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Category: Robert Farley

Are You Ready?

[ 60 ] April 22, 2017 |

Best to watch this with the sound off:

An Australian friend posted this with an “only in America” rhetorical smirk, and dated it to 1989 (when Hank Williams Jr. was first allowed to ruin Monday Night Football). That’s clearly wrong; Williams recorded a variety of different versions, and from the special effects alone this one seems to be from the 1990s. But it’s more than that; the kind of militarism on parade here would have felt very out of place in 1989, which I think positions this as a post-1990 (either Gulf War or shortly thereafter) artifact. I’ve never given much thought as to how Desert Storm shifted US public attitudes on military action, but if I’m dating this correctly it would seem to have had a significant impact.

Can anyone figure out the timeline? It’s from the Frank-Dan-Al era of MNF, so before 1998. Also, blowing up national monuments has gone rather out of style…


Legalization and the Opioid Epidemic

[ 289 ] April 21, 2017 |

By Fvasconcellos (talk · contribs) – Own work, Public Domain.

Curious what folks think of this:

By the time I began as a drug policy reporter in 2010, I was all in on legalizing every drug, from marijuana to heroin and cocaine.

It all seemed so obvious to me. Prohibition had failed. Over the past decade, millions of Americans had been arrested and, in many of these cases, locked up for drugs. The government spent tens of billions of dollars a year on anti-drug policies — not just on policing and arresting people and potentially ruining their lives, but also on foreign operations in which armed forces raided and destroyed people’s farms, ruining their livings. Over four decades, the price tag for waging the drug war added up to more than $1 trillion

…Then I began reporting on the opioid epidemic. I saw friends of family members die to drug overdoses. I spoke to drug users who couldn’t shake off years of addiction, which often began with legal prescription medications. I talked to doctors, prosecutors, and experts about how the crisis really began when big pharmaceutical companies pushed for doctors and the government to embrace their drugs.

If I could sum up, the case would be something like this: The idea of drug legalization runs aground on the shoals of American capitalism.  While marijuana has proven too harmless for the pharmaceutical industry to weaponize, the combination of corporate marketing and the political influence of large companies has helped create and extend the extremely destructive “opioid epidemic” that we now find ourselves in. Done carefully (as has generally been the case in Europe) legalization can yield better social outcomes than prohibition, but given extant US political economy it’s as likely as not to yield tremendous human misery.

I can think of two caveats off the top; first, any public policy done badly is likely to have bad effects, and so of course drug legalization needs to be approached with care and caution.  Second, however awful the opioid epidemic has become, it’s not obviously worse than the prison industrial complex that prohibition has created (although it distributes costs differently).  That said, there may be a middle ground between legalization and prohibition that minimizes human misery.


Resolve McResolveyFace

[ 102 ] April 21, 2017 |
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence looks at the North side from Observation Post Ouellette in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), near the border village of Panmunjom, which has separated the two Koreas since the Korean War, South Korea, Monday, April 17, 2017. Viewing his adversaries in the distance, Pence traveled to the tense zone dividing North and South Korea and warned Pyongyang that after years of testing the U.S. and South Korea with its nuclear ambitions, "the era of strategic patience is over." (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

The Steely Face of American Resolve

I get snarky at the Diplomat:

Has the Trump administration developed, over the past two weeks, a doctrine that emphasizes maintaining a robust reputation for resolve that will make its feel secure and its enemies shudder in terror? According to advocates of a robust view of credibility, a belief that the United States will act militarily to enforce its commitments changes the behavior of potential foes; believing in the strength of U.S. resolve, they will believe in the credibility of U.S. commitments. With that in mind, let’s review the events of the past two weeks.

The Care and Feeding of Aircraft Carriers

[ 78 ] April 20, 2017 |
USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) on the James River on 11 June 2016.JPG

USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) on the James River. By U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Cathrine Mae O. Campbell – This Image was released by the United States Navy with the ID 160611-N-ZE240-145. Public Domain.

