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Archive for May, 2010

Showing the Way

[ 11 ] May 24, 2010 |

Sarah to Rand: When you say something stupid, horrible, and indefensible in public, always blame the questioner. It never fails; the morons just lap up the “liberal-media-coastal-elite-hate-America-bias” bullshit. Try it yourself!

South Korea Takes Steps

[ 7 ] May 24, 2010 |

We’re beginning to see the outlines of South Korea’s response to the sinking of Cheonan:

President Lee Myung-bak said on Monday that South Korea would drastically reduce trade with North Korea, restrict North Korean merchant ship use of South Korean sea lanes and call on the United Nations Security Council to punish the North for what he called the deliberate sinking a South Korean warship two months ago…

Cutting off trade with North Korea is probably the strongest unilateral action the South can take against the impoverished North. South Korea imports $230 million worth of seafood and other products from the North a year. North Korea earns $50 million a year making clothes and carrying out other business deals with South Korean companies.

Mr. Lee also said that South Korea would block North Korean merchant ships from using South Korean waters off the southern coast. That would force the ships to detour and use more fuel.

South Korea has also agreed to a major anti-submarine exercise with the United States, more extensive naval coordination with the PSI (Proliferation Security Initiative), and resumption of propaganda broadcasts from loudspeakers in the DMZ. North Korea, for its part, has threatened to start breaking (more of) South Korea’s stuff:

North Korea threatened to fire at South Korean loudspeakers along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and destroy them, Monday, if Seoul resumes propaganda broadcasting suspended since 2004.

“If South Korea installs new speakers for psychological warfare, we will directly aim at them and open fire to destroy them,” an unnamed North Korean military commander said in a statement, carried by Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency.

While on the topic, allow me to say that I’m less than impressed with this David Sanger article. Key graf:

A new American intelligence analysis of a deadly torpedo attack on a South Korean warship concludes that Kim Jong-il, the ailing leader of North Korea, must have authorized the torpedo assault, according to senior American officials who cautioned that the assessment was based on their sense of the political dynamics there rather than hard evidence.

The officials said they were increasingly convinced that Mr. Kim ordered the sinking of the ship, the Cheonan, to help secure the succession of his youngest son.

“We can’t say it is established fact,” said one senior American official who was involved in the highly classified assessment, based on information collected by many of the country’s 16 intelligence agencies. “But there is very little doubt, based on what we know about the current state of the North Korean leadership and the military.”

Well…. that’s pretty authoritative. The crucial bit of evidence seems to be that Dear Leader visited and decorated the leader of the unit that’s suspected in the attack. Call me a raging skeptic, but that seems somewhat less than conclusive. I suspect that Kim Jong-Il did push the button; CoGs tend to be responsible for this thing more often than not. However, I also wouldn’t be stunned if the order came from a lower level commander, or one of the various brokers jockeying for position in anticipation of Kim’s death. If there’s a single problem that has bedeviled US intelligence in the last sixty years, it’s the difficulty in understanding the internal operation of authoritarian regimes. Even when we have a relative wealth of information (Kremlinology, for example) we still manage to make large errors. In this case, the officials that Sanger quotes don’t really seem to have any evidence worth noting.

Israel Offered to Sell Nukes to South Africa?

[ 50 ] May 23, 2010 |

Seems like rather a big deal:

Secret South African documents reveal that Israel offered to sell nuclear warheads to the apartheid regime, providing the first official documentary evidence of the state’s possession of nuclear weapons.

The “top secret” minutes of meetings between senior officials from the two countries in 1975 show that South Africa’s defence minister, PW Botha, asked for the warheads and Shimon Peres, then Israel’s defence minister and now its president, responded by offering them “in three sizes”. The two men also signed a broad-ranging agreement governing military ties between the two countries that included a clause declaring that “the very existence of this agreement” was to remain secret.

The documents, uncovered by an American academic, Sasha Polakow-Suransky, in research for a book on the close relationship between the two countries, provide evidence that Israel has nuclear weapons despite its policy of “ambiguity” in neither confirming nor denying their existence.

The Israeli authorities tried to stop South Africa’s post-apartheid government declassifying the documents at Polakow-Suransky’s request and the revelations will be an embarrassment, particularly as this week’s nuclear non-proliferation talks in New York focus on the Middle East.

