31 December 2022

Non-Lawyer Judges Are A Bad Idea

I usually agree with Jared Polis, the Governor of Colorado, but his decision to appoint a non-lawyer to a county court post this year, while legal, was a bad one that denies real justice to hundreds or thousands of litigants a year. If he hadn't appointed this non-lawyer judge, Colorado would have been down to three and could have slowly reduced the number to zero as incumbent judges retired.

County court judges in Colorado don’t need law degrees to sit on the bench in most parts of the state.

They don’t need college degrees, either. People with high school diplomas or GEDs and no legal training can become county court judges in 45 of the state’s 64 counties, presiding over lower-level criminal and civil cases with all the authority of any other county court judge.

Proponents of these so-called “lay judges” say the lower educational qualifications are key to filling judgeships in Colorado’s rural and remote counties where the positions might otherwise go unfilled because of a lack of local attorneys interested in the job. Critics suggest non-attorney judges aren’t qualified to interpret the law and mete out justice, even in low-level legal matters.

There are only four lay judges working in Colorado right now, a Denver Post review of the state judiciary found. The newest, Michael Halpin, was appointed by Gov. Jared Polis in October as a county court judge in Custer County.

Polis chose Halpin, a resident of Custer County and former sheriff’s deputy with a high school education, over an attorney candidate who lives in Loveland.

The other lay judges currently on the bench are: Kristei Jones, a rancher and veteran in Yuma County with a high school education, Truston Lee Fisher, a college-educated veteran whose been on the bench in Lincoln County since 1987, and Richard Medina, a college-educated former building inspector, in Crowley County.

The state’s four lay judges either declined interview requests or could not be reached.

Medina is the third consecutive lay judge to hold the role in Crowley County, Chief Judge Mark MacDonnell said, and being able to fill that job with non-attorneys has been critical over the years.

“For those three instances, there were not attorneys (who applied), so there would not have been a Crowley judge had there not been a lay judge willing to take it,” MacDonnell said. 
. . .  
Lay judges are nominated, appointed, evaluated and paid in the same way as judges with law degrees. The Judicial Performance Commission’s reviews of lay judges have been mixed in recent years. The evaluators in 2020 suggested Medina needed to improve his legal knowledge and consistency in following procedures.

“The Commission understands the challenges that a lay judge faces,” evaluators wrote. “As Judge Medina is not an attorney, he faces greater challenges than other judges. However, this does not excuse Judge Medina from being an ineffective judge.”

Another lay judge, Fisher, received a score that was higher than the average for all county court judges, both attorneys and not, the evaluations show.
Across the country, 27 states allow lay judges to work in some capacity, said Bill Raftery, senior analyst at the National Center for State Courts. . . . familiarity with the community has also become also a critique of lay judges, Raftery said, with critics suggesting the judges struggle to be impartial because of their close community ties and lack of legal training.

Colorado’s current lay judges include former law enforcement and prison officers, a former town mayor and a former school board member. McCallum said lay judges use their non-traditional backgrounds to their advantage when presiding over cases.

From the Denver Post

Marriage and Child Bearing In South Asia

When I was in high school, almost half of 15 year old girls in Bangladesh had married. Now, it a little less than a quarter of them. But women in Bangladesh have far fewer children than they did then.

Via Brown Pundits.

Precipitation In Denver In 2022

The year 2022 was drier than normal in Denver, but not a record setting drought year either. There was rain in the forecast for today, but it doesn't appear to have happened. The years 2020, 2018 and 2006, for example, were much drier with under 9 inches but more than 8 inches of moisture in each of these years. The year 2002 had 7.48 inches.

Unlike Louisiana, Oregon Does The Right Thing

The Oregon Supreme Court has given retroactive effect to the Ramos Sixth Amendment jury unanimity rule, two months after the Louisiana Supreme Court refused to do so.

Oregon and Louisiana were the only two U.S. states that had permitted non-unanimous juries in criminal cases, which the U.S. Supreme Court held in Ramos were unconstitutional. But the U.S. Supreme Court later held that the new rule did not have retroactive effect as a matter of federal law, leaving open the question of whether state constitutional law compelled a retroactive result.

Oregon's departing Governor has also commuted the sentences of all of the state's death row inmates.

