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Meaningful AL East/Wild Card Race

[ 10 ] August 9, 2010 |

R.I.P. Dustin Moseley wins the Kei Igawa memorial award as the replacement-level pitcher who looks like Pete Alexander in a crucial game against Boston. And yet — I may have more than this when I revisit my pre-season picks this week, but while the Red Sox offense was the biggest concern going into the year, as it turns out the biggest issue has been that Lackey and Beckett haven’t done the job.


Chinese ASBMs

[ 21 ] August 8, 2010 |

I’ve been getting a lot of e-mails asking for reaction to this story. For my own previous writings, see here. Information Dissemination has done a lot of work on this topic; see especially here, here, and here. For a good NWCR article on the subject by Andrew Erickson and David Yang, see here.

As for my thoughts:

First, yes, if the DF-21 anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) can be made to work it poses a very serious threat to USN carriers. The USN is very concerned about this, which is one reason it’s working so hard on ship-borne anti-ballistic missile (ABM) technology.   The USN is also working on other countermeasures, including strikes on DF-21 launch sites at the onset of war (potentially delivered from SSGNs), and electronic warfare. The latter is particularly important. A carrier-killing ASBM requires terminal guidance; it must revise its flight path after re-entering the atmosphere. From launch to strike, the flight of an ASBM can take fifteen or so minutes, at which time the carrier in question will have moved eight miles. The missile thus needs to be adjusted remotely (presumably from China) or needs to have the capacity to identify the carrier on its own. Both of these processes are subject to electronic disruption. At this point, we really haven’t the faintest idea what would happen if the Chinese launched a salvo of DF-21s (once they become available in sufficient numbers) at a US carrier battle group. Depending on reliability, some percentage would invariably go astray on their own. Some other percentage (and no one is quite sure how big) would be shot down by US escorts. EW would cause some to plunge harmlessly into the ocean. And finally, some might hit a carrier.

Second, it’s important to remember that Chinese carrier-killing capabilities are a system of systems, rather than any one particular weapon. In addition to ASBMs, the Chinese maintain a large submarine fleet, as well as air and surface launched cruise missile capabilities. In sufficient numbers, all of these can threaten to kill a carrier. In a shooting war the Chinese could use all of these systems, or graduate their use depending on political and military developments. Some of these are more easily countered than others, just as some pose greater costs to the Chinese than others. For example, surface-to-surface cruise missiles are great, but any ship launching one at a US carrier battle group will likely suffer destruction in short order. Similarly, both aircraft and submarines would face a high rate of attrition while making attacks on US carrier groups. ASBMs have obvious advantages over these other systems.

Third, just because the Chinese have ASBMs doesn’t mean that they’ll use them, even in a shooting war. The DF-21 will suffer from the same problem as the variety of global strike weapons that the Pentagon has considered over the years. It’s awesome to be able to kill a US carrier at range, but no one has any idea what will happen when the Chinese first let loose with a few salvos of DF-21s. Any MRBM launched could carry a nuclear warhead, targeted either at a carrier or some other target. The Chinese will have to count on very cool heads in Washington for the fifteen minutes between launch and impact. Launching at a US carrier represents an enormous risk, because it could start a decision-process that would bring full nuclear retaliation from the United States. That would be bad for the Chinese. That the Chinese probably lack secure second strike capability against the US makes things less stable, because the Americans might think that the Chinese were engaging in “use it or lose it” thinking, and so forth. It’s a bad scene, and the prospect of MRBM flying across the Pacific make it even twitchier. Best case scenario, you’d hope for some kind of hotline between Beijing and Washington that would specify what kinds of warheads were flying where, but even that poses problems.

Fourth, the point of developing this “system of systems” is not to use it. Rather, it’s to deter the US from going to war, and failing that to deter the USN from advance deploying its carrier battlegroups in times of war. Sinking a carrier could kill 6000 Americans in a few minutes, the prospect of which might be enough to make an American President reconsider intervention in a cross-Straits war. In case of intervention, the ASBMs and the other assorted systems would make the USN very leery about sailing its primary assets into danger. Aircraft carriers don’t simply represent national power, they ARE national power, and when you lose two or three you lose a large percentage of your ability to project power anywhere. Consequently, admirals tend to be very careful about the circumstances under which they risk their prize possessions. Prying the German and British capital ships out of their respective ports in World War I was like pulling teeth on a rabid walrus; the commanders were extremely reluctant to dispatch their fleets in any but the most advantageous circumstances.  The same is likely to be the case with US admirals in case of war with China.