I get extremely irritable when folks, sometimes in the comment sections of lefty blogs*, make unfounded assertions about the vulnerability of aircraft carriers.  Fortunately, Foxtrot Alpha gave me the opportunity to write about the topic at some length:

The modern aircraft carrier is a global symbol of American dominance, hegemony, peace, even empire. But at over 1,000 feet long, and displacing more than 100,000 tons, is it a sitting duck? Is the massive emblem of American greatness just an obsolete, vulnerable hunk of steel?

 There’s a lot of consternation about whether or not the United States should even have massive supercarriers anymore. Obviously, the answer here is “depends on how much explosives you’ve got.” But while sinking an aircraft carrier is difficult, it’s not impossible. The key is what it’s used for, and who it’s used against. But if you wanted to sink one, here’s what you’d have to do, and what you’d be up against.

As a favor to me, only opine after you’ve read the article…

*But, um, never this blog.  And I was probably thinking about some other commenter, not you.

Will Moore RIP

[ 175 ] April 19, 2017 |

I didn’t really know Will Moore, but this is making its way around the political science blogosphere:

Assuming I did not botch the task, by the time this posts I will have been dead via suicide for several hours. Nope, that’s not a setup to a joke.

Why would someone who is healthy, employed, has every outside appearance of success, and so on, take their own life? In my case the answer is simple enough: I was done, but my body wasn’t. But that answer isn’t satisfying, so, for those who are aggrieved, upset, saddened, etc., let me do my best to try to explain.

Much to digest. Deepest condolences to his friends and his family.

Comments closed.


[ 13 ] April 15, 2017 |
MOD MM160006135(1).jpg

HMS Ocean at sea. By L(Phot) Dave Jenkins/MOD, OGL,

Latest at the Diplomat looks at some potential landing spots for future free agent amphib HMS Ocean:

Rumor now has it that Brazil is the most likely buyer. Earlier this year, Brazil finally gave up on the NAe Sao Paulo, an older aircraft carrier purchased in 2000 from France. This leaves Brazil without a (semi) operational carrier for the first time since 1960. But deals can fall apart and re-materialize quickly; recall that no one expected Egypt to acquire the two ex-French, almost-Russian Mistral-class amphibs until it suddenly did. If Brazil doesn’t buy, a few nations in the Asia-Pacific might be interested.

I Like Big Bombs and I Cannot Lie

[ 113 ] April 14, 2017 |

I was on your TV today:

Wish I had just a bit more time to talk about messaging, and also about command responsibility.


Thursday Links

[ 20 ] April 13, 2017 |
 MOD 45153052.jpg

Apache Helicopter Takes off from HMS Ocean During Operation Ellamy

How many of these can you name?


[ 6 ] April 10, 2017 |
TMM-1 during tests.jpg

T-26 Prototype during testing.

Some thinking about uneven cycles of naval modernization at the Diplomat:

But military power also depends on a constant cycle of technological modernization, for both new and existing platforms. This cycle may not match completely with procurement and training schedules, leaving a force with a host of obsolete platforms or personnel poorly trained to carry out their missions. For example, in the late 1920s and early 1930s the Red Army, in part because of an acute sense of vulnerability, engaged in a wide-ranging modernization project. Especially in aircraft and tanks, heavy state investment helped create a defense industrial base capable of competing with any world contemporary. The Soviet system made judicious but effective use of injections of foreign technology, having acquired numerous examples of tanks and aircraft from Western countries. Western legal systems had not yet developed a strong set of export controls, meaning that the Soviets could purchase parts, hire experts, and buy licenses for production of certain critical components.

“In on the Joke”

[ 231 ] April 10, 2017 |


The following is a guest post. 