30 December 2022

Word Of The Day


3D Printing Houses Is Affordable

A neighborhood of 3D printed houses in Austin, Texas is surprisingly affordable:

Austin is set to house one of the first 3D-printed neighborhoods with 100 homes to be completed by the start of 2023.

Construction company Lennar teamed up with 3D-printing firm ICON to build what it says is the largest community of 3D-printed homes in the world, using a combination of robotics, software, and advanced building materials.

The homes in the impending Genesis Collection, which were co-designed by architectural firm BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group, will contain two to four bedrooms, and they’ll be equipped with solar panels to reduce energy bills for homeowners and lower the amount of carbon pollution the community creates.

Reservations for the new community will begin in 2023 with prices starting in the mid-$400,000s for homes ranging 1,500-2,100 square feet. Lennar says it’s confident that the houses can remain largely unaffected by rising material or mortgage costs, given their energy efficiency and reliance on a single-building material.

A Banner Year For Blogging

The year 2022 had the second highest number of posts at this blog in the eleven year time period from 2012-2022 (after 2016), the second highest number of posts at Dispatches From Turtle Island in the same time period (after 2017), and the second highest number of posts at the two blogs combined in that time period (after 2016).

Our Current Approach To Drugs Doesn't Work

Drug overdoes are up, especially among the young, and the old are dying of alcohol related causes.

2022 Was Bad Year For Stocks And A Catastrophe For Cypto

From the New York Times (not clearly attached to a story) today.

29 December 2022

Ukrainian Missile Defense Reasonably Effective

Russia claims it launched 120 cruise missiles against targets across Ukraine, mostly in Odessa and Kyiv. But the Ukrainian side of the story, in some cases supported by video, suggests that fewer missiles were launched and that missile defense systems were quite effective.
A swarm of drones and a volley of cruise missiles rocked towns and cities across Ukraine on Thursday, the biggest assault in weeks and the latest in a wave of ever more sophisticated aerial duels pitting Russia’s evolving tactics against Ukraine’s growing arsenal of air defense weapons.

At dawn in Kyiv, the capital, puffy contrails from missiles or air defense weapons lingered in the sky and fragments from successful intercepts rained down on a playground and on private homes.

Russia, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said in a statement, had been “saving one of the most massive missile attacks since the beginning of the full-scale invasion for the last days of the year.” Ukraine’s air defenses were at times overwhelmed.

Iranian-made exploding drones, which Russia began acquiring last summer, were launched in a first wave, apparently to bog down air defenses before the cruise missile strikes, the Ukrainian air force said. It said its defense forces had shot down 54 of 69 cruise missiles and had also knocked out drones.

From the New York Times

A 78% interception rate isn't perfect, but does greatly decrease the effectiveness of cruise missiles. Every cruise missile launched, whether or not it hits a valuable target, also helps exhausts Russia's supply of them, making it less capable in future conflicts or later in the Ukraine War - it lacks the industrial base to replenish its depleted advanced military equipment quickly and has few allies it can buy new systems from during this war.

A video on CNN suggests that some of the cruise missiles were taken down by MANPADS (like the infantry carried Stinger missile).

Greta Thunberg's Troll Also A Sex Trafficker

Andrew Tate and his brother trolled young environmental activist Greta Thunberg about how stridently he polluted the air with his many emissions belching sports cars. Greta owned him with a "small dick energy", "get a life" response. 

His effort to salvage himself from the burn, in turn led police to him and his brother whom they arrested on sex trafficking charges (whose location was ID'd from pizza boxes in the background of his video rebuttal).

It's funny how people who are assholes in one dimension are often creepy assholes in other ways.

U.S. Behind In Home Testing

Once again, the US is behind on at-home rapid antigen tests–this time on combination tests that let you test for COVID, Influenza, and RSV all at once. These tests are widely available in Europe but have not been approved by the FDA. Rapid flu tests especially are potentially very useful in assigning appropriate treatment and reducing the overuse of antibiotics.

From Marginal Revolution.

Greater regulatory reciprocity is a public health no brainer.

Converting Empty Office Space To Apartments Is Hard

The New York Times explains that only a surprisingly small share of empty office space is suitable for converting into apartments.

If It Isn't One Thing It's Another

For more than two and a half years I've avoided COVID-19. I've managed to continue to do that. 

