Friday, June 30, 2006

What's the score?

Seriously: Does Sweden win at everything? Not soccer, I mean, but important stuff - you know, politics. Wherever we look, Sweden always seems to be better at, well, everything. And not just the socialism stuff: Sweden was one of the first countries to introduce military officers who weren't aristocratic, with great success. Overall, Sweden seems to have beaten the rest of the modern world at governance with a score of, like, a billion to three.

Latest example: Sweden's anti-prostitution legislation. Read Brad Plumer's post. Excellent.

I Loves me the Wikipedia

So I'm browsing Wikipedia's page on the Articles of Confederation, and I see this eye-opening piece:
11) Requires nine states to approve the admission of a new state into the confederacy; preapproves Canada, if they apply for membership.
Really? Canada was pre-approved for membership in the United States?

What's interesting is that the way Wikipedia writes it, it sounds like Canada was approved as a secondary thought, while the text of Aricle 11 makes it clear we were enthusiastically invited:
Article XI. Canada acceding to this confederation, and adjoining in the measures of the United States, shall be admitted into, and entitled to all the advantages of this Union; but no other colony shall be admitted into the same, unless such admission be agreed to by nine States.
So I ask myself, does the offer still hold? (Not interested in accepting, just wondering if the door is still open.) The answer? Not so much:
Under the Articles of Confederation's Article XI, the United States made an open invitation to Canada to join the new union as a state, admission guaranteed simply by asking. If Canada had made such a request, the world would be a much different place today. The open invitation, however, expired with the replacement of the Articles with the Constitution. Canada is free to request admission into the United States, as is any independent nation, territory of the United States, or other political unit, under the rules laid out in Article 4, Section 3 of the Constitution.
For the David Frums and Mark Steyns of the world, this is no doubt a crushing blow to their dreams. I have no doubt, however, that if US foreign policy continues to rely on exiles, then one day David Frum will eagerly play the role of Ahmad Chalabi of the North.

Which chamber do we load?

So the numbers are looking better and better for a Democratic victory in the congress this Novemeber (assuming elections matter anymore.) But one thing is worth pointing out: While retaking either house for the Dems would be great (subpoena power!) in particular it would be best to retake the Senate, rather than the House. (Inshallah, let it be both.)

Of the two houses of Congress, the Senate is the one that has the most direct role in checking the power of the White House. The Senate needs to approve important appointments - say, UN ambassadors - and Supreme Court judges. Remember: yesterday's Hamdan decision could just as easily have been a 4-4 split, even without Roberts' recusal. In that case, the previous decision in favour of the government would have been upheld.

If Bush manages to name another justice, it will be the Senate where we need the Democrats. We also, of course, need Democrats who are willing to simply say no to another Bush appointment that worships imperial presidential powers, so long as their Republicans. Thomas, Alito, Scalia, and Roberts make a nasty, festering core to the Supreme Court. Eventually, we need to start talking about how to remove them from the court, and putting honest judges in their place.

An election on Sec. 33?

Peter at PDO has an interesting post on the election that Stephen Harper might want to have, as opposed to the election Harper might end up getting.

To boil it down, Peter proposes that when the Supreme Court of Canada rules that the "national security letters" are unconstitutional (which they blatantly are), Harper will call an election saying that security trumps all. This will allow the Conservatives, if re-elected, to use the notwithstanding clause (Sec. 33) and re-authorize the national security letters.

A note to my foreign readers: The Canadian constitution, in a fit of schizophrenia, allows the Federal or Provincial governments to effectively declare that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (our Bill of Rights) doesn't apply to certain legislation. There is a time limit for each declaration - a law can only be charter-proof for five years at a time - but Sec. 33 can be re-used, in theory for ever.

Effectively, the Canadian charter of rights applies until the government doesn't say it doesn't, if you follow.

There are two historical interpretations for why Canada opted for this when, to my knowledge, no other liberal democracy has a similar clause to their constitution. The charitable interpretation is that while Trudeau and the Premiers wanted a guaranteed charter of rights, they also wanted to respect the principle of Parliamentary supremacy we inherited from the British.

The less-charitable (and in my mind, more accurate) interpretation is simply that the various governments (Provincial and Federal) were deathly afraid of their laws actually being held to any kind of standard, much less a constitutional one. Remember that in the context of the early 1980s, the two big movements were feminism and a nascent gay rights movement. The idea that the government would - horrors! - have to take gender (and racial, and economic, etc...) equality seriously scared more than a few politicians, who demanded an escape hatch.

The latest use of Sec. 33 was by Premier Klein, regarding (you guessed it!) gay marriage. Fortunately, the Court ruled that the law was beyond Alberta's jurisdiction, so it was null and void anyway.

To get back to the election idea of Peter's, it seems that nutball Conservatives like Preston Manning and Mike Harris are advocating that the current government "rehabilitate" the notwithstanding clause. Manning, in a ridiculous speech said
"We remind those who feel that the notwithstanding clause has no place in our Constitution that its inclusion was a condition of provincial acceptance of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and that indeed the Charter itself would not exist in law had the notwithstanding clause not been a part of it."
Shorter Preston Manning: "We put a gun to your head, and like a sucker you gave in. Now we own you, bitch!"

What's really sad is that I have it on good authority - from people who should know - that Mike Harris hated Sec. 33 back when he was Premier of Ontario. Harris believed, and I'm paraphrasing, that you're either in the Constitution or not, and if you find that a law is unconstitutional then you change the law. To see him put his name to this piece of garbage is disappointing. On the plus side, Harris' stand on Sec. 33 was officially the last thing that gave me any respect for the man, so I can now say that Harris is officially the most worthless premier of Ontario ever.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

August, You Glorious Bastard.

Read it. Read it now.

Hint: It's not an eclipse.




Guess when the above picture was taken.

Give up?

Noon.


That, my friends, is Pittsburg during the height of the coal age. Pittsburgh produced more steel in WWII than all of Germany, with obvious results. Things have gotten better in some ways, but much, much, much worse in others. Read the whole sick tale in this excellent essay at Energy Bulletin, called "Coal: The other fossil fuel."

Suck it Amazon

It's hardly a typical result, but I'd just like to give a shout-out to the Toronto Public Library system: I placed a hold on a book yesterday, and it was delivered to my home branch today, and is ready to pick up.

In general, I'm coming to love the public library system again. I used to work for a bookstore, which was far more convenient: Work was a library. And I always had first dibs (I did a lot of the unloading of boxes.) However, I cannot afford to buy hardcovers without my staff discount, so the library it is!

Damn inefficient government. Why don't they just let the market solve this problem?

I used to joke with customers who said to me that they didn't buy books - they used the library - that "those damn communists at the library" were going to put us out of business. It turns out that Canadian libraries purchase an immense amount of books from retailers. (I kind of figured they'd deal with publishers direct.)

Meanwhile, I'm #20-something in line for "The 1% Doctrine", and #120-something for "Cobra II". Gotta start reading!

If Greenland, why not Canada?

Timothy Garton Ash has an amusing column in the Guardian titled "I've found a perfect new member for the EU. If only it were in Europe." It's all about a favourite fantasy of mine, Canada joining the EU.
In fact, why doesn't the European Union invite Canada to join at once? In most respects it would be a much easier fit than Ukraine, let alone Turkey. It effortlessly meets the EU's so-called Copenhagen criteria for membership, including democratic government, the rule of law, a well-regulated market economy and respect for minority rights (Canada's a world-leader on that). Canada is rich, so would be a much-needed net contributor to the European budget at a time when the EU has been taking in lots of poorer states. One of Europe's besetting weaknesses is disagreement between the British and the French, but on this the two historic rivals would instantly agree. English-speaking Canada would strengthen the Anglophone group in the EU, Quebec the Francophone.
Riiight. Because if there's one thing Canada's linguistic division has created, it's consensus and unity. Mr. Ash, there's a bridge I'd like to sell you...

Ash's column is not entirely complementary, but it is extremely thought provoking, and you should read the whole thing. There's even stuff there for Americans.

John Ibbitson is a moron, pt. XXVII

So Ibbitson - fresh from rooting for the Senatorial bid of Mike Harris (AAH!!) - is now trying to scare Canadians with a vision of a rational, sane federal government:
Conservatives now talk about "clarifying" roles and responsibilities, and keeping Ottawa out of provincial jurisdiction except in areas of "defined national interest." (Any premier reading the previous sentence should feel a cold chill.)

Money will be available to provinces to spend on improving education for college and university students, and on roads, sewers, bridges or other (literally) concrete improvements.

But the proposal comes with a hint of blackmail...the Conservatives want the provinces, once and for all, to lower interprovincial barriers to trade and labour mobility. And it wants agreement to a common securities regulator.

If the Conservatives feel entitled to wield the federal spending power club in postsecondary funding and infrastructure, citing the national interest, what's to say they or a future government won't define the national interest as subsidized housing, welfare or the elementary-school curriculum?... Which prompts a final question: Is this for real, or is the Harper government just trying to scare us?
Oh horror! Just imagine if a country's federal government decided to regulate elementary schools, welfare payments, or housing? And God knows that a national securities regulator would be the next best thing to a planned economy! And trying to lower sub-national barriers to trade? What's the federal government thinking?