Does this mean that the supercarrier is obsolete? While it depends on what you mean by the term, the answer is probably no. That the Chinese are willing to spend vast amounts of time and money figuring out how to kill US carriers indicates that they take CV capabilities seriously. Moreover, the number of countries with both the interest and technical capability to develop such a “system of systems” is probably limited to two for the foreseeable future, and there’s little indication that the Russians are working in such a direction. That said, if you’re looking for platforms capable of delivering ordnance in a cross-straits war and living to tell about it, the SSGN is probably a better bet. If you’re looking for a platform capable of the various “influence” missions that the USN performs, from disaster relief to low-intensity expeditionary warfare, the big flat deck amphibs can do a pretty good job.

Finally, the ASBM is essentially a sea denial/anti-access weapon, not a sea control weapon. The USN already has multiple ways of killing any PLAN ship it sees fit to sink. ASBMs do not magically grant the Chinese world dominance, or prevent the USN, the JMSDF, or any other navy from carrying out its various peacetime tasks. The only context in which the ASBMs would appear to have use is a war between the US and China over control of Taiwan. It’s difficult to imagine anything else of sufficient value the the Americans and Chinese might both consider worth fighting for. I am not, thus, convinced that the development of a DF-21 ASBM variant represents an event of world-historic import. Important for a particular facet of the US-China military relationship, yes. Harbinger of some fundamental shift in world military, political, and economic power, not so much.

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Prop H8 and 9CA

[ 9 ] August 8, 2010 |

Vikram Amar has a good piece about the recent holding that Propoistion 8 is unconstitutional and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The most important point, I think, is that if the 9th Circuit decides to reverse the Supreme Court will probably decline to hear the case. In addition to the more legalistic reasons cited by Amar, I’d add that neither of the Court’s distinguishable 4-vote blocs (charitably assuming that the Court’s four more liberal members would actually vote to uphold Walker’s opinion, and remembering that if you think that Roberts is anything but an orthodox conservative you are the sucker) could be confident enough in Kennedy’s vote to risk going all-in. On the other hand, I think if anything he understates the likelihood of an opinion upholding Walker’s ruling being reviewed by the Supreme Court. Not only would this create a right to same-sex marriage throughout the nine states of the ninth circuit but it would lead immediately to federal lawsuits in every other state where same-sex marriage is illegal. It’s inevitable that the Court would want to step in immediately, as in that scenario the 4 doctrinaire reactionaries on the Court would have no reason not to grant cert unless it was certain that Kennedy would vote to strike down Prop 8 (and there’s no way it would be certain.) Because of all this, the forthcoming 9th Circuit decision will indeed be one of substantial historical importance.

This is Not the President Lincoln You’re Looking for…

[ 4 ] August 8, 2010 |

How do you feel about states’ rights, Mr. President?

From Media Czech.

Milk Snatching in the UK

[ 5 ] August 8, 2010 |

has been avoided for the 21st Century, in a comical manner.

Last night as I went to sleep, I was informed by BBC Radio 4 that the coalition government was going to eliminate free milk for the under five set as it did not “provide value for money”.  At £50 odd million, it’s not very expensive, and while I doubt that it makes a huge difference in terms of public health, it does allegedly teach good dietary habits.  But, I immediately recognized the scale of the political blunder.

In grasping free milk from my daughter’s delicate hands, the government, rather stupidly, invoked the image of “Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher”, when Thatcher did the same for 7 to 11 year-olds as Education Minister in the early 1970s.  The last thing that David Cameron would want is a direct and valid comparison with Thatcher.

Hence, a classic U-turn, clumsily executed.

Tony Judt

[ 6 ] August 7, 2010 |


Only some are available free, but his reflections on living with ALS — like most of his writing — were terrific.

