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[ 11 ] September 21, 2008 |


Who imagined that the great opportunity for joint progressive and libertarian advocacy and activism would end up being economic? But that’s where we are. This loathsome bailout plan is a slap in the face to anyone who believes in either free-market principles or social justice.

Indeed. “$700 billion of taxpayer money for your own piece of Glengarry Highlands Big Shitpile” should bring out the libertarian in anyone…

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Say No To Unconstrained Executive Branch Handouts To Big Business

[ 0 ] September 20, 2008 |

I’m convinced.

…see also. Or here. Or here. The proposal in current form is a joke.

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Soviet Naval Strategy

[ 0 ] September 20, 2008 |

Bob Bateman writes:

True, it was once a powerful force, and feared by NATO. But the salient point is why the Soviet Navy was feared. It was not because it could project power far from Russia’s shores. That has never been a capability the Soviet fleet maintained to any serious degree. No, it was feared because it might possibly stop the Americans from coming to the aid of its allies in Europe should a Soviet-led invasion of Western Germany occur.

In naval strategy form should follow function, and in this the Soviets succeeded. Their naval forces were designed primarily as an interdiction force, something which might intercept the huge numbers of ships which the US would have to send had the “balloon gone up” in Western Europe. Accordingly, they had lots of submarines, quite a few anti-submarine ships (to help neutralize the major threat American submarines posed to their own subs), and long-range anti-ship missiles.

What they did not have was the ability to “project” power onto the land in any appreciable way, then or now.

To my understanding, this isn’t quite right. The Soviets certainly pursued interdiction capability in the early part of the Cold War, borrowing late German U-boat designs to produce a huge, if technologically somewhat backward, submarine fleet. It was not unreasonable for NATO to believe that, in a war, the Russians would pursue a maritime strategy somewhat similar to that which the Germans pursued in both World Wars. The submarine fleet would attempt to sever the link between North America and Europe, disrupting the economies of both and preventing reinforcement from arriving in Germany. US and British naval strategy in the early Cold War was geared towards anti-submarine activity, such that some Essex class aircraft carriers were devoted specifically to anti-submarine roles. Although the terms can be misleading, one could argue that the Soviets were expected to carry out an “offensive” strategy of attacking trans-Atlantic supply routes, forcing NATO into a “defensive” strategy of protecting those same lines.

In the early 1970s, however, information coming out of the Soviet Navy (both covert and open source) began to indicate that the Soviets had an entirely different strategy than the one outlined above. Rather than being geared towards an attack on NATO supply lines, it appeared that the Soviets were concentrating on defending the Arctic Ocean from NATO incursion. The point of this was to provide safe launch areas for the USSR’s growing fleet of SSBNs. Unlike their American, British, and French equivalents, Soviet boomers were never quiet enough to make hiding a good bet. Consequently, Soviet strategy developed around the idea of creating concentric fortresses of surface ships and attack submarines around the SSBNs, thus securing them from attack. Soviet carriers were designed to provide area air defense, rather than strike power. The Soviet Navy retained an interdiction capability, but this was not its central focus. One factor in the newfound emphasis on protecting SSBNs was the belief that the lethality of conventional weapons had increased to such a degree that the trans-Atlantic supply line was meaningless; the conventional war would be won or lost with the forces in Europe on D-Day, and the settlement would be determined in substantial part by the nuclear forces available to both sides.

This would seem to me to be the essence of a defensive doctrine. The military organization designed itself around the task of protecting the least offensive elements of the Soviet nuclear triad (Soviet subs targeted cities rather than nuclear installations, which in deterrence theory was considered defensive). Defensive doctrines, according to some political science, ought to decrease international tension and alleviate the security dilemma (the idea that increasing our security reduces that of others). Interestingly enough, however, as US naval officers and theorists came to accept that Soviet intentions weren’t primarily interdictory, they responded with proposals for an offensive doctrine, designed to assault Soviet home areas and SSBN patrol areas. This development is substantially covered by John Hattendorf in The Evolution of the US Navy’s Maritime Doctrine, 1977-1986, which is a compilation and reformulation of classified analysis from the 1980s.