It's funny how conservatives like Ibbitson keep telling us to be more like the United States, until the reality of American governance actually rears its head. Then, all of the sudden, the GOP looks like Stalinism to them.

What's even funnier is that Ibbitson - who fancies himself quite the historical scholar - seems to be unaware that one of the single biggest motivating factors for Canadian confederation in 1867 was the desire to form a single market with Britains remaining North American colonies. Almost 140 years later, it's still a work in progress. Nevertheless, it remains a fundamental goal for Canada.

(Good catch, Greg.)

Some Good News, For A Change

Well crap. Just when I was used to getting depressed about things, the Supreme Court had to go ruin my funk. In a 5-3 decision, SCOTUS ruled that the military tribunals at Gitmo are illegal, that the president's authority in war is not all-encompassing, and even more suprisingly, the supremes brought in that bogeyman, international law!!!, into the equation.
Even more importantly for present purposes, the Court held that Common Article 3 of Geneva aplies as a matter of treaty obligation to the conflict against Al Qaeda. That is the HUGE part of today's ruling. The commissions are the least of it. This basically resolves the debate about interrogation techniques, because Common Article 3 provides that detained persons "shall in all circumstances be treated humanely," and that "[t]o this end," certain specified acts "are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever"—including "cruel treatment and torture," and "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment." This standard, not limited to the restrictions of the due process clause, is much more restrictive than even the McCain Amendment. See my further discussion here.
Boy, if this ruling is applied consistently (i.e., holding the actions of the executive to the standards of treaties signed by the President and ratified by the Senate) this could be a really, really important ruling.

The question is whether or not Bush obeys the courts anymore. Congress has basically been neutered, why shouldn't the SC be next?

They're Just Like Us

Not that you'd know it from how the NYT covers things. Dean Baker:
Do Mexican Voters Care About the Economy?

The New York Times apparently doesn’t think so. In an article assessing the Mexican presidential campaign in its final days, there is no mention of the economic performance of the current administration. Since one of the two leading candidates is from the same party as the incumbent president, and pledges to continue the same policies if elected, the recent economic record would appear to be relevant.

For those who care about such mundane things as economic growth, the cumulative per capita GDP growth in the first five years of the current president has been approximately 2.0 percent. By contrast, Mexico’s per capita GDP grew 4.0 percent annually over the years from 1960-80. In other words, in 5 years under the current president, Mexico’s economy grew as much as it typically did in 6 months over the period from 1960-80. As a general rule, weak economic growth will mean weak job creation and few gains in reducing poverty, and this appears to have been the case in Mexico.
President Fox of Mexico was elected in a widespread revulsion at the PRI, who had, among other things, gotten Mexico in to NAFTA (with weak results) and thereby spurred the Zapatistas. Fox has basically failed to deal with Mexico's underlying economic weakness. (I can't say whether he's helped the situation in Chiapas.) It's no wonder, though, that his successor is having a hard time.

Never Leaving

Even if the war ends, the US isn't leaving Iraq. Understand this, and the Bush administration starts looking a lot more "competent", at least by their own measures:
June 28 (Bloomberg) -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, asked about a report that Sunni insurgents have made a conditional offer to halt attacks in Iraq, said the U.S. won't set a timetable for withdrawing troops from the country.

The Associated Press today said 11 Sunni insurgent groups offered to stop attacks on U.S.-led military forces in Iraq if the Iraqi government and President George W. Bush set a two-year deadline for withdrawing all foreign troops.

Rumsfeld told reporters that while he hadn't seen the report, ``the president's view has been and remains that a timetable is not something that is useful.'' A schedule for a pullout ``is a signal to the enemies that all you have to do is just wait and it's yours,'' he said.
Guess what Don? They already know that, with a little time - and the occasional suicide bombing, Iraq will be theirs. And you can't stop that. So why not try and stop the killing now, rather than when you eventually get kicked out?

Because Rumsfeld, Bush, and Cheney don't want to leave. Simple as that.

(story via Atrios.)

The EV1, cont.

Regulars will remember the depressing story of the EV1, the electric car GM made and later killed when the legal requirement it fulfilled was removed.

There's a new documentary coming out called "Who Killed The Electric Car?", and so the EV1 - beloved by its owners, hated by the oil industry (and to a lesser extent, GM itself) - is being revisited. My latest post at Gristmill is about a bizarre quote from the head of Rick Wagoner, who now says that cancelling the EV1 was his worst decision as head of GM. To quote myself:
What's truly upsetting is that by Wagoner's own admission here, cutting the EV1 didn't affect profitability. If Wagoner is to be believed, GM would have been no worse off today (admittedly, no great shakes there) if they'd kept the EV1 going.

...

People tend to call us paranoid when we suggest that GM killed its own revolutionary design in a gross act of corporate malfeasance -- collusion with oil companies and a fear of obsolescence. It may be just a slip of the tongue, but if Wagoner means what he says, then the conventional explanation -- the EV1 was a money loser -- just became inoperative.
An additional note - that I didn't put in the Gristmill post - is that in 1998, GM was exhibiting a hybrid variant of the EV1 in auto shows that got 80+ mpg, which would have made it the most efficient car in the world, even today.

When GM is bought up by Toyota and sold for scrap, I hope someone remembers that.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

New Music

Within a minute of getting the email from a friend, I was downloading the song "Better in Manhattan" by Casey Dienel (this is an indication of how much I trust said friend's judgement in musical matters.)

By the second minute of the song, I was downloading the rest of the songs available on that page.

Before the track had finished playing, I was blogging it. (This is an indication of how right my friend was.)

You should go listen to Better in Manhattan by Casey Dienel, available here.

So long to all that

It looks increasingly like the "democracy promotion" rationale for Iraq was, at best, a once-off. Paige Austin in the MoJoblog:
"The rhetoric of the Bush revolution may live on," writes Philip Gordon in this issue of Foreign Affairs, "but the revolution itself is over." The reasons he posits are both practical and philosophical: having overstretched itself in Iraq, alienated key US allies, and worn down domestic support for spreading democracy abroad (only 20 percent of Americans today say that should be "a very important goal"), the administration just can't do it anymore. Another reasons, the other two authors say, is fear of what free elections might bring, fueled by Hamas's ascendance in Palestinian elections and the Muslim Brotherhood's in Egypt. Plus, Gordon explains, Bush's post-9/11 revolution in foreign policy was enabled by "a feeling of tremendous power." And, well, we have seen what that did for us. Good job, George.
The question is whether or not this is a bad thing. God knows, I'd love to see democracies all over the world - not because this would be a good thing for US foreign policy, but because this would be a good thing. And there's not a lot of evidence that the US can do anything to encourage democracy promotion through overt means - which pretty much rules out everything more than Clinton-era NGO support. Even that is likely to get a reaction from paranoid autocracies like those of central Asia.

It was very frustrating listening to this podcast of Diplomatic Immunity, largely because everyone seemed to agree that it would be a tragedy if Iraq caused "democracy promotion" to be delegitimized. My reaction was basically, So What? The American government isn't going to stop preferring democracies, where possible. What has been totally discredited in the Bush Administration is the idea that the US can and must invade second-rate tyrannies and replace them with democratic, pro-American, pro-Israel governments.

Here's the thing: This idea was ridiculous on its face, before a single boot stepped on Iraqi soil. The Bush Administration merely confirmed that fact, at the cost of untold lives. So if we want to talk about regrettable consequences, the end of a silly foreign policy is near the bottom of my list.

The United States will never be forgiven for this

Nir Rosen on Iraq, via ATR:
The Haditha massacre was compared to the Vietnam War’s My Lai massacre, and like the well-publicized and embarrassing Abu Ghraib scandal two years earlier, the attention it received made it seem as if it were a horrible aberration perpetrated by a few bad apples who might have overreacted to the stress they endured as occupiers.

In reality both Abu Ghraib and Haditha were merely more extreme versions of the day-to-day workings of the American occupation in Iraq, and what makes them unique is not so much how bad they were, or how embarrassing, but the fact that they made their way to the media and were publicized despite attempts to cover them up....

Americans, led to believe that their soldiers and Marines would be welcomed as liberators by the Iraqi people, have no idea what the occupation is really like from the perspective of Iraqis who endure it. Although I am American, born and raised in New York City, I came closer to experiencing what it might feel like to be Iraqi than many of my colleagues. I often say that the secret to my success in Iraq as a journalist is my melanin advantage....

My skin color and language skills allowed me to relate to the American occupier in a different way, for he looked at me as if I were just another haji, the “gook” of the war in Iraq. I first realized my advantage in April 2003, when I was sitting with a group of American soldiers and another soldier walked up and wondered what this haji (me) had done to get arrested by them....

