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Archive for December, 2008

F-22 as Economic Stimulus?

[ 0 ] December 10, 2008 |

Is the F-22 Raptor too big to fail in these tough economic times?

Without further spending for the F-22, companies that supply critical components for it would begin shutting down soon. The chairmen and ranking Republicans on both the House and Senate defense appropriations subcommittees recently wrote to Mr. Gates to voice their support for the F-22, cautioning that “the last thing our nation needs is to terminate jobs in this time of such economic uncertainty.”

Like many big weapons systems, the plane, which relies on 1,000 parts suppliers in 44 states, has strong support in Congress, which recently provided up to $140 million in bridge financing for some of the suppliers.

Without having done the analysis, I’m guessing that spending $200 million each for F-22s is not the most cost-effective form of economic stimulus that the Obama administration can engage in. Robert Gates hostility to the F-22 (and the Air Force more generally) is one of his most appealing characteristics; it would be a pity if Congress critters can use the financial crisis as an excuse to save the over-priced, under-missioned fighter aircraft.


More Double Standard Puzzles

[ 0 ] December 10, 2008 |

This K-Drum post encapsulates much about what I find strange about the way some liberals have been discussing the American auto industry. First of all, is there any other context in which progressives would uncritically use the conserveratrian formulation “wage problem”? Am I supposed to be cheering for Wal-Mart to crush Costco because of the latter’s “wage problem” while shopping at the former besides? When he watches American Dream, does Kevin cheer for the Hormel executives? Call me crazy, but I’m inclined to think of the generous wages and benefits accorded to their workers is a point in Detroit’s favor. (And if you think that wages at non-union American factories will remain at their current level if Detroit stops competing for labor, I have some beautiful condos in Flint to sell you.)

Similarly, I don’t really know on what basis Kevin and Leonhardt assume that it’s impossible for GM, in particular, to be a viable company after a bailout. (Chrysler, I’ll grant, is a tougher case.) GM has several lines of cars that are of both good quality and with at least decent consumer demand — Chevy sedans, trucks and SUVS and Cadillac most notably. If it can develop a decent compact like it redesigned the Malibu — which hardly seems impossible — that seems like a perfectly viable operation to me. Of course, GM needs to ditch Pontiac/Saturn and/or turn them into small divisions producing cars for rental fleets. But this is precisely what justifies a bailout — closing down product lines is enormously expensive, and this restructuting will require cash. Similarly, in the long term it would be good for Detroit to produce more small-margin compacts and fewer high-margin SUVs…but again, if you run out of cash while effecting the transition this is hollow advice.

The devil is in the details, of course. But Ford and GM, at least, are producing some quality cars that people in fact are buying, and it’s by no means obvious that they can’t be profitable companies after the Bush Depression turns around. Given the stakes involved for the American economy and American labor, government money that permits product line consolidation and development with longer time horizons certainly seems like a good gamble to me. And if Chrysler has to be carried along to ensure that suppliers don’t crater while the economy is awful, I can live with that. If they develop something to go along with their minivans and trucks they could have some value in a merger, if not let them die when the consequences are less dire.

Gangster: The Rod Blagojevich Story

[ 0 ] December 9, 2008 |


Is it wrong to have, on some level, respect for just how gangster Rod Blagojevich is?

Yes; yes it is. But I nonetheless have some respect for just how gangster Rod Blagojevich is. Thoughts on who’ll play him in the movie?

…and if you’re wondering whether Blagojevich could still appoint himself to the Senate seat, the answer is that no one seems to know.

Crew of the MV Faina Getting Twitchy

[ 0 ] December 9, 2008 |

It’s not nice to hold people hostage for two and a half months:

“Some crew members on the Ukrainian ship are misbehaving,” the pirate said.

“They tried to harm two of our gunmen late Monday. This is unacceptable, they risk serious punitive measures. Somalis know how to live and how to die at the same time, but the Ukrainians’ attempt to take violent action is misguided.”

He claimed that two of the pirates were taken by surprise when a group of crew members attacked them. “Maybe some of the crew are frustrated and we are feeling the same but our boys never opted for violence, this was a provocation,” he told AFP by telephone.

Another report of the incident, by Russian Ren TV, quoted one of the pirates as saying that the crew responsible would be “seriously punished”.

See also James Wimberley’s thoughts on piracy.

The Detroit Bailout

[ 0 ] December 9, 2008 |

Marcy Wheeler has the details on the bridge loan plan. I like the Atrios and (especially) Pelosi amendments, the latter of which is certainly essential.

