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  • Archive for the 'Russia' Category

    Summer Rerun: The Calendar is Not Omnipotent

    Posted by David Foster on 7th July 2017 (All posts by )

    Here’s a video of Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser reacting to a Muslim Brotherhood demand that women be required to wear head coverings.  Nasser and his listeners are quite amused that anyone would propose such an idea in the modern year of 1958.  The video reminded me of this post from March 2014…

    Barack Obama and John Kerry have been ceaselessly lecturing Vlad Putin to the effect that: grabbing territory from other countries just isn’t the sort of thing one does in this twenty-first century, old boy.

    For example, here’s Obama: “…because you’re bigger and stronger taking a piece of the country – that is not how international law and international norms are observed in the 21st century.”

    And John Kerry:  “It’s really 19th century behavior in the twenty-first century. You just don’t invade another country on phony pretexts in order to assert your interests.”

    The idea that the mere passage of time has some automatic magical effect on national behavior…on human behavior…is simplistic, and more than a little odd.  I don’t know how much history Obama and Kerry actually studied during their college years, but 100 years ago..in early 1914…there were many, many people convinced that a major war could not happen…because we were now in the twentieth century, with international trade and with railroads and steamships and telegraph networks and electric lights and all. And just 25 years after that, quite a few people refused to believe that concentration camps devoted to systematic murder could exist in the advanced mid-20th century, in the heart of Europe.

    Especially simplistic is the idea that, because there had been no military territory-grabs by first-rank powers for a long time, that the era of such territory-grabs was over. George Eliot neatly disposed of this idea many years ago, in a passage in her novel Silas Marner:

    The sense of security more frequently springs from habit than from conviction, and for this reason it often subsists after such a change in the conditions as might have been expected to suggest alarm. The lapse of time during which a given event has not happened is, in this logic of habit, constantly alleged as a reason why the event should never happen, even when the lapse of time is precisely the added condition which makes the event imminent.

    Or, as Mark Steyn put it much more recently:

    ‘Stability’ is a surface illusion, like a frozen river: underneath, the currents are moving, and to the casual observer the ice looks equally ‘stable’ whether there’s a foot of it or just two inches. There is no status quo in world affairs: ‘stability’ is a fancy term to dignify laziness and complacency as sophistication.

    Obama also frequently refers to the Cold War, and argues that it is in the past. But the pursuit of force-based territorial gain by nations long predates the Cold War, and it has not always had much to do with economic rationality. The medieval baron with designs on his neighbor’s land didn’t necessarily care about improving his own standard of living, let alone that of his peasants–what he was after, in many cases, was mainly the ego charge of being top dog.

    Human nature was not repealed by the existence of steam engines and electricity in 1914…nor even by the broad Western acceptance of Christianity in that year…nor is it repealed in 2014 by computers and the Internet or by sermons about “multiculturalism” and bumper stickers calling for “coexistence.”

    American Digest just linked a very interesting analysis of the famous “long telegram” sent by George Kennan in 1947: George Kennan, Vladimir Putin, and the Appetites of Men. In this document, Kennan argued that Soviet behavior must be understood not only through the prism of Communist ideology, but also in terms of the desire of leaders to establish and maintain personal power.

    Regarding the current Russian/Crimean situation, the author of the linked article (Tod Worner) says:

    In the current crisis, many will quibble about the historical, geopolitical complexities surrounding the relationship between Russia, Ukraine and Crimea. They will debate whether Crimea’s former inclusion in the Russian Empire or Crimea’s restive Russian population justifies secession especially with a strong Russian hand involved. Papers will be written. Conferences will be convened. Experts will be consulted. Perhaps these are all prudent and thoughtful notions to consider and actions to undertake. Perhaps.

    But perhaps we should, like George Kennan, return to the same questions we have been asking about human nature since the beginning of time. Maybe we are, at times, overthinking things. Perhaps we would do well to step back and consider something more fundamental, something more base, something more reliable than the calculus of geopolitics and ideology…Perhaps we ignore the simple math that is often before our very eyes. May we open our eyes to the appetites of men.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, History, Humor, Leftism, Middle East, Obama, Russia, USA, War and Peace | 11 Comments »

    Is This Really the Ukraine?

    Posted by Ginny on 2nd May 2017 (All posts by )

    A few years ago, Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands was both popular and esteemed. I found it an uncomfortable but powerful read. I mentioned it and two students – a Russian Jewish student whose grandfather had fought in the Russian army, been tortured in one of the Russian purges, but died loyal to Stalin and a student whose ancestors were from those borderlands ordered it. (My mention was cursory; it was after all American lit; both were hungry to know more about the obscure world of their ancestors.) I gave it to a son-in-law, who had heard Snyder discussing it with intensity and even despair. I can remember discussing passages with colleagues in philosophy and history – especially lies spoken and assented to as the truth stood (and died) before their eyes: families starved, Stalin argued, to sabotage Stalin. Snyder’s aim and success was to make that unreal world and its victims live. He eloquently countered the great arrogance of Stalin’s assumption (so often proved true) that a million deaths was merely a statistic. Of course it was futile – no one person can make millions live on a page. An intense experience to read, Snyder’s research must have truly looked into the abyss. Today, I tracked references at Chicagoboyz; several praised it. I haven’t read his later works. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Anglosphere, Anti-Americanism, Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Russia, Trump | 21 Comments »

    German Infantry Anti-Tank Tactics 1941/1942

    Posted by Lexington Green on 25th April 2017 (All posts by )

    This is hair-raising.

    Sucks to be the guys who suddenly find out the untermenschen have T-34s and KV-1s and none of the wonderful German guns will penetrate the enemy tanks’ armor.

    The Aryan Supermen were obliged to climb onto the back of the Soviet tank, chop through the ventilation grill over the engine with an axe, and then place a hand grenade through this improvised opening to try to disable the engine. Meanwhile, the Red Army infantry were, in theory, being kept too busy by the other Wehrmacht guys on the team to shoot Hans off the back of the tank before he was finished with the axe-and-grenade improvisation.

    The Germans also had a gimmick of mines affixed to a plank and then maneuvered in front of the tank with a rope by a guy hiding in a nearby hole in the ground, as another low tech solution to the problem.

    Relying on kludges is bad enough under peacetime conditions. This stuff could get you killed.

    Posted in History, Military Affairs, Russia | 13 Comments »

    Our Quasi-Soviet Fiscal Policy

    Posted by Kevin Villani on 5th April 2017 (All posts by )

    “It’s like deja vu all over again.”

    Do Yogi Berra‘s words of wisdom apply to the “new” trillion dollar “public infrastructure” program? The last program, still unpaid, focused on “shovel-ready” projects but somehow missed most potholes. Meanwhile, private companies are prepared to spend $100’s of billions on a new fiber optic internet super highway.

    Is the current proposed public spending program more likely to pay off for taxpayers than the last one?

    Historical Precedent

    When the hammer and sickle flag was lowered for the last time in Moscow on December 25, 1991, the international finance agencies created in Bretton Woods in 1944, led by British economist John Maynard Keynes and the Undersecretary of the U.S. Treasury Harry Dexter White, found a new mission.

    The International Monetary Fund (IMF), which is a “bank” according to Keynes, provided the financial infrastructure for international trade. The World Bank (WB), or a “fund” according to Keynes, was promoted by, known communist and accused Russian spy, Undersecretary White to help reconstruct European infrastructure, but primarily Russia’s infrastructure, in the wake of WW II destruction.

    The IMF lost its raison d’être in 1971 after President Nixon eliminated dollar convertibility into gold, ending the Bretton Woods function. Russia turned down World Bank membership, so the Bank turned to lending for infrastructure projects in the “underdeveloped” nations, which by 1991 faced overwhelming political obstacles.