They will also undermine Israel’s attempts to suggest that, if it has nuclear weapons, it is a “responsible” power that would not misuse them, whereas countries such as Iran cannot be trusted.

This isn’t completely new; see here for a good run-down of Israeli-South African cooperation on nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. The evidence of an offer to sell nuclear warheads isn’t a 100% clear smoking gun, but it’s fairly close:

The top secret minutes of the meeting record that: “Minister Botha expressed interest in a limited number of units of Chalet subject to the correct payload being available.” The document then records: “Minister Peres said the correct payload was available in three sizes. Minister Botha expressed his appreciation and said that he would ask for advice.” The “three sizes” are believed to refer to the conventional, chemical and nuclear weapons.

The use of a euphemism, the “correct payload”, reflects Israeli sensitivity over the nuclear issue and would not have been used had it been referring to conventional weapons. It can also only have meant nuclear warheads as Armstrong’s memorandum makes clear South Africa was interested in the Jericho missiles solely as a means of delivering nuclear weapons.

Emphasis mine. “Correct payload” could conceivably mean something other than a nuclear warhead, but it’s fair to say that the inference is likely correct. It should also be emphasized that the sale would have required Prime Minister Rabin’s approval, although there’s little reason to think that Peres would have made the offer without Rabin’s knowledge. Let’s put it this way; if this sort of evidence emerged about a potential deal between North Korea, Syria, and Iran, the Israeli response could hardly be characterized as tepid. The fact that the chief negotiator in the deal is the sitting President of Israel also means that this can’t legitimately be described as a “youthful indiscretion.” Moreover, it’s difficult to reasonably argue that the sale was necessary to the maintenance of the Israeli-South African nuclear relationship, and consequently to Israel’s ability to develop a nuclear deterrent. The premise of the sale is that Israel already possessed nuclear warheads and the ballistic missiles capable of carrying them; it didn’t, at that point, have to sell them to anyone.

We should also be clear that this isn’t what could be characterized as “good” proliferation, whatever that means. South Africa was obviously not a democracy in 1975; rather, it was a brutal, repressive police state that systematically crushed the freedom of the vast majority of its population. If you think that domestic repression has implications for foreign policy (realists don’t, but some do), then obviously it’s not ideal to sell nukes to this kind of state. Moreover, the same “what if the state collapses” concerns that apply to Iran apply to South Africa; there were ample concerns in the 1970s that freedom fightersdirty communist terrorists would overthrow the Pretoria regime, which would then have led to obvious “loose nuke” issues.

The larger issue is obviously this: Evidence that a chief proxy of the United States offered to sell actual, functioning nuclear warheads on actual, functioning ballistic missiles to an autocratic, unstable state somewhat undermines US “moral authority” to undertake anti-proliferation efforts in nuclear and ballistic missile technology. Iran is enriching uranium? Well, Israel offered to sell nukes to apartheid South Africa. North Korea is selling ballistic missile parts and know how? Well, Israel offered to sell Jericho missiles, complete with nuclear warheads, to South Africa. In short, a US proxy offered to engage in behavior that was by several degrees worse than any behavior that Pakistan, North Korea, Syria, Libya, or Iran have ever been credibly accused of engaging in.

That’s kind of a problem. The best we can say, perhaps, is that there’s no indication as of yet that the United States was involved. Indeed, the United States mildly sanctioned Israel for past bad behavior after much of the Israeli-South African relationship became known in the wake of the end of apartheid.

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Behavior Detectors?

[ 9 ] May 23, 2010 |

One of my former students now working at the GAO helped produce this report. Nice to know there’s some point to it all…

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Goldwater And Modern Constitutional Conservatism

[ 24 ] May 22, 2010 |

Matt makes a good point here about how the founding hero of modern American conservatism was wrong about the most important issue of his time.  It’s worth noting as well, as you’ll see from this passage from Perlstein’s Before the Storm, that two of the people who persuaded Goldwater to stick up for apartheid and oppose federal civil rights protections were the first modern constitutional conservative to sit on the Supreme Court, William Rehnquist, and the Republican Party’s great constitutional martyr, Robert Bork.    Rehnquist was also a contemporaneous opponent of Brown v. Board, which can’t even superficially be characterized as being about a principled opposition to state coercion.

