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Red state feminism

[ 25 ] September 9, 2008 |

There’s a lot of this kind of thing going around right now (shorter version: she can bring home the salmon and fry it up in a pan). Indeed it’s being claimed that “Palin’s supermom abilities provoke envy and anxiety in other women, especially other working mothers.”

Given that the GOP is currently marketing Palin as a more authentic brand of feminist than the old man-marriage-and-children-hating blue state variety, one of the many questions I’d like to see our enterprising press corps pursue is: Who is actually raising Sarah and Todd’s Palin’s children, and in particular their five-month old special needs infant? The Palins both appear to work full-time for income.

I suspect these are, at a much more muted yet still comparatively speaking extremely privileged level, the same sorts of special abilities that would, for example, allow John McCain to escape the ravages of a hurricane by moving into one of his other houses.

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Sea Based Ballistic Missile Defense

[ 14 ] September 9, 2008 |

Yglesias points out this report from the Center for American Progress on sea-based ballistic missile defense, in which Andrew Grotto and Rebecca Grant argue for continued funding of research and development into AEGIS based ballistic missile defense systems. I can’t really disagree with that conclusion, but I do think that they overstate their case; sea-based ballistic missile defense is nice on the margins, but except in a very few tactical situations, it is unlikely to change the course of any imaginable conflict.

On the plus side, sea-based ballistic missile defense avoids certain of the problems of land based systems. Land based systems (such as those being installed in Poland and the Czech Republic) carry with them significant political costs, and are vulnerable to political shifts in the host countries. In their current configuration, land based systems are also dependent on a certain constellation of threat. If, for example, we spend a tremendous amount of money building an anti-Iran system in Poland, then the Iranian government collapses and is replaced by a friendly regime the next day, we have wasted a lot of money (this assumes the entire point of the system isn’t to antagonize Russia, which may not be reasonable). A ship-borne missile system can just steam to wherever the threat is, be it near Taiwan, North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, or the target du jour.

Sea-based systems can also provide some protection against what may be the most significant threat that conventional armed ballistic missiles pose, which involves attacks on aircraft carriers and assault carriers. As I’ve suggested before, accurate, terminally guided ballistic missiles could give a US supercarrier a very bad day. Such missiles are beyond the capabilities of Iran or North Korea (for the time being) and possibly even of China and Russia in certain circumstances, but if the various problems can be worked out, they could be very threatening indeed. Carrier battle groups with BMD capable AEGIS ships would provide some (although not complete) protection against this kind of attack.

However, naval BMD doesn’t solve the basic problem of ballistic missile defense, which remains the disjuncture between expected costs and expected benefits. We’re familiar with the difficulties of defense against nuclear armed ballistic missiles; unless the BMD shield can be expected to operate at 100% effectiveness, the threat of nuclear attack will deter the United States from whatever action it would like to engage in. Put simply, a shield that’s 95% effective will result, in average, in one destroyed city per twenty missiles, and a fifty percent chance of a destroyed city per ten missiles (try it sometime with a 20-sided die). These are odds that no rational leader will accept, which means that we end up relying on our own nuclear deterrent, which puts us back at square one. Any adversary capable of putting nuclear weapons on missiles can still “hold us hostage” no matter how many AEGIS ships we have off its coast; indeed, if it’s really interested in holding us hostage, the adversary can come up with alternative means of delivering the weapons, such as by submarine.

But surely naval BMD could help reduce the threat of conventional missile attacks? Of course, but this threat is almost certainly overblown. Worst case scenario, China could launch a thousand missiles at Taiwan, and possibly do extensive damage to military and civilian facilities. Would this, in itself, bring about a Taiwanese surrender (replace Taiwan with Georgia if you prefer)? If it did, it would represent a remarkably ahistorical outcome. We know, not just from World War II but also from Rolling Thunder, Desert Storm, and Kosovo, that civilian populations are remarkably resilient to the threat of terror bombing, and that industrial economies do not collapse easily. Military targets, properly prepared and hardened, are also quite resilient to bombing (with the above noted exception for aircraft carriers). Thus, when Grotto and Grant write

Iran and North Korea’s missiles may not be highly accurate or heavily armed, but their effects would be dangerous nonetheless, terrorizing civilian and military populations and/or potentially disrupting U.S. military operations

I’m inclined to think “Really? How?” First, inaccurate and lightly armed missiles will not, in fact, pose a threat to US military operations. Iraqi Scuds killed a couple dozen US soldiers in the First Gulf War, but they had no effect whatsoever on military operations. The much vaunted Iraqi Scud assault on Israel resulted in more deaths from heart attacks than from blast. Ballistic missile attacks can, like any air assault, produce dislocation and chaos, but this effect is temporary, and largely unproductive in terms of costs and benefits (it costs more to buy and launch a missile that the damage you can expect the missile to inflict). We have been forced to learn, over and over again, that complex societies do not crumble under temporary, small scale air attack; they invariably adjust, and life goes on. Since ballistic missiles are a remarkably inefficient way of delivering conventional payloads (although sometimes the only way), I’m just not convinced that they pose a dire threat to US military operations or national security.