I also agree with Wheeler about the double standards in coverage. Citigroup has gone back for much more money with much less oversight, but this seems to get considerably less scrutiny from the media and (especially) Congress. But, of course, getting rid of those greedy union workers with their “middle class wages” and “apocryphal gold-plated benefits” and making sure any remaining jobs go to companies whose sales are taking a similar hit but employ people in reactionary right-to-work states is just the Natural Order of the Free Market. (BTW, have any of the banks bailed out by the government had to give up their corporate jets?)


[ 0 ] December 9, 2008 |

Does Blagojevich think he’s Vladimir Putin?

Authorities say they’ve also accused Blagojevich of threatening to withhold state assistance to the Tribune Co. in connection with the sale of Wrigley Field to induce the firing of editorial board members who have been critical of the governor.

A federal official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that the allegations include that the governor took money from at least one individual in connection with naming a successor for the U.S. Senate seat that was vacated by Obama. The official declined to be named publicly because the investigation was still under way.

Hey; it’s not like anyone was paying attention to the junior Senate seat in Illinois.

The Answer is "No"

[ 0 ] December 9, 2008 |

Someday, you might encounter someone — a hopeless naif, or someone who spent most of this decade living off the grid, or perhaps someone recovering from an infestation of brain parasites — who will ask, “Isn’t there anything George Bush didn’t knock into a cocked hat? Anything at all?”

The answer, of course, will be “No.”

Here’s my favorite, but you really could select at random:

GAO investigators found that information technology security is so poor at the Department of Agriculture that its operations are “seriously” jeopardized. They also found that the federal farm programs the agency administers are handing out money to people who are not actively engaged in farming. Perhaps most distressing, the agency is not doing enough to secure “high-consequence biological pathogens” at laboratories carrying out agency-funded work. That means labs studying potential biological weapons agents are not handling these materials adequately and pose their own security risk.

But remember: George Bush Kept Us Safe (TM).

Glenn Reynolds: Concern for the Help

[ 0 ] December 8, 2008 |

The Ole Perfesser is vacationing in hedge fund Disneyland. After snorkeling about for a bit to assess the deterioration of the marine environment, Reynolds ponders the economic health of the Cayman Islands. It’s generally Teh Awesomez, but there are a few signs of worry.

One sign that things may not be quite as rosy as they seem: I noticed that service staff seemed far more eager to please, and far more grateful for tips, than a couple of years ago. I don’t know if that’s psychology, or reflective of an actual reality, though.

One can only imagine how deep into the night Reynolds will lie awake, trying to discern the answer.

That Word "Absolutism," I Do Not Think…

[ 6 ] December 8, 2008 |

I was amused to see Ross Douthat claim that “[A]n iron law of recent American politics dictates that any Republican setback at the polls will be quickly pinned on the pro-life movement.” I certainly agree that (pace William Saletan) national elections are not referenda on the abortion issue. But in fact, the Republicans’ unpopular abortion policies have been consistently given undue credit for Republican electoral victories, to the extent that the real “Iron Law” is that every time the Democrats lose an election an army of pundits will claim that the solution is for the Democrats to abandon their popular support for Roe v. Wade. This is just the beginning of the problems with the op-ed — Steve M. identifies the most remarkable one, Douthat’s argument that the “pro-life” movement compromised by…reducing terrorism against American women and medical professionals who serve them. How thoughtful! And, of course, this wasn’t really so much a decision of the movement as the result of federal legislation (that substantial numbers of anti-choice legislators opposed.)

In addition, let’s consider Douthat’s assertion that Planned Parenthood v. Casey is a “monument to pro-choice absolutism.” I’d have to say that, given that the “undue burden” standard has been interpreted to uphold every common regulation of abortion with the exception of spousal notification requirements, Casey represents the most compromised “absolutism” in history. Indeed, one wonders if part of the reason polls reflect a desire for more restrictions is that op-ed editors are willing to let anti-choice pundits simply lie about the state of the law.

Compare, for example, the regulatory regime permitted under current Supreme Court doctrine with the French system, which Douthat sees as an acceptable “compromise.” The only major differences in terms of restrictions are that 1)the period before which a woman’s choice can merely be regulated rather than banned is a little shorter, and 2)after this period 2 doctors rather than one has to certify that an abortion is necessary for the woman’s health. Whether this is more restrictive on the ground depends entirely on how French doctors interpret this standard. Douthat shows no interest in how abortion laws actually work (and I suppose that’s a necessary condition if you’re going to support criminalization.) But given that France has similar abortion rates to Canada — where abortion is almost entirely unregulated — one doubts that the standards applied by French doctors are very stringent. Admittedly, the differences Douthat mentions aren’t the whole story. He leaves out two very important facts about the French system: the state-funded medical care and the availability of RU-486 (which greatly mitigates the effect of arbitrary waiting periods.) Taking everything into account, it’s arguable that abortion is more practically accessible under the French system. I would certainly (if reluctantly) support a couple of Douthat’s cherished treat-women-as-children regulations if I could secure a repeal of the Hyde Amendment and widely available mifepristone in return. And the idea that Casey represents “absolutism” is utterly absurd.

