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July 29, 2003

Gambling With The Future

The primary objection Senators Dorgan and Wyden have to Darpa's proposed terrorism futures market is not that it won't work, but that it's politically incorrect and offensive to some nebulous "other".

"Can you imagine," Mr. Dorgan asked, "if another country set up a betting parlor so that people could go in — and is sponsored by the government itself — people could go in and bet on the assassination of an American political figure?"

One can see the setup of the proposed market here, but go quickly, as the Pentagon has already caved in and agreed to defund the project.

It's possible that a terrorism futures market wouldn't work as advertised, even though futures markets are often accurate predictors of, as the NYT article says "oil prices, elections and movie ticket sales." Finding out would be cheap, as the total projected cost of the program was only 8 million dollars through 2005, less than peanuts when it comes to the Federal budget.

But now, thanks to knee jerk political posturing and Pentagon spinelessness, we'll never know if such a system would have saved lives or not. Senators Dorgan, Wyden and Daschle have declared that certain strategies in the War on Terrorism are so off limits that they cannot even be experimented with, because they are politically incorrect. Senator Daschle also contends that the profit motive will actually spur more acts of terrorism, as if the thought of a few more dollars would spur an otherwise lawful citizen to start building bombs.

I wonder how the Senator thinks the terrorists would go about collecting the money once they've supposedly earned it. I should think any Al-Qaida member worth his salt would be just a wee bit suspicious about contacting the federal government when it comes to withdrawing his winnings.

I'm sure knowing that the United States has eschewed rudeness in the fight against terrorism will be a comfort to the families of its next victims. Perhaps they'll call Senator Dorgan to thank him.

If I were a betting man, and I am, since the first thing I thought of when I saw the proposed futures market was "I can't wait to sign up for that," I would bet that the Senators' animus against a market in terrorism has nothing to do with it's supposedly offensive nature.

The overview of the plan said the market would focus on the economic, civil and military futures of Egypt, Jordan, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey and the consequences of United States involvement with those nations. The creators of the market envision other trappings of existing markets like derivatives.

I suppose it's just a coincidence that on the day Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal is in Washington, three key Democratic senators publicly come out against a program that would model terror activity within his kingdom. Does anyone doubt that Saudi Arabia would be one of the most popular futures purchases in such a system?

Quite a day for the Saudis and their money in Washington, between killing off this program and the Bush refusal to declassify the 28-page section of the congressional report into the Sept. 11 attacks. Nothing like buying up both sides of the aisle to cover one's bets.

If you'd like to call Senator's Daschle, Dorgan, or Wyden to express yourself, here are some phone numbers;
Byron Dorgan - 202-224-2551
Ron Wyden - 202-224-5244
Tom Daschle - 1-800-424-9094

Here are their email addresses and contact forms;
Byron Dorgan - senator@dorgan.senate.gov
Ron Wyden - Contact form
Tom Daschle - Contact form

And here are some questions. I'll be asking them myself once this is posted.

Given the size of the Federal budget, why do you think that 8 million dollars is too much to spend experimenting with a new way of combating terrorism?

Is your principal objection to the terrorism futures market based on the belief that it will not work, or that it is offensive to citizens of other nations?

If so, why do you feel more strongly about the feelings of foreign citizens than you do about protecting the lives of Americans?

Have you had any contacts with representatives of the Saudi or any other Middle Eastern government in which the terrorism futures market was discussed?

Will you state categorically that Saudi influence had nothing to do with your position on this matter?

Will you refuse to accept political donations from companies or individuals in America that do business with or are otherwise associated with the Saudi Arabian government?

I'll post the responses, assuming I get any. Though, now that I think about it, is the federal government even needed when it comes to developing a terrorism futures market? Given that there's already a fake market for Blogshares, how hard would it be to set up an online version of the terrorism futures market, and use fake money for it?

Just because the government refuses to explore all possible avenues when it comes to defending the populace doesn't mean we should. Real money isn't even needed. I expect people would participate just for the notoriety that would come from a successful prediction.

Besides, the Saudis can't possibly buy all of us.

Posted by Bigwig at July 29, 2003 01:07 PM | TrackBack
Postscript:
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Comments

Here's a post by someone who's thinking along similar lines:

http://signalplusnoise.blogspot.com/2003_07_27_signalplusnoise_archive.html#105945446555701820

Posted by: Graham Lester at July 29, 2003 02:26 PM

I realize that current academic speculation about predicting unpredictable events by eliciting widespread input from varied sources (as per the stock market)is pretty au courant now, apparently also among the neocons (and cons like John Poindexter)...but really, now, is betting on somebody's assasination "politically incorrect," or just "fucked up?"

Posted by: kozad at July 29, 2003 11:19 PM

As a retired military intelligence analyst, I welcome any opportunity to rate this profession on a basis other than rank, position, or annual income. When I worked in Washington, DC, there were civilian counterparts who were being paid 2 or 3 times as much as myself, but I considered my work to be as good as theirs. A lot of insights are logical extrapolations from open sources. For instance, I consider Sen. Lieberman to be in greater danger from Islamic extremist attack than any other Democratic presidential candidate because of his Jewish background. But even with him the level of risk is low - I don't think that terrorist organizations consider ANY of the Democrats to be a threat to them.

Posted by: Bloodthirsty Warmonger at July 30, 2003 12:38 PM
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