I’m a white woman, married to a Japanese man, and living in a blue, blue Northeastern state. Last week he had to have fairly serious eye surgery. At the hospital a nice nurse checked him in, having identified him in the waiting room by calling out “Dr. X’s patient” because she was afraid of saying my husband’s name wrong. He went in for surgery and I had to wait around for what turned out to be considerably longer than expected. By hour three, I was kind of freaking out and worried—what had gone wrong? Would my husband lose sight in that eye? So I went back to the waiting room, where that same nurse struck up a very friendly, smiling conversation with me. Shecorrectly guessed from my accent that I’m not from around here, and we talked about how old my kids are, and what I do for a living, and it was all very nice until things took this peculiar turn:

Nurse: How interesting that you work on Chinese stuff and your husband is Japanese. That reminds me of that rhyme from when I was a kid. Do you remember?

Me: Oh, no, please don’t. [Really. I said this out loud, I didn’t just think it]

Nurse: Gosh, what was it? My mother is Chinese?

Me: No, let’s not. No, please don’t. [Once again, I really said this, out loud]

Nurse: Oh yeah! [pulling up left eye] my mother’s Chinese, [pulling down right eye] my father’s Japanese, and look what happened to me! [big smile and laugh]

Me: [……] Oh, look, there’s Dr. X. Gotta run!

So this exchange left me thinking, WTF, fellow white people? Can we not put shit like that to rest yet? Seriously. What part of “do not say racist shit to me” do you not understand?

It’s not that I’m surprised or shocked. This kind of thing has of course happened to me before. There was the time when I called to let a merchant know about my newly hyphenated last name, and he said “Ching chang chong!” very happily. There was the time when I called a second merchant, and he said, “[slashing sounds] Kung fu fighting!” in a very friendly voice. Get your racist slurs straight, dumbasses. It’s a Japanese name, not a Chinese name.

Some white people feel free to say racist things in front of other white people because they just know they won’t be offended. This instance pissed me off even more than usual because I told her, repeatedly, that I didn’t want to hear it.

What my fellow white people might not know is this: people of color get this kind of crap to their faces ALL THE TIME, but most white people won’t say it to them in front of you because they know it’s wrong. For instance, the nurse would never have said what she did to my husband in front of me.

Why don’t they say it? Because they don’t want YOU, a white person, to judge them and think they are racist. But if it’s just between us white people, then it’s OK, because we are in on the joke together.

I am mad at myself for not calling her out on it right there. In retrospect, I have thought of a million things I should have said: “I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Could you please explain that to me?” or, “Wow, I had forgotten how racist that ‘joke’ from fifty years ago is. Thanks for reminding me. The hand gestures were especially helpful,” or, “Gosh, I wonder why you’d say that to me?” or even, “Gee, that’s a really racist thing to say.” But, I was totally freaked out and hoping my husband wasn’t going to lose his sight, so I walked away. Sadly, people do not always wait until you are prepared and girded for battle before they lay shit on you.

Some people will say this kind of petty stuff doesn’t matter, that there are way worse violently racist things going on in this country right now, and that I’m a snowflake for being offended. Well, you’re right that more serious racist things are going on, but still, fuck you. Institutional racism is real. But the words also matter. I see my bi-racial kids dying a death by a thousand cuts as these comments pile up over their lifetimes, telling them that they are weird or ugly or don’t belong in this country. I see how it takes it out of my husband every time someone looks through him because he’s a short Asian guy, or when he comes home with a new story about something someone shouted at him. If you’re white and you are skeptical, just ask any person of color for their stories. It’ll unleash a torrent of things that you simply can’t believe because you’ve never heard any white person say them yourself.

And you won’t ever hear them, probably, if you are white, because the nurse, who really doesn’t mean anything by it and doesn’t have a racist bone in her body, is just making a lighthearted joke. We know it’s a harmless joke that we are in on together, because after all we are white people. In a blue, blue state, where we would never do or say anything racist because we are good people here. Not like all those other places. People there are really racist. But not us.