That said, it’s better to have x-1 missiles hit a target than x missiles. To the extent that developing ballistic missile defense capability for AEGIS ships can reduce the number of hostile missiles that will hit the United States, its military installations, and its allies, continuing development (and expanding deployment) of the system makes sense. We shouldn’t, however, fool ourselves into thinking that sea-based BMD is some kind of game changer, or that it prevents rogue states from “holding us hostage”.

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This Is Mavericky Fiscal Conservatism, My Friends

[ 8 ] September 9, 2008 |

The priorities of Sarah Palin:

  • An expensive sports complex made much more expensive because you’re too incompetent to ensure the city had the land rights — not burdensome.
  • Paying for rape kits for rape victims — burdensome.

If this is the “new face of feminism” I think I prefer the old one.

[Whoops–didn’t see that Dave beat me to it. But my small-town values make me strongly opposed to redundancy, my friends.]

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Surprisingly, Many American Voters Don’t Even Have Pocket Rockets

[ 5 ] September 9, 2008 |

An editor really needed to tell Gary Kamiya to go back to the drawing board with this one. But I suppose for a publication that publishes Camille Paglia this is unrealistic; indeed, since the piece didn’t relentlessly plug the author’s books and add a lot of deepthink Madonna references from the early 90s, they may even argue that it’s an improvement over their star columnist’s similar nonsense.

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Georgian Army=Hezbollah?

[ 0 ] September 9, 2008 |


A defense analyst I spoke with, who advises American ground forces, said to rebuild the Georgian military along conventional lines might be the wrong approach. Instead he suggested a different force model, that of Hezbollah. What Hezbollah did so effectively, as was shown in the 2006 Lebanon war, was combine modern weaponry with a distributed infantry force that fought in guerrilla fashion. Fighting as distributed networks, Hezbollah rarely presented an inviting target for Israeli air and artillery attack, but their well trained tactical units were able to swarm at the point of attack of Israeli armored incursions and hit the Israelis hard with precision anti-tank weaponry.

Equipped with top-shelf anti-armor systems, such as the U.S. Dragon and Javelin and the Russian-built RPG-29 and AT-14 Kornet, such a force would perhaps better be able to exploit Georgia’s mountainous and urbanized terrain against channelized Russian armored columns than a conventionally organized combat brigade, as Hezbollah did in south Lebanon. The lessons from the initial Russian incursion into Grozny in 1994 are instructive as well. Fighting in small tactical teams organized around close range anti-armor weapons, the Chechens savaged Russian tank columns.

Hezbollah managed the difficult trick of mounting a territorial defense without providing a target sufficiently concentrated to be vulnerable to ground and air attack. In principle, this would seem ideal for Georgia; the problem with a conventional organization is that any force concentration large enough to stop the Russians is valuable enough for the Russians to spend blood and treasure destroying it. A Hezbollah type organization (territorial defense combined with guerrilla tactics) also avoids the most serious problem with insurgent/guerrilla strategies, which is that they concede substantial control over territory to the enemy. To pursue a traditional guerrilla/insurgent strategy, Georgia would have to give up its state in order to defeat Russia in war, which in most cases won’t be a good trade.

But then there are some problems. Hezbollah didn’t come together overnight, and while it certainly received substantial assistance and training from outside parties, it developed its combat capacity through near continuous small scale engagement with the IDF. I’m not sure that Georgia is willing to pay the price necessary to developing that kind of combat efficiency. I’m also not sure who precisely is supposed to train the Georgians to become like Hezbollah. I certainly wouldn’t trust the US Army or the IDF with the task, even allowing that the latter has regular contact with Hezbollah. In order to become like Hezbollah in any meaningful sense, Georgians would probably have to at least observe how Hezbollah operates.

Moreover, normal states have conventional military organizations for a variety of reasons other than defense of territorial integrity. For one, it’s difficult to interact with other organizations if you don’t share a set of bedrock principles regarding military organization and the use of military force, and military-to-military linkages make up an increasingly significant percentage of all diplomatic contacts. For another, military organizations provide a state with prestige, both by the types of advanced weapons they possess, and by their ability to deploy abroad. Hezbollah doesn’t carry out peacekeeping missions, and would probably be bloody terrible at them if anyone asked it to. The Georgian Army, on the other hand, wants to be the kind of organization that can support multilateral operations in distant locales.