On Bork, a FrumForum poster recently wrote that Rand Paul was making other conservatives like Bork look bad:

For over twenty years conservative constitutionalists have held up Senator Kennedy’s tirade against “Robert Bork’s America” as the pinnacle of left wing political slanders of the right. How dare he say that conservative constitutional views would return us to the days of segregated lunch counters?

The problem here, of course, is that Kennedy didn’t say that “constitutional conservatism” per se would lead us to segregated lunch counters.   He said that this would have been the result of Robert Bork’s constitutional vision, which can find corroboration in the fact that while it mattered Robert Bork publicly (as well as privately) argued that the Civil Rights Act was unconstitutional.   As I’ve argued before, it’s odd that Kennedy’s speech has come to stand for unspeakable political slander, when every claim in it was in fact consistent Bork’s published views (granting that some of them had been repudiated in subsequent confirmation conversions.)

Is Kagan Anti-Military?

[ 1 ] May 22, 2010 |

What Robert Merrill said. HT to Tom Ricks.

Zombie Henry Clay: Rand Paul is an Embarrassment to the Commonwealth of Kentucky

[ 10 ] May 22, 2010 |

If Luke Russert continues to score points off the state of Kentucky’s leading Senate candidate, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Clay get up, leave his tomb, and appear himself on this week’s Meet the Press:

Twitter is abuzz with word that Rand Paul is trying to cancel his appearance this Sunday on Meet the Press, probably because the biased media keeps asking him about things he’s said, like jerks. Meet the Press is responding with a public shaming — both host David Gregory and executive producer Betsy Fischer are tweeting about it.

Update: Luke Russert is joining in on the Twitter shaming, channeling his deceased father, the former host of Meet the Press: “Hey Dr. Paul, if you can’t answer tough questions how are you going to be able to make tough decisions as a U.S. Senator? -TJR.” (We think he’s referring to this line of Tim’s.)

The Randernaut is setting records for “not ready for prime time, or even Sunday morning time.” Incidentally, it’s obvious that Rand’s particularly vision of the relationship between the individual and the federal government would appall Clay, who strongly believed in the necessity of Federal investment in and facilitation of local economic activity.

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Girls, Guns and Joysticks

[ 9 ] May 21, 2010 |

As Google reminded us today with its first interactive doodle (yes, you can actually play it), today is the 30th anniversary of Pacman’s release in Japan. Originally “Puck-Man,” the game was released in the US in 1980 and quickly became an icon of 80s pop culture: along with its successor, Ms. Pac-Man, it stands as the best-selling arcade video game in US history.

Famously inspired by the shape of a pizza, Pacman’s friendly emphasis on food and reproduction was also born of an effort to demilitarize gaming parlors by demasculinizing them:

In fact, Iwatani acknowledges that, while a eureka moment for the annals, that event represents the official birth of Pac-Man: “The whole thing actually started with me walking around games arcades watching how many boys were playing and the fact that all the machines were about killing aliens, tanks or people. Girls were simply not interested, and I suddenly had a motivation for my work: I wanted game centres to shed this rather dark, sinister image, and it seemed to me that the way to raise the atmosphere of a place is to entice girls to come in.

The whole purpose of Pac-Man was to target women and couples, and get a different type of player involved. So there I was, wondering what sort of things women would look for in a video game. I sat in cafés and listened to what they were talking about: mostly it was fashion and boyfriends. Neither of those was really the stuff of a good video game. Then they started talking about food — about cakes and sweets and fruit — and it hit me: that food and eating would be the thing to concentrate on to get the girls interested.”

Ultimately boys turned out to like the Pac-Man games just as much as women, and the subculture of competitive vintage arcade games remained heavily masculinized. Sheri Graner Ray explores the reasons for this in her book Gender-Inclusive Game Design, suggesting the changes in avatar design and game themes could make video games more appealing to women.

Another hypothesis: maybe it’s not that girls don’t like shooting space aliens but simply the fact that girls and women have less time to spend mastering video games – a point driven home by the documentary The King of Kong, which provides a fascinating look at the subculture of competitive gaming:

The first annual World Pacman Championship was held in New York City in 2007. Currently, David Race holds the record for being the fastest player ever to get a perfect score on the original Pac-man game, beating out Billy Mitchell who had previously held the record since 1999.

