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Beliefs Against Even Self-Interest

[ 21 ] June 20, 2010 |

Given the glaring factual howlers (which, needless to say. err on the Pain Caucus side the paper’s editors have long favored), none of the claims in this WaPo story can be taken at face value.   And yet, unlike the statements about public opinion, I find the assertions that the deficit is “resonating more powerfully in Congress” than unempoyment or economic growth depressingly plausible.    And especially Democratic members of Congress who believe this are complete idiots.    Not only are such priorities bad for the country, they are bad for their own political futures.    If they think that massive unemployment can constitute a favorable political context as long as there’s some perception of deficit control, they deserve to lose.


And Dick Cheney’s black heart continues to gurgle

[ 7 ] June 19, 2010 |

Manute Bol, unquestionably one of the most decent, humane people to have lived in the past half century, passed away today from complications of a horrific illness that he acquired while doing human rights work in Sudan. Sam Mellinger wrote a nice piece about him last month, when it looked as if he were going to be released from the hospital. Sad news.

Group Dynamics

[ 14 ] June 19, 2010 |

First, it was a goal.  See here, for example; who is fouling whom?

Clear in the picture, the world’s greatest referee[*] has a clear view of the action as an on side Edu scores the third goal for the US.  h/t Mark Devlin for the link.

I have heard one plausible counter argument to this event, (see also here), but one that runs counter to normal practice: the ref saw this and decided to halt play immediately rather than allow the play to run its course.  Of course, how this evolved into a Slovenian free kick is still anybody’s guess.

[*] at least until another ref makes an equally egregious blunder in the next week or so, and one will.

But that was yesterday.  Thanks to England being, well, England against Algeria, the fate of the US MNT is still in its own hands.  Beat Algeria, and they’re through, period.  It’s turned out to be an interesting group — certainly not the “EASY” group that The Sun so typically predicted when it was drawn.  Going into the final two matches on Wednesday, every side can still qualify.  If Algeria beat the United States, and England do no better than a turgid draw against Slovenia, then it’s Slovenia and Algeria who qualify out of the group.

The NYT — especially in the comments — has a good breakdown of the tie-breaking rules here.  The only way it gets technical from an American perspective is if both the US and England draw: that would result in a table of Slovenia 5, US 3, England 3, Algeria 2.  Then it comes down to goal differential, but by definition at three draws apiece, both England and the US would be level on that criterion.  Then it’s goals scored.  Here the US currently have a two goal advantage.  If England draw 2-2 while the US draw 0-0, (or 5-5 and 3-3, etc.) then it comes down to flipping a coin.

I have no idea how England will fare against Slovenia.  I’ve been watching England from this side of the Atlantic for ten years now, I’ve long since given up on predicting just which England side will turn up.  As for the US, I have to think we will beat Algeria.  They’re a solid side, well organized, but in both group matches they have played a very contained, defensive game — they’ve yet to score a goal.  They have to win to progress, while for the US, a draw could suffice (if England lose, or if England draw while scoring fewer goals in the three games than the US).  The US will not be playing for a draw, because an England victory requires a US victory as well, and the matches are simultaneous, but Algeria will have to go forward and stretch it out a bit, which plays into the strengths of the US side.  Algeria will likely score, the US defense has not been stellar this tournament (when is it ever?) but the US should score a couple, minimum.

2-1 to the USA.

Regardless, this group hasn’t played out in quite the way many of us thought it would.

The Bear is Always Resurgent, Even When He’s Napping

[ 10 ] June 19, 2010 |

An alternative title to this article might have been “Russia’s arms industry a pathetic shambles.”

Russia is to embark on the biggest overseas arms shopping spree in its modern history with up to £8 billion earmarked for state-of-the art foreign military hardware, it has been claimed.

The forecast, made in a report from an influential military think tank close to the Russian Defence Ministry, came as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev launched what the Kremlin said was the world’s quietest attack submarine. “Most great powers heavily invest in the newest offensive and defensive systems,” he said at a shipyard ceremony in northern Russia on Tuesday. “We should do the same.”