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Marriage Is A Sacred Institution Consisting Of One Man, One Woman, A Congressional Aide, Some Lobbyist He Met In A Bar, Two More Women…

[ 11 ] August 6, 2010 |

Serial non-monogamist Newt Gingrich shares some pompous thoughts about how teh gays and their Ed Meese-approved radical allies in the federal courts are destroying the Sacred Institution of Marriage, but leaves comments open.   Hilarity ensues.

Lessons About Globalism From Phuket

[ 7 ] August 6, 2010 |

Current Intelligence has published some ruminations of mine from my trip to Phuket last month. Lead paragraph follows:

Though I definitely passed through customs and back, it’s hard to know whether I traveled to a country called Thailand these past two weeks or whether I was actually just in one of those many outposts of globalization where a multi-national cacophony of Western tourists connect superficially with caricatures of a place’s pre-globalized culture.

At the invitation of an old friend who largely controlled the itinerary, I found myself on beaches and in bars, on dive boats and in spas, but never far from the American muzak and English-language-dominant service industry of Patong, never forced to navigate or speak in a local tongue, dis-incentivized to take seriously local governance, culture and politics except where it could be commodified, and mostly encouraged to have fun instead of thinking or talking too much about the place in which I found myself.

Full essay here. I am on the road again this next two weeks, so beyond reviews of travel books I may post in the next few days, blogging will be light.

The Kennedy Question

[ 25 ] August 6, 2010 |

I outline some reasons to be skeptical about whether Kennedy would be willing to cast a fifth vote to hold bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional here. At a minimum, there’s no reason to simply assume that “[t]here are 5 votes for a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.” The typically overrated assertions of America’s most overrated justice notwithstanding, it wouldn’t be remotely difficult for Kennedy to distinguish Lawrence and Perry if he wanted to do so. It might be different if Lawrence had been based on equal protection, but the fact that it was a privacy case gives him an easy exit route. All he would have to do is point to the status quo on abortion, in which the state cannot ban abortion but can exclude abortion from medical funding, although the central purpose of the Hyde Amendment is to obstruct the exercise of a constitutional right. And there are other important contextual differences between this case and the major liberal (or half-liberal) rulings Kennedy has joined: upholding Perry would have a much larger policy impact and have significantly less public support. It’s possible that Kennedy could provide a fifth vote to uphold Perry, and it was shrewd of Walker to cite Kennedy as much as he could, but on the basis of what we know I would definitely bet against it.

One thing I didn’t address is the possibility that there could be some way of upholding Prop 8 without creating a national right to same-sex marriage (in a manner similar to the way Romer ruled Colorado’s Amendment 2 unconstitutional without explicitly overruling Bowers.) I’m very skeptical about this, in part because it’s hard to see any way of invalidating Prop 8 that wouldn’t apply to other same-sex marriage bans (whether or not the Court makes that explicit.) One intriguing possibility suggested by a commenter is that Prop 8 could be considered irrational because California already grants all of the material benefits of marriage, so refusing to apply the title of marriage to same-sex unions is just raw discrimination that the Court ruled unconstitutional in Romer. I don’t know if Kennedy would buy it, but it’s a clever argument. But the problem is that — like conservative attempts to have the insurance mandate ruled unconstitutional — it would be very much a “be careful what you wish for” outcome. Because it would create a perverse incentive for states that don’t want to recognize same-sex marriage rights to keep their marriage regimes as inequitable as possible in order to avoid a challenge under Perry/Schwarzenegger, it would probably make the policy status quo worse in the short term. It’s possible that Kennedy (or even Roberts) could write such an opinion, but I wouldn’t count that as a victory for same-sex marriage rights, although at least it would make future challenges to marriage discrimination easier to mount.

The Audacity of Dopes

[ 98 ] August 6, 2010 |

Obviously, Krugman versus Paul Ryan isn’t a fair fight, but this is nonetheless quite satisfying.


[ 8 ] August 5, 2010 |

Kagan confirmed. I hope she will prove to be a successful appointment.

The best government money can buy

[ 2 ] August 5, 2010 |

My favorite nugget in this particular chart is the inspiring tale of the veritable K Street Horatio Alger, Thomas Scully.