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Kagan and Privacy

[ 25 ] May 21, 2010 |

On the narrow point at issue, I agree with Yglesias and Greenwald that the conflation of sexual identity with someone’s “sex life” is silly. I’m reminded of my favorite example of this, opponents of gay and lesbian rights attacking John Kerry for mentioning things about Mary Cheney that were allegedly supposed to remain between her, her partner, the Coors Corporation, and gays and lesbians that Coors wanted to sell beer-colored horse piss to.

Having said that, I’m not sure I fully endorse Greenwald’s argument here. The last bit of snark about Cheney indicates a major difference also present in Greenwald’s analogy about Kevin Drum: I think there’s an important distinction between what people voluntarily reveal about themselves and what they don’t, a distinction that’s especially crucial if they’re leaving other people alone.    It’s worth noting, first of all, that speculation about Kagan’s sexuality is driven entirely by quite pernicious stereotypes — assumptions about her haircut, the implicit assumption that no adult could simply choose to be celibate, etc. — as opposed to any actual evidence or anything she’s said about herself. (Greenwald’s point about some Good Liberals assuming that Kagan is a lesbian is unserious — surely Greenwald has met plenty of professional Good Liberals prone to heteronormative assumptions.) This is a complex question, but I think there are real potential violations of the dignity of individuals inherent in trying to force them to define their sexuality into a convenient box when they’ve chosen no inclination to do so themselves.

Many of you will remember similar questions being raised about David Souter, because of his lack of conformity to certain norms about the lives adults of a certain social status are expected to lead. Would the polity have gained anything by asking Souter to publicly define his sexuality? Not that I can see.

Hitting Back on the Libertarian Nonsense

[ 22 ] May 21, 2010 |

Nice, from Jack Conway:

Less than 48 hours after Tuesday’s primary election and it’s already become painfully clear: Rand Paul’s narrow and rigid ideology would have dangerous consequences for Kentucky’s working families, veterans, students, disabled citizens, and anyone without a voice in the halls of power.

Students who need federal loans to help pay for college? Sorry. Disabled people facing discrimination on the job? Tough luck. What about a person of color who is refused service at a restaurant? Paul thinks businesses should be free to do that.

Rand Paul says that there’s too much government oversight in America today. Really? Does he think that too much government oversight caused the oil spill in the Gulf, the collapse of Wall Street and the housing market crash?

If you think Rand Paul is completely out of touch with the vast majority of Americans, you’re right – he is. So it’s up to us to stop him.

Making clear the (extensive) benefits that Kentuckians receive from government is key; the mention of the disabled twice is not accidental.

What “New Rules of War”?

[ 1 ] May 20, 2010 |

I’ve been meaning to comment for awhile on the March/April print issue of Foreign Policy , and I finally got around to posting my observations at Current Intelligence. In brief, for a special issue devoted to transformations in the way we fight, what struck me is how completely the authors and editors overlooked the ways in which the trends described relate to the law of war. Read more…

I’m Sure!

[ 16 ] May 20, 2010 |

I’m pretty sure that this passage, part of a defense of major party candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2010 Rand Paul’s opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, is not a parody of libertarianism,* even if it reads this way:

I was born in 1950, so I had a little direct experience (in addition to lessons from history) with how this worked before 1964. Springfield had some businesses which were, for example, ‘Whites Only‘. Those businesses, and similar ones which existed in virtually every city and town in former Slave States and many Northern ones, must have suffered significantly for their policies. Springfield might [!] be a poor example of this, because there were not many non-white residents after the famous 1906 lynchings (concluded on the Public Square) prompted much of Springfield’s non-white citizenry to move away – immediately. I’m sure that, wherever they choose to live after 1906, their economic influence guaranteed that they would be served equitably by businesses.

I guess the question of why a group of people would have to move for their economic influence to matter never comes up. But I’m sure another 90 years of waiting for Jim Crow to just wither away on its own would have worked!

[Via Texas Roy, who links to much more similar wingnuttery.]

see also.

*Nope, it’s parody. After Bryan Caplan’s defense of coverture, it’s just hard to tell these days.

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