The report, from the Moscow-based Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, said Russia was looking to spend up to £8 billion in the next five or six years on foreign military purchases. The unprecedented overseas shopping spree has been made possible after the Kremlin abandoned its traditional “buy Russian” policy with defence chiefs conceding that domestic arms manufacturers are not always able to compete with their Western rivals on quality…

The news is likely to alarm Georgia against whom Russia fought a short sharp war in 2008. It will also unnerve Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia who remain wary of their former imperial master despite being safely inside NATO.

Yasen, the “world’s quietest attack sub” was laid down in 1993. The second sub in the class is expected to be ready for delivery in 2016. To make the comparison with the US a touch more explicit, by the time Yasen enters service the United States will have built eight Virginia SSNs, a class which was largely designed after Yasen was laid down. Under the optimistic assumption that the second Yasen actually enters service in 2016, the United States will have thirteen Virginias to two Yasens.

None of this should surprise anyone who has followed the decline of the Russian defense industry. In response to the South Ossetia War and the new START Treaty, however, wingnuts have stepped up their dire rhetoric about the threat of a resurgent Russia, operating hundreds of PAK-FAs that will sweep our measly 187 F-22s from the sky, etc. The fact remains, however, that the Russian defense industry is a disaster, and that Russia has not demonstrated a capability since the end of the Cold War to build any kind of sophisticated defense equipment in any significant numbers. Russia is simply not a peer competitor to the United States, and given the fact that the Russian economy is 9% the size of the US, it won’t be anytime soon.

Deep Thought

[ 3 ] June 18, 2010 |

I strongly endorse Joe Girardi’s “using Chan Ho Park in high-leverage situations” strategy…

Friday Puppy Blogging

[ 9 ] June 18, 2010 |

Apparently I’ve been remiss in posting puppy pictures for the past few months. Some of you might remember this little guy, Colbert (aka ‘Bert…):

Actually not so little now:


[ 8 ] June 18, 2010 |

Jose Saramago has passed.  I discovered Saramago around the turn of the century, but have somehow found time to read almost the entirety of his English translated work.  My favorites:

  1. All the Names
  2. The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis
  3. The History of the Siege of Lisbon
  4. Blindness
  5. The Cave

The Arar Disgrace

[ 3 ] June 18, 2010 |

The Supreme Court, to put it mildly, did not cover itself in glory this week when it refused to hear Maher Arar’s appeal.    (This is not to say that I necessarily blame the Court’s  four three more liberal members + Kennedy (?)* for not voting to grant cert: a Supreme Court decision affirming the executive’s ability to arbitrarily serve up innocent people for torture would be even worse than refusing to hear the case, and they would have good reason to believe that this would be the most likely outcome.)    But it should be noted that while this is a case where the Court should intervene, this doesn’t relieve the relevant public officials of responsibility.   The primary responsibility for this disgrace rests, of course, with the Bush administration, which ordered the arbitrary torture of an innocent man.

But by refusing to admit responsibility and by actively opposing Arar his day in Court, the Obama administration must now be counted accessories after the fact, and this just isn’t acceptable.    And it’s not isolated; Obama’s record on these issues continues to be very poor, and there’s no way of defending it.

*See comments.

The Fifth Amendment Does Not Enact Mr. William Jacobson’s Pro-Corporate Polluter Policy Preferences

[ 18 ] June 18, 2010 |

William Jacobson provides us with the latest example of a Republican arguing that various random provisions of the Constitution should be read as nullifying the results of the 2008 elections and providing free-floating protection against policies unfavorable to powerful Republican interests:

Under what legal authority did the “rule of law” President make the decision as to how much a private entity would pay and then “inform” the private party that it must obey or face the harsh retribution of the federal government? […] Respect for the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment is what separates us from North Korea or Venezuela (emphasis mine).

Leaving aside the sick comedy of being lectured by defenders of Bybee and Yoo about the importance of the due process of law and the dangers of arbitrary executive power, Jacobson’s post is necessarily rather short on explanations of why the actual policy (as opposed to the one he imagines) in question violates the Fifth Amendment. In particular, he seems to have missed some key terms from this story, including “BP will create,” “escrow,” and “set aside.” BP will not be denied its day in court; it has simply agreed to set aside money to pay the judgments that are overwhelmingly likely to be found against it. The agreement voluntarily entered into by BP ensures that it can’t escape legal judgments by just paying out all of its current profits as dividends and then claiming to be broke.