    Assisting in the conversion of formerly centrally planned economies into capitalist market economies became the finance agencies’ new post-Soviet mission. However, few people had much of an idea of how to accomplish this. It had never been done before, and the IMF and WB were particularly ill-equipped as their charter limited them to lending only to governments. They were essentially statist organizations with little experience with (or sympathy for) competitive private markets (which helps explain why they remain chronically underdeveloped).

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Economics & Finance, Organizational Analysis, Politics, Public Finance, Russia, Trump | 3 Comments »

    Why does Germany do such monumentally stupid things?

    Posted by Mrs. Davis on 25th February 2017 (All posts by )

    I was reading Arthur Herman’s column in the WSJ Decoding the Zimmerman Telegram, 100 Years Later and I began to think about all the really, really dumb things Germany has done. And it’s not as if the Germans are dumb. A look at the Nobel prize list makes it clear that there are many brilliant Germans. But if we go back in history and look at the political decisions Germany has made, it is a cavalcade of catastrophe. In the 19th century, Germany was the cradle of socialism, not all the ideas, but certainly the movement. Then it decided to unite Germany, not a bad idea in and of itself; but it then led to the idea that it should conquer Europe. In the process, it threatened the US with invasion by Mexico, bringing the US into the war and onto the world stage. And to top it, they put Lenin in a rail car and sent him to St. Petersburg launching the Soviet Union. Hitler then rekindled the idea of conquering Europe, including the incredible decision to invade Russia and then declaring war on the United States directly, creating an enemy that might have sat out the European war.

    After suffering a defeat as devastating to Germany’s people as the Thirty Years War, Nato was created to keep the Americans in, the Russians out and the Germans down. And for 70 years it was a success. Germany started well by establishing an economic powerhouse. It succeeded in reuniting Germany after the cold war was won by the US in spite of German handicapping. But since then it has made decisions with terrible consequences, not only for Germany, but for much of Europe. It has used the EU and the Euro to peacefully achieve, with American connivance, what it twice failed to do by violence. And the consequences have become deleterious at best for the rest of Europe. The Energiewende has been a catastrophe, leading to more pollution by increasing the coal and biomass burned to create energy and the highest electricity costs in Europe. Germany’s refugee policy has invited invasion by unassimilabe masses inimical to European culture and values. And a policy of minimal defense expenditures has led the Americans to consider getting out and the Russians getting back in. And now China has become Germany’s largest trading partner.

    I have long felt that the EUropeans were more than capable of defending themselves and we should pull out of Nato to force them to do so and to save money. Why should we allow them to freeload? But now with the Americans leaving, the Russians returning, and the Germans rising, I am having second thoughts as I consider the possible consequences.

    Posted in China, Europe, Germany, Miscellaneous, Russia, Tradeoffs, USA | 21 Comments »

    Shaking the Tyrant’s Bloody Hand

    Posted by Lexington Green on 13th February 2017 (All posts by )

    Please read this piece, from the excellent Mauldin Economics page, entitled Something Rotten in the State of Russia. It shows the many profound problems besetting the Russian state.

    That horrible, horrible man, Putin, is indeed horrible.

    But how dangerous is Putin to the USA? Or to our allies?

    Putin presides over a crumbling country.

    Meanwhile Trump, who some believe is under Putin’s control, is focused on driving down oil and gas prices and pushing NATO to increase defense spending, both of which are hard blows to Russia. Trump is also promoting pro-growth policies which will help fund a military buildup and modernization.

    Russia has no prayer of matching this.

    Putin has real problems, with no real solutions.

    Trump is confronting Putin with challenges he cannot overcome, which will only grow worse over time.

    The idea that Russia is capable of embarking on a new Cold War against the United States is laughable.

    Russia is only considered to be a country of the first rank because of its nuclear arsenal. But that arsenal is useless, other than as a deterrent to invasion, or as a way to commit suicide. No one is going to invade Russia any time soon. More importantly, Putin and his cronies are not suicidal. Putin may even be the richest man in the world. Putin and his posse have a nice life, and a lot to lose. They likely want to enjoy the benefits of their despotism in peace, not see their dachas reduced to radioactive ash.

    (Further, the Russian nuclear arsenal may be of diminished value if, as expected, Trump pushes forward on missile defense.)

    China is a rising power; Russia is a declining power, even a dying power. Russia is a menace to its neighbors; Islamic Terrorism is a menace around the world.

    China is the long term challenge, Islamic Terrorism is the acute, immediate challenge, to the USA and its allies. Russia faces a long-term threat from China, which seems destined to simply overrun the entirety of Asiatic Russia. Russia is also threatened by Islamic terrorism. The USA and Russia face the same serious threats.

    Russia should be aligned with the USA with regard to both China and Islamic terrorism.

    The current situation is absurd and should be resolved.

    This does not mean the USA will become “friends” with Putin, or the Russians.

    We will not trust Putin or the Russians.

    We will not be allies, beyond allies of convenience, case by case, with Putin or the Russians.

    We will not have shared values with Putin or the Russians.

    We will simply recognize important common interests, including ramping down the hostility between our countries, cooperating where it is mutually beneficial to do so, and focusing on more important, mutual threats and challenges.

    There is plenty of room for a deal here.

    Nixon shook Mao’s hand, a hand dripping with the blood of 65 million victims.

    FDR shook Stalin’s hand, a hand dripping with the blood of 50 million victims.

    Trump will do what is best for the peace, prosperity and security of the United States.

    That will likely include shaking the tyrant’s bloody hand.

    Posted in Miscellaneous, Russia, Tradeoffs, Trump | 32 Comments »

    Glasnost and Perestroika: An Agenda for the Trump Administration

    Posted by David McFadden on 25th January 2017 (All posts by )

    Although President Trump is confident of his ability to deal with Vladimir Putin, he should carefully avoid emulating Putin. It would be far better for the president to look to the example of Putin’s predecessor, Mikhail Gorbachev, who transformed the Soviet Union. The first steps in the transformation were glasnost and perestroika. Glasnost, introduced in 1985, roughly means openness and was a step toward open discussion of political and social issues. Perestroika, introduced the following year, roughly means restructuring. Perestroika reduced central economic planning and allowed some private business ownership. These and later reforms resulted in a sharp increase in political freedom (from nil), which peaked in 1991. Sadly, the gains were short lived. Freedom steadily and drastically declined under Yeltsin and Putin for a complex of reasons debated at a recent symposium at the Cato Institute.

    The United States as it emerges from the Obama Administration, while not as bad off as the Soviet Union as it emerged from communism, is badly in need of both glasnost and perestroika. They should be the twin priorities of the dawning Trump Administration.

    Glasnost

    The American left has come to despise freedom of speech as much as it has traditionally despised freedom of contract. It has followed the normal progression of leftist movements toward viewing the protection of its social objectives as more important than human rights. The earliest and still worst manifestation of this trend is on college campuses. Campus speech codes began to appear in the late 1980’s and spread rapidly. Within a few years sixty percent of colleges had them. According to a report of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the percentage has declined over the last nine years to forty percent.

    In 1998, Congress declared that it was the sense of Congress that “an institution of higher education should facilitate the free and open exchange of ideas” and that “students should not be intimidated, harassed, discouraged from speaking out, or discriminated against.” 20 U.S.C. § 1011a(a)(2)(C), (D). While the sponsors of this provision may have thought (or wanted to give the impression) that they were doing something, they did not do very much. The provision imposes no consequences on institutions that act contrary to the sense of Congress on this subject. It needs an amendment putting federal funds at stake, as anti-discrimination sections in title 20 do. Although speech codes are less common than they were, universities still do a lot to stifle “the free and open exchange of ideas.” In particular, they fail to prevent students from being intimidated, harassed, and discouraged from speaking out by other students, using increasingly violent methods.