The Art of the Syrian Deal

[ 87 ] April 7, 2017 |

USS Ross (DDG-71) By U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Michael Sandberg. – Source, Public Domain.

Fifty-nine cruise missiles hit the Syrian airbase responsible for last week’s nerve gas attack.  Russian personnel were present at the airbase, and Russia was notified ahead of time about the strike.  This means that Syria was also notified ahead of time.  According to HR McMaster, the US intentionally avoided targeting buildings suspected of holding gas stockpiles. Syrian casualties have apparently been minimal. Here’s a discussion of satellite imagery post attack.  The Russian response has been fairly muted, although Russia now claims it will cease all deconfliction procedures (communications that prevent US and Russian planes from operating in the same airspace). As of the moment, the operation appears to have ended.

Some implications:

  • The direct military impact of the attack is trivial. The next big question is how Syrian actors will respond; will the Assad government moderate its tactics, at least insofar as chemical weapons are concerned?  Will rebel groups take heart, and increase their tempo of operations?
  • If Russian personnel were present at the airbase that launched the chemical attacks, then there are some really big questions about how much they knew about Syrian government plans, and when they knew it.  I doubt Assad would have informed the Russians in advance of the attack, but handling procedures for chemical munitions differ considerably from those for dumb bombs; it’s hard to believe that the Russians wouldn’t have noticed something.
  • The Israelis are claiming that they have evidence that Assad ordered the attacks personally.  Take or leave that as you will; for my part, this does not seem to be something that the Israelis would go out of their way to lie about.  Bibi has made every effort to cultivate Putin over the last few years, and it’s not as if the Israelis were ever that enthusiastic about the replacement of Assad.
  • If I’m ISIS I’m very happy today.  The net effect of all of this is less cooperation and more conflict between all of the partners fighting against ISIS.  Whether it will be enough to stave off the offensive on Raqqa is a different question.
  • Good discussions at Lawfare on legality; see here, here, and here.
  • The idea that the Chinese will be intimidated by this does not seem… sound.  The US just conducted a strike that eliminated virtually zero extant Syrian military capability, and that endangered no Americans.  This is not the stuff that strong reputations for toughness, resolve, and credibility are made of.
  • It’s not at all obvious what message the Syrian government is supposed to be taking from this.  Bombing civilians is okay, but chemical agents are a step too far?  Assad is probably fine with that, on balance.  Regime change is back on the table?  Hopefully there’s some backchannel communication designed to clarify US expectations for Moscow and Damascus.

Overall, we’re in the least worst case right now; stuff got blowed up, but the impact seems relatively small.  This could certainly change in the future, especially if the Trump administration decides to follow up with additional kinetic measures.

With respect to the domestic debate in the US…  My views on this strike are clear; it was a bad idea.  Along the historic continuum of bad ideas from Little Big Horn to Operation Barbarrosa, it could be a lot worse; if there’s no escalation, then it’s not a huge disaster.  I certainly share Paul’s distaste for pundits who appear to be thirsty for bombing, ANY bombing, and who aren’t sufficiently sated by the five other bombing campaigns that the US is currently conducting.  And I am utterly flummoxed that anyone would trust Trump to manage this competently, even if they believed the initial strike was a good idea.  At the same time, the claim that the Democrats somehow drove Trump to bomb Syria by criticizing him over his Russia ties would be fraudulent if it weren’t too flatly idiotic to constitute fraud.

See also Marc Lynch.


Bombing Syria Open Thread

[ 353 ] April 6, 2017 |

USN Tactical Tomahawk launch.jpg

So this is happening.

The United States launched a military strike Thursday on a Syrian government target in retaliation for their chemical weapons attack on civilians earlier in the week.

On President Donald Trump’s orders, US warships launched between 50-60 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian government airbase where the warplanes that carried out the chemical attacks were based, US officials said.

Discuss amongst yourselves. I’m going to bed.

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