Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Words are overrated II

First 100 Days.

It just doesn't get old

Michelle Bachmann is at it again. And again.

So now FDR caused the depression (through the "Hoot-Smalley" tariffs), destroying the growth that Coolidge had caused, and Jimmy Carter is to blame for a flu epidemic that happened under Ford. And this current swine flu issue isn't Obama's fault, Democrats just cause flu epidemics, that's just how it goes.

Thankfully, there is now a central clearinghouse for laughing at Rep. Bachmann, courtesy of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Maybe in 2010 they'll run someone with an electable name against her. I think Elwyn Tinklenberg is actually a tougher name to overcome than Barack Hussein Obama. Then again, if Al Franken can win in Minnesota (eventually), maybe Elwyn Tinkerbell, er, Tinklenberg, can also win.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Torture

This makes me sick.

From Dick Clarke's book Against All Enemies:
Later, on the evening of the 12th [of September, 2001], I left the Video Conferencing Center and there, wandering alone around the Situation Room, was the President. He looked like he wanted something to do. He grabbed a few of us and closed the door to the conference room. "Look," he told us, "I know you have a lot to do and all...but I want you, as soon as you can, to go back over everything, everything. See if Saddam did this. See if he's linked in any way..."

I was once again taken aback, incredulous, and it showed. "But, Mr President, al Qaeda did this."

"I know, I know, but...see if Saddam was involved. Just look. I want to know any shred..."

"Absolutely, we will look...again." I was trying to be more respectful, more reponsive. "But, you know, we have looked several times for state sponsorship of al Qaeda and not found any real linkages for Iraq. Iran plays a little, as does Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, Yemen."

"Look into Iraq, Saddam," the President said testily and left us.

There's plenty more of this in the book, especially from Paul Wolfowitz. Despite the protestations of the entire counterterrorism and intelligence committees, the Bush administration did all they could, including torture, to attempt to prove a connection that didn't exist. The thought makes me physically ill.

So does Bill-O in this. Apparently a TV blowhard knows better than a Special Forces Captain with a law degree about the use of torture to gain intelligence. I find that hard to believe.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Missile Defense II

Reading over Arms Control Wonk (which is certainly as advertised; it really is rocket science), I came across this. Apparently Russia's Early Warning system is very poor. (Not surprisingly.) What is frightening is just where the patches of coverage are. Apparently, Russia has fairly good coverage of missiles from the United States, but has abysmal coverage of the area from which a missile from North Korea would come.

Now consider the cries from some conservatives (most notably Sarah Palin) to continue funding missile defense to defend against a North Korean attack. Another piece of the puzzle is this interview with a Russian Defense Analyst. The notable section is as follows:
The Russian military has been telling its political leaders that this missile plan is actually not what the Americans say it is. The Russian military says that these missiles will be nuclear-armed because the Russian military doesn't believe that non-nuclear defensive missiles are possible. At least most of them don't.
He goes on to explain in detail, but basically, the idea is that with a nuclear-tipped interceptor, you have a much larger explosion, and therefore, it's much easier to hit an ICBM that is moving at up to 4 kilometers/second. The Russians don't believe that a conventional warhead would have the accuracy to hit something moving that fast.

So, with the whole puzzle put together, say North Korea launches a missile (whether its a "satellite" or a potential ICBM), and the U.S. decides to try to shoot it down with ground-based missile from Alaska. Put aside any debate as to whether or not these systems work. The first thing the Russians will see on their Early Warning system is a missile (which they think is nuclear) headed from Alaska towards Eastern Russia. That seems like quite a dangerous situation to me.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Army device E-3398D-1R

Also known as an iPod. Apparently the Army is issuing iPod Touches to its soldiers for many different uses. What a fantastic sign that the Military is starting to break the military-industrial complex shackles. The US military has long developed its own devices at a high cost to taxpayers. Perhaps now they'll start looking to use off-the-shelf products that are proven technology, and require no R&D cost. I won't hold my breath for this to be a harbinger of massive changes, but it (like the new defense budget) is a good sign.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

So, what is COIN like in practice?

Afghanistan Shrugged provided this article to Himal Southasian magazine. It's a pretty interesting look at just what is going on out there where American (and coalition) forces are trying to train the Afghan National Army. The author got only minimal training and is asked to do a gargantuan job. Now that the military seems to be moving towards practicing counterinsurgency (COIN) tactics, it would be nice if these soldiers who are asked to do so much get a little more training. ETTs are doing great work, and probably could be doing even more with proper training.