    Intolerance of dissent, especially on a fixed dogma like climate change, is not limited to college campuses. A few years ago, a cabal of environmentalists enlisted sympathetic state attorneys general to investigate climate change dissidents. With a vague objective of finding a RICO violation, a group of twenty attorneys general (“AGs United for Clean Power”) have subpoenaed forty years of records from ExxonMobil in a retaliatory effort to find evidence that it has had information on climate change that differs from what it has said publicly. The attorney general of the Virgin Islands subpoenaed documents from academic institutions, scientists, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a think tank. He withdrew that subpoena after getting some pushback from a congressional committee and a lawsuit from the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

    A venerable weapon is available for the Justice Department to use against oppressive state universities and attorneys general, the Enforcement Act of 1870. The second section of the act, 18 U.S.C. § 242, makes it a crime for anyone under color of state law to deprive a person of rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution. The first section of the act, 18 U.S.C. § 241, provides criminal penalties for conspiracy to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person in the enjoyment of any right secured to him by the Constitution. State action is not an element of the crime under § 241. Could not the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, under new leadership, go after, for example, a group of students who prevent Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking? That would be fun.

    These tools may or may not work, but they should be tried. Assaults on civil liberties should no longer be costless.

    Perestroika

    In Federalist No. 72, Hamilton said, “To reverse and undo what has been done by a predecessor, is very often considered by a successor as the best proof he can give of his own capacity and desert.” This has to be the best standard now, as everyone in the Trump Administration should understand.

    Perestroika in the modern context ought to begin with reversing and undoing the Obama Administration’s impositions on the economy. Amity Shlaes, who, it should be recalled, wrote The Forgotten Man, observed that “smaller firms–the ones unready for the lawsuit, the investigation or the audit–bear the greater share of regulatory costs.” The regulatory burdens in need of repeal extend far beyond the Affordable Care Act and its progeny. Daniel Pérez of George Washington University’s Regulatory Studies Center has determined that Obama issued about 33% more “economically significant” regulations than either Bill Clinton or George W. Bush.

    It will be a challenge for the political appointees in all the departments of the federal government to sift through the regulations and begin the process of liberating the economy from the worst of them. Fortunately, litigation has already left some of the Department of Labor’s output in ruins. The Persuader Rule, which I warned about in this blog before its adoption, and the Fiduciary Rule are controversial intrusions of the Labor Department into professional relationships. Both the Persuader Rule and an anti-business revision of overtime regulations have been enjoined by federal district courts in Texas. Five different lawsuits challenging the Fiduciary Rule are pending.

    Withdrawing appeals of the rulings against the Persuader Rule and the overtime regulations is the simplest way to dispatch those rules. Other recently adopted regulations can by nullified by using the Congressional Review Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 801-808. A joint resolution of disapproval has to be introduced within sixty days of Congress’s receipt of a report of rulemaking. The act provides an expedited procedure for a joint resolution and limits debate in the Senate. In June, President Obama vetoed a joint resolution disapproving the Fiduciary Rule.

    For that rule, and so many others, the arduous notice and comment process of the Administrative Procedure Act will be the only method of repeal. The ultimate goal should be that the Code of Federal Regulations will bear no trace that the Obama Administration ever existed and, more generally, that this time glasnost and perestroika will have a more lasting imprint.

    Posted in Big Government, Civil Liberties, Education, Law, Obama, Russia, Trump | 5 Comments »

    The Cuban Missile Crisis, as Viewed from a Soviet Launch Facility (rerun)

    Posted by David Foster on 17th October 2016 (All posts by )

    This month marks the 54th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the world dangerously close to thermonuclear war.

    Several years ago,  I read  Rockets and People, the totally fascinating memoir of Soviet rocket developer Boris Chertok, which I reviewed here.

    Chertok’s career encompassed both military and space-exploration projects, and in late October 1962 he was focused on preparations for launching a Mars probe. On the morning of Oct 27, he was awakened by “a strange uneasiness.” After a quick breakfast, he headed for the missile assembly building, known as the MIK.

    At the gatehouse, there was usually a lone soldier on duty who would give my pass a cursory glance. Now suddenly I saw a group of soldiers wielding sub-machine guns, and they thoroughly scrutinized my pass. Finally they admitted me to the facility grounds and there, to my surprise, I again saw sub-machine-gun-wielding soldiers who had climbed up the fire escape to the roof of the MIK. Other groups of soldiers in full combat gear, even wearing gas masks, were running about the periphery of the secure area. When I stopped in at the MIK, I immediately saw that the “duty” R-7A combat missile, which had always been covered and standing up against the wall, which we had always ignored, was uncovered.

    Chertok was greeted by his friend Colonel Kirillov, who was in charge of this launch facility. Kirollov did not greet Chertok with his usual genial smile, but with a “somber, melancholy expression.”

    Without releasing my hand that I’d extended for our handshake, he quietly said: “Boris Yevseyevich, I have something of urgent importance I must tell you”…We went into his office on the second floor. Here, visibly upset, Kirillov told me: “Last night I was summoned to headquarters to see the chief of the [Tyura-Tam] firing range. The chiefs of the directorates and commanders of the troop units were gathered there. We were told that the firing range must be brought into a state of battle readiness immediately. Due to the events in Cuba, air attacks, bombardment, and even U.S. airborne assaults are possible. All Air Defense Troops assets have already been put into combat readiness. Flights of our transport airplanes are forbidden. All facilities and launch sites have been put under heightened security. Highway transport is drastically restricted. But most important—I received the order to open an envelope that has been stored in a special safe and to act in accordance with its contents. According to the order, I must immediately prepare the duty combat missile at the engineering facility and mate the warhead located in a special depot, roll the missile out to the launch site, position it, test it, fuel it, aim it, and wait for a special launch command. All of this has already been executed at Site No. 31. I have also given all the necessary commands here at Site No. 2. Therefore, the crews have been removed from the Mars shot and shifted over to preparation of the combat missile. The nosecone and warhead will be delivered here in 2 hours.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Cuba, History, Russia, Space, War and Peace | 5 Comments »

    Hiring a President

    Posted by David Foster on 13th October 2016 (All posts by )

    When hiring someone for an important job, it is of course important to assess whether or not that person has the skills you think are necessary for doing the job well.  But it’s important to also assess what they think are the important aspects of the job, and make sure these line up with what you think are the most important job factors.  You want to know what they are ‘passionate’ about, to employ a currently-overused term.

    And when hiring an executive, keep in mind that you are also likely gaining access to his network of former employees, customers, suppliers, consulting firms, etc.  A similar but even more powerful dynamic plays out in politics, as Daniel Henninger of the WSJ reminds us:

    A recurring campaign theme of this column has been that the celebrifying of our presidential candidate obscures the reality that we are not just just electing one famous person.  We will be voting into power an entire political party, which has consequences for the country’s political direction no matter what these candidates say or promise.

    By that measure, there is a reason not to turn over the job of fighting global terrorism to the Democrats.  They don’t want it.

    So, what are they key aspects of the Presidential job that needs to be done over the next four years, and how do the candidates and their beliefs about what is important stack up against those factors?  Here’s my list..

    The suppression of radical Islamic terrorism.  Henninger is completely correct: the Democrats don’t want this job.  Henninger notes that during a House hearing in 2005, Guantanamo Bay was denounced (almost entirely by Democrats, I am sure) as ‘the Gulag of our times.’  Whereas GOP Congressman Mike Pence correctly responded that the comparison was ‘anti-historical, irresponsible and the type of rhetoric that endangers American lives.’