Nevertheless, Bateman is more or less correct about the power projection aspect of Soviet naval power. The Soviet Navy was never really designed to carry out expeditionary operations, or really any warfare operations outside of Soviet home areas. On the other hand, naval power is always, to some extent, fungible. Although in wartime the Soviet Navy was expected to stay home, in peacetime it patrolled widely, carrying out “show the flag” and other political operations all over the world. As such, the dispatch of Pyotr Velikiy and its task force to Venezuela isn’t really such a reach in terms of Soviet naval practice. The intent of the mission now, as in the past, is to send a political message to Venezuela and to the United States. The only real change is that what’s left of the Soviet Navy has substantially lost any capability beyond the political; the remnant is a force that was inadequate to the challenge of the USN in 1980, and is exceptionally inadequate to that challenge now. The Russian Navy is good for two things; sending political messages, and supporting belligerence against Russia’s neighbors. Neither of these is trivial, but nor are they earthshattering.

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iPhone or Blackberry?

[ 0 ] September 20, 2008 |


My contract with Verizon is up. I want a phone able to do e-mail and internet. Do I go with Cingular and the iPhone2? Stick with Verizon — whose phone service I like! — and get a Blackberry? Is there some other smartphone I should be looking at?

During his five years in the Hanoi Hilton, John McCain didn’t have the luxury of choosing between the iPhone and the Blackberry. And then he invented the latter.

Ezra should remember that.

Also, since I’m in the exact same situation (as Ezra, not John McCain) I’m also wondering what people think re: comparison between the two devices. Thoughts?

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[ 5 ] September 19, 2008 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Nelson and Starbuck

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Evolution of the Cylon

[ 18 ] September 19, 2008 |

Andrew Probert, designer of the Cylons for the first Battlestar Galactica series:

“Originally the Galactica motion picture (for overseas distribution) was filmed with dialog explaining that the Cylons were creatures,” Probert confirmed. “They were blind and created helmet scanners to see. That explains the helmets. Then, since their suits could also allow them to survive in space, I provided a back-mounted support system. Also, after several viewings of Star Wars, I didn’t want these bad guys dropping their weapons like the Stormtroopers did, so I included an arm-mounted weapon on their right wristband. The giant hockey gloves that were added made those pretty useless and the Cylons ended up carrying (and dropping) guns after all.”

“The living Cylons were changed to robots for the TV series because of an hourly body-count limitation for prime-time television. There was, however, no limit to how many robots could be ‘killed’ per hour so they became robots and dialog was revised to explain it all.”

Today, with the growing strength of the Robot Lobby in Hollywood and in Congress, the logic would probably be reversed. Soon, I doubt that we’ll be able to kill any robots on screen without facing charges of anti-robot bias.

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False Equivalences

[ 16 ] September 19, 2008 |

As one would expect, Stuart Taylor’s article about the campaigns is a masterpiece of false equivalence, using such tricks as balancing lies and smears from John McCain’s campaign with stupid articles in the New York Times that the Obama campaign had nothing to do with. He also somehow gets through an article about campaign lies without mentioning McCain and Palin’s constantly repeated howlers about the “bridge to nowhere.” He approvingly cites Byron York’s defense of the McCain campaign’s claim that Obama “wanted to teach kindergartners about sex” while failing to notice that the “age-appropriate” proviso completely destroys York’s argument. But I especially enjoyed this one:

McCain also deserves criticism for the ugly culture-warring epitomized at the Republican convention by Rudy Giuliani’s keynote speech and sneers about Obama’s stint as a community organizer. But who started the culture-warring? Democratic talking heads and pols–although not Obama–heaped disdain on Palin’s social class, religion, and anti-abortion values from the moment that McCain plucked her from obscurity.

First of all, it’s a big country so I don’t want to say that there are no isolated examples of “Democratic talking heads and pols” disparaging Palin’s “social class” or “religion,” but Taylor really needs to provide evidence that such attacks were made with any frequency by people with any influence. Rather, this strawman has is used by Republican hacks precisely to insulate Palin from any substantive criticism. Which brings us to the next point — Taylor also arguing that it’s not legitimate to criticize Palin’s “anti-abortion values.” Palin is in favor of using state coercion to force women to carry pregnancies to term, and as president would have the power to appoint judges who would allow state governments and the federal government to do that. Since when is it beyond the bounds of acceptable discourse to discuss these views?

And, of course, there’s an even more risible argument — the idea that “culture war” attacks started with unamed attacks on poor Sarah Palin. Yes, no Republican operative or McCain campaign flack would ever dream of attacking Obama as an arugula-eating urban elitist who can’t bowl if some blog commenter somewhere hadn’t said something dumb about Palin’s family.

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An Argument About Nothing

[ 16 ] September 19, 2008 |

On the issue of the citation of foreign law in United States Supreme Court opinions, I think this is the key passage in Adam Liptak’s recent article:

The controversy over the citation of foreign law in American courts is freighted with misconceptions. One is that the practice is somehow new or unusual. The other is that to cite such a decision is to be bound by it.

