The Self Made Pundit

I'm just the guy that can't stand cant. ___________

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Tuesday, July 29, 2003
THE DEATH OF THE PENTAGON’S DEAD POOL : You may be aware of macabre web sites with “Dead Pools,” in which people bet on which celebrities will die in the coming year. Apparently, the Bush administration is also aware of these Dead Pools, and until today thought a Dead Pool would have been a cool tool to use in formulating national security policies.

Warning: While the Bush administration-sponsored Dead Pool sounds like a parody, it is not.

The Pentagon announced today that it was abandoning an idea in which anonymous speculators would have bet on forecasting terrorist attacks, assassinations and coups in an online futures market. As The New York Times is reporting this afternoon:

Senator John W. Warner, the Virginia Republican who heads the Senate Armed Services Committee, said today that he had conferred with the program's director at the Pentagon, "and we mutually agreed that this thing should be stopped."

The senator's announcement - made during a confirmation hearing for retired Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, who has been nominated to be Army chief of staff - signaled the end of a program that was met with astonishment and derision almost from the moment it was disclosed.

The plan for the Pentagon’s Dead Pool had a short and unhappy life.

The Associated Press reported yesterday that the Pentagon was planning to set up a stock market-style exchange to allow people to bet on the likelihood of future terrorist attacks and assassinations. (Link via Talking Points Memo.)

The Pentagon views it as a potentially innovative way to get clues about terrorists' plans: a public, stock market-style exchange where traders can profit by correctly predicting terror attacks or assassinations in the Middle East.


The program is called the Policy Analysis Market. The Pentagon office overseeing it, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, said it was part of a research effort "to investigate the broadest possible set of new ways to prevent terrorist attacks."

Traders would buy and sell futures contracts —— just like energy traders do now in betting on the future price of oil. But the contracts in this case would be based on what might happen in the Middle East in terms of economics, civil and military affairs or specific events, such as terrorist attacks.

Holders of a futures contract that came true would collect the proceeds of traders who put money into the market but predicted wrong.

A graphic on the market's Web page Monday showed hypothetical futures contracts in which investors could trade on the likelihood that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat would be assassinated or Jordanian King Abdullah II would be overthrown. Although the Web site described the Policy Analysis Market as Middle East market, the graphic also included the possibility of a North Korea missile attack.

It’s a close call whether the Pentagon’s Dead Pool was more moronic or crazy. Let’s compromise and call it both. Unless the Bush Administration had plans to entice terrorists into betting in the Pentagon Dead Pool, I doubt it would have been a better predictor of terrorist activity than intelligence services (not that the Bush administration listens to our intelligence services when they contradict administration policies). The Pentagon Dead Pool, at best, would have been a good gauge of what rumors were currently circulating. The Pentagon Dead Pool might also have been a useful tool for terrorists who could have selected targets after checking which potential attacks people were not expecting.

This now-dead proposal may strike you as the looniest government plan since the Reagan administration’s Iran-Contra scheme of trading arms for hostages and money from Iran that could be illegally funneled to rebels in Nicaragua. Well, this most recent lunatic proposal actually has a connection to that Reagan-era lunacy.

The Policy Analysis Market was under the supervision of retired Admiral John Poindexter, the head of the Terrorism Information Awareness Program. Poindexter, who was Reagan’s national security adviser, was one of the “brains” behind the Iran-Contra scheme. After Poindexter was criminally convicted for lying to Congress about the scandal, his conviction was overturned on appeal because it was tainted by immunized testimony he had given Congress. However, Poindexter has been given another chance to develop lunatic plans in service of his country because Bush does not view a little thing like lying to Congress as a bar to service in his administration.

As could be expected, some Democrats criticized the Pentagon’s Dead Pool simply because it was a crackpot proposal that was likely to be ineffective.

Two Democratic senators say the program is useless, offensive and immoral. They are demanding that the program be stopped before investors start signing up Friday.

"The idea of a federal betting parlor on atrocities and terrorism is ridiculous and it's grotesque," Sen. Ron Wyden news, bio, D-Ore., said Monday.

While this criticism has proven to be effective with the cancellation of the program, I question whether it was really fair. Sure, you can call the Bush administration’s Dead Pool “ridiculous and grotesque,” but you can make the same criticism about the administration’s tax cuts for the super rich, its economic policies, which are creating the biggest federal deficits in history and the worst job market since the Great Depression, and its neglect of Afghanistan, which has led to the resurgence of warlords in that country. Why, if the Bush administration stopped adopting policies simply because they were “ridiculous and grotesque,” it’s entire domestic program and much of its foreign policy would be gutted.

Devising programs that are “ridiculous and grotesque” is what this administration does best. It is neither fair nor realistic to expect Bush and his administration not to use this God-given talent. While the administration may have blinked this time, don’t bet in any pool that this is the last lunatic proposal we see from Bush and his crew.