    Henninger continues: ‘Dahir Adan invoked Allah while stabbing his way through the Minneapolis mall.  Both Mrs Clinton and President Obama consistently accuse their opponents of waging a war on all practitioners of the Islamic religion. Presumably, if instead we were being attached by Martians, they’d say any criticism of Martians was only alienating us from all the People on Mars. The problem is we aren’t getting killed by Martians or Peruvians or Finns but by men and women yelling ‘Allah Akbar’…Virtually all Democratic politicians refuse to make this crucial distinction.’

    The protection of free expression. As long as we have free speech and a free press, there is a possibility that our array of problems can be solved.  But once this crucial feedback connection is cut, problems of all kinds are likely to compound themselves until catastrophe happens.

    Remember, Hillary Clinton’s response to the Benghazi murders was to blame them on an American filmmaker exercising his Constitutional rights, and to threaten to have him arrested.  Which threat she was indeed able to carry into execution.

    And note that Hillary Clinton’s Democratic Party is closely aligned with the forces on college campuses which are creating a real nightmare for anyone–student or professor–who dissents from the ‘progressive’ orthodoxy or who even demonstrates a normal sense of humor.

    There is a very strong tendency among Democrats to call for the forcible government suppression of political dissidents, and to carry this belief into action when they can get away with it:  the witch-hunt in Wisconsin and the IRS persecution of conservative organizations and individuals being only two of many examples.  More here.

    Trump is by no means ideal on this metric: he is thin-skinned and has shown himself to be very litigious.  But he is far preferable from a free-expression standpoint to Clinton and the forces that she represents.

    Economic growth.  Clinton herself would surely like to see economic growth, if only  for political reasons.  But there is in the Democratic Party a very strong strain that believes America is too wealthy, that our people have too many luxuries, that we need to be taken down a peg. I have even seen attacks by ‘progressives’ on the existence of air conditioning. The Democrats are generally willing to sacrifice economic growth on the altar of environmental extremism and to serve their trial-lawyer clients. Sexual politics represents another cause for which growth is readily sacrificed by Democrats–remember when Obama’s ‘shovel-ready’ stimulus package was first mooted, there was an outcry from left-leaning feminist groups concerned that it would be too focused on ‘jobs for burly men.’

    And whatever her ‘small business plan’ may be in her latest policy statement, Hillary has an underlying dismissiveness to those small businesses–the vast majority of them—that do not enjoy venture capital funding.  Remember her remark, when told back in the Bill Clinton administration, that aspects of her proposed healthcare plan would be destructive to small businesses?  Her response was:  “I can’t be responsible for every undercapitalized small business in America.”  No one was asking her to be responsible for them, of course; only to refrain from wantonly destroying them.

    It is important to note that many of the top Democratic constituencies don’t really need to care, on a personal level, about economic growth. Tenured academics have salaries and benefit packages which are largely decoupled from the larger economy.  Hedge-fund managers often believe they can make money as readily in a down market as an up market. Many if not most lawyers are more dependent for their incomes on the legal climate than the economy. Very wealthy individuals may care more about social signaling than about money per se, given that they already have so much of the latter.  And the poor and demoralized will in many cases care more about transfer payments than about the growth of the economy.

    Improving K-12 Education.  Much of the nation’s public school system is a disaster.  There is no chance that Hillary would would care enough about fixing this system, and preventing or at least mitigating its destruction of generation after generation, to be willing to take on the ‘blob’…the teachers’ unions, the ed schools…these being key Democratic constituencies.  Also: the Democratic obsession with race/ethnicity has led to demands from the Administration that school disciplinary decisions must follow racial quotas.  Policies such as this, which would surely continue under a Clinton administration, make it virtually impossible for schools to maintain a learning environment for those students who do want to learn.

    The current state of K-12 education is a major inhibitor to social mobility in America.  Anyone who claims to care about the fate of families locked into poverty, while at the same time supporting a Hillary Clinton presidency, is either kidding themselves or straight-out lying.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, China, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Economics & Finance, Elections, Politics, Russia, USA | 33 Comments »

    Life in the Fully Politicized Society (rerun)

    Posted by David Foster on 20th September 2016 (All posts by )

    (The politicization of American society has increased markedly since I wrote this post in May of 2014.  Sports, for example, is now politicized–see what happens when a culture loses its last neutral ground?–along with everything from shopping to education. The sway of ‘progressive’ orthodoxy continues to extend its sway over all aspect of American life.)

    Many will remember Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech, in which she said:

    Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed….You have to stay at the seat at the table of democracy with a man like Barack Obama not just on Tuesday but in a year from now, in four years from now, in eight years from now, you will have to be engaged.

    Victor Davis Hanson notes that she also said:

    We are going to have to change our conversation; we’re going to have to change our traditions, our history; we’re going to have to move into a different place as a nation.

    …which is, of course, entirely consistent with the assertion made by Barack Obama himself, shortly before his first inauguration:  “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”

    It should be clear by now that all aspects of American life and society are rapidly becoming politicized. Obama has greatly accelerated this movement, but he didn’t initiate it.  The “progressive” political movement, which now controls the Democratic Party, has for a long time been driving the politicization of anything and everything.  The assertion “the personal is political” originated in the late 1960s…and, if the personal is political, then everything is political.

    Some people, of course, like the politicization of everything–for some individuals, indeed, their lives would be meaningless without it. In his important memoir of growing up in Germany between the wars, Sebastian Haffnernoted divergent reactions from people when the political and economic situation stabilized (temporarily, as we now know) during the Stresemann chancellorship:

    The last ten years were forgotten like a bad dream. The Day of Judgment was remote again, and there was no demand for saviors or revolutionaries…There was an ample measure of freedom, peace, and order, everywhere the most well-meaning liberal-mindedness, good wages, good food and a little political boredom. everyone was cordially invited to concentrate on their personal lives, to arrange their affairs according to their own taste and to find their own paths to happiness.

    But this return to private life was not to everyone’s taste:

    A generation of young Germans had become accustomed to having the entire content of their lives delivered gratis, so to speak, by the public sphere, all the raw material for their deeper emotions…Now that these deliveries suddently ceased, people were left helpless, impoverished, robbed, and disappointed. They had never learned how to live from within themselves, how to make an ordinary private life great, beautiful and worth while, how to enjoy it and make it interesting. So they regarded the end of political tension and the return of private liberty not as a gift, but as a deprivation. They were bored, their minds strayed to silly thoughts, and they began to sulk.

    and

    To be precise (the occasion demands precision, because in my opinion it provides the key to the contemporary period of history): it was not the entire generation of young Germans. Not every single individual reacted in this fashion. There were some who learned during this period, belatedly and a little clumsily, as it were, how to live. they began to enjoy their own lives, weaned themselves from the cheap intoxication of the sports of war and revolution, and started to develop their own personalities. It was at this time that, invisibly and unnoticed, the Germans divided into those who later became Nazis and those who would remain non-Nazis.

    I’m afraid we have quite a few people in America today who like having “the entire content of their lives delivered gratis, so to speak, by the public sphere, all the raw material for their deeper emotions.”  But for most people, especially for creative and emotionally-healthy people, the politicization of everything leads to a dreary and airless existence.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Book Notes, Germany, Human Behavior, Leftism, Politics, Russia, USA | 21 Comments »

    Seth Barrett Tillman: The European Parliament’s 2016 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought

    Posted by Jonathan on 18th September 2016 (All posts by )

    Excerpt:

    I suspect there is no General James Longstreet Prize, and if someone asked me if such a prize should be created, I would say “no”.
     
    There is no Rommel Prize, and if someone asked if such a prize should be created, I would say “no”. (And—just to be clear—I am not comparing Longstreet and the Confederacy to Rommel and Nazi Germany.)
     