Normally, I like to think, if I witnessed an act of bullying of the weak or the elderly, or the terrorizing of children, I would interfere and try to stop it. After all, a passion for justice is what propelled me into this career. It started when I arrived in the main base in the desert. Local Iraqi laborers were sitting in the sun waiting to be acknowledged by the American soldiers. Every so often a representative would come to the soldiers to explain in Arabic that they were waiting for their American overseer. The soldier would shout back in English. Finally I translated between them. One soldier, upset with an Iraqi man for looking at him, asked him: “Do I owe you money? So why the fuck are you looking at me?”
There's so much more, and it's painful and enraging to read. In Rosen's own small experience, he's seen so much needless cruelty and abuse. As he says, he only saw one platoon's work. Imagine what a whole army has done to Iraq.

I know we're all supposed to support the troops (except the bad apples, of course) but at what point do I get to say that sending inbred, barely literate hicks from Utah and Alabama to go police the fragile ethnic, religious, and cultural divisions in Iraq was a pretty fucking stupid idea?

Desperate Much?

The NYT ran an article yesterday on some way-out schemes to reverse global warming, including and up to giant orbiting parasols to reflect away the suns heat.

If, in the future, we end up resorting to such desperate measures, someone will have to compare the costs of these schemes to the estimated costs of reducing CO2 emissions sufficiently, had we begun in time. Like the Iraq war, I expect to be proven right.

On the other hand, the fact that the NYT is still writing paragraphs like this:
Geoengineering is no magic bullet, Dr. Cicerone said. But done correctly, he added, it will act like an insurance policy if the world one day faces a crisis of overheating, with repercussions like melting icecaps, droughts, famines, rising sea levels and coastal flooding.
One day? You dumbass, haven't you been to New Orleans lately?

God help me, if the human species survives to 2050 it will be in spite of the media, not because of it.

I should point out that, in my continuing space-nerdery, I actually like the idea of a crash program to develop giant orbiting parasols. To be built, they'd almost certainly need asteroid mines and reusable launch vehicles. That said, I'd prefer to have orbital parasols be entirely unnecesary.

Triumph of... something, I forget. It's not important.

One of the most tired cliches of the debates over the war in Iraq, and in Canada the war in Afghanistan, is the horrible, borderline fascist idea that if we lose it will be because we as a nation didn't have "the will" to succeed.

It really dates back to Vietnam, where the "Honor before Peace" crowd insisted that, if we'd just sacrificed a few more black kids, victory could have been ours. Of course, that was before Walter Cronkite and those pot-smoking smelly hippies went and elected President Ford, that pussy.*

(*Ford's election being as non-fictional as the rest of this idiotic idea.)

Anyway, I was reading this article from 1999 about "The U.S. Presumption of Quick, Costless Wars" and it's really a dammning indictment of this whole idea - not an indictment on the American or Canadian people, mind you, but of their leadership.
A nation’s will provides the foundation upon which military policy is built. The American experience in the twentieth century belies the simplistic notion that the lack of a pervasive warrior culture translates into weakness of will in the international arena. It would be ironic, therefore, if now-at the time of our greatest strength-we underestimate our own will because we overemphasize the significance of certain cultural, economic, or demographic trends. Moreover, this would be doubly ironic because our past enemies grossly misjudged American will for the same reason-and paid dearly for their errors....

However, the corrosive effects upon civil-military relations will be even more profound if future military leaders mature within an organizational culture that believes the American people represent the weak link in the chain of mititary policy.
I don't know about the military, but the civilian government has certainly adopted this mindset - "Bush would be the greatest president in history if it weren't for the fact that 65% of Americans think he's awful."

The article is not online, but if you're interested it's in the Summer, 1999 issue of Orbis, by Andrew Erdmann.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Cheap, Disposable Insults

(Alternate title: Odd conversations to really, truly have with your father.)

While listening to a CBC story on prostitutes in Germany.

Dad: What's the appeal of a transvestite prostitute, really?

Me: Probably exactly what you think it is - guys who like guys who look like girls.

Dad: Yeah, but..

Me: Maybe an Adam's Apple is hot on a chick.

Dad: (laughs)

Me: You know, like Ann Coulter.

Disclaimer: In no way do I think that Ann Coulter is actually hot. He is, however, a man.

I was reminded of that when I read this.

Not Godwin, Exactly

Matthew Yglesias compares the Bush Administration to Emperor Palpatine. But haven't we all?
What Tarkin's talking about here is a leading power -- the Empire -- trying to do away with the former constitutional order ("the last remnants of the Old Republic") in order to create a hegemonic one (Palpatine Unbound, as it were). Tagge is skeptical that this will work -- the political processes may be cumbersome, but they're actually necessary to maintain the system's stability. It would actually be even more cumbersome for the center to be constantly trying to impose its will on everyone without the assistance of the bureacracy. Tarkin's counterproposal is that the development of the Death Star has changed the situation -- use it once on Alderaan to make an example of them, and in the future fear will keep the local systems in line.

And I think it's fairly clear that something of this sort was motivating the Bush administration in 2002-2003. The key decisionmakers took the view that technological developments (the "revolution in military affairs") had radically enhanced America's ability to overthrow foreign governments. Rather than simply keep this power in our back pocket for use when circumstances clearly warranted it (as in Afghanistan) there was a palpable desire to make an example out of Iraq to send a message....

Except, of course, it hasn't worked very well. The alternative order-building strategy of liberalism and institutions was undermined by the war, while the war itself has had perverse effects. Countries more-or-less inclined to be well-disposed toward us regard our actions as erratic and unreliable, making them less disposed to cooperate, but countries more-or-less inclined to be ill-disposed toward us regard our actions as essentially ineffectual and are also less disposed to cooperate.
There's actually a bit more there, and it's one of the smarter Star Wars analogies to International Politics that I've seen in a while. Check it out.

Shiny Toys, cont.

Okay, this might actually be a really useful weapon - despite my previous post, it's worth pointing out that the Pentagon does spend some money wisely:
Lockheed Martin is to demonstrate high-altitude, stand-off delivery of a torpedo from a P-3C Orion under a 12-month, $3 million US Navy contract. The navy’s Mk54 lightweight torpedo will be fitted with the company’s LongShot wingkit for the High Altitude Anti-Submarine Warfare Weapons Concept (HAAWC) project.

Currently P-3s have to descend to 500ft (150m) to release the Mk54. The LongShot range extension kit, which includes pop-out wings, GPS navigation and autopilot, will allow the torpedo to be launched at altitudes of around 20,000ft (6,000m), avoiding the need to descend, reducing fatigue on the airframe and increasing survivability.
This is what the torpedo-and-glide kit looks like when mated together (presumably, after it's been fired.)



Conceptually, it reminds me of the fantastically-successful JDAM - basically, a GPS refit for old iron bombs, letting the USAF use precision weapons far more readily, without the expense or unreliability of the older, laser-guided smart bombs of the First Gulf War era. If it turns out well, this will allow aircraft to fire off these torpedoes at a distance of possibly 30+ km away.

As for the intended victims, I'd imagine this is aimed at Chinese destroyers.

He Who Dies With the Most Expensive Toys

..still dies. Yup. Some aphorisms still hold true.

Consider the fate of the US military. By far, the American defense industry is able to furnish its soldiers with some of the most advanced and destructive weaponry and equipment known to man. It often goes without saying that this is all absurdly expensive, but it should be said: This is absurdly expensive. As in, $500 billion this year for defense expenditures. That's half of Canada's entire economy, devoted entirely to war. (As far as I know, no country has actually sustained 50% of GDP in defense spending for long, certainly not in the post-WWII era. Israel tried, and nearly went bankrupt.)

Ah, but what use does this actually provide for the soldiers "on the ground"? Well, there are two interesting links at Defensetech that illustrate the problems inherent with US military spending. The first is that old standby, production delays. The US Marine Corps is apparently having some trouble with its airplanes (nothing game-stopping, so far) because they stopped buying F-18s and Harriers back in the early 1990s, in anticipation that by the time the existing stock were ready to retire, the Joint Strike Fighter would be ready to take over. Aside from production delays (due in part to Congressional meddling) there's also been the little problem of the Iraq War, which has shaved quite a few years off of planes that weren't spry to begin with.

That said, even when the JSF arrives the USMC may want to stick with the older planes: Another post at DT notes that the US Army is increasingly relying on older equipment, or stripping unnecessary frills from their new equipment, to make it more appropriate for the rigors of combat in Iraq.
U.S. Army aviators in Iraq and Afghanistan have begun removing the Longbow radars from their AH-64D Apache helicopters. Which is funny, since the radar is pretty much the point of the $10-billion Longbow upgrade.

The radar weighs 1,500 pounds and makes the Apache sluggish in hot and high-altitude environments -- really the only places the Army fights anymore. Aviators are cool with flying without their radars since the things were designed for taking out Soviet tanks....

