has gained ground among democratic and progressive opponents of Donald Trump is that the election was rigged and the shift in the white vote is insufficient to achieve electoral victory. A prime candidate for rigging is insecure electronic voting machines. Specifically DRE equipment without a paper log is much more insecure than the paper ballot with optical scan.
We can easily see why such a claim could be made. We can get the actual voting data at a precinct level from Dave Leip's site [2
]. We can get the exact voting machines used in each country from the election data services website [3
] or from Verifier [4
When one looks at these numbers one sees strange patterns like this. In three counties that flipped in Pennsylvania, they used DRE machines ((iVotronic-no-RTAL
for Erie and Luzerne and AVC Advantage
for Northhampton). Similar trends are visible in Wisconsin - particularly among counties with small populations.
Now Nate Silver has recently tweeted
that these correlations do not stand up to scrutiny in places like Michigan where there were only optical scan systems. I think this is valid.
Nate has also said that the correlation with insecure voting machines disappears when you correct for demographics. I think he is correct to state that the trend disappears but I don't think it supports what he thinks it does.
The loss of trend is simply an indicator that counties with small populations with poor people in Wisconsin (who will be White and uneducated because Wisconsin is largely White) tend to have cheaper insecure voting machines. Since the Donald Trump campaign heavily courted this segment of the population, it is difficult to disentangle the effects of the massive shift in voting patterns of uneducated white voters and a pattern of electoral fraud.
I honestly don't know why Nate bothers getting mixed up in this kind of thing. It is not like he earns any cred with the Breitbart News guys - they are already saying that Hillary's massive lead (estimated at 2 Million more votes than Donald Trump) in the popular vote [5
] - is a result of rigging.
A less reliable way of determining the likelihood of electoral fraud is the discrepancy between exit polls and actual votes cast. This is usually seen as a flag for rigged elections. This technique also has its flaws.
Amused as people are to see the whole "the Election/System is rigged" turn around and bite its creator in the rear (I get it Trump spent the whole year talking about how the election was going to be rigged and how the electoral college was bad but now his entire claim to being president relies on the very same institutions he vilified) - I think we should try to resolve this.
Perhaps one way to put the conspiracy about electoral fraud to rest is to publish all security logs from various servers involved in the electoral process. I am sure if there is no anomalous pattern there - there will be no reason to think the result was in any way doctored.
John - the other - Trump
When you look carefully you will always find a physicist in any situation (no matter how dire it looks).
John George Trump
- physicist, inventor, and scientific leader in the war against the Nazis.
Rumor has it - he never really got on with this brother and nephew (i.e. our President Elect).
His contributions to the war effort and to the development of various medical technologies were recognized when he was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Reagan.
Thanks to BV for the tip.
A risk associated with investment in the Eastern Mediterranean Levant Basin
I spent a lot of time yesterday viewing this congressional hearing about the Eastern Mediterranean Levant Basin
. The discussion here is about the Leviathan and other fields in the Eastern Med, where Cyprus and Israelis interests converge rapidly. There is a very forceful case for Israeli energy security from exploitation of the Leviathan deposit.
I am very happy to see Israel become energy independent, but there are a few things to consider
1) Exploitation of Leviathan will be expensive. I feel it will be difficult for Israel to raise money for the exploitation. Israel could finance this with support from our government (and others) but it will be difficult to attract investors without the promise of accessing larger market. The most proximate large market is Europe.
2) That is where I think things will get nasty. I don't Russia will approve of Israeli plans to become a natural gas supplier to Europe. The Turks for their part will want a cut on all things Cypriot and that is something the Cypriots will find unacceptable.
3) The actual field is spread across the economic zone of a several nations with a history of hostility towards Israel. If actual exploitation begins, it will likely be marred by violent attempts to physically control the space. [see here
So quite frankly even from the USG perspective - this is a very high risk investment that will need risk management at a very high level.
Some work has been done towards mitigating the risks, specifically Gazprom has been given a role in the development of the field. I am a little surprised by this development, but perhaps Moscow Center feels that an unproven unextracted gas field is not a real threat to an established pipeline pumping gas every second into German production centers.
The Turkish aspirations are likely to be resolved similarly. Again the Turkish deep staters will probably think similarly to the Russians - an actual pipeline (BTC) is very different from an unproven unextracted gas field in the middle of the sea.
I am told that Prime Minister Netanyahu attempted to get this kind of support from President Obama but I gather things were not very good
between them. Perhaps the President Trump might be more responsive - from what I hear he is a great fan of PM Netanyahu and they share
a common friend
with very deep pockets, Sheldon Adelson.
I support any investment in regional security as long as the risks are clearly spelled out and explained to all stakeholders.
It is not clear to me how the Russophiles (a lot of who are openly anti-Semitic) will sit well with supporting an Israel friendly initiative that poses a threat to Russia's dominance over the natural gas markets in Europe.
This looks like a massive faultline here and though it appears things have been papered over for now, it isn't clear to me that this won't open up. That risk is quite serious (even if it is a low probability event), and given how much money has to put into this upfront - it cannot be ignored.
That said - if the US can help the Israelis secure their national energy sources, then there will be significant progress in regional stability.
The EM drive produces thrust (or does it? really...)
The paper that was much awaited has been published [1
To summarize why people find this fascinating -
1) All propulsion systems are based off Newton's third law. In order to generate thrust you have to shoot something out the back. Usually this stuff-that-flies-out-the-back is called the "propellant". And you have to have enough of this stuff to continue to produce thrust. The quantum cavity drives are supposed to get around that issue making the entire process of space travel a much lighter affair.
2) An enduring mystery in known physics is the mystery of "mass". We know how to "measure" it by comparing the force acting on various objects - but we really have no idea where it comes from. Since it is tied to several other conserved quantities (Energy, Momentum, etc...) - it is fundamental to all known physics yet very little is actually understood about it. When one gets around the the core ideas of Newton's third law, we have to ask ourselves what is mass really.
3) Photons bouncing around a cavity should impart random momentum kicks to the walls. In any system which is in equilibrium, these momentum kicks should average to zero otherwise we have a Szilard engine where Maxwell's Demon is somehow sorting all the momentum kicks and only allowing kicks in one direction to act on the walls. There are competing ideas for Maxwell's Zombies, which people find interesting also. Is such a creature active in a quantum cavity drive?
Now before (or after) you run down the street naked holding you I-pad and shouting "President Elect Donald Trump made Free Energy Happen!!!!"
You should look at this graph
Not that it will matter to most who read this article - but error bars tell a story.
Happy sharing on Facebook or Twitter or Gab or Reddit.