Given the friends and allies that Georgia has, I’m inclined to think that the high-tech, modern force route is the way to go. If the United States and Western Europe are willing to foot the bill, a relatively small but highly capable force could exact severe costs for any Russian aggression [to be clear, I’m not arguing that this is a good deal from the American point of view, just that if the Georgians could get the Americans to pay the bill, it’s a reasonable route]. The Russian advance, while competent, was almost tailor made for destruction by an advanced, RMA capable military organization. Without networking and with relatively primitive missiles, the Georgians still managed to put a dent in the Russian Air Force. With modern armor, air defense systems, and communications systems the Georgians could probably accomplish something similar to what a Hezbollah-style guerrilla organization could do, without paying the organizational costs.

Via Noah.

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If You Want to Get Techincal…

[ 46 ] September 9, 2008 |

Marc Ambinder says that a GOP ad “claims that Palin “stopped the Bridge to Nowhere,” which is technically true but functionally false.”

Let’s be clear. Palin’s repeated claims are not “technically” true, or “metaphorically” true or “spiritually” true or true in any sense at all. They’re unequivocal, bald-faced lies (although Ambinder’s phrasing obscures this fact.”)To review, Palin’s claim was: “I told Congress, ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’ on that Bridge to Nowhere.” But:

  • Congress ended the earmark for the bridge before Palin was governor; she had no authority to say “no” to anything.
  • At this time, Palin supported the bridge and criticized its opponents.

Her claim isn’t “technically” true; it’s 100% dishonest. And while the issue itself is trivial, given its centrality to the McCain campaign the lies certainly aren’t. As Matt says, perhaps “the electorate doesn’t seem to penalize” the McCain for these lies because pundits like Ambinder will fudge and obfuscate rather than calling McCain or Palin’s lies lies, while they were happy to call Al Gore a liar for things that weren’t lies or for obvious jokes or for things that he didn’t say at all.

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Small Government = Humiliating Rape Victims

[ 7 ] September 9, 2008 |

I give you Wasilla during “The Sarah Years.”

Ari asks the appropriate rhetorical question:

What is there to say about a politician who believes that government should be big enough to provide people with hockey rinks but small enough that citizens in their darkest hour must spring for the cost of investigating the crimes committed against them?

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The horse isn’t dead yet, which is why I continue to flog it

[ 6 ] September 8, 2008 |

Somehow, I’d forgotten about this one:

Stevens, like a generation of Alaskan politicians before him, has regularly used Alaska’s marginal strategic importance as a cover for political nest-feathering–which explains part of why a quarter of the $7.6 billion Alaska received from the federal government in 2002 alone went to defense spending. In 1986, the hawkish senator called in a favor from then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and had an Army division originally intended for fighting guerrillas in the tropics moved to Alaska instead. “Once they decided to satisfy Stevens, they invented a rationale and said that the Russians are coming to threaten the Aleutians,” a Defense Department official groused to a reporter at the time.

Of course, Alaska has always been a major artery for military aid; indeed, it owes its very statehood — a half-century of which we’ll be acknowledging next year — to the Cold War, which obviously rendered the place immediately useful. But to my knowledge — and I’ll have to look into this more when I get a chance — no state political leader has ever tried to score national foreign policy credentials based on the existence of US military facilities in Alaska, much less on the state’s proximity to the Soviet Union/Russia. Because, you know, it’s a transparently stupid idea. I’d be a lot more impressed if the McCain campaign would tell us how the President of Alaska has shielded us from the much more ominous Svalbardian peril.

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The Real Issue With MSNBC

[ 48 ] September 8, 2008 |

I think this is the key part of Greenwald’s post about Gregory replacing OberMatthews:

Finally, and perhaps most notably of all, Olbermann’s role as anchor somehow destroys the journalistic brand of both MSNBC and NBC, while Fox News continues to be deemed a legitimate news outlet by our political and media establishment. Fox does this despite (more accurately: due to) its employing Brit Hume as its main anchor — someone who is every bit as partisan and ideological as Keith Olbermannn is (at least), who regularly spews the nastiest and most vicious right-wing talking points, yet because he’s not a liberal, is deemed to be a legitimate news anchor.

The Washington Post’s Howie Kurtz — while repeatedly lamenting the ascent of Olbermann (and Maddow) as a threat to objective journalism — proclaims that “Hume is no partisan brawler” while Charlie Gibson gushes: “He has a wonderful style which makes you want to hear what Brit has to say, in an age when so many people are in your face.” The Associated Press recently declared that Fox News has never gone as far as MSNBC in producing partisan news coverage, asserting that “Olbermann’s popularity and evolving image as an idealogue (sic) has led NBC News to stretch traditional notions of journalistic objectivity” and that “Fox has never done that, perhaps mindful of the immediate controversy that would result.”