Completely unrelated to anything, but I find it hilarious that military jargon has moved from "REMF" (Rear Echelon MotherFucker) to "FOBbit" (FOB=Forward Operating Base).

Monday, April 6, 2009

Defense Budget thoughts

SecDef Robert Gates released the new Defense Budget today. Lots of good things:
  • Ending the F-22 program at 187 airframes. These are a perfect example of the military preparing for some amorphous far-off possibility of a threat. The F-15 and F-35 can more than fulfill the air-superiority role.
  • Continuing the F-35 program. This is a much more flexible new aircraft than the F-22. Cheaper, too.
  • More funding for veterans programs.
  • Ditching the presidential helicopter program, which was on track to be over budget by 100%.
  • Reducing the number of contractors in favor of civil service and military employees.
  • And of course, acquisition/procurement reform. Let's hope that this is actually accomplished. I'm not really holding my breath. We'll see if Congress is willing to smack down the defense industry folks in their districts.
I don't think the cuts were deep enough on Missile Defense, but that's somewhat to be expected. I'm also skeptical about the need for a replacement for the Ohio-class missile sub. And I think that there's no such thing as "enough" C-17 transports. Airlift capacity is hugely important for a nimble, modern army.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

A Billionaire on millionaires

Mark Cuban made a very insightful post about executive compensation on his blog. What he says makes a lot of sense.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Does this count as analysis?

Alex Castellanos wrote this brilliant piece, which reads like John Boehner's talking points. I particularly love how he blames Obama for an earmark-filled bill. Of those 9000 earmarks, yes, many were Democratic earmarks, and those are Bad. How many were stuck on that bill by Republican congressmen? A quick glance shows $2.6bn from Democrats, $1.8bn from Republicans, and $3.1bn that are either anonymous or bipartisan. Hey, finally found some common ground between the Dems and the GOP; earmarks!

In the same paragraph, he complains about the deficit and debt and follows that by criticizing the rollback of President Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy. I'm not sure how he can stand the cognitive dissonance of that without his head exploding. Actually, I think I do know. The Republican "alternative budget" calls for a cut to 25% in the tax rate for the highest tax bracket. Since no serious economist believes that tax cuts pay for themselves, I have a hard time believing their math about reducing the deficit. Oh, right, they call for a spending freeze on everything but the DoD. So, have fun with shrinking Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid payments. You know that crumbling road or bridge? Yeah, not getting fixed. See, they also rolled back much of the stimulus.

This is not to say that I'm an apologist for the Democratic budget. I think deficits are too high. However, I don't see the alternative as a symbolic spending freeze that won't work and tax cuts that will make it worse. I see the alternative as cap-and-trade on carbon emissions (billions and billions of revenue plus stimulating innovation and helping the environment), higher taxes across the mid and upper levels of income, including estate and capital gains taxes, and intelligent spending cuts for programs that are outdated or don't work. Right now, though, this recession takes precedence. Gotta get through that, then deal with deficits. And I think that's what Mr. Obama is doing.

Mispriced risk.... to the environment

Thomas Friedman draws some nice parallels between the US approaches to global warming and finance. He argues (convincingly) that the risk on financial instruments and on carbon-producing industries were badly mispriced. He uses that argument to call for more regulation on the financial sector, as well as a cap-and-trade system for carbon-producers. Sounds good to me.

If only...

The Miracle of London

Jonathan "Nostradomus" Chait

From The Big Con (published in mid 2007):
Even if the Democrats manage to win the presidency in 2008 and sweep up every plausibly contestable seat in the House and Senate they will have a hard time rolling back even the worst excesses of the Bush era, let alone enacting an ambitious progressive program. The political style displayed by Republicans relied on ironclad party discipline of the sort Democrats are unlikely to match.
Sounds pretty accurate, eh? Chait's book, while good, suffers from one major flaw: his abrasive style. The first chapter, explaining the lunacy that is "Supply-side economics", is fantastic. The later chapters, explaining how Republicans can pass unpopular policies in a democracy, are not as good. He does a good job of explaining how the Republicans manage to out-maneuver Democrats on a regular basis, but then frames it as the Republicans being "bad" for using these tactics and the Democrats being too morally pure to stoop to such tactics. A more honest assessment would probably conclude that Republicans are just plain better at it.