...the Marine Corps aviators of All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 332... had told me their old $40-million F/A-18D Hornets equipped with sensor pods are better-suited to counter-insurgency combat than $130-million F-22A Raptors, which don't even have hardpoints for pods.
Which brings me back to a point I've made previously: As much as we talk about how upstart countries like China still don't possess the strength to go toe-to-toe (or mano a mano, as Bush would say) with the US, the truth is anyone making any definitive statement as to how, say, the air war over the Formosa Straits would go is talking out of his ass. Beyond a certain point, we simply don't know what equipment is going to be valuable in combat in the future.

Moreover, we don't really have any concrete way to compare the relative value of military spending (the usual metric of rough comparisons): Who spends more on their military, the US or China? The US obviously. But as the above examples show, the US doesn't necessarily get as much from its money - especially its newer, shinier weapons - as it would if it focused on older, more tested weaponry. China - which has largely built a military out of modern, but well-tested weaponry (the late-Soviet Migs and Sukhois, for example) may actually have an upper hand and not even know it. I'm not saying this is definitely the case by any means - that's my point: Combat is the final arbiter.

Finally, the fact that US personnel are becoming more fond of older equipment and weaponry should really, really be the final nail in the coffin of the whole "Revolution in Military Affairs" hype. I hope nobody takes that shit seriously anymore.

Linky-link-linkeroo

Clearing out some links from storage:

1) The left-wing argument against The West Wing, by Ezra Klein.

2) Scientists: Gore is right. But they're all gay married commies.

3) We should stop calling Bush incompetent. Rather, we should say that he's a disaster, and that's what you get when you elect Republicans.

4) DC gets hit by the global warming that doesn't exist.

5) A terrifying message from Al Gore, with Bender the robot as guest-star.

6) The US Congress - being innumerate, apparently - thinks that the oil sands will save them from OPEC. I keep saying, and nobody listens: OPEC hasn't been relevant for, like, 4 years. Get used to it.

7) Finally, I just want to say that when I heard the US Army was upping the maximum enlistment age to 42, all I could think of was Bart Simpson's quote about Generation X: "We need another Vietnam. Thin out their ranks a little." Somehow, I didn't imagine that Matt Groening worked in the Defense Planning Board, perhaps in the seat next to Richard Perle.

Careful, that gun is loaded

Ahem. via Ringo, The Western Standard has decided that Tommy Douglas' masters thesis as a student, where he apparently advocates for eugenics, makes him a worthless piece of scum - or something, the WS isn't exactly sure, though they call it "shocking."

This is silly. If you truly find it shocking that North American academics, particularly those in the west, were writing extensively on eugenics during the 1930s, then it's only because you're a historical moron and shouldn't be allowed to put fingers to a keyboard.

Look: Various eugenicist practices were maintained well into the latter half of the 20th century across North America, including force sterilization. This was accepted - morally reprehensible as it is now - as common practice. Without defending an odious system, we can surely say that Douglas wasn't personally euthanizing disabled people or anything like that.

But here's a question for you: Do we think that western conservatives really want to have a debate over eugenics? Really? Because I'm willing to put Tommy Douglas up against, say, Ernest Manning any day of the week. From Wikipedia (take it as you will):
"The province of Alberta was the first part of the British Empire to adopt a sterilization act, and were the only ones who vigorously implemented it...Between 1929 and 1972, 4785 cases were presented to the board, and 99% of these cases were approved. The 60 cases that were not approved were deferred cases that were later re-considered, and 14 of them were eventually passed. Only 60% of all cases that were sanctioned by the Board were actually completed, resulting in 2832 sterilization procedures performed in Alberta during the 43 years that the Alberta Eugenics Board was in power."
Ernest Manning, father of Preston Manning, was the Premier of Alberta for most of the time that the Alberta Eugenics Board operated. He left office without disbanding it, and throughout his permiership tolerated this policy.

So you tell me who's the worse human being: Tommy Douglas, who wrote a school paper on a subject he never actually practiced, or Ernest Manning, who was responsible for decades of forced sterilizations and oversaw a permanent black mark on Canada's human rights record.

Moreover, tell me why Douglas' school paper from the 1930s is relevant today, but the conduct of the Manning family into the 1960s isn't?

Ah, the Western Standard: Never checking to see if the gun is loaded before they start pointing it at their own head. I'd call them retards, except I'm worried they'd just go and hurt themselves.

Oil News - EVERYBODY PANIC edition

1) The US Army is scared of the repeated left-wing electoral victories in Latin America, and the potential to cut off "US" oil. This contrasts with US glee at right-wing military victories in the good old days.

2) How much oil does Kuwait really have? Probably not as much as we're banking on. As in, maybe half.

3) Finally, and most terrifyingly, Matt Simmons (author of Twilight in the Desert) sez "the Energy Crisis is here" (large PDF) and predicts that by 2018, Middle Eastern oil production will decline by 50%. Given that the Middle East is the only province not declining as we speak, that means global oil production probably below 70 million bpd, attempting to meet demand projected to be over 100 mbpd.

Will Somebody House-break Rumsfeld?

Seriously. Dude shits all over everything. Latest example: Rumsfeld's continuing desire to ruin Sino-US relations, even if it means hiring lying, paranoid failed academics.
In May 2002, ten months before he became president of China, Hu Jintao visited Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon. The meeting, as then-Vice President Hu saw it, had gone well. Routine U.S.-Chinese military-to-military contacts, which had been suspended since 2001 after a tense standoff over a damaged U.S. spy plane, were to be renewed. China's Xinhua news agency quickly put out a headline announcing the thaw: "Chinese vice-president, U.S. defense secretary agree to resume military exchanges."
But there was a problem. According to the Pentagon, no such consensus had been reached. Instead, the two sides had merely agreed that the possibility of such exchanges would be "revisited."

The mix-up, as it turned out, had a likely explanation. According to The Far Eastern Economic Review, Rumsfeld, in a characteristic interdepartmental snub, had barred the State Department's interpreter from the meeting. The man on whose language skills Rumsfeld had instead relied was not a professional interpreter but a Pentagon advisor and longtime Washington operator named Michael Pillsbury. With a proficiency (up to a point) in Mandarin, a doctorate in political science from Columbia University, and three decades of experience in dealing with the Chinese military, Pillsbury has emerged as a Defense Department favorite. That he may inadvertently have caused Hu to leave Washington with an overly conciliatory picture was also ironic: Pillsbury is one of Washington's foremost China hawks, consistently warning that Beijing represents a more serious and rapidly growing military threat than other China experts believe.
Screwing up the translation over something as important as direct military-to-military contacts isn't something minor, I would think. Nevertheless, the article makes it clear that Pillsbury is kept around the Pentagon - despite numerous ethical questions and repeated firings from other jobs - because he's useful for hyping the China threat.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Not even coming to the smart party

My previous post about how the left has been right about everything, always, got two responses from Blogging Tories. Steve Kantor writes:
Right about Iraq? Ha! It was right to go in, maybe implemented poorly, they needed more troops. The left is just shirking its responsibilities.
Well, I'm not sure what my responsibilities are as part of the left, but if Steve wants to hector me further, I'll listen. As for the substance of his argument - no, more troops would not have made things better. Why? Because the US did not have enough troops in active duty, national guards, and reserve to adequately occupy Iraq. This was summed up nicely in Matthew Yglesias' article, "The Incompetence Dodge."
“Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki was ridiculed for suggesting that it would take several hundred thousand troops to secure Iraq,” wrote Senator Joe Biden in a June 2004 New Republic article. “He looks prescient today.”

Shinseki’s ballpark numbers were based on past Army experience with postconflict reconstruction. A RAND Corporation effort to quantify more precisely that experience, frequently cited by dodgers, concluded that a ratio of 20 foreigners for every 1,000 natives would have been necessary to stabilize Iraq.
This turns out to mean an occupying force - including soldiers and civilian police - of about 500,000. (Yglesias is obviously a partisan source, but the RAND study he cites can hardly be called pro-Dem.) Meanwhile, the CBO estimates that the US can only maintain a long-term occupation of Iraq of approximately 100,000 soldiers - at the very most.

In order for the US to keep 500,000 men and women in theatre, they would need an active service roster of some 1.5 million soldiers (to maintain regular service rotations, not the failing back door draft we've got now), not including the 200,000 or so the US needs to maintain its positions across the rest of the world. So we're talking about almost doubling the existing US Armed forces, with most of that going to the Army.

Assuming this is even possible for the Pentagon to finance (how does a $1 trillion defense budget sound?) it would be impossible to find the men unless the White House and Congress brought back the draft. Which simply wouldn't happen.

And all of this speculation is useless when you consider that many authors have now shown that Rumsfeld repeatedly refused demands for more troops for ideological reasons. Even if Rumsfeld had the unlimited hordes of the Roman legion, he didn't want to use them because he wanted to show that the US could win a war on the cheap, as a demonstration that Iraq was just the first of many wars the US would fight.

So in short: The Iraq war wasn't going to be won with more troops, because they weren't there to be used. Even if they had been, Rumsfeld and Bush wouldn't have used them. So the only way to win the war would have been if Rumsfeld and Bush weren't in charge, in which case we wouldn't have gone to fucking war in the first place.