But, some other bug most distinctively characterized by an intensely sore throat and a dry cough has taken me down for the worst ailment I've had for five or ten years, which has rendered me almost completely dysfunctional for four solid days of 18-20 hours a day of turbulent and unrestful sleep, not being able to talk more than a few words at a time, coughing every few minutes, OTC meds, and hot fluids. It could be a day or three more before I'm right.

If it isn't one thing, it's another.

27 December 2022

Second Quote Of The Day

What a great day to cause trouble.

- Oh My Baby (Ep. 1).

Basically, Southwest Airlines Sucks?

Southwest Airlines has collapsed in the wake of a severe snowstorm, while other airlines were barely affected by it.
The U.S. Department of Transportation says it will look into flight cancellations by Southwest Airlines that have left travelers stranded at airports across the country amid an intense winter storm that has killed dozens of people. Many airlines were forced to cancel flights due to the weather, but Southwest was by far the most affected.

The Denver International Airport bore the brunt of the dysfunction, with 334 flights canceled and 275 delayed Tuesday after days of snarled air traffic, according to the tracking website FlightAware.

Of the 2,890 flight cancellations in the U.S. early Tuesday, 2,522 were called off by Southwest, FlightAware shows. . . . Southwest Airlines . . . cancelled more than 70% of its flights Monday, more than 60% on Tuesday, and warned that it would operate just over a third of its usual schedule in the days ahead to allow crews to get back to where they needed to be. American, United, Delta and JetBlue, suffered cancellations rates of between none and 2% by Tuesday. . . .
The president of the union representing Southwest pilots blamed the lack of crews to fly planes on scheduling software written in the 1990s and on management that he said failed to fix things after previous meltdowns, including a major disruption in October 2021.
From the Colorado Sun.

Fun Fact: A typical airline spends roughly the same amounts on fuel and on operations research to schedule its flights and crews, etc.

Incidentally, about half of the deaths were in greater Buffalo, New York, which got more than 50 inches of snow in blizzard conditions.

Quote Of The Day

There's always more sky above the sky.

- Indonesian proverb invoked here.

It means that even if someone is high ranking and powerful, there is always someone more powerful than that person.

23 December 2022

Should Bankruptcy Spite Exploitive Lenders To Consumers?

The notion that firms who lend more to consumers than they can reasonably repay should not have valid claims in bankruptcy has a certain charm and elegance to it.
Consumer financial protection law is dominated by ex-ante, contract-centered regulatory measures. But these measures largely fail to curb lenders' incentive to lend beyond consumers' ability to repay. 
The Article thus suggests an alternative approach: discouraging lenders from extending loans that cannot be repaid by dismissing the imprudent lender's claims in consumer bankruptcy. 
I argue that regulating underwriting decisions through bankruptcy is normatively desirable because it cuts through the artificial separation between consumer finance law and consumer bankruptcy law. By the same token, it not only overcomes the autonomy and effectiveness concerns attached to traditional consumer finance regulation, but may also enhance the internal coherence of consumer bankruptcy law.
Abigail Faust, Regulating Excessive Credit (Wisconsin Law Review, Forthcoming) on SSRN (December 2022).

22 December 2022

401(k) Law Changes

The budget bill that the U.S. Senate passed today contains seven changes to the tax laws related to retirement savings programs. The U.S. House is expected to approve the U.S. Senate changes later today and send the bill to the President for signature which is expected.

1. Automatic Enrollment

Starting in 2025, most businesses would be required to automatically enroll employees in 401(k) plans. Employees would contribute 3 to 10 percent of their wages. Each year, the contribution would increase by 1 percent until it reaches at least 10 percent, though not more than 15 percent.

Businesses with 10 or fewer employees and businesses that have been open for less than three years would be exempt, along with church and government plans.

2. Saver's Match

For workers earning less than $71,000 per year, the federal government would provide a 50 percent match up to $2,000 in employee cash contributions, meaning the government would provide a maximum of $1,000. That cash would be deposited directly into the retirement accounts. Under current law, the matching program is a tax credit — but that doesn’t help lower-earning workers who don’t owe taxes.

