30 September 2021

Aircraft Carriers Still Vulnerable

The issue raised in the quote below is the elephant in the room when it comes to U.S. Navy planning for engagements with "near peer" forces. It is preceded by a narrative criticizing pre-World War I planners for failing to recognize the threat of aerial attack on battleships in 1921, between the world wars. 

The linked article continues with an extended discussion about paths that the U.S. Navy could take going forward in a hypothetical conflict with China (which is also seeks to justify). I don't think that this later analysis fully grasps, however, the extent to which the concerns about aircraft carriers also applies equally to other naval surface combatants like Arleigh-Burke-class destroyers. They are, if anything, more vulnerable than aircraft carriers to being sunk by a near peer opponent. Their defensive range is limited to the range of their non-hypersonic missiles which is far smaller than that of an aircraft carrier's missiles on its deployed aircraft, and they are still expensive enough that they can't be that much more numerous than aircraft carriers. Since they are non-nuclear, other U.S. surface combatants also need far more logistic support on expeditionary missions from ships or bases that are themselves far more vulnerable, than a nuclear powered aircraft carrier or nuclear powered submarine.
Evidence that aircraft carriers are unacceptably vulnerable to attack from peer and near-peer adversaries is abundant. In perhaps the greatest coup d’etat for naval warfare in recent history, China’s DF-21D antiship ballistic missile is approximated to have a range of more than 900 miles, encompassing all of Japan and Korea as well as most of the Philippines and South China Sea. These missiles, which can be easily moved and launched from the Chinese mainland, reach further than even the longest-range combat aircraft in the carrier air wing, the roughly 700-mile combat radius of a fully fueled F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.

While aerial tankers often are used to extend the range of such jets, refueling midflight is not viable in a peer conflict, as slow flying aircraft loading fuel would be vulnerable to an array of Chinese antiaccess/area-denial (A2/AD) assets, such as rival aircraft, surface vessels, and submarines. In addition to the Chinese DF-21D, both China and Russia have fielded and continue to develop hypersonic antiship missiles that cannot be defeated with any current U.S. countermeasure technology. Aircraft carriers are simply not suited to fight the battles of the future in which a shore-launched missile from hundreds or even thousands of miles away holds a strike group at risk.

From the U.S. Naval Institute Blog

For what it is worth, this isn't really a correct usage of the term coup d’etat. 

Also, this overlooks the fact that near peer nations already had other threats to aircraft carriers and other naval surface combatants, that are just as serious such as submarines, swarms of missile boats, swarms of missile armed aircraft, camouflaged armed ships, ballistic missiles, sea mines, and other non-hypersonic missiles. 

But neither of these concerns detract from the core point that aircraft carriers (and other naval surface combatants) are highly vulnerable. 

As I have explained before, naval surface combatants, are slow moving and not very maneuverable, have no stealth and nothing to hide behind, and are the equivalent of going into a battlefield in a fully occupied RV that carries lodging for all of its crew including its support crew that is not needed for the battle itself.

There are very few combat functions that naval surface combatants perform that military aircraft cannot. But military aircraft travel at 25 to 50 times the speed of a naval surface combatant, are smaller because they contain only what they need to fight and support their small crew for a matter of hours while leaving 95% of their support crews behind at air bases or on aircraft carriers, can employ stealth technology, and can deliver essentially any kind of missile or torpedo that a naval surface combatant can. 

Aircraft can also move from one theater of conflict to another in a matter of days, rather than a matter of weeks, allowing a smaller number of military resources to be deployed with the same effect globally.

Submarines provide a middle ground. They have many of the same drawbacks, but aren't nearly as vulnerable to attack.

The main role that naval surface combatants serve that can't be served by aircraft, submarines, and drones is that they "show the flag". This is a function many political leaders highly value, but the notion that showing the flag translates into survivable capabilities in a real fighting war with near peer countries is mistaken.

26 September 2021

Lessons From Fiction and Reality

1.    Ultimately, scientists save civilization.

2.  Scientists can only save civilization if people in power listen to them, and the public goes along with them.

3.    Until scientists come up with solutions, we need to behave well with the best information that we have available.

4.  Lies can sometimes help in the short run, but ultimately, they usually cause more harm than good.

5.  The consequences of ignoring this advice are immense.

Quote Of The Day

Both bad men and sweet sweets are alluring.

- Traditional Japanese proverb

21 September 2021

Utah Is Different

Utah’s population grew faster than that of any other state between 2010 and 2020. Salt Lake City has the lowest jobless rate among all big cities, at 2.8%, compared with a national rate of 5.2%. That the state has rebounded so well from the downturn caused by the covid-19 pandemic is thanks to the Wasatch Front, an urban corridor that includes Salt Lake and Provo, home to Brigham Young University. The four counties that make up the Wasatch Front account for at least 80% of Utah’s economic activity, reckons Juliette Tennert, an economist at the University of Utah.

Utah also ranks at or near the very bottom for metrics of gender equality.

More red states has weak economies. Most blue states have strong economies and have been less sexist on a longstanding historical basis. Many people attribute the economic success of blue states to substantial female labor participation.

Population growth nationally is concentrated in bluer urban areas while rural areas have stagnant or declining populations, yet many blue states overall have falling populations, while many red states overall have rising populations. But high female participation in the workforce and higher education tends to reduce birth rates.

For readers not familiar with U.S. cultural geography and history, Utah is predominantly Mormon in religion, a conservative and fairly divergent form of Christianity in the U.S. that often makes common cause with white Evangelical Christians, despite mutual antipathy between members of  the two faiths and very different cultural norms. Evangelical Christianity emerged in the slave states of the American Southeast, starting in earnest in the Second Great Awakening despite some more remote historical antecedents. The Church of Latter Day Saints (i.e. Mormonism) started in New England and was repeatedly exiled to the West after bouts of local opposition with stops in Ohio and Missouri before establishing a permanent home in Utah which is in the Mountain West.

It makes sense that a state with fewer women in the workforce, like Utah, will have a lower unemployment rate for people who are still in the workforce. 

It is also not surprising that a state where people have many children and start doing so early out of religious motivations have high rates of population growth, especially in a period when immigration from abroad has been very modest.

It is, however, rather surprising that Utah can have such an urban population, which is reasonably well educated, affluent, and connected to the global community, yet remain a red state.

Obviously, religion and culture explain that to a great extent. But Mormon Republicans are a very distinct subset and faction within the Republican party, and they don't fit many GOP stereotypes.

Quote Of The Day

“Barbarism” is perhaps best understood as a recurring syndrome among peripheral societies in response to the threats and opportunities presented by more developed neighbors. 
This article develops a mathematical model of barbarigenesis—the formation of “barbarian” societies adjacent to more complex societies—and its consequences, and applies the model to the case of Europe in the first millennium CE. A starting point is a game (developed by Hirshleifer) in which two players allocate their resources either to producing wealth or to fighting over wealth. 
The paradoxical result is that a richer and potentially more powerful player may lose out to a poorer player, because the opportunity cost of fighting is greater for the former. In a more elaborate spatial model with many players, the outcome is a wealth-power mismatch: central regions have comparatively more wealth than power, peripheral regions have comparatively more power than wealth. 
In a model of historical dynamics, a wealth-power mismatch generates a long-lasting decline in social complexity, sweeping from more to less developed regions, until wealth and power come to be more closely aligned.

Like Tyler Cohen at Marginal Revolution, I am not convinced that this historical pattern no longer holds true. The implications are grim.

19 September 2021

Ohio's Latest Gerrymander

Ohio has once again adopted gerrymandered boundaries for its state legislative districts that favor Republicans. 

In the 2020 state house races, Republicans got about 55% of the popular vote, but about 64% of the state house. Republicans will likely win veto-proof majorities in the 2022 state legislative races again with the new map. Ohio's Congressional election results were similarly skewed by gerrymandering.

            Graphic provided by Dana Miller.
The new state legislative district maps which will be in place for the 2022 and 2024 elections are shown below:

Shortly after midnight Sept. 16, the Ohio Redistricting Commission passed revised district maps for the Ohio Senate and the Ohio House of Representatives, on a 5-2 party-line vote.

The commission consists of Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, Auditor Keith Faber, Speaker of the House Robert R. Cupp, House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, Senate President Matt Huffman and Senator Vernon Sykes.

Emilia Sykes is the daughter of Vernon Sykes. The two are the only Democrats on the commission, and the only two who voted against the revised maps. They said the maps have been drawn to favor Republican candidates and do not accurately represent the voters of Ohio. . . .

Every 10 years, the district lines must be redrawn for the Ohio Legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives. Because the commission voted in favor of the maps but did not have the support of the minority party, they will only last for four years instead of 10. . . . the maps that were passed would likely give Republicans an advantage of 62-37 in the House and 23-10 in the Senate. These are both veto-proof majorities. There are about 23 competitive districts. Eleven of those districts currently have a Republican in office and 12 are currently occupied by a Democrat.

 From the Oxford Observer. 

The 54 Fatal Traffic Accidents In Denver In 2021 Through September 8, 2021

This map shows the 54 fatal traffic accidents that have occurred in the City and County of Denver from January 1, 2021 to September 8, 2021.

From Westword (which has additional details).

The types of accidents break out as follows:

* Auto/Auto 15

* Auto/Rollover or Auto/Fixed Object 14

* Motorcycle 10

* Pedestrian (And No Motorcycle) 10

* Scooter or Bicycle (And No Motorcycle) 5

13 cases have resulting in criminal charges being filed. 

Five of the pedestrian cases and one scooter case were hit and run incidents, with a suspect identified in only one of those six cases.

17 September 2021

Sentencing Ideas And News

*  Juries should know the sentences that their guilty verdicts authorize.

* A law review article considers putting someone into a coma involuntarily as an alternative to the death penalty or incarceration.

* The trial penalty in criminal cases is too high:

Akin to a peace deal in the American justice system, plea agreements enable defendants to avoid the worst possible scenario in exchange for waiving their right to a battle at trial. However, the current approach to these deals means a defendant who does not concede defeat upfront can obtain no assurance regarding their sentence if convicted.

This dynamic has led to a disparity or “trial penalty” that is so pronounced that, in addition to expending the processing of the guilty, it effectively coerces many innocent defendants to plead guilty.

A National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers report, for example, found that the average sentence for fraud defendants who went to trial in 2015 was three times higher than the sentence for those who pleaded guilty; for defendants charged with burglary and embezzlement, the sentence at trial was almost eight times higher.

Indeed, one simulation suggests that more than half of participants in an experiment would be willing to confess to a crime they didn’t commit in exchange for a significantly lower sentence. Some 15 percent of DNA exonerations, which generally involve charges for the most serious crimes, involve those who pleaded guilty....

The trial penalty that coaxes both the guilty and innocent to enter pleas is exacerbated by mandatory minimum statutes, which trigger automatic penalties if invoked by the prosecutor, as well as sentencing enhancements within the discretion of the prosecutor, such as whether to file notice with the court of a prior offense.

One potential solution for reining in the trial penalty is to require that any plea deal offered by prosecutors include a contingency guaranteeing that the sentence would be similar upon conviction at trial. Under this scenario, defendants who exercise their right to go to trial might be entitled to a sentence that is the same or no more than 15 percent longer than the best offered deal.

* Many essays about excessive punishment and whose fault it is that this happens.

* The pandemic has resulted in a huge drop in federal criminal sentencing hearings.

Haiti Has Lagged Economically For A Long Time

It is widely known that Haiti is a poor country. It is less widely known that it has been poorer than its neighbors since sometime before the year 1900 CE.

14 September 2021

You Can Lose Your Right To Bring Claims In Civil Lawsuits

You have to engage in extreme conduct to do so, but the Colorado Supreme Court has recognized its authority to bar abusive litigants from every bringing claims of their own in lawsuits without being represented by a lawyer. The right to defend a claim in a lawsuit without a lawyer is preserved for natural persons. 

The request to bar this disbarred lawyer from authority to litigate in his own name was made by the first law firm I worked for in Colorado, which is based in Grand Junction, Colorado and changed its name mid-litigation. He had brought 27 lawsuits related to the same matter over a decade, of which 26 were determined to be frivolous and duplicative.

This is from a September 13, 2021 official syllabus of a Colorado Supreme Court decision:
2021 CO 66 
No. 21SA147, In re Francis v. Wegener—Right of Access—Supervisory Power of the Court—Injunction Against Self-Representation. 
The supreme court makes the rule to show cause absolute and enjoins Robert A. Francis, whether acting individually or on behalf of a trust or some other entity, from ever again proceeding pro se as a proponent of a claim (i.e., as a plaintiff, third-party claimant, cross-claimant, or counter-claimant) in any present or future litigation in the state courts of Colorado. While the Colorado Constitution confers upon every person an undisputed right of access to our state courts, that right isn’t absolute. A party’s constitutional right of access to the courts must sometimes yield to the constitutional right of other litigants and the public to have justice administered without denial or delay. Such is the case when courts are called upon to curb the deleterious impact that duplicative and baseless pro se litigation has on finite judicial resources.  
Francis has been abusing the judicial process for the purpose of harassing his adversaries for the better part of a decade. State courts have warned, reprimanded, and sanctioned Francis—all to no avail. Even the suspension of his law license has failed to deter his appalling conduct. Under the circumstances, the extraordinary injunction requested is amply justified. Of course, Francis may still obtain access to judicial relief—he just may not do so without legal representation.

Game Of Thrones Tactics In Haiti

A prosecutor in Haiti is seeking to charge the Prime Minister of Haiti with the murder of its President. CNN has the story:
Haiti's top prosecutor is seeking charges against Prime Minister Ariel Henry in connection with the assassination of the late President Jovenel Moise. He has also barred the Prime Minister from leaving the country. 
Port-au-Prince's chief prosecutor, Bed-Ford Claude, previously invited Henry to testify about the case, citing evidence that a key suspect in the assassination called him in the hours after the murder. Henry was due to testify on Tuesday morning. That suspect, former Haitian Justice Ministry official Joseph Felix Badio, is believed to be on the run. CNN has not been able to reach him for comment.
Claude told CNN that he is discussing possible charges against Henry with the judge.

The late President Moise was brutally killed during an attack on his private residence on July 7. The investigation into his killing is ongoing and has turned up dozens of suspects, including US and Colombian citizens.

Moise's death prompted a weeks-long standoff over succession in the country's leadership between the recently nominated Henry -- a neurologist by training -- and then-acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph, before Henry ultimately took power. . . .
The early months of Henry's tenure have been troubled by continuing intrigue over the assassination, deadly gang violence in capital city Port-au-Prince, and a catastrophic August earthquake in the country's south that left more than 2,100 dead and injured more than 12,200.

A prosecution does seem appropriate in this case. The situation in the meantime is a mess for an already troubled and struggling country.

13 September 2021

SAT Test Preparation Isn't Very Effective

The main problem with moving away from standardized tests is that almost all of the alternatives are less meritocratic. Contrary to popular belief, test preparation classes to which the wealthy has disproportionate access don't make much of a difference for the vast majority of students taking them.

One pillar of the case against standardized testing is the widespread belief that wealthy students carry an advantage because they can afford expensive test prep courses and tutors. That’s what critics mostly mean when they say the SAT is a test of family wealth, not of academic ability.

Is this true?

Let’s start with some findings that pretty much everyone who studies this stuff seems to agree on. 
First: It’s true that test prep, which I’ll define as outside help that costs money and requires an investment of time, is generally used by wealthier and better-connected students. 
But second: The effects of test prep have been studied pretty extensively, and while there’s far from any consensus on why some students do better than others, the published studies agree that the range of improvement, once controlled for a variety of factors like the fact that students who enroll in and complete test prep courses will likely be a self-selected group, is about 10 to 35 points.