I don’t, in the abstract, object to replacing them, and indeed would never have given them the job in the first place. The unprepared, trivia-obsessed Matthews has no business anchoring anything. I don’t watch Olbermann; I accept the need for a liberal O’Reilly but I’m not interested in watching it, and he’s far from an ideal choice as anchor (as opposed to pundit.) The problem is the double standard, and the circumstances of their firing.

The other thing to note is that replacing people because they’re too biased and don’t meet Brian Williams’s journalistic standards is pretty farcical.

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A Question on Overstrech…

[ 26 ] September 7, 2008 |

Given that the Russian Navy is hopelessly outmatched by NATO in the Black Sea, what point is there to maneuvers off Venezuela?

…a source indicates to me that the task force in question will include RFS Pyotr Velikiy, Russia’s 27000 ton nuclear battlecruiser. Now that’s exciting. Back in 2004, an Admiral in the Russian Navy said that Velikiy could “explode at any moment”, which is mildly disconcerting for a nuclear powered warship. Let’s hope they’ve worked out the kinks…

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On the Day I Became a True Reds Fan…

[ 0 ] September 7, 2008 |

…Great American was filled with vermin. These particular vermin were wearing blue shirts, typically festooned with a red “C” and including some form of adolescent bear. Roughly 70% of the occupied seats of Great American sported these vermin, such that the crowd as a whole cheered lustily on behalf of the visiting Cubs, rather than the hometown Reds.

I can understand why the crowd at a Tampa Bay Rays home game cheers for the Yankees. There is substantial migration from New York to Florida, and these migrants retain, to a great degree, their New York identity. This hardly absolves them of the crime of Yankee fandom, but at least I can understand, if not excuse. I am utterly unwilling to believe, however, that there has been a considerable migration from the north side of Chicago to the greater Cincinnati area. This forces me to conclude, therefore, that these “Cubs fans” are in fact Cincinnati residents who have determined to cheer for the Cubs rather than the Reds. And herein lies the rub; why would one ever decide to cheer for the Cubs, who have for the last century been the consistently worst managed team in baseball, rather than the Reds, who have won five world championships since 1919?

The only answer I can come to is a certain form of moral depravity that fetishizes defeat, and that has nothing whatsoever to do with enthusiasm for the game of baseball. In short, Cubs fans are not baseball fans; rather, they are fans of defeat. This preference of defeat, as I have previously noted, leaves the prototypical Cubs fan bereft of emotional debit when the Cubs lose; whereas a typical sports fan feels “bad” when her team loses, defeat is expected by the morally depraved Cubs fan, and consequently exerts no emotional toll. Indeed, a Cubs World Series victory would produce cognitive dissonance that would probably be too great for Cubs fans to bear, resulting in attendance of no greater than 70 persons per game at Wrigley the following year.

And so on this day, I was forced to endure an untold number of arrogant, dickish Cubs fans who cheered as the Cubs marched to a 3-1 lead. And then the Reds dropped three on Kerry Wood in the bottom of the ninth, which left me deliriously happy. The Cubs fans surrounding expressed no noticeable reaction to the defeat.

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Paranoia runs deep

[ 28 ] September 7, 2008 |

Mjd makes an excellent point in the thread below that what the hard right really loves about Palin is that she drives “the Left” (this means people who believe in things like a mildly progressive income tax) nuts, which is something that McCain doesn’t do. And McCain doesn’t do it because everybody, including most especially the apocalyptic cultural warriors that make up so much of the GOP base, realizes that McCain just isn’t that into cultural conservatism in its more extreme forms — hence his long history of being derided as a RINO etc.

Oh they’ve been holding their tongues about him lately, but deep down inside they’ve never considered him A Friend of Ours, and with good reason. Now of course in a different way McCain is a sufficiently alarming character — although it’s clear he doesn’t buy that New Orleans was destroyed because of a gay pride parade, his foreign policy is basically Teddy Roosevelt on crank, which in a nuclear age ought to be enough to satisfy just about anyone’s apocalyptic itch.

But here’s the thing: if he wins, he’s almost certainly going to be dealing with solid Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. Plus his political instincts have always been somewhat bipartisan in the sort of way that makes David Broder & Co. swoon — he’s been a DC player for more than 25 years now, and it’s no coincidence that so many people in the “liberal” (cough) media have been in the tank for him for so long.

It’s easy to imagine how after a year or two of a McCain presidency, that part of the right that’s more prone to dip into the Book of Revelations and Guns and Ammo than the Weekly Standard and the National Review is going to be in a constant roiling fury. If only, many of them will think, Sarah Palin, a sanctified and righteous believer, could be president! Is she not a kind of Joan of Arc from the north country, sent to purify a fallen nation? If only there were some Instrument of God in our midst who could bring this about . . .

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