    There is a Sakharov Prize, and if someone had asked me prior to its creation whether it should be created, I hope I would have had the moral clarity to say “no”. There were and there are other people in Europe and elsewhere who this prize could have been named for: persons who were not quite so morally ambiguous. E.g., Average people—people who were not heroic or even particularly bright. Perhaps it could have been called the Ivan Denisovich Prize. It speaks volumes about the modern European zeitgeist that a major prize is named for Sakharov, but the founders of NATO—which protected Europe from Sakharov’s warheads—remain largely unknown. It goes without saying that the American taxpayer who paid for Europe’s defence (and who continues to do so) is entirely lost from sight. Europe’s cosmopolitan transnational elites much prefer believing that the years of peace and plenty were their creation, as opposed to their being the beneficiary of American good will beyond their control.

    Seth’s argument is well worth reading in full.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Europe, History, International Affairs, Military Affairs, Morality and Philosphy, National Security, Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Politics, Russia, USA, War and Peace | 1 Comment »

    Seth Barrett Tillman: An American Brexit Referendum: Should the United States continue to participate in NATO?

    Posted by Jonathan on 15th September 2016 (All posts by )

    Let’s not kid ourselves, NATO, in its current structure, destabilizes the peace of Europe vis-a-vis Russia. Europe’s states will not pay for their own defense as long as those states can enjoy a free ride courtesy of the American tax payer and the American elite’s visions of Pax Americana. Those visions are long past their sell-by-date. If American participation in NATO ends, there is a good chance (albeit, not a sure thing) that the Europeans will cooperate and defend themselves. That’s a win-win. Good for America, and good for Europe.
     
    I propose a national referendum—an American Brexit—to settle the question. Let’s put the question to all of our people. Should the United States continue to participate in NATO?

    Read the whole thing.

    Posted in America 3.0, Europe, International Affairs, Military Affairs, National Security, Russia, Tradeoffs | 21 Comments »

    Automated Systems Need to be Supervised by Humans

    Posted by David Foster on 17th July 2016 (All posts by )

    …and not just any humans.

    Listen to this very-well-done podcast about one of those times when thermonuclear war did not happen: Flirting with the end of the world.

    Automated systems need to be supervised by humans, and not just any humans, as Stanislav Petrov’s story makes clear.  Individuals and bureaucracies that themselves behave in a totally robotic fashion cannot be adequate supervisors of the automation.  See also my post Blood on the tracks for an additional example.

    Posted in History, Russia, Tech, USA, War and Peace | 9 Comments »

    Cyber Warfare

    Posted by Michael Hiteshew on 5th June 2016 (All posts by )

    Col. Michael Brown, USMC, Retired:

    The Russians and Chinese are the most active in offensive attacks. I worry a lot about the vulnerability of our electrical grid and even our water supply network.

    SCADA Systems

    Supervisory control and data acquisition – SCADA refers to ICS (industrial control systems) used to control infrastructure processes (water treatment, wastewater treatment, gas pipelines, wind farms, etc), facility-based processes (airports, space stations, ships, etc,) or industrial processes (production, manufacturing, refining, power generation, etc).

    Posted in China, Energy & Power Generation, Military Affairs, Russia, War and Peace | 8 Comments »

    Putin, Bukovsky, and National Sovereignty

    Posted by David Foster on 11th May 2016 (All posts by )

    Vladimir Bukovsky was prominent in the dissident movement within the old Soviet Union, and spent 12 years in prisons, labor camps, and psychiatric hospitals.  He has lived in Britain since the late 1970s, and has been a vocal opponent of Vladimir Putin, referring to Putin and his cricle as the heirs of Lavrenty Beria–Beria being Stalin’s notorious secret-police chief.  Bukovsky also expressed the opinion that the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko (in Britain, by radioactive polonium) was done at the behest of Russian authorities.  So you can be pretty sure that Bukovsky isn’t on Vladimir Putin’s list of 10 favorite people.

    Recently, Bukovsky has been charged with child pornography by British authorities.  Claire Berlinski believes that he was likely framed by the Russian regime.  (More from Claire here.)  It certainly seems quite possible that Putin’s intelligence agencies planted the evidence on Bukovsky’s computer, and I am happy that Claire is going to be further investigating this matter, which has received little attention from the legacy media.

    I tend to believe that Claire is right and Bukovsky is innocent, though I have no way of putting probabilities on this at the moment.  I am also impressed by the logic of  Diana West’s question:  “Is there a sentient person, naturally revolted by the thought of child pornography, even five or six images’ worth, going to believe for one minute that the British state, for decades having turned the blindest and hardest and most craven of eyes against the sexual despoilment and prostitution of generations of little British girls at risk at the hands of criminal Islamic “grooming” gangs, has suddenly developed some compelling interest in protecting the welfare of children, and thus turned its avenging sword on … Vladimir Bukovsky?”

    Above and beyond this specific case–and it is extremely important to ensure that Bukovsky gets fair treatment by the British judicial system, which seems unlikely without considerable sunlight on the matter–there an overwhelmingly critical general issue involved here: that of national sovereignty. There is little question that Litvinenko was murdered at the behest of people in the Russian government.  There is no question at all that the ayatollahs running the Iranian government called for the murder of Salman Rushdie, a citizen of Britain, because they didn’t like something he wrote.  There is no question at all that many imams throughout the Islamic world are calling for the murder of people in other countries, based on the opinions of those people, and there is no question at all that Iranian authorities are actively encouraging acts of violence against Israel.  And there is no question at all that German authorities are prosecuting a comedian for the ‘crime’ of insulting a foreign leader, at the behest of Turkish ruler Erdogan.

    John Kerry, America’s idiot secretary of state, recently talked to a group of college students about a borderless world, which he apparently either believes is inevitable or of which he actually approves.  But in the universe that actually exists, a borderless world is one in which foreign leaders and rabble-rousers can cause great harm to citizens of other nations, with the governments of those nations either unable or unwilling to protect them.

    G K Chesterton is credited with the saying “Don’t ever take a fence down until you know the reason why it was put up.”  (ascribed to Chesterton by John F Kennedy–the actual Chesterton quote can be found here)  But I doubt if Kerry has ever read Chesterton, and also doubt that he is capable of understanding him if he did read his works.

    Global interchange facilitates many good things, in trade, culture, and human connections:  it can also be a vector for bad things such as epidemics and cross-border murder and intimidation.  Cheerleading for a ‘borderless world’, without serious consideration of how to encourage the good and prevent the bad, is highly irresponsible.

    At a bare minimum, each civilized government should ensure that any planned legal proceedings against its one of its citizens which appears likely to have been instigated by a foreign power should be carefully vetted before proceeding.  Each civilized government should also react very strongly to any call by a foreign government for the murder of one of its citizens or residents–ranging from trade sanctions up to the funding of the overthrow of the regime in question and continuing to, in extreme cases, military action.

    Claire could use some additional contributions to assist with her work on the Bukovsky case; the link is here.

    Posted in Britain, Civil Liberties, Deep Thoughts, Europe, Germany, Islam, Russia | 21 Comments »

    Omsk & Arkhangelsk (Archangel)

    Posted by Michael Hiteshew on 2nd April 2016 (All posts by )

    Communism followed by oligarchy:

    Omsk   (Map)

    Arkhangelsk  (Map)

    These are obviously depressed areas. Interesting, however, the number of comments along the lines of ‘Same here!’ I have no idea how representative this is, though I’ve read that things are very bad in Russia these days. Sanctions are currently biting in making things even worse. Remember to be grateful for where you live and what you’ve inherited.

    (My browser auto-translates to English with the Google Translate for Chrome plugin.)