The second comment wasn't about Iraq, but climate change. PhilTaj writes:
heh...right about climate change? As I understand it, human induced climate change has yet to be proven.
There are two possible responses to this willful refusal to see facts. One is to cite groups like the NAS, the IPCC, the journals Science and Nature and show that the consensus is that the climate change we are seeing today, and have been seeing since roughly 1950 or so, has been primarily driven by human greenhouse-gas emissions. This is not the same thing as saying that all climate change is driven by humans, but it does mean that we are now the primary cause.

But I'm not sure this is enough for the most stubborn of denialists. I fear that for some - for too many - climate change will never be "proven" unless we actually watch individual carbon atoms actually turn up the planets thermostat. It's a nice racket, because this will never happen, so people who refuse to believe in climate change will forever be able to insulate their mindsets, even as they refuse to insulate their homes.

Exactly

Jim Henley puts it better than I have:
Most importantly, they’ve forgotten - we’ve forgotten, as a nation - that war is extraordinary. Attacking another nation is not a casual instrument of policy. It is a grave matter. You can see this memory lapse even in James Joyner’s entry: he doesn’t really think that North Korea will just up and fire a missile at some US city. He worries about “blackmail [which] would hover over our relations with the Koreas and the region generally.”

But there’s blackmail and there’s blackmail. Real blackmail would be North Korea trying to push us around - demanding we give them food or they nuke us, demanding we subscribe to the Juche Ideal (which would preclude giving them food) or they nuke us, demanding that the Japanese Prime Minister abdicate in favor of one of Kim Jong-Il’s hookers. There’s another kind of “blackmail” that comes up repeatedly in discussions of Iran, North Korea and Iraq, though, which is the “threat” that these nations will be less willing to meet American demands if we’re afraid they can bomb us. That’s not “blackmail” but self-defense. It’s not a threat if you don’t believe the United States must be able to compel any nation on Earth to do its bidding.

Real blackmail is an affirmative action. Real blackmail even tends to justify truly preemptive self-defense. The other kind, “penumbras and emanations blackmail,” doesn’t. It is not normal to attack other nations to prevent marginal erosions of supremacy. It’s also not normal to attack a new nation every couple of years. That we as a nation don’t notice this any more is one of the great dangers we face.
Seriously - read the whole thing. There's more right in there than I've put in whole months' worth of blogging.

Oooh.... blog-wrestling

Yglesias, Ezra, and Michael Tomasky all have a whack at the Iraqi withdrawal plan that doesn't exist, and won't so long as Bush is in charge. First, Matthew:
For a while over the weekend, it looked like the Bush administration stumbled into a golden ticket out of Iraq... Rather than embrace this opportunity, however, the administration worked to water down the reconciliation proposals, including the requests for the United States to withdraw.
To which Ezra responds:
For years, the sector of the left concerned with the appearance or existence of imperalist tendencies was mocked and pilloried -- remember Zell Miller foaming over hearing our troops called "occupiers" rather than "liberators"? But they were right....Folks sometimes wonder why we don't have an exit strategy. The answer, now obvious, is because we don't want one.
Tomasky responds by basically saying that the GOP will pull out of Iraq, but only in a fashion that can make the Democrats look bad. I'm pretty obviously going to side with Ezra on this one - Bush and the PNAC crew had a vision of American dominance for the eternal future, and thought Iraq was America's answer to Manchukuo.

There's a odd desire by some to try and figure out what the "motive" was behind Iraq. Was it oil? Was it Israel? What? This is really a hopeless excercise. Whatever Bush's conscious motives were are really secondary. Iraq was and continues to be an excercise in control - for the Pentagon, an attempt to demonstrate weapons superiority, for the White House, an attempt to demonstrate the will to defy all international law and convention. In one sense, the eventual victims of this hubris were irrelevant - once the US had decided to smack someone, they were going to do it, period.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Coming Late to the Smart Party

(Cross-posted at Ezra's.)


Damn but its frustrating to be right all the time. The left has been right on all the major questions of the last, oh, century or so. Most recently, we've been right about Iraq, climate change, Guantanamo, and now the IEA - no bunch of granola-crunchers - have come out with a report saying yes, it is possible to reduce our energy use, reduce pollution, and grow our economy at the same time.

Of course, if this report is covered the way Bush's cut-and-run strategy in Iraq is covered, I expect to be told that the environmental movement has always been against reducing our energy use. This is truly frightening - as Atrios and Greg Sargent have been covering all day, the media seems to be completely ignoring the fact that, until about 4:30 Friday afternoon, the GOP was characterizing any kind of withdrawal as a defeat, surrender, betraying the troops, etc. By Sunday morning, a phased withdrawal was suddenly The Plan, and the question now becomes how the Democrats will differentiate themselves from Bush?

I suppose it would be a bit much to expect the media to portray this honestly: That the GOP slandered Dems for political purposes, but is more than happy to embrace our ideas because, frankly, they're the only ones that work. More succinctly: The GOP steals our ideas, hold the competence. At least Eric Boehlert will have plenty of work.

Sunday Morning Terror

(Cross-posted at Ezra's.)

In the LA Times:

JAKOBSHAVN GLACIER, Greenland — Gripping a bottle of Jack Daniel's between his knees, Jay Zwally savored the warmth inside the tiny plane as it flew low across Greenland's biggest and fastest-moving outlet glacier.

Mile upon mile of the steep fjord was choked with icy rubble from the glacier's disintegrated leading edge. More than six miles of the Jakobshavn had simply crumbled into open water.An

The article gets scarier.

Climate experts have started to worry that the ice cap is disappearing in ways that computer models had not predicted.

By all accounts, the glaciers of Greenland are melting twice as fast as they were five years ago, even as the ice sheets of Antarctica — the world's largest reservoir of fresh water — also are shrinking, researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of Kansas reported in February.

One of the common wingnut "rebuttals" of An Inconvenient Truth is to say that Gore's "predictions" (which he doesn't make) about flooding resulting from glaciers melting won't happen for centuries, or millenia. The problem is that - as we find more and more research like this - it's clear we are no longer on a linear path. Rather, we're finding positive-feedback all over the place, especially at the poles where warming is happening fastest.

As just one (of many) examples of positive feedback, it seems that the last time the Greenland Ice Sheet melted, the sea level rose by a much higher amount than can be explained by Greenland alone. The theory is that the rise in sea level from Arctic ice triggered a partial collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

As Kevin Drum notes, "So in a way, the skeptics have turned out to be right: the computer models aren't as reliable as we thought. They're too optimistic." Meanwhile, North America (and I include my Canadian countrymen in this indictment) has wasted almost 20 years claiming that the "science wasn't clear."

Someday, I hope we build a monument (on high ground) and chisel the names of every prominent climate-change "skeptic" on it, to shame them for all eternity. But for that plan to work, they would need to have shame in the first place.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Joe Cirincione Is Sane

At ThinkProgress:
Former Secretary of Defense William Perry is one of America’s great national defense assets. So it is difficult to understand his lapse in judgment in proposing, with Harvard’s Ash Carter... Their June 22 Washington Post op-ed, commits five basic errors:...

4. There is little calculation of the next move. Perry and Carter assume that once the U.S. attacked North Korea, Kim Jung-Il will do nothing. This assumption is convenient, but unsupported. Do the authors really think that Kim can afford to lose massive amounts of face and still maintain his grip on the military? What if he launches a missile at a U.S. facility in South Korea in a tit-for-tat exchange? Never count on winning a chess game with one bold move.
The Bush Doctrine, in bullet points. Of course an attack on North Korea would be an act of war*, and it's always difficult to see how the other guy will respond.

*There's an unfortunate convention to say these things, when done by the US, are "seen as" a provocation, or "perceived to be" an attack. Surely, an unprovoked missile barrage on North Korea is simply an attack and an act of war, and we don't know what happens the day, or even the hour, afterwards.

1%, cont.

Gary Kamiya has a fan-fucking-tastic review of Suskind's new book, at Salon.com. It ends with this:
Secrecy and lies in the service of a higher good -- it has a Marxist, a fascist, a theocratic sound. Little by little, under the guise of "national security" -- since the birth of the republic, always the greatest threat to American values -- Cheney and his blustering, deeply devout accomplice have steered America away from its priceless legacy as a land governed by laws, debate and transparency, and toward something none of us would want to recognize.

While there is no danger that America will become a fascist, totalitarian or theocratic state, every step we take in that direction is a degradation and a danger. Yet somehow, it seems to be considered bad form to bring the subject up.

We are in a peculiar moment, one in which our politicians seem unable to articulate or even grasp the train wreck unfolding in front of them. Someday in the future, if the Democratic Party manages to transform itself from a cowering shadow to something approaching sentience, perhaps what really happened during the Bush era will be publicly debated.

