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Peter the Great on the Way!

[ 0 ] September 22, 2008 |

RFS Pyotr Velikiy and his (my understanding is that Russians use the masculine in reference to naval vessels, but if anyone has clarification, please don’t hesitate) entourage set sail for Venezuela yesterday. Let’s hope he doesn’t break down along the way, as he did in exercises near Iceland, and in the exercises that resulted in the loss of Kursk. In other news, Russia is stepping up aid offers to Bolivia.

On this latter, am I wrong in thinking of this as a clumsy Russian effort to threaten the backyard of the United States, just as the United States can threaten the backyard of Russia? I have a longer post on this subject in the works, but I guess that I just don’t quite understand this effort; the United States can do things in the near abroad that actually threaten Russia (rebuilding the Georgian military, pressing for Georgian/Ukranian entry to NATO, building bigger and better missile shields, etc.) while Russia can do things in Latin America that mildly annoy the United States. While the Russians may expect these mild annoyances to deter the United States (Vladimir Irvingovitch Kristol whispering in Putin’s ear, perhaps?), I find it much more likely that the US will overreact and respond with more threatening behavior towards Russia, including those things that the Russians are trying to deter us from doing. Thoughts?


[ 13 ] September 22, 2008 |

Like Sheehan, I didn’t see it coming, but Tampa making the playoffs in a brutally tough division is one of the most remarkable baseball stories of the decade. Congrats to ‘em, and it will be fun to see how they do in the payoffs. (I wish they hadn’t sent their 2007 bullpen to Queens, though.)

I hope Silver’s current electoral college predictions turn out as well as his projection of contention for Tampa…

Random Linkage

[ 27 ] September 22, 2008 |

Wandering the internets while watching the classy Yankee Stadium farewell…

  • Interesting NYT article on the Naval Academy. Most fascinating bit; Barack Obama beat USNA alumnus John McCain 13-7 in an unscientific but interesting poll of upperclassmen.
  • The first time I saw Red River, I wondered whether it was one of the best five Western’s I’d ever seen, or the best five movies. I’m thinking the former, but that’s still pretty impressive.
  • Charli thinks on piracy. A collaborator and myself are in the final throes of a long awaited paper on the subject…
  • More ruminations on the Hezbollah model for Georgia. My own thoughts are here.
  • I promise to retract my request for a yard sign if you stop yelling at me!
  • Hillary was in Lexington yesterday.
  • Damnit, the Old Man worked for the railroad most of his life; why couldn’t he get in on this disability scam?

Good Grief

[ 15 ] September 22, 2008 |

Daniel Inouye:

“I want my partner to go back to Washington,” Inouye said during a recent campaign appearance for [Ted] Stevens in Alaska. “Our parties don’t understand . . . but there are things that are more important than political considerations. And that’s friendship.”

Apparently, “Not Being a Jagoff” also ranks lower than friendship for Sen. Inouye, whose support for Stevens has recently included helping the fucker drag $215 million in earmarks to Alaska, where they will be warmly embraced by Gov. Not-a-Maverick when she returns to the state after the election.

From Louis XIV to George W. Bush

[ 0 ] September 21, 2008 |

Here, in just 32 words, is a summation of the state of American democracy in our time: “Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.”

Translation: Congress will take $700 billion from the pockets of ordinary Americans, and hand it to Henry Paulson. Paulson then has absolute, unreviewable authority to do with this money what he thinks best.

Many people have pointed out in the past day or so that this is bad. What no one seems to be raising is the question of whether it’s even legal. Of course after eight years of George W. L’etat, C’est Moi Bush, the question of whether the biggest financial rescue operation in American history is actually legal is considered nothing more than a bothersome technicality, if that, to be dealt with by the administration’s lawyers to the satisfaction of Very Serious People everywhere.

I’m not an expert in administrative law, but I would be curious to learn what in the Administrative Procedure Act authorizes Congress to delegate this kind of completely unreviewable spending power to an executive branch agency. [Update: An administrative law expert tells me that as a formal matter it won’t be difficult to work around the APA itself, but that “if the non-delegation doctrine still means anything at all then this proposal pushes it to or past the breaking point.” On non-delegation, see below].

Furthermore, even if Congress authorizes itself to do something like this, there’s another act, the Constitution of the United States, which requires something called “due process.” When it comes to making laws, due process has been interpreted by our courts to include the basic principle that while Congress can delegate substantial rulemaking authority to executive branch agencies, it can’t simply hand the executive a blank check and beg our leaders to spend the money wisely, while promising not to interfere in any way, and moreover barring the courts from inquiring into any aspect of the matter.

This legislation as written is the equivalent of taking the view that it’s legal for Congress to give the president an enormous army equipped with lots of shiny weapons and big beautiful bombs, while leaving it to his complete discretion to start wars against any country he believes might come to pose a threat to the United States at some point in the future.

And speaking of the Bush doctrine, when considering just how questionable all this is, let’s not forget there’s a good chance that the man who thought Sarah Palin was a good choice to succeed him as president will in a few months be appointing Paulson’s successor.

A further point: The legality of this sort of completely unregulated executive branch discretion isn’t merely a formal matter. One reason careful oversight is crucial in this situation is that the most basic question of whether this is a good proposal can’t even begin to be answered until Congress and the American people know what exactly the government is proposing to pay for all this bad debt.

In the legislation’s present form, we have absolutely no idea. Being asked to sign off on it is equivalent to being asked to buy a bunch of condemned properties on the condition that you’ll only find out later what you paid for them. On second thought, I guess that’s not actually a metaphor.


[ 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…

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.

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.

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?

[ 5 ] September 19, 2008 |

Friday Cat Blogging… Nelson and Starbuck

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.

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.