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When is a “Great Gift to the Country” Not?

[ 6 ] April 17, 2010 |

Apparently, when it’s the public release of the papers of a Nixon appointee to the Supreme Court.  To wit:

For example, while Judge Garland has not often dealt with social issues, at a 2005 book event, he reportedly described the release of the papers of the late Justice Harry Blackmun — the author of the 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision — as a “great gift to the country.”

Phillip Jauregui, the president of the conservative Judicial Action Group, said that remark sent an alarming signal to social conservatives. “The fact that he would use those words to describe Harry Blackmun’s papers is cause for concern,” he said.

Two quick thoughts:

1. Oh, for fuck’s sake.
2. If this is the best that they have on Merrick Garland, they’re clutching. And we probably don’t want the guy anyway.

I’ll leave the latest Court appointment to my more learned colleagues here, but if the wingnuts are resorting to an argument that is best summed up as “don’t release the papers of this justice, but burn ’em instead!” it’s safe to assume that Scott is spot on. Even if Obama appointed the exhumed corpse of William Rehnquist, the Republicans and their pals would paint him as ‘outside the mainstream’ (where they would be, for once, correct).

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Looks Like an External Explosion

[ 7 ] April 17, 2010 |

Cheonan was likely sunk by a mine or torpedo. I would be betting very heavily on “torpedo” at this point; no mine from the first Korean War has been discovered since 1986, and a new mine doesn’t make a lot of sense (a single mine would have to be fantastically lucky, and no other mines appear to have been found).

There are a few ways to read this. The first, unproblematic story that we’ll probably get in the Western media is about unprovoked North Korean aggression resulting in the deaths of dozens of South Korean sailors. There’s something to this, but it isn’t quite right; the area in which Cheonan was sunk is within UN-demarcated South Korean waters, but the North Koreans have never respected the UN drawn line, and the UN was, after all, one of the belligerents in the original conflict. Moreover, this area has seen a number of skirmishes between North and South Korean naval forces over the past decade, including several within the last year. The second story, thus, will be of a steadily escalating conflict in which the North Koreans just decided to significantly up the ante. Targeting a South Korean patrol boat with a torpedo is rather different than the exchanges of light gunfire that have taken place before; it indicates the intent to destroy the South Korean ship, likely with large loss of life. There’s also a story-within-a-story here about the North Korean decision making process. It’s simply not the case that the order to escalate MUST have come from Kim Jong Il, although it’s certainly POSSIBLE that it came from the top.

The South Koreans are pursuing this very cautiously, and the Americans have been following the South Korean lead. Indeed, I’m guessing that, official determination or no, it was probably obvious from quick visual inspection whether a mine, torpedo, or internal explosion caused the sinking. This caution, I think, effectively rules out a “Gulf of Tonkin” scenario. Here’s my question; what ought the South Korean reaction be? There’s a wide spectrum of bad behavior that the North could engage in, and isn’t at the edge of that spectrum; the North didn’t, for example, torpedo Dokdo in the midst of humanitarian operations in international waters. At the same time, while I’m skeptical of “message sending,” indicating that North Korea is allowed to sink South Korean ships in internationally recognized South Korean waters seems problematic.

The Party of Less Thinkin’ and More Whinin’

[ 10 ] April 17, 2010 |

You can’t get a much better example of whining being central to one’s political identity than John Nolte’s alleged decade-long boycott of TV because of the possibility that someone might make a mild joke about an unpopular politician on his party’s side. I suppose this is also a subset of the “epistemic closure” phenomenon…

New Blog on the Block

[ 3 ] April 16, 2010 |

Check out Pileus blog. It’s written by several people that I’m unlikely to agree with about much, but who I trust to be interesting and occasionally entertaining.

Archive and Forwarding Issues

[ 1 ] April 16, 2010 |

As you may have noticed, we have been unable to migrate our older archives to the new site. Accordingly, I have restored the old site as an archive, and ended automatic forwarding to the new site. This should not affect RSS feed subscribers (let me know if it does). This means that we now once again have access to our old archives, but it also means that you will no longer be automatically forwarded from the old URL to the new URL. Thus, we ask that you adjust your links and bookmarks to reflect the new configuration.

Thank you again for your patience.

More on America’s flat tax structure

[ 13 ] April 16, 2010 |

Citizens for Tax Justice has a breakdown of the effective tax rate paid by various income groups, taking all federal and state taxes into account. Some highlights:

(1) Outside the poorest 20% (average cash income $12,400) every other subgroup in the survey pays essentially a flat tax. For instance, those averaging 66K a year pay 28.5% of their income in taxes, while those averaging $1.3 million a year pay 30.8%

(2) This means, of course, that the percentage of taxes collected very closely reflects the percentage of income received by each group. For instance the fourth 20% of income earners (60th-79th percentile of income) received 18.9% of the total income of the U.S. population, and paid 18.9% of the total taxes.

(3) The bottom 99% of income earners paid an effective tax rate of 28.2%, in comparison to an overall national tax rate of 28.6%.

(4) If the data had been broken down into smaller increments, we would see that the super-rich actually pay considerably less than the national average effective tax rate. The 400 richest taxpayers in America in 2007 paid 16.7% in federal taxes, as compared to 18.0% for all taxpayers in 2009. In other words at the very top end the system is actually regressive.

Friday Blog Maintenance/Daddy/Cat Blogging

[ 7 ] April 16, 2010 |

Three things:

1. Yes, the download times and the load errors are extremely troubling and deeply irritating. Be assured that we’re as bothered as you (more so, even!) and that we’re working hard on solving the problems.

2. I’ve received a number of messages indicating displeasure with the white background. As soon as the new header is finished, we’ll be adjusting the colors.

3. Friday Daddy and Cat Blogging!

Come Back Right Brothers, All Is Forigven

[ 18 ] April 16, 2010 |

One might think that the contest for the worst crime against aesthetics to have been committed in the name of of the teabaggers has been definitively ended by Victoria Jackson (clearer audio here for any masochists out there.) And yet, I’m not sure — while it certainly doesn’t qualify as “so bad it’s good,” there is something so baldly nutty about the thing as to make it 1 part endearing to 499 parts appalling. So Kevin is onto something by finding something even worse from washed-up* never-was lite-country hack Ray Stevens. And, yet, I’m afraid I’m going to have to say that Kevin has the right church but the wrong pew; while its awfulness is beyond debate, and its ressentiment is a good example of Perlstein’s point, “Caribou Barbie” at least has some measure of internal coherence. So I have to declare this the true exemplar of teh suck:

What makes it such a definitive tea party anthem, in addition to the abject making-Weird-Al-look-like-mid-70s-Richard-Pryor horribleness, is that his only specific criticism of the “tax and spend special interest scam” that is health care reform is that he believes that the gubmit should be keeping its grubby paws off of his taxpayer-funded healthcare. Hence, it’s definitive!

*I was going to say that this was a career nadir, but in fairness his teabagger stuff has to be considered an improvement over “Everything is Beautiful” and “The Streak.” Given this rate of improvement, another few centuries and he might write something listenable and/or funny.

Moneyball and Force Structure

[ 0 ] April 16, 2010 |

Over at ID, I respond to some noodlings on baseball and naval force structure.

Soviet Era Query

[ 17 ] April 15, 2010 |

I’m in the midst of Charles Tripp’s excellent A History of Iraq, and I’m curious about the Russian interest in Persian Gulf stability during the war. The Soviets played footsie with the Iranians in the wake of the Revolution, but by 1982 sided decisively with Iraq. By 1988, the Soviets were joining the US in flagging Kuwaiti oil tankers to immunize them from Iranian attack. On the one hand, I can certainly understand Russian preference for Iraq. Iraq was ideologically much more congenial to the USSR than was Iran, and revolutionary Islam presented a substantial threat to Soviet operations in Afghanistan and in the Islamics Republics. However, I think it’s been established pretty decisively that low oil prices in the 1980s were a disaster for the USSR. Shouldn’t the USSR have had an interest in seeing the conflict become as destructive and wide ranging as possible, in order to drive up oil prices? Does anyone have a sense of whether the Soviet leadership thought about this question?