Perhaps then we can ask how it happened that the government of the United States was hijacked by a bullying, fact-averse religious fanatic and his puppetmaster, an evil courtier out of Shakespeare. How we were plunged into a disastrous war simply because a cabal of ideologues and right-wing zealots, operating in autocratic secrecy, decided they wanted war. And how all of the normal workings of a democratic government -- objective analysis, checks and balances, transparency -- were simply trashed by an administration waving the bloody shirt of "terror."
As a bonus, some additional quotes:
Suskind's coup de grĂ¢ce on this subject is his reminder of Osama bin Laden's message to the American people just before the 2004 elections. The CIA's consensus: "bin Laden's message was clearly designed to assist the President's reelection ... On that score, any number of NSC principals could tell you something so dizzying that not even they will touch it: that Bush's ratings track with bin Laden's ratings in the Arab world." When Bush speaks, bin Laden's popularity soars -- and vice versa.
But this single quote encapsulates so much of what is wrong with the world today:
Suskind opens the book with a damning scene in which a CIA analyst warns Bush in August 2001 that bin Laden was planning to strike the U.S. Bush's response: "All right. You've covered your ass, now."
We know that the US government was getting all sorts of "chatter" about the risks of terrorism, and here is the President being warned of impending disaster, and he thinks that the appropriate response is to dismiss the warning as a bureaucratic formality?

Has there been a single moment since the 2000 inauguration that these men haven't oozed evil from every pore?

Finally

It's always the same. After an indeterminate period of time claiming that "we don't negotiate with terrorists", the well-armed losing side always eventually concedes reality and, yes, starts negotiating with terrorists. Think Israel. Think Ireland. Think FLQ. And now, think Baghdad.
THE Iraqi Government will announce a sweeping peace plan as early as Sunday in a last-ditch effort to end the Sunni insurgency that has taken the country to the brink of civil war.
The 28-point package for national reconciliation will offer Iraqi resistance groups inclusion in the political process and an amnesty for their prisoners if they renounce violence and lay down their arms, The Times can reveal.

The Government will promise a finite, UN-approved timeline for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iraq; a halt to US operations against insurgent strongholds; an end to human rights violations, including those by coalition troops; and compensation for victims of attacks by terrorists or Iraqi and coalition forces.

It will pledge to take action against Shia militias and death squads. It will also offer to review the process of “de-Baathification” and financial compensation for the thousands of Sunnis who were purged from senior jobs in the Armed Forces and Civil Service after the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Two things: First, this deal will mark the collapse of any US aims in Iraq, if it goes through. Some old-school Baathists will be back in power, but the Shia will retain power. The Baathists are being brought in simply to try and get the government running again, and are probably not going to be allowed to hold the wheel quite yet. The only thing the US gets out of this deal is a retreat with the appearance of order. In terms of the US aims prior to the war, this deal would be the final nail in the coffin of Bush's foreign policy.

Secondly, I'd like to take this moment to reiterate something: The stupidest thing ever aired on national television (not said by George W. Bush) was when The West Wing claimed, post-9/11, that terrorism has a "zero percent success rate", or something to that effect. To this end, they cited the Baader-Meinhof gang and the weather underground. Which is kind of like saying that Americans suck at sports and citing their performance in soccer. Obviously, if you exclude all the cases where terror worked, you're going to say it's a failure.

Michael Collins would, by the standards of today, probably be called a terrorist. (The only disqualifier would be his white skin.) Because of his successful campaign, Ireland was granted its independence. Menachem Begin had an important role in Israel's independence using tactics that Zarqawi would have understood. Later, the PLO managed to remind the world that, yes, they existed despite Golda Meir's claims.

It would be satisfying to believe that we were invincible to terrorism. But we aren't, because terrorism is cheap, easy, and effective. It also naturally plays to the core belief of liberal societies: If someone's willing to kill us to stop us from doing something, it's probably something we know we shouldn't be doing, or something we know we can't keep up indefinitely. See again: Ireland, Palestine, and now Iraq.

Acceding to terrorists demands isn't a sin. Certainly not when the terrorists are only demanding that we do something we should have done a long time ago - like, say, leaving Iraq.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

More on the SCO

The alarmism over the Shanghai Cooperation Organization continues. From the Guardians blog, Dilip Hiro:
At the one day annual summit of the six-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) on June 15, more limelight fell on the leader of an observer country than on any of the main participants. That figure happened to be the controversial president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Despite the lowly observer status accorded to his country, Ahmadinejad went on to publicly invite the SCO members to a meeting in Tehran to discuss energy exploration and development in the region. And the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, proposed that the SCO should form an "energy club".

While making a plea that his country should be accorded full membership of the SCO, the Pakistani president, Parvez Musharraf, highlighted the geo-strategic position of his country as an energy and trade corridor for SCO members. "Pakistan provides a natural link between the SCO states to connect the Eurasian heartland with the Arabian Sea and South Asia," he said.
There's a selling point, I suppose. One of Russia's dreams for more than a century has been access to ice-free ports, a dream which resulted in numerous wars with China and Japan in the Pacific. But this is a shocking statement, if true:
Little wonder that, Iran applied for full membership; as did India.
I'm trying to find another source for this - as far as I'd heard, India was happy just being an "observer" nation for now. If India is joining the SCO as a full member, I'd be tempted to call US ambitions in Asia as dicey-er.

The Return of la soudure

This, dear readers, is courtesy of the WorldWatch Institute. It charts global food stocks in terms of days of remaining reserves. As you can see, global grain reserves are at their lowest point since Richard Nixon was president. According to Worldwatch:
This year’s world grain harvest is projected to fall short of consumption by 61 million tons, marking the sixth time in the last seven years that production has failed to satisfy demand. As a result of these shortfalls, world carryover stocks at the end of this crop year are projected to drop to 57 days of consumption, the shortest buffer since the 56-day-low in 1972 that triggered a doubling of grain prices.

World carryover stocks of grain, the amount in the bin when the next harvest begins, are the most basic measure of food security. Whenever stocks drop below 60 days of consumption, prices begin to rise. It thus came as no surprise when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) projected in its June 9 world crop report that this year’s wheat prices will be up by 14 percent and corn prices up by 22 percent over last year’s.
So now we've got oil and food prices as drivers of inflation. Great. Interestingly, these probably won't show up immediately in the headlines, given the convention of central banks to only focus on core inflation - that is, excluding food and energy prices.

Nanosolar News

One of the companies I've been watching closely is Nanosolar, because of their remarkable claims for low-cost solar power production. The good news today (via GCC) is that Nanosolar is building what is possibly the world's largest solar cell manufacturing facility, which will have the capacity to build 430MW of peak solar power every year.

Excellent news. Nanosolar is one of the first companies to promise solar power at a cost below $1 per peak watt ($1/Wp), a price at which solar is easily competitive with our other source of electricity on bright, sunny days - natural gas.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Predictable

So this whole North Korean missile thing? It turns out, South Korea (who should know) isn't as worried as the US is trying to make everyone:
Today, there were hints from S. Korea officials they may be starting to doubt the key parts of the story, at least as it has been spun by US “official sources”, specifically challenging “intel” that fueling has been completed. And one Korean “source who asked not to be named” in a Korea Times story went to far as to charge ulterior motive in all the US-based leaks, “Frankly speaking, aren’t the United States and Japan in a position that could enjoy the current situation?”

This anonymous source the specified how a DPRK missile shoot helps boost US and Japanese supporters of national missile defense, but said for S. Korea, the situation is vastly more complicated, since, the Korea Times paraphrased, “the South Korean government, placed in a different position as a ‘directly concerned party’, is forced to deal with the problem not only as a mere military and security issue but also a political and diplomatic one.”
You could hear the Reagan freaks positively squeal with glee with the news that those magical broken missiles in Alaska were being turned on, and that two AEGIS cruisers were being tasked to track any outbound missile from the DPRK. Similarly, the US will conduct a test of the sea-based BMD system. William Arkin, meanwhile, throws some cold water on the idea:
I don't know which would be worse for the United States: an American shoot-down of a North Korean missile test, or an unsuccessful attempt to do so. The latter might remind the American public of the vast sums wasted on "defense," and provoke a discussion of the flawed strategy and policy behind missile defenses. That strategy assumes diplomacy will fail, and only our shield will protect us from irrational states.
Of course, the situation is ridiculous. Between Iran, North Korea, and whatever they think of next week, the Bush Administration is desperate for some distraction - anything - that can make a real increase in the polls.

Apparently, embracing sanity was ruled out early in discussions between VPOTUS and DoD.

Sweet Jesus

Ron Suskind on Wolf Blitzer, via Dan Froomkin:
"BLITZER: The relationship that you describe between the president and the vice president is pretty dramatic. ... But you write this: 'In the spring of 2002 Bush asked Cheney to pull back a little at big meetings to give the president more room to move, to take charge. Bush asked -- Bush asked Cheney not to offer him advice in crowded rooms. Do that privately.' "
I'm not sure what the advantage of this would be - no sentient life form thinks that Bush is a neurologically-independent entity from the Cheney Mass. Still, it says something about Bush, who we know has more than a few issues with older authority figures.
"BLITZER: You're saying the CIA formally concluded that bin Laden wanted Bush re-elected.

"SUSKIND: Well, look -- absolutely true . . . the analysis flowed essentially along those lines.

"BLITZER: One of the other explosive charges you have in the book is that the U.S. deliberately bombed the Al Jazeera offices in Kabul to make a point. You write this: 'On November 13, a hectic day when Kabul fell to the Northern Alliance and there were celebrations in the streets of the city, a U.S. missile obliterated Al Jazeera's office. Inside the CIA and White House there was satisfaction that a message had been sent to Al Jazeera.'

"Are you suggesting that someone in the U.S. government made a deliberate decision to take out the Al Jazeera office in Kabul?

"SUSKIND: My sources are clear that that was done on purpose, precisely to send a message to Al Jazeera, and essentially a message was sent."
So yes, bin Laden feared a Kerry presidency. Of course. What reason has Bush given to fear him? "Attack America, kill 3,000 people, and I'll go get 2,500 soldiers killed of my own accord in a war to make you a new Afghanistan in Arabia?"

And attacking Al-Jazeera has certainly helped America's image in the world, hasn't it?

I don't remember who said it first, but America is going to need a truth and reconciliation committee after Bush is impeached.

Edmund Burke would shoot you in the face, son

Ezra hits one of the most annoying habits of conservatives - their pseudo-intellectualism:
Cherny recalled a conversation with a conservative pundit who asked, "Who's on your tie?" Apparently, the Reaganites signaled their seriousness by using Edmund Burke and Adam Smith as neckwear....It's odd, though. The sartorial symbolism of our unnamed conservative is just one manifestation of the rightwing punditocracy's sort of ostentatious intellectualism, which is usually signaled by smug and constant reminders of their slavish devotion to philosophical forebears.... Their standard bearers, after all, aren't tweedy guys who quote Burke, but swaggering Texans who misquote Christ. George Bush, not George Will.
Well said, and something that we should have called bullshit on a long time ago. Edmund Burke would never have been a Republican, or a republican for that matter. Adam Smith was quite clearly in favour of government provision of public goods. I don't remember where Burke said that gays shouldn't marry (though I'm certain he would have believed that, if he knew what gays were) and I don't remember Burke advocating for Congress to pass laws requiring brain-dead women to be kept alive by force. Conservatives talk a big game about their intellectual lineage, but its crap from beginning to end.

Can you guess why? I'll give you a hint: It's not fucking 1776 anymore, and The Wealth of Nations isn't exactly cutting-edge economics research anymore. If I want to read about economics, I'll read Krugman or Baker. That's not because I don't think there's merit in reading, say, John Stuart Mill, but because somebody who's used an Intel-era computer probably has something more relevant to say.

Levity

So now Prince William is entering the Sandhurst military academy, following is younger brother Harry. Good for both of them - certainly, it beats the behaviour of the Bush children.

But really, does this mean that William is going to have his little brother stick up for him? Because army or no, there's nothing that will make that bearable.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

I continue to advocate for the past

So a while back, Ezra Klein was accused, as an acting exercise, of being a "socialist" for backing state-provided health care. His response:
"We should stop running from that moniker," I chuckled. "If we're going to call what Canada, France, Germany, England, Japan, and essentially every -- actually, not essentially, just every -- other industrialized nation offers socialized health care, but they cover all of their citizens with better outcomes and lower costs than we do, then I'm happy to associate myself with that."
A perfectly rational response, but too, well, commie-pinko for some. Some, in this case, being Kevin Drum:
the basic answer to "Is national healthcare socialist?" should always be no, not yes. We are not in favor of command economies, ownership of the means of production, or state control of doctors, and that's what most people think of when you say "socialist."

And that's Kevin's media training for the day.
The final (thus far) repartee in this debate comes, perhaps unintentionally, from Ezra Klein, who links to this article at Democracy with the following superlative review: "Well sign me up." What, pray tell, does Ezra want to be signed up for? ESOPs, or employee-owned corporations.

...wait a second! It turns out Ezra Klein is in favour of workers owning the means of production! Crap! What next!

Actually, the article that Ezra links to is even worse, from Kevin Drum's point of view - it advocates state intervention, and state-owned companies, in the private market at the municipal, state, and federal level, worker ownership of business, as well as government-guaranteed giveaways of several tens of thousands of dollars. In short, if you wanted to give Newt Gingrich a coronary, this would be it.

Now we have a paradox: If you're at all serious about alleviating poverty and inequality in capitalist society, then the measures proposed in the article are a beginning, not the end. But they are, self-evidently, socialism. Worse yet, many of the policies go even further than that hotbed of Bolshevism, Sweden. Nevertheless, I happen to believe they would build a more efficient, stronger economy while addressing social ills. So how do we do it without freaking the norms?

Shocking

Michael Ignatieff is on record as saying that he believes that torture persists where the law is absent not because human depravity also persists, but because when something like that is used so frequently, it must have some utility.

To him, and his co-conspirators, I present People's Exhibit 1,235,690, via K-Drum:
Bush "was fixated on how to get Zubaydah to tell us the truth," Suskind writes, and he asked one briefer, "Do some of these harsh methods really work?" Interrogators did their best to find out, Suskind reports. They strapped Abu Zubaydah to a water-board, which reproduces the agony of drowning. They threatened him with certain death. They withheld medication. They bombarded him with deafening noise and harsh lights, depriving him of sleep. Under that duress, he began to speak of plots of every variety — against shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty. With each new tale, "thousands of uniformed men and women raced in a panic to each...target." And so, Suskind writes, "the United States would torture a mentally disturbed man and then leap, screaming, at every word he uttered."
Note that the fiction that Bush has had nothing to do with ordering torture is revealed to be a steaming pile of shit. Of course, Bush and those who follow his orders are the lesser evil, or so some have claimed.

The only way this could be a "lesser evil" is that in this case, the victim was mentally ill before he was tortured.

The D[r]aft

I truly don't understand the love affair some people have with the military. Perhaps the most heartless deflation of the uniform-droolers I ever read was from Skippy, who last year wrote:
All that need be said on this one is that the only person I've met who murdered his own mother in cold blood was a soldier. The only person I've ever met who offered to kill someone's landlord, for pay, over a rent dispute was a soldier. And the only person I've ever met who got a buddy to beat up his pregnant girlfriend in the hope of inducing a miscarriage was a soldier, as was the buddy who did the deed. As a matter of fact, I've never personally met a violent criminal who wasn't a soldier, and that's to say nothing of the minor crooks.
The latest example of "we should all wear a uniform" comes from the new journal Democracy, where Kathryn Roth-Douquet argues that progressives need to be more military-friendly. Because apparently Clinton hated the military, except for when he wasn't using it. You know, never.

Basically, Roth-Douquet's argument revolves around three claims: One, the left has been hostile to the US military since Vietnam. This claim is simply untrue - what passes for the American left (roughly, the liberals in the Democratic party) continually supported the military, as do the denizens of DailyKos today. They simply don't serve, which wasn't a problem until Iraq - the military had plenty of bodies. Indeed, the US military was turning people away post-9/11. More importantly, so what if Vietnam turned us off Big War? Should it not have?

Ah, this brings us to claim two: There's virtue in national service. Fine, no argument. But the article is titled "The Progressive Case for Military Service". Is the Peace Corps morally suspect compared to the Marine Corps? How could it possibly be?

Claim three: The rift between the elites and the military leadership threatens the Republic. This is one of those perennial worries that surfaces, but there's not a lot there, there. Yes, Colin Powell lead the military's cowardly opposition to openly gay servicemen and women. But there's no evidence that we've ever been close to "Seven Days in May" here. The Army hated Roosevelt and Truman - famously so, in the case of MacArthur - but they obeyed orders.

Besides, you wonder who the present-day military commanders wish were in charge today: the military-hating Clinton, or the soldier-fetishist Bush?

There's more to the article that I disagree with, but this part was just silly:
Additionally, a number of aspects of military culture reflect progressive ideals unrealized in the larger culture. It is egalitarian, with the highest-ranking general earning no more than 11 times the lowest-ranking private. Moreover, military communities feature low-cost, quality, licensed day care for as little as $37 a week, with drop-in care at $3 an hour. High-quality after-school programs cost $5 for the year. Health care is universal and free.
Um, I've got an idea. Instead of us all joining the military to get free health care, why doesn't the government just give citizens the free health care that soliders already get? Isn't the implication of the status quo that only soldiers are true citizens? Isn't that an inherently militarist ideology?

Now, I'd get behing some kind of mandatory national service, provided that there was no compulsion to serve in the military. There's one excellent reason for this, and two good ones. The excellent reason is simple: Professional militaries don't want a return to the draft. Period. The countries that still have mass armies are all abandoning them, and we shouldn't go backwards.

The other two reasons are a bit more complicated: First, armed forces are not the only big-ticket item that national governments provide. Health care, education, infrastructure, are all expensive and could potentially be cheaper with some kind of low(er) cost labour provided by the state. A broad, open-to-all form of national service could (in the Canadian example) provide education and care to the northern communities, rebuild our roads and bridges, staff our schools, and tend to the sick in our hospitals. I don't believe mandatory national service is necessary for these aims, but it's one possibility.