Even conservative scholars acknowledge that American judges have long cited decisions by foreign courts in their rulings. “The Supreme Court has been doing it for basically all of our history, and with some degree of gusto,” said Steven G. Calabresi, a law professor at Northwestern and a founder of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group. Professor Calabresi said he generally opposed the citation of foreign law in constitutional cases.

Judicial citation or discussion of a foreign ruling does not, moreover, convert it into binding precedent.

So, first of all, the practice has been a banal one going back to at least the Marshall Court. And even more importantly — as even several of the conservatives working themselves into a foaming-at-the-mouth outrage about this banal practice seem to concede in the course of the article — the idea that references to foreign legal precedents actually affect Supreme Court holdings in any significant way is exceptionally implausible. Nobody’s vote in Roper would have changed if there was a norm against referring to the law in other nations. So who cares? In a nice article unfortunately not available for free online, Mark Tushnet correctly notes that this silly controversy is about the culture wars, not about law.

I think it’s also worth addressing this:

At their confirmation hearings, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. indicated that they were opposed to the citation of foreign law in constitutional cases. Chief Justice Roberts noted that foreign judges were not accountable to the American people and said that allowing the use of foreign precedent expanded judicial discretion.

“Foreign law, you can find anything you want,” Chief Justice Roberts said. “Looking at foreign law for support is like looking out over a crowd and picking out your friends.”

This argument (borrowed from Scalia) has the obvious problem that it’s equally applicable to any data source or method of interpretation. Certainly, it’s true of originalism: between the multiplicity of historical sources and the ability to define constitutional principles at different levels of abstraction a judge can virtually always identify friends which confirm her ex ante preferences, and in those rare occasions where this isn’t possible Scalia et al. will just ignore the evidence anyway. Scalia’s agrument that courts shouldn’t refer to legislative history has the same problems. Of course, legislative history can be misleading, but since this is true of any source of evidence it’s not clear why it’s useful to rely on a smaller number of potentially misleading sources of evidence.

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Impetus For An Amendment?

[ 108 ] September 19, 2008 |

Yglesias, commenting on the stupid rule for resolving electoral college ties, notes that “there’s no good reason to wait until after something stupid happens to pass a constitutional amendment to change it.” This is true, but alas probably unrealistic. What I wonder is whether a scenario in which Obama loses the popular vote but wins the electoral college would actually create enough support for an amendment giving the U.S. an electoral system consistent with a 21st century democracy. It’s not as if it favors small states that much, but who knows. There is some precedent for amendments correcting the most obvious screw-ups in the system after they’re revealed, but they don’t clearly benefit the interests of a minority of states the way the electoral college does.

The bigger problem here, of course, is the onerous supermajority amendment requirements in Article V. In general, this hasn’t been as big an issue as it might because constitutional norms have evolved in ways that constitute de facto amendments. And in a sense the electoral college is no exception; starting 1800 a norm that the president should be popularly elected has been in effect, and make the electoral college replicate a democratic vote as closely as possible. But, as has been demonstrated in this decade these norms can’t fully close the gap, and the institution really ought to be abolished by constitutional amendment. Barring elections in close sucession in which a candidate from each party gets screwed, though, I don’t see it happening.

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Johnny, show the folks at home what they’ve won

[ 0 ] September 19, 2008 |

Trillions of dollars in distressed mortgages and their associated financial products!

The Manchester United Association Football team!

But wait, there’s more . . . take a look at this handy vegetable steamer!

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Less Than Credible Witnesses

[ 6 ] September 19, 2008 |

Cole has the scoop on some of the soldiers who had engaged in self-righteous attacks on Scott Beauchamp. Apparently, the winger talking point that if a practice wasn’t consistent with SOP it therefore couldn’t have happened is even dumber than it was on its face, which I frankly didn’t think was possible…

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There’s A Lot of Incomptence There

[ 0 ] September 19, 2008 |

Dave Cameron asserts that the Bedard-for-pretty-much-every-decent-prospect-the-Mariners-have-recently-produced deal is “[i]n terms of results…easily the worst trade in franchise history.” As stated, I think this is clearly wrong. Jones had a pretty good year for his age and position, but there’s no way that in terms of results this trade has remotely approached Swift/Jackson/Burba for Mitchell or Slocumb for Varitek/Lowe in terms of negative value. Over time, Bavasi’s folly may prove even worse, but as of now to declare such an outcome is premature. Bavasi and his superiors are remarkably inept, but Woody Woodward really shot a lot of bricks in his own right.

If the argument is about the logic of the trade at the time, of course, the argument is more tenable.

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