Does test prep really help everyone who has the money to sign up for a course, even if it raises their scores just a little? Not quite. 
Two studies found that when you disaggregate for ethnicity, Americans of East Asian descent benefit far more from test prep than any other group, including white and other Asian American students. (There’s an interesting if somewhat unrelated distinction to make here: One-on-one tutoring seems to help nobody. Commercial test prep, which ranges from cram schools in East Asian enclaves to the Princeton Review, has some effects.) This might explain why Asian Americans’ SAT scores have steadily been rising over the past decade.

According to a study conducted by Julie Park and Ann Becks in The Review of Higher Education, “East Asian Americans were the only group where a form of test prep predicted a higher SAT score (about 50 points).” For everyone else, SAT prep has no significant effect or even, in some cases, a negative one. A previous study found that the majority of this improvement took place in East Asian immigrant enclaves like Flushing, in Queens, which has dozens of cram schools that serve ethnic communities.

From the New York Times. 

08 September 2021

Should Cyber And Propaganda Be A Military Mission?

The Marines and other armed services are pushing to emphasize the importance on information, communication with the general public, and "cyber-warfare" in future conflicts. 

In general, I don't disagree that these are important issues for the government when it is in conflicts to deal with.

But, I question whether active duty military personnel are the people best suited to deal with this issues, and whether characterizing these issues as military is fruitful.

Why, for example, shouldn't cyber-warfare be primarily the responsibility of civilian agencies dealing with commercial internet traffic? 

Why are soldiers better suited to do this work than civilians? 

Why should communications with the general public in foreign lands not be primarily the responsibility of diplomats and politicians?

I haven't seen good answer to these foundational questions.

02 September 2021

Quote Of The Day

Because excellent men in corrupt republics (especially in tranquil times) are considered enemies, both out of envy or other ambitions, the people follow either a man who is judged to be good by common self-deception or someone put forward by men who are more likely to desire special favors than the common good. Later, in adverse times, this deception is revealed, and out of necessity the people turn to those who in tranquil times were almost forgotten.
-Niccolo Macchiavelli, Discourses on Livy

I'm not convinced that Macchiavelli was correct on this score, but it is a point of view worth considering.

Unions, Cause, And Effect

It is a fact that unions were once strong, and that unions used their bargaining power and political power to better the lot of workers, and that unions are less powerful now.

But, I'm not convinced that the narrative of this meme and political arguments along these lines gets the causation right.

Unions were powerful because the demand for their members' labor was high. Unions have declined as that demand has waned. Unions facilitated utilization of power that the workers already had but weren't using efficiently. Now, workers don't have the same amount of power to mobilize, so I'm not sure that collective action is enough without the underlying power that comes from high demand for labor.

Pro-union laws lagged the growth of union power. Likewise, anti-union laws have lagged the decline of union power. Anti-union laws and regulations are an impediment to effective mobilization of worker power through unions. But, the weakness of the union movement is what made it possible to pass anti-union laws and regulations.

The decline of the private sector union movement in the U.S. has been the product of automation, out sourcing, and off shoring.  

It is also related to the shift in the U.S. economy from being an export oriented economy to one that consistently runs trade deficits. Some of the export orientation of the old U.S. economy was because the U.S. industrial infrastructure survived World War II basically unscathed, while the industrial sectors of Europe, Japan, and much of the rest of the world were utterly ruined by World War II. This gave the U.S. a decisive edge until the countries torn apart by war had time to recover.

It has also been a product of the growth of the labor force facilitated by allowing women into positions they were previously excluded from (and by birth control), reducing racial discrimination in employment (despite not eliminating it), allowing high levels of immigration, discontinuing the draft.

Also, meritocratic admissions and expanded access to higher education in the post-World War II era allowed leaders who otherwise would have become effective union leaders because they were systemically excluded by social class or race or gender from serving in other leadership roles to be co-opted as part of the managerial-professional class. Unions were harder to organize and operate effectively without leaders who were denied opportunities that a meritocracy would have permitted.

As an aside, one can also make a decent case that greater meritocracy has facilitated brain drain from rural areas to large cities, leaving rural areas without the leadership those areas need to thrive, and creating a "minor league" feeder system for less competent people to start political careers.