Second: The world needs less militarism, not more. Exalting the status of soldier-citizen misses the point of the American founding fathers' intent: Not that we have a permanent nation in arms, but that when the citizens stop fighting, the government would have no more army to call on. The ideal of the citizen soldier was supposed to lead to less war, not more.

Another possibility to mention: As our PM has recently announced, Canada's immigration is a huge strength to our country. Why not make national service a guaranteed path to citizenship? Say a Canadian citizen must serve 3 years of their life in the national service corps. Why not say to anyone who wants to live in Canada that, if they agree to serve all of those three years up front, they can automatically become citizens? It seems fairer than the hoops in our current system. It would also give the government an incentive to make sure that professionals from other countries could practise their trades here, to make the best use of their talents.

Oh, and credit where it's due: Harper is spot-on to reject the advice of his fellow-travellers who would have us close our borders. I don't get to cheer this government often enough, but that was a good thing for Harper to say. (Yes, immigrants are a big voting bloc, but he still could have pandered to the nativist vote and didn't. Good for him.)

The One Percent Doctrine

So Ron Suskind's new book, The One Percent Doctrine, has been getting a lot of press for how incomepently the Bush Administration has run the war on terror. But here's the thing - I couldn't find a definition of what the title doctrine was supposed to be. I finally found it, and it scares the bejeezus out of me:
Absorbing the possibility that al-Qaeda was trying to acquire a nuclear weapon, Cheney remarked that America had to deal with a new type of threat--what he called a "low-probability, high-impact event"--and the U.S. had to do it "in a way we haven't yet defined," writes author Ron Suskind in his new book, The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11. And then Cheney defined it: "If there's a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It's not about our analysis ... It's about our response."
This is simply bizarre. Given a world with 1 billion muslims - to take just one of the many demographics who have reason to be angry with the US - the odds that someone, somewhere is planning a "high-impact" terrorist attack against the United States is probably much more than 1%. This is the point, I imagine: If you set the threshold for American military violence low enough, you get to justify using it whenever you want. The Iraq War, in a nutshell.

Of course, the other point worth noting is that since Cheney said that, Iran and North Korea have both started a nuclear program that - Cheney believes - threatens the United States, but because of the application of this doctrine in the Iraq War, the US can't do anything about it.

Suskind's book looks interesting - apparently, Bush is even more out of touch than we thought. Lord help us.

Monday, June 19, 2006

A Red Moon, Again

BEIJING (Reuters) - A top official in China's space program has set 2024 for the country's first moonwalk, a Hong Kong newspaper reported on Monday, cementing its position as a new space power....

"China now basically possesses the technology, materials and the economic strength" to put a man on the moon, the paper quoted the official as saying.
To bust out a bit of snark, it's worth mentioning that if China landed a man on the moon in 2024, they'd still be 55 years behind the United States. Of course, if the US put a man on the moon by 2024, the same would be true.

Nevertheless, I'm sure this will be used to justify a whole bunch of new scary articles about how China is going to surpass the United States. This should be recognized for what it is: Lockheed and Boeing begging for more pork. Via Brad Plumer:
The QDR is just the latest in a series of U.S. government reports (including intelligence analyses and reports commissioned by Congress) expressing alarm over China's growing economic and technological prowess in the development of aggressive military capabilities. Some of these reports, however, contain mistakes that call into question the reliability of the information presented to Congress and to the American public. The analysts who produce the reports include information based on poorly translated documents and unreliable Chinese press accounts. They often fail to include information from more reliable Chinese open sources. Their selections of information often appear biased toward confirming the prevailing view of China.

It turns out, nuclear war is bad

So I spent the weekend depressing myself thoroughly, by reading an excellent book. In this case, the book was The Fate of the Earth, by Jonathan Schell. Originally published in 1982, it is (for those who haven't read it) a chilling piece of work, thoroughly documenting the known and unknown dangers of nuclear war. There's quite a bit in the book, and I'd definitely reccomend it to anyone who, like me, enjoys pain in their reading.

The book is divided in three parts, with the first part mainly dealing with what could be called the "direct" effects of nuclear war - the physical and environmental destruction that would have occured (and could still occur) if the Kremlin and Washington had a really, really bad day. The second part deals with the moral and ethical questions of human extinction, and was for me an important, if slightly repetitive part to the book. Schell argues that nuclear war, regardless of the "reasons" it was fought for, would be an immense crime against the entire human race. He also notes that, as a species, we tend not to want to think abou these things - something which should trouble us all. As Schell says, a species that spends so little time contemplating the single biggest threat it faces cannot be called mentally well.

Speaking of "biggest threats" we face, I'd also like to note that Schell's book - published in 1982 - contains not one but two mentions of global warming driven by increasing CO2 emissions. But lord knows, the science is still too uncertain, no matter how many polar bears eat each other.

Finally, the first part of Fate of the Earth contains a number of disturbing descriptions of likely results of nuclear attacks on New York, but the section that haunted me the most was the survivors accounts of the real-life results of Hiroshima. The passage that kept me from sleeping Saturday night:
Throughout the city, parents were discovering their wounded or dead children, and children were discovering their wounded or dead parents. Kikuno Segawa recalls seeing a little girl with her dead mother: "A woman who looked like an expectant mother was dead. At her side, a girl of about three years of age brought some water in an empty can she had found. She was trying to let her mother drink from it."
The destruction of Hiroshima was so complete and sudden that the normal safety net the a community provides simply disappeared. It was not simply that the atomic bomb destroyed the physical aparatus of the city - The City itself, as a human community - ceased to exist. Survivors straggled out to the hills surrounding the city, many dying on the way there. All in all, the bomb probably killed 130,000 people from direct effects and radiation poisoning.

There are still 30,000 nuclear warheads out there, with God knows how much megatonnage among them. The vast majority are still held by the Russians and Americans. And in case you were wondering, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists says we're still seven minutes to ultimate midnight.

Shhh...

Nobody use the word "class war". Paul Krugman, in today's NYT (behind their paywall):
So what's our bitter partisan divide really about? In two words: class warfare. That's the lesson of an important new book, ''Polarized America: The Dance of Ideology and Unequal Riches,'' by Nolan McCarty of Princeton University, Keith Poole of the University of California, San Diego, and Howard Rosenthal of New York University....

What the book shows, using a sophisticated analysis of Congressional votes and other data, is that for the past century, political polarization and economic inequality have moved hand in hand. Politics during the Gilded Age, an era of huge income gaps, was a nasty business -- as nasty as it is today. The era of bipartisanship, which lasted for roughly a generation after World War II, corresponded to the high tide of America's middle class. That high tide began receding in the late 1970's, as middle-class incomes grew slowly at best while incomes at the top soared; and as income gaps widened, a deep partisan divide re-emerged.
Now, to turn it to energy: The 1970s collapse of the liberal consensus resulted from any number of factors in combination: Nixon's corruption, Vietnam, the sexual, racial, and political revolutions of the 1960s, whatever. But it would be foolish to ignore the profound impact of the oil shocks. Not just on prices or energy policy - the oil shocks fundamentally undermined the post-war liberal consensus. (Sadly for me, the unofficial end of the liberal consensus - Reagan's inauguration - was mere weeks before I was born.) With the end of economic security, western politics took a turn away from a more social bent (stronger unions, progressive taxes, stronger government) to a nastier, more brutish form of capitalism.

I'm no determinist, but it's tempting to view the 20th-century expansion of labour and political rights as something that could only be sustained with a large and growing economy, fed with a large and growing supply of cheap petroleum. Certainly, the expansion of oil production and the expansion of politics both correspond to the same period - roughly the late 19th century until the mid 1970s.

This points to the broader reason why environmentalism is predominantly a left-wing issue: creating a sustainable economy is part and parcel of building a more socially just world.

Idiocy Defined

So we knew that in the immediate period post-"Mission Accomplished", that Iran was willing to negotiate on a broad range of topics. Via Kevin Drum, we see exactly how broad those topics were:
The document lists a series of Iranian aims for the talks, such as ending sanctions, full access to peaceful nuclear technology and a recognition of its "legitimate security interests." Iran agreed to put a series of U.S. aims on the agenda, including full cooperation on nuclear safeguards, "decisive action" against terrorists, coordination in Iraq, ending "material support" for Palestinian militias and accepting the Saudi initiative for a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The document also laid out an agenda for negotiations, with possible steps to be achieved at a first meeting and the development of negotiating road maps on disarmament, terrorism and economic cooperation.
Now, if you'll remember, frightening other regimes into good behaviour was one of the (manifold) rationales used to justify this war. So what did Bushco do when the war frightened the Iranian regime in to the desired good behaviour? Well, they shit all over it, like they do with everything:
Top Bush administration officials, convinced the Iranian government was on the verge of collapse, belittled the initiative.
Yeah. How'd that work out for you guys? Oh, that's right, we got President Ahmedinejad. Nice work.