    Posted in Current Events, Economics & Finance, Photos, Russia | 29 Comments »

    Book Review: The Memoirs of Anna Egorova

    Posted by David Foster on 6th January 2016 (All posts by )

    Over Fields of Fire, by Anna Timofeeva-Egorova

    Red Sky, Black Death, by Anna Timofeeva-Egorova, edited by Kim Green

    anna-realpic

    il-2-sturmovik

     

     

     

     

     

    During the Second World War, a number of Soviet women served as night bomber pilots, flying the obsolescent Polikarpov biplane.  A favorite tactic was to cut the engine and glide down almost noiselessly to the bomb-release point, and these flyers were known to the Germans as the “Night Witches.”  A smaller number of Russian women flew IL-2 Sturmovik attack planes and also Yak and other fighters.  The memoir reviewed here was written by a woman who first flew the biplanes and later became a Sturmovik pilot. (I read the first of the 2 books linked above and only just became aware of the second one; see remarks at the end of this post.)

    Anna Egorova begins her memoir with a recollection of her feelings on the day (before the war) when she reported for training to begin her hoped-for career as a professional pilot:

    In Unyanovsky, I rushed straight from the train station to the Venets–the highest spot above the Volga. And such an inconceivable space opened up before me from up here, such an expanse that it took my breath away!…And what a wonder, above the Volta covered by young December ice, a rainbow began to shine.  It threw its multicoloured yoke from one bank to the other…Yet maybe I had just imagined it?  But I was already laughing loudly, sure it was a rainbow and that it was a sign of luck.  Again just like back at the Kazan train station in Moscow, waves of joy were coming from my chest and their splashes were curtaining the horizon with a rainbow mist.

    Her ecstasy was short-lived, however.  Soon she was summoned before the school commandant, informed that her brother had been discovered to be “an enemy of the people,” and she was expelled from the school. (“How could my brother be an enemy of the people? My brother was the people”)

    Anna’s hometown was a tiny village, so small that it had only one street.  As a teenager, she had been thrilled by the plans for construction of the Moscow Metro, and volunteered as a worker, doing heavy and sometimes dangerous construction work.  At the time there was great interest in aviation throughout the Soviet Union; Anna joined a glider club and looked forward to becoming a full-fledged pilot. And when walking to the airfield on the morning of her first powered flight:

    Victor Kroutov runs off the footpath, barges into the bushes, and I am presented with the first bouquet of flowers in my life.  I am still angry at him but accept the gift.

    And then:

    Everyone stood to attention.  A light breeze was blowing in our faces, we were breathing easily and freely.  And it was so nice to live in this world, so joyful!  I thought that there would be no end to our youth or to our lives…

    Anna did well in training and was given the sole “ladies’ ticket” from her class to attend an advanced aviation school, but her anticipated career was derailed by the discovery of her brother’s “treason.”  (He had written an article for an economics journal which was reprinted by a British publication.)

    Eventually, she was able to reenter the aviation field, and when Nazi Germany invaded, sought to actively participate in the defense. Marina Raskova, a pilot who was famous for her long-distance flights (also a former aspiring opera singer!) had lobbied effectively for female participation in combat aviation.  Three female regiments were formed in late 1941 and were active by early 1942.  Some women also participated in almost-all-male units.

    Her initial service involved flying the Polikarpov biplane on message-delivery missions–apparently many Red Army units lacked functioning radios even at higher command levels–and also for reconnaissance.  Navigational instruments and facilities were basically nonexistent, and reaching one’s destination often involved landing near a village and asking someone , “Where am I?”  The slow and unarmored biplanes might seem like easy prey for the German Messerschmitts, but it was sometimes possible to evade them by clever maneuvering and by flying very low and slow. (The stall speed of the ME-109 was greater than the top speed of the Polikarpov!)

    After 130 missions, Anna wanted to transfer to a ground-attack unit, but met with some initial resistance: “No woman has fought in a Sturmovik yet! Two cannons, two machine-guns, two batteries of rockets, various bombs…Trust my experience–not every good pilot can handle such a machine!  Not every good pilot can handle such a machine!  Not everyone is capable steering a ‘flying tank,’ of orienting himself in combat conditions while hedge-hopping, bombing, shooting the cannons and machine-guns, launching rockets at rapidly flashing targets, conducting group dog-fights, sending and receiving orders by radio–all at the same time.  Think it over!”  Anna replied that she had already thought it over, and got this response:  “God save us, what a stubborn one!  Then do what makes sense to you!”

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, Book Notes, History, Military Affairs, Russia | 14 Comments »

    Electricity and Ethics and Europe

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 29th December 2015 (All posts by )

    When I was a young auditor I was on an airplane heading out to a utility client in Iowa. I sat next to a woman and her grade school aged child. I was making small talk with them and the kid asked me what I did. I said I worked with the electric utility. And he said

    Are you the guy who comes over and turns off the power?

    The child’s mom was embarrassed and the conversation was muted after that but I never forgot that exchange – the reality that, for the poor, electricity was a bill that had to be paid, and frequently it came ahead of other key necessities which then was brutally enforced by pulling the plug. Electricity is a big bill for the poor.

    This discussion is completely relevant to what is occurring in Europe today, as these countries move to wind and solar renewable energy instead of economically efficient coal, natural gas and nuclear power. This great article from Forbes summarizes the current debacle:

    To illustrate, Denmark and Germany are the proud wind capitals of Europe, but they also have the highest home electricity prices on Earth, 42 and 40 cents per kWh, respectively, against just 12.5 cents in the U.S…. Undeniably non-sensically, Germany has been paying over $26 billion per year for electricity that has a wholesale market value of just $5 billion

    This sort of mass economic distortion (possibly suicide) has a real, human toll:

    higher cost electricity (and energy) is horrible for our health. That’s because, since electricity is so indispensable, meaning that it “cannot not be used,” higher cost power drastically erodes our disposable income, which is the very basis of our health – while also disproportionately hurting the poor most. As a percentage of income, poor families pay 5-9 times more for electricity than rich families do. Predictably silently, higher cost electricity in Europe is killing tens of thousands of people a year, ”Excess Winter Deaths,” where older residents on fixed budgets in particular are forced to turn their heat down to avoid overly expensive utility bills. For example, there were 44,000 Excess Winter Deaths in England and Wales in 2014-2015

    It is amazing that while Europe is able to penalize the poor and elderly on fixed income in the name of clean energy, their same economic champions, the car companies, ran elaborate schemes to defeat emissions limits on diesel cars in a massive scandal that we’ve all heard about. The cost of remediation and penalties will be in the billions.

    Finally, in perhaps the bitterest pill, moving to expensive and unreliable energy sources means that the reliable blood-money energy available from Putin and Russia becomes even more important to maintaining their grid. While Western Europe has been making a (relatively feeble) effort to punish Putin for his atrocities in the skies and in Ukraine, they ignore the obvious morality issues linked to filling his coffers so that he can buy weapons and pay his soldiers that are used for repression and dictatorship in the east. It is amazing that there will be sit-ins for climate change and animal rights but the rights of Ukrainians and fellow European citizens apparently count for nothing if it enables their energy fantasies to be supported.

    The Europeans are breathtaking in their ability to unilaterally punish the poor and the elderly and increase their payments to Putin while cheating on emissions testing and pursuing their odd goals of “clean” power. These issues apparently do not keep them up at night despite their real-world effects.

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Economics & Finance, Energy & Power Generation, Europe, Germany, Russia | 51 Comments »

    Paris Attack News – “You killed our brothers in Syria”

    Posted by Michael Hiteshew on 15th November 2015 (All posts by )

    Here’re a few news reports:

    * Paris Attacker And Gunman Identified As Omar Ismail Mostefai

    * “You killed our brothers in Syria”

    * Homage to Paris victims

    I noticed the usual Russian disinformation warriors are out in force blaming this on the United States, claiming that ISIS was trained and supplied by the USA/CIA, or they are tools of Israel and the USA, etc. Odd how PenGun always mimics the same talking points. Maybe not.