At any rate, given that 1)BP agreed to the fund, and 2)it will be afforded the full protections of due process of law as it faces damage suits for destroying the Gulf, how this agreement violates the Fifth Amendment is rather mysterious. What about the text forbids this? What’s the case law? I’m guessing that we’re not going to hear answers to these questions.

A Ruse By Any Other Name…

[ 25 ] June 17, 2010 |

Lt. Gen. Michael Oates is worried that excessive adherence to war law might be undermining military effectiveness in Afghanistan:

Commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan have been reluctant to launch more secret operations because of an excess of caution about violating military rules and international law, a top Army officer says.

The tentative approach to “deception operations” has cost the U.S. military opportunities to weaken the enemy without firing a shot, said Army Lt. Gen. Michael Oates, commander of the Pentagon’s task force to counter improvised explosive devices.

The anti-IED task force has advocated dismantling insurgent networks as an effective way to combat improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.

Earlier this year, Marines in Afghanistan’s Helmand province read announcements over a loudspeaker to trick insurgents into thinking their specially modified roadside bombs couldn’t be found by U.S. minesweepers.

As a result, the insurgents didn’t bother hiding them well and Marines were able to easily find the bombs, said Marine Maj. Don Caporale, an information operations officer.

“We started finding all kinds of mines with this (modification), which, of course, was a complete hoax,” Caporale said.

Still, Oates said in an interview, “there’s a Gordian knot of law, regulation, procedure and risk aversion. We have got to do some due diligence on this problem.”

He said the main problem is a fear of violating regulations that govern when and how the military can use deception. “Mostly it is a risk aversion, in my opinion,” Oates said in an e-mail.

Such regulations and international treaties include provisions forbidding the faking of surrender to draw out an enemy and then kill them, according to the Pentagon’s guidelines on military deception.

Oates’ comments reflect a broader concern among commanders that the U.S. military is too cautious when it comes to deception.

Some might say it’s a sign of a well-disciplined military that it bends over backward to follow war law even when it’s hard. Only this wouldn’t be a case of following war law, because the Geneva Conventions actually don’t outlaw deception at all. Indeed, both the Hague and Geneva treaties acknowledge that ruses – efforts to deceive the enemy on points of fact – are an indispensable part of warfare and are permissible.

Perfidy is different. In those cases – such as feigning surrender only to gain a lethal advantage over one’s enemy – the protections of the laws themselves, and the code of conduct among warriors on which they depend, are used as a weapon. These acts are outlawed because they undermine war law itself.

None of the tactics described in the USA Today report on Afghanistan would fall into that category. So what are US troops so worried about?

Perhaps this is a case where the military has shot itself in the foot by failing to train GIs sufficiently in LOAC basics – much less make communicating actual treaty obligations to the public and media a cornerstone of its PR strategy.

All apologies

[ 4 ] June 17, 2010 |

Joe Barton’s apology to BP (which he retracted after being told by the GOP leadership that if he didn’t he would lose his committee position) indicates the extent to which politicians in states like Texas are in pocket of the oil industry. Someone like Barton is so completely bought and paid for that he can’t even remember that there’s an actual limit to the willingness of at least the national GOP to serve the interests of Big Oil (apparently that limit is reached when a foreign corporation’s negligence threatens to destroy the entire Gulf of Mexico).

The Understaffed NLRB Mess Gets Worse

[ 7 ] June 17, 2010 |

I’m very ambivalent about the Supreme Court’s ruling today that the NLRB did not have the statutory authority to act with only two members. But, to be honest, my instinct is to be sympathetic to the majority opinion.

Judicial nominations, which involve lifetime appointments to an independent branch, are a more complex question. But for executive branch appointments, the Senate should have a very limited timeframe to take an up-or-down straight majority vote. And until then, presidents should start making very liberal use of the recess appointment power. The current set of rules and norms is just nutty.