The dumbest thing ever posted on the Internet

[ 0 ] December 8, 2008 |

As the U.S. economy melts down, as international tensions threaten to spiral out of control, as the sixth anniversary of the biggest foreign policy disaster in American history approaches, as the question of whether George W. Bush is the worst president in American history becomes about as interesting as the question of whether the 2008 Detroit Lions are the worst team in NFL history, let us recall the words of John Hindraker (B.A. Dartmouth College, J.D., Harvard University):

It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can’t get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile.

That’s “approaching to genius” in its own very special way — and, as the Bush presidency sinks into oblivion, good things like this should be memoralized from time to time.

From Colony to Superpower: Don’t Mess with Texas

[ 0 ] December 7, 2008 |

Erik introduces chapter five of From Colony to Superpower (for older posts click on the tag), which covers the period between 1837 and 1861. The customary random observations:

Herring discusses the impact that Texas independence had on US-Mexico relations, and especially the degree to which the decision to admit Texas to the Union precipitated the Mexican-American War. I’m not an expert on Texas history, but the widespread expectation that Texas would enter the United States, rather than remain an independent Republic, strikes me as curious. Herring noted in an earlier chapter that Thomas Jefferson expected American “civilization” to spread across the North American continent, but that this spread need not take place in the form of a single political unit. An independent Texas would have fulfilled this expectation. Of course, changes in communication and transportation technology made a continental empire more possible in 1840 than it had been in 1800, but this doesn’t quite explain why Texas pursued union rather than independence. From the beginning of its existence, Texas was dependent upon the United States, but of course such a state isn’t necessarily indicative of a particular policy; Texas might have made effort to reduce that dependence, rather than to formalize it. Ethnic and ideological affinity for the United States seems to have been the primary motivation within Texas for union, but it’s nevertheless fun to muse about the long term implications of an independent Texas.

This last week in National Security Policy the topic was Strategic Communication. We dealt at some length with the Munich Analogy as a strategic communication/propaganda strategy, concentrating in particular on how effectively it creates roles for participants (enemy=Hitler, dove=Chamberlain, hawk=Churchill). When dealing with the Analogy in the past, I’ve asked students to think about it in terms of the United States during the Polk period. Polk began by making a series of threats against British holdings in the Northwest, asserting American sovereignty over territory on which the US had virtually no legal claim. In response, the British could have fought; there were risks, but the Royal Navy could have made the Americans pay a substantial price for their aggression. Instead, the British chose a more conciliatory route, making clear that they did have clear lines beyond which they would not go (no US sovereignty north of the 49th parallel), but appeasing the US claim to the jointly administered Oregon Territory.

On the one hand, you could argue that the British conducted successful appeasement, and consequently that the strategy of appeasement works in many situations. The United States did not, after all, invade Canada or attack any other British possessions. This is fairly common sense; appeasement fails in the face of incorrigible aggressors, but very few aggressors actually are incorrigible. On the other hand, a proponent of the applicability of the Munich Analogy could draw a direct connection between the Oregon settlement and the theft of half of Mexico; if the British had given the US a bloody nose in 1845, and taken steps to guarantee Mexico’s territorial integrity, then the neighborhood bully would have backed down. I’m actually inclined to think that British resistance on the Oregon question would resulted in the theft of more of Mexico by a frustrated US, but there’s at least a nugget of an argument to suggest a parallel with 1938. US territorial expansion slowed down considerably after 1848, but that has as much to do with US domestic politics as anything else.

On that subject, in comments several people has questioned my suggestion that the 1790s, the 1950s, and the 2000s are the only times in which foreign policy came to dominate domestic political debate. In particular, some people have argued that the 1840s, which included the debate over the Mexican War and the expansion of slavery more generally, represents a fourth period of foreign policy dominance. My response would be that this is an issue of cause and effect; whereas the debates in the 1790s, 1950s, and 2000s came about because of changes in the international environment, the foreign policy debate in the 1840s was the product of disagreement over domestic affairs. Support for and opposition to the Mexican War can’t be entirely reduced to the question of slavery, but it’s pretty close. What we have, then, is not so much a debate about foreign policy, but rather a debate about slavery that had implications for foreign policy.

Designed to Fail

[ 0 ] December 7, 2008 |

I would expect career civil servants to do a better job than political appointees in any case, but I do wonder whether there’s a difference between the parties. Republicans, after all, expect government to fail and very often ensure that it will. Democrats think differently, and that may well show up in their performance.

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