More on the Mistrals

[ 10 ] April 15, 2010 |

Michael Cecire responds to my article about the sale of four Mistral class amphibious assault ships to Russia, but unfortunately misses most of the point:

Certainly, there is no question that the Russian navy has qualitatively declined since the demise of the Soviet Union. And to be sure, even the comparatively advanced Mistrals do little to address the imminent shortfall in Russian surface warfare assets, such as cruisers, destroyers, frigates and corvettes. From this perspective, the Mistral does little to shift the balance of power.

But the question remains, Why would Russia seek to acquire amphibious vessels instead of filling the other glaring gaps in its naval forces? The answer is not just a function of rehabilitating the Russian shipbuilding industry or engaging in far-flung humanitarian operations, but rather lies in Russia’s great-power aspirations: Moscow cannot hope to reacquire its long-sought return to global power without first securing dominance throughout the Eurasian space, and particularly in its so-called “near abroad.”

Cecire gets two points wrong. First, he misinterprets the relevance of the Mistrals to Russia’s long term naval plan, and more generally of amphibs to the modern naval force construction. The Mistrals aren’t simply part of a Russian reconstruction of Soviet naval power; they are elements of a new configuration of naval power, a configuration that has become very common across the international system. Amphibs, as I have argued elsewhere, are the new dreadnought; they are the new currency by which naval power is measured. Russia, like New Zealand, South Korea, Turkey, Malaysia, and Italy, wants the ability to project power and influence in multilateral operations, and amphibious warships buy that capacity.

The second and more important point is that Russia does not need amphibs in order to intimidate Georgia. Let’s be as clear about this as possible: The single factor that prevented a Russian conquest of Georgia and a consequent deposition of Saakashvili’s regime was Russian forbearance. Georgian military capability proved utterly incapable of resisting the Russian Army. There is no indication whatsoever that the Georgian military will be able to resist Russia more capably in the future. Indeed, Russian ownership of South Ossetia means that Georgia is geographically vulnerable to any concerted Russian land assault. Cecire argues that a Black Sea based Mistral would enable Russia to conquer Georgia in the winter months as well as the summer, but this is unconvincing; any scenario in which Russia could intervene in Georgia would require substantial land forces, and the Russian Army has significant, longstanding winter and mountain warfare capabilities. The only thing that could possibly change this equation is a NATO political commitment to Georgia’s defense, the wisdom of which I’ll decline to discuss at the moment. Four things that do not change the power equation between Russia and Georgia are the four Mistrals that Russia will be buying from France.

Militarily, the Mistrals are irrelevant to Russia’s relationship with Georgia or with any other part of its near abroad. The Mistrals might briefly hasten Russian conquest of Georgia or one of the Baltics, but the outcome of such a conflict would depend entirely upon factors other than the presence of the warships. Politically, the Mistrals are significant to Russia’s relationship with its near abroad insofar as they suggest that at least one major Western power is interested in pursuing good military and political relations with Russia. This isn’t irrelevant, but it does suggest that the focus on the ships themselves is misplaced. Moreover, the fact that the Mistrals aren’t important to the military relationship between Russia and Georgia doesn’t mean that the Russians are good people interested only in sunshine, flowers, and puppies. It means merely that these specific concerns about Russian behavior are overblown.

2010 NHL Playoff Preview

[ 8 ] April 15, 2010 |

With the Imperial Grand Poobah-Elect of the Liberal Elites Who Discuss Literatchoor Association having already weighed in, it makes me feel embarrassed that my more modest responsibilities have delayed by own picks by a day. But they’re now below the fold! I promise the picks are in good faith, and since I foolishly told Plumer that Phoenix and Colorado were “patsies” I don’t have much choice…
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