3. Emergency Expense Withdrawals

Early withdrawals from a 401(k) typically come with a 10 percent tax. Under the new proposal, a person would be able to make one penalty-free withdrawal for unexpected or immediate expenses arising from family or personal needs. One withdrawal of up to $1,000 would be allowed per year if the amount was repaid. If it was not, another withdrawal could not be made for three years.

The restrictions would be in place to prevent abuses such as someone putting money into their retirement account to receive matches and immediately withdrawing money[.]

4. Emergency Savings

The proposed changes would give employers the option of offering their lower-paid employees a savings account linked to their long-term retirement plans. Employers could also automatically opt employees into the savings accounts, contributing no more than 3 percent of the employee’s salary. The account would be capped at $2,500, and additional money would be routed into the retirement account.

5. Part-Time Worker Eligibility.

Current law says that part-time employees can have a 401(k) plan if they work with their employer for one year with 1,000 hours of service, or three consecutive years with at least 500 hours of service annually. The new law would reduce that three-year period to two years for eligibility.

6. Mandatory Distributions.

Under current law, people with 401(k) plans must take out money from their accounts starting at 72, to ensure people use the money rather than pass it down through their estates. The new proposal would increase that mandatory age to 73 starting in 2023 and then 75 starting in 2033.

7. Student Loan Matching.

Under the proposed law, employers could choose to make contributions to retirement accounts based on an employee’s student loan payments.

The GAO Summarizes The U.S. Military's Fleet Of "Tactical" Warplanes

From here.

Air Force Indecision

The F-35A was specifically designed to be the successor to the F-16, so I'm somewhat surprised by the languages saying that the replacement is "to be determined" perhaps alluding to the possibility of a two generation of fight aircraft skip to NGAD. It also isn't clear to me why the F-22 is grouped with the U.S. military's 4th generation aircraft, while the F-35 which we have purchased twice as many of, is considered a "replacement aircraft" rather than a "current aircraft" (which itself is something of a false dichotomy).

The F-35A Is Not A Close Air Support Fighter

The concept of the F-35A as a replacement for the A-10 was a bad one the day that it was conceived and remains a bad idea. Yes, 40 years is too old for a war plane. Technology relevant to military aircraft has improved since 1982 and even if the design was the best possible solution that could ever be designed, warplanes wear out in that time frame.

But by conceiving of the F-35A replacement the A-10, the Air Force basically abandoned its duty to provide close air support to ground troops in the Army, forcing the Army to transfer that mission mostly to its Apache AH-64 helicopter gunships, which are slower, less survivable, are harder to maintain than the A-10.

Close air support for ground troops is a mission that the F-35A is unsuitable for. The F-35A is an extremely expensive (ca. $135 million each), supersonic, stealth fighter designed to drop smart bombs undetected from high altitudes and to engage in air-to-air combat with advanced fighter jets in the kind of sparring we saw between Russia and Ukraine near Kyiv in the early days of the Ukraine War. 

Unlike the A-10, the F-35A isn't optimized to loiter in a small geographic area at low altitude, with line of sight views of the battlefield that help it distinguish friend from foe, within range of possible crude anti-aircraft fire, and to deploy and operate from primitive field airstrips near the front lines. In Afghanistan, the Air Force even tried to press the B-1B bomber into that role in lieu of the F-35A and that experiment was a failure.

As a result, the task of providing close air support to the Army's ground troops and hunting tanks has been primarily turned over to the Army's own AH-64 Apache helicopter gunships, which are slower, have a shorter range, are less survivable under fire from opposition ground troops, and are harder to maintain in the primitive conditions of the front lines of ground warfare. Armed drones like the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper have also picked up some of the slack.

The DOD's Concept Of Slots That Need 1-1 Replacement With New Models Is Thoughtless, Ill Informed, And Expensive

As the technologies surrounding war with aircraft has changed, and as we have learned from years of history since the nation's fleet of 4th generation fighters was devised in the 1970s and 1980s, the number of aircraft and mix of needs of our military has changes, but the GAO simply proceeds by rote, something particularly disappointing in the case of an agency whose mission is to identify unnecessarily expensive and ineffective federal spending programs.

What's changed?

* We've learned that fighters with extreme capabilities can be expensive overkill for some mission.

The U.S. should substitute expensive top of the line fighters for less expensive, