2010 - %3, November

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 19, 2010

Fri Nov. 19, 2010 6:30 AM EST

Indiana National Guard Soldiers of Battery A, 2nd Battalion, 150th Field Artillery Regiment, headquartered in Greencastle, Ind., work together to smoothly execute a fire mission using their M777 Howitzers at Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center in central Indiana, Thursday, Nov. 4. The Indiana Guard is one of the first states to be issued this piece of equipment. Photo via U.S. Army.

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Stuxnet Update

| Fri Nov. 19, 2010 2:13 AM EST

Here's the latest on the Stuxnet worm:

The paternity of the worm is still in dispute, but in recent weeks officials from Israel have broken into wide smiles when asked whether Israel was behind the attack, or knew who was. American officials have suggested it originated abroad.

The new forensic work narrows the range of targets and deciphers the worm’s plan of attack. Computer analysts say Stuxnet does its damage by making quick changes in the rotational speed of motors, shifting them rapidly up and down.

....Those fluctuations, nuclear analysts said in response to the report, are a recipe for disaster among the thousands of centrifuges spinning in Iran to enrich uranium, which can fuel reactors or bombs. Rapid changes can cause them to blow apart. Reports issued by international inspectors reveal that Iran has experienced many problems keeping its centrifuges running, with hundreds removed from active service since summer 2009.

Pretty clever of the Israelis, no?

The War Against DADT Repeal

| Thu Nov. 18, 2010 11:55 PM EST

I'm not sure how seriously to take this, but Marcy Wheeler retweets this from petulantsage:

Every person I've talked to over the past 48 hours, who works for a 3 & 4-star agrees: it's open warfare. USMC and AF will kill repeal.

No surprise, I guess. The Marine Corps (too red-blooded for gays) and the Air Force (too evangelical Christian for gays) have always been the most opposed to repeal of DADT. We'll see who wins the war shortly.

New START and Its Discontents

| Thu Nov. 18, 2010 10:17 PM EST

Josh Marshall realized today that he didn't really know much about the New START treaty, so he made some phone calls to get up to speed. His report:

Have you heard this? Russia still has a massive strategic nuclear arsenal with pretty much the exclusive goal of being able to devastate the United States and kill pretty much all of us. For 15 years we had pretty robust right to inspect their arsenal many times a year, make sure they only had as many as they were allowed under our treaties and actually get up on the delivery missiles themselves and look at the payloads? Now we don't. In fact, we haven't since December 5th of last year.

At first that wasn't that big a deal. Not much can happen in a few weeks or few months. But now it's been almost a year. So all that trust but verify stuff Ronald Reagan was so into? Well, now we can't verify. And for as much as you're worried about some Muslim guy blowing up a plane and killing a few hundred people, these are weapons designed to kill hundreds of millions of people. Do you feel more secure knowing we're just taking everything on faith from the Russians? Or that our intelligence on their missile designs and practices is growing older by the day?

As it happens, yes, I have heard all this. But I think Josh is right: most people don't have a clue. And it does indeed seem like a massive messaging fail by the White House that they haven't been focused obsessively on pushing this message at every opportunity. Forget all the other aspects of the treaty. Forget the reduction in warheads, the reduction in ICBMs, or the reduction in heavy bombers. Forget about the quality of our relationship with Russia and its role in reining in Iran's nuke program. If there's anything that people ought to understand, it's that the treaty restores our ability to inspect and verify the Russian nuclear arsenal.

I've spent some time reading the technical objections that conservatives have to New START, and they're pretty inscrutable. Mostly they either strain the language of the treaty beyond recognition (to claim it obstructs missile defense, for example), criticize something the treaty doesn't even cover (tactical nukes, targeting strategies), object to provisions that both the military and the intelligence community say are fine (telemetry protocols, launch vehicle IDs), or simply rail against the whole idea of signing arms control treaties in the first place — as conservatives have done pretty much forever. There's practically nothing concrete to any of it.

But if we don't approve the treaty, we'll lose our ability to verify Russian nukes completely. That's about as concrete as you can get.

Bush Kept His "Mission Accomplished" Banner

| Thu Nov. 18, 2010 7:07 PM EST

Ever wonder what happened to the big ol' "Mission Accomplished" banner that hung behind George W. Bush during his carrier-deck Iraq victory speech? Wonder no more. Via the USA Today:

As former president George W. Bush broke ground Tuesday in Dallas for his presidential library, officials weighed whether or not to display one item that few know is being held in storage there: the "Mission Accomplished" banner...

The banner now sits in storage and will become part of the library's collection. A decision on how or whether to display the red-white-and-blue banner hasn't been made, said Alan Lowe, director of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.

No word yet on whether the Bush Library will house any waterboards, yellowcake uranium, or notes from secret energy-industry meetings. But hopefully this golf club will be there:

 

Freudian Eels

| Thu Nov. 18, 2010 6:58 PM EST

Two closely-related species of shapeshifting fish inhabit the North Atlantic: the American eel, Anguilla rostrata; and the European eel, Anguilla anguilla. They share a catadromous lifestyle, that is, they live in freshwater but breed in saltwater. That's the opposite of the better-known anadromous fish, like salmon.European eel. Photo by Ron Offermans, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.European eel. Photo by Ron Offermans, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

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Popping the Corks for GM

| Thu Nov. 18, 2010 6:49 PM EST

Stephen Spruiell thows a bit of cold water on GM's much ballyhooed IPO:

Regarding the triumphalism attending GM’s IPO, let this post serve as a friendly reminder that GM still owes the U.S. government $43 billion; that its financing arm still owes $14.6 billion; and that its sick friend Chrysler still owes $8.2 billion.

....Let’s also keep in mind that many conservatives did not object to the idea of government-backed debtor-in-possession financing for GM and Chrysler at the height of the credit crisis, arguing that bankruptcy was unavoidable but that it might be necessary for the government to play a limited role in keeping the lights on at GM. The counterargument at the time, which one encountered constantly when arguing with bailout proponents, was that GM could not survive a bankruptcy — even a government-financed one — because the damage to its brand would be too great. Like many of the scare stories the automakers were telling at the time, this turned out to be false. It eventually became necessary for both GM and Chrysler to declare bankruptcy, and this did not prove fatal to either company. However, instead of providing simple debtor-in-possession financing, the TARP-financed bailout of the auto companies gave the Obama administration more control over the process, which it used to allow its union supporters to jump the line ahead of senior creditors. That’s exactly the kind of thing conservatives feared, and why we called for the government to have a much more circumscribed role if it was to have any role at all.

Look, no one is rooting for GM to fail, or for thousands of autoworkers to be laid off, or for the taxpayers to lose their entire stake in the company. But it is just ridiculous to start popping champagne corks left and right over the fact that an industrial problem child like GM managed to put its pants on today without falling on its face.

I'm surprisingly sympathetic to much of this. I remember my main reaction to the GM/Chrysler question at the time being, "I'm sure glad I'm not president of the United States right now." I really detested the whole idea of bailing out GM, but at the same time it was hard to convince myself that if I were actually in charge I'd be willing to risk the loss of another million jobs during the depths of the biggest economic turndown since the Great Depression.

And now? Like Spruiell, I'm far from convinced that GM is truly out of the woods, but I'm not as downbeat as he is over how this all played out. He's right about GM eventually declaring bankruptcy and coming through it OK, but the argument against bankruptcy, as I recall it, was mostly an argument against an uncontrolled bankruptcy. The main virtue of the eventual government involvement was not just that the feds provided some money, but that they were able to create a credible restructuring plan and then run it through the courts as a quick prepackaged bankruptcy. It's impossible to say for sure how much difference that made, but given that the feds were going to be on the hook for a lot of money regardless, it's hard to argue that it was worth taking any more chances than we had to.

And what was the downside? In the end the Obama administration didn't exercise all that much control over the company. The union deal has always stuck in conservative craws, but it was pretty defensible on purely practical grounds, and in any case the UAW almost certainly didn't come out of the process much better than they would have in a standard bankruptcy. And in the post-bankruptcy stage, the administration has taken an almost obsessive hands-off attitude toward GM's operations, especially considering that they were a 61% shareholder.

The precedent the GM bailout set wasn't great. But in the end, I think even conservatives ought to acknowledge that it was handled quickly and competently, and that afterward the Obama administration showed very clearly that it had absolutely no interest in using the government's stake to exercise control over the company. I wouldn't get too triumphal about GM's IPO either, but I guess I also wouldn't be too churlish about acknowledging that, all things considered, it turned out pretty well.

Are Dems Growing a Brain?

| Thu Nov. 18, 2010 4:06 PM EST

Greg Sargent reports:

Steny Hoyer, the number two in the House Dem leadership, told Democrats at a caucus meeting this morning that they would get to vote this year on just extending the Bush tax cuts for the middle class, a senior Dem aide tells me, signaling support for a confrontational move towards the GOP that liberals have been pushing.

I don't believe this. It's too smart. Not like Democrats at all.

Chart of the Day: Conservative Economists

| Thu Nov. 18, 2010 3:47 PM EST

I'm not sure what to say about this one. Mike Konczal recently surveyed a random selection of conservative economists who had signed a Cato letter opposing the stimulus bill in early 2009 to find out what they were thinking these days. It was totally unscientific and he ended up getting 29 responses. But unscientific or not, it's enlightening. According to these economists, neither low consumer demand nor an overvalued dollar really has much to do with our economic woes. By far the biggest problem, in their view, was regulatory uncertainty, closely followed by concerns over the budget deficit and Barack Obama's hostility toward the business community. Seriously. That's what they think. The mind reels.

Putin's Animal Love

| Thu Nov. 18, 2010 3:25 PM EST

What could be better than the Russian President, shirtless, frolicking with dolphins? That's right, nothing. More pics of Putin-animal-love from Buzzfeed here. You're welcome.