    There’s also a strong NotAllMuslims presence.

    Updates:

    * Usa Today Editorial: The nature of this war: Our view
    “It is a war of modernity against medievalism, of civilization against barbarity.”

    * ‘Massive’ French airstrikes hit Islamic State

    Tweets

    Posted in France, Islam, Russia, Terrorism | 49 Comments »

    The Cuban Missile Crisis, as Viewed from a Soviet Launch Facility

    Posted by David Foster on 19th October 2015 (All posts by )

    (rerun)

    This month marks the 53rd anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the world dangerously close to thermonuclear war.

    Several years ago,  I read  Rockets and People, the totally fascinating memoir of Soviet rocket developer Boris Chertok, which I reviewed here.

    Chertok’s career encompassed both military and space-exploration projects, and in late October 1962 he was focused on preparations for launching a Mars probe. On the morning of Oct 27, he was awakened by “a strange uneasiness.” After a quick breakfast, he headed for the missile assembly building, known as the MIK.

    At the gatehouse, there was usually a lone soldier on duty who would give my pass a cursory glance. Now suddenly I saw a group of soldiers wielding sub-machine guns, and they thoroughly scrutinized my pass. Finally they admitted me to the facility grounds and there, to my surprise, I again saw sub-machine-gun-wielding soldiers who had climbed up the fire escape to the roof of the MIK. Other groups of soldiers in full combat gear, even wearing gas masks, were running about the periphery of the secure area. When I stopped in at the MIK, I immediately saw that the “duty” R-7A combat missile, which had always been covered and standing up against the wall, which we had always ignored, was uncovered.

    Chertok was greeted by his friend Colonel Kirillov, who was in charge of this launch facility. Kirollov did not greet Chertok with his usual genial smile, but with a “somber, melancholy expression.”

    Without releasing my hand that I’d extended for our handshake, he quietly said: “Boris Yevseyevich, I have something of urgent importance I must tell you”…We went into his office on the second floor. Here, visibly upset, Kirillov told me: “Last night I was summoned to headquarters to see the chief of the [Tyura-Tam] firing range. The chiefs of the directorates and commanders of the troop units were gathered there. We were told that the firing range must be brought into a state of battle readiness immediately. Due to the events in Cuba, air attacks, bombardment, and even U.S. airborne assaults are possible. All Air Defense Troops assets have already been put into combat readiness. Flights of our transport airplanes are forbidden. All facilities and launch sites have been put under heightened security. Highway transport is drastically restricted. But most important—I received the order to open an envelope that has been stored in a special safe and to act in accordance with its contents. According to the order, I must immediately prepare the duty combat missile at the engineering facility and mate the warhead located in a special depot, roll the missile out to the launch site, position it, test it, fuel it, aim it, and wait for a special launch command. All of this has already been executed at Site No. 31. I have also given all the necessary commands here at Site No. 2. Therefore, the crews have been removed from the Mars shot and shifted over to preparation of the combat missile. The nosecone and warhead will be delivered here in 2 hours.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Cuba, History, Miscellaneous, Russia, Space, War and Peace | 6 Comments »

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Jonathan on 12th October 2015 (All posts by )

    J. E. Dyer on Russia in Syria:

    Get used to it. This is the world as it is without American power setting standards and boundaries. After a 70-year hiatus from history, nothing you think you know applies to this situation. This is the world of 1900 – 800 – 500 B.C. – but with much more destructive weapons, and much faster ways to get around.

    Interesting times ahead.

    Posted in Current Events, International Affairs, Middle East, Military Affairs, National Security, Obama, Quotations, Russia, Tradeoffs, USA, War and Peace | 12 Comments »

    Where are we bound ?

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 11th October 2015 (All posts by )

    I watched the Sunday Talk Shows this morning and nothing was reassuring. Then I read the column from Richard Fernandez.

    It makes sense. I have believed for some time that we are headed for a revolution. Maybe not an old fashioned bloody revolution but something is coming.

    The anniversary of the U.S. war against the Islamic State passed with little notice. It was August 7 of last year that President Obama authorized the first airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq, a campaign he expanded a month later to include targets in Syria. So far this month, the president has delivered remarks on the Voting Rights Act, his deal with Iran, the budget, clean energy, and Hurricane Katrina. ISIS? Not a peep.

    Obama’s quiet because the war is not going well … One of our most gifted generals predicts the conflict will last “10 to 20 years.” And now comes news that the Pentagon is investigating whether intelligence assessments of ISIS have been manipulated for political reasons.

    His column today suggests that the Ship of State is drifting. He quotes Niall Ferguson’s article in the Wall Street Journal.

    I have spent much of the past seven years trying to work out what Barack Obama’s strategy for the United States truly is. For much of his presidency, as a distinguished general once remarked to me about the commander in chief’s strategy, “we had to infer it from speeches.”

    At first, I assumed that the strategy was simply not to be like his predecessor—an approach that was not altogether unreasonable, given the errors of the Bush administration in Iraq and the resulting public disillusionment. I read Mr. Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech—with its Quran quotes and its promise of “a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world”—as simply the manifesto of the Anti-Bush.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Current Events, Film, History, International Affairs, Islam, Leftism, Middle East, Obama, Russia | 49 Comments »

    Obama as The Godfather.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 7th October 2015 (All posts by )

    Richard Fernandez has an interesting take on Obama’s present foreign policy iteration. He sees himself as The Godfather negotiating among his capos and arranging the territories that each are allowed to possess.

    The White House is also exploring what could be a diplomatic blockbuster: possible new limits and controls on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and delivery systems. Such an accord might eventually open a path toward a Pakistani version of the civil nuclear deal that was done with India in 2005….

    Pakistan prizes its nuclear program, so negotiations would be slow and difficult, and it’s not clear that Islamabad would be willing to accept the limitations that would be required. But the issue is being discussed quietly in the run-up to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Washington Oct. 22. Any progress would break a stalemate that has existed since the U.S. detected Pakistan’s nuclear program in the mid-1980s, and especially after Pakistan exploded its first weapon in 1998.

    This is behind our negotiations with the Taliban, which seems just as intent on upsetting Obama’s applecart as they ever were. No matter. Obama will keep negotiating. As Woody Allan once said of stockbrokers, “They invest your money and keep investing it until it is all gone.”

    David Ignatius seems to approve of this approach.

    The U.S. recognized more than four years ago that the best way out of the Afghanistan conflict would be a diplomatic settlement that involved the Taliban and its sometime sponsors in Pakistan. State Department officials have been conducting secret peace talks, on and off, since 2011. That effort hasn’t borne fruit yet, as the Taliban’s recent offensive in Kunduz shows.

    But the pace of negotiations has quickened this year, thanks to an unlikely U.S. diplomatic partnership with China. A senior administration official said Monday that “we’re hopeful that there will be a willingness on the part of the Taliban to resume negotiations,” despite the intense fighting in Kunduz and elsewhere. Beijing’s involvement is a “new dynamic” and shows an instance where “U.S. interests overlap with those of China.”

    Yes, China will pull our chestnuts out of this particular fire. We can trust the Chinese. After all, we trusted them with the OPM database management.

    It’s not just that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) failed to certify nearly a quarter of its IT systems as secure.

    The real news is that outsourcing government IT tasks led to Chinese contract workers, and at least one person working in China, having root access to OPM systems.

    Having root access, of course, means having access to any data you want in the system – regardless of any security application that may protect the data against “unauthorized” users.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan, Iran, Middle East, National Security, Russia | 13 Comments »

    Book Review: Rockets and People, by Boris E Chertok

    Posted by David Foster on 4th October 2015 (All posts by )

    (Today marks the 58th anniversary of the Sputnik launch, making it an appropriate time to rerun this review, which I originally posted in February of this year)

    Rockets and People, by Boris E Chertok

    Boris Chertok’s career in the Russian aerospace industry spanned many decades, encompassing both space exploration and military missile programs. His four-volume memoir is an unusual document–partly, it reads like a high school annual or inside company history edited by someone who wants to be sure no one feels left out and that all the events and tragedies and inside jokes are appropriately recorded. Partly, it is a technological history of rocket development, and partly, it is a study in the practicalities of managing large programs in environments of technical uncertainty and extreme time pressure. Readers should include those interested in: management theory and practice, Russian/Soviet history, life under totalitarianism, the Cold War period, and missile/space technology. Because of the great length of these memoirs, those who read the whole thing will probably be those who are interested in all (or at least most) of the above subject areas. I found the series quite readable; overly-detailed in many places, but always interesting. In his review American astronaut Thomas Stafford said “The Russians are great storytellers, and many of the tales about their space program are riveting. But Boris Chertok is one of the greatest storytellers of them all.”  In this series, Chertok really does suck you into his world.

    Chertok was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1912: his mother had been forced to flee Russia because of her revolutionary (Menshevik) sympathies. The family returned to Russia on the outbreak of the First World War, and some of Chertok’s earliest memories were of the streets filled with red-flag-waving demonstrators in 1917. He grew up on the Moscow River, in what was then a quasi-rural area, and had a pretty good childhood–“we, of course, played “Reds and Whites,” rather than “Cowboys and Indians””–swimming and rowing in the river and developing an early interest in radio and aviation–both an airfield and a wireless station were located nearby. He also enjoyed reading–“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn met with the greatest success, while Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin gave rise to aggressive moods–‘Hey–after the revolution in Europe, we’ll deal with the American slaveholders!” His cousin introduced him to science fiction, and he was especially fond of Aelita (book and silent film), featuring the eponymous Martian beauty.

    Chertok remembers his school years fondly–there were field trips to study art history and architectural styles, plus a military program with firing of both rifles and machine guns–but notes “We studied neither Russian nor world history….Instead we had two years of social science, during which we studied the history of Communist ideas…Our clever social sciences teacher conducted lessons so that, along with the history of the French Revolution and the Paris Commune, we became familiar with the history of the European peoples from Ancient Rome to World War I, and while studying the Decembrist movement and 1905 Revolution in detail we were forced to investigate the history of Russia.” Chertok purused his growing interest in electronics, developing a new radio-receiver circuit which earned him a journal publication and an inventor’s certificate. There was also time for skating and dating–“In those strict, puritanical times it was considered inappropriate for a young man of fourteen or fifteen to walk arm in arm with a young woman. But while skating, you could put your arm around a girl’s waist, whirl around with her on the ice to the point of utter exhaustion, and then accompany her home without the least fear of reproach.”

    Chertok wanted to attend university, but “entrance exams were not the only barrier to admission.” There was a quota system, based on social class, and  “according to the ‘social lineage’ chart, I was the son of a white collar worker and had virtually no hope of being accepted the first time around.” He applied anyhow, hoping that his journal publication and inventor’s certificate in electronics would get him in.” It didn’t–he was told, “Work about three years and come back. We’ll accept you as a worker, but not as the son of a white-collar worker.”

    So Chertok took a job as electrician in a brick factory…not much fun, but he was soon able to transfer to an aircraft factory across the river. He made such a good impression that he was asked to take a Komsomol leadership position, which gave him an opportunity to learn a great deal about manufacturing. The plant environment was a combination of genuinely enlightened management–worker involvement in process improvement, financial decentralization–colliding with rigid policies and political interference. There were problems with absenteeism caused by new workers straight off the farm; these led to a government edict: anyone late to work by 20 minutes or more was to be fired, and very likely prosecuted. There was a young worker named Igor who had real inventive talent; he proposed an improved linkage for engine and propeller control systems, which worked out well. But when Igor overslept (the morning after he got married), no exception could be made. He was fired, and “we lost a man who really had a divine spark.”  Zero tolerance!

    Chertok himself wound up in trouble when he was denounced to the Party for having concealed the truth about his parents–that his father was a bookkeeper in a private enterprise and his mother was a Menshevik. He was expelled from the Komsomol and demoted to a lower-level position.  Later in his career, he would also wind up in difficulties because of his Jewish heritage.

    The memoir includes dozens of memorable characters, including:

    *Lidiya Petrovna Kozlovskaya, a bandit queen turned factory supervisor who became Chertok’s superior after his first demotion.

    *Yakov Alksnis, commander of the Red Air Force–a strong leader who foresaw the danger of a surprise attack wiping out the planes on the ground. He was not to survive the Stalin era.

    *Olga Mitkevich, sent by the regime to become “Central Committee Party organizer” at the factory where Chertok was working…did not make a good first impression (“had the aura of a strict school matron–the terror of girls’ preparatory schools”)..but actually proved to be very helpful to getting work done and later became director of what was then the largest aircraft factory in Europe, which job she performed well. She apparently had too much integrity for the times, and her letters to Stalin on behalf of people unjustly accused resulted in her own arrest and execution.

    *Frau Groettrup, wife of a German rocket scientist, one of the many the Russians took in custody after occupying their sector of Germany. Her demands on the victors were rather unbelievable, what’s more unbelievable is that the Russians actually yielded to most of them.

    *Dmitry Ustinov, a rising star in the Soviet hierarchy–according to Chertok an excellent and visionary executive who had much to do with Soviet successes in missiles and space. (Much later, he would become Defense Minister, in which role he was a strong proponent of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.)

    *Valeriya Golubtsova, wife of the powerful Politburo member Georgiy Malenkov, who was Stalin’s immediate successor. Chertok knew her from school–she was an engineer who became an important government executive–and the connection turned out to be very useful. Chertok respected her professional skills, liked her very much, and devotes several pages to her.

    *Yuri Gagarin, first man to fly in space, and Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman.

    *Overshadowing all the other characters is Sergei Korolev, now considered to be the father of the Soviet space program although anonymous during his lifetime.  Korolev spent 6 years in labor camps, having been arrested when his early rocket experiments didn’t pan out; he was released in 1944.  A good leader, in Chertok’s view, though with a bad temper and given to making threats that he never actually carried out.  His imprisonment must have left deep scars–writing about a field trip to a submarine to observe the firing of a ballistic missile, Chertok says that the celebration dinner with the sub’s officers was the only time he ever saw Korolev really happy.

    Chertok’s memoir encompasses the pre-WWII development of the Soviet aircraft industry…early experiments with a rocket-powered interceptor…the evacuation of factories from the Moscow area in the face of the German invasion…a post-war mission to Germany to acquire as much German rocket technology as possible…the development of a Soviet ballistic missile capability…Sputnik…reconnaissance and communications satellites…the Cuban missile crisis…and the race to the moon.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, Big Government, Biography, Book Notes, Leftism, Management, Military Affairs, Russia, Society, Space, Tech, Transportation | 7 Comments »

    One step closer to war

    Posted by Mrs. Davis on 30th September 2015 (All posts by )

    Tonight Obama must be contemplating how much he feels like Stalin on June 22, 1941. One wishes it won’t take him 10 days to reappear. Until one considers how craven he will be when he does reappear. He’s no Uncle Joe, that’s for sure.

    Posted in History, Miscellaneous, Obama, Russia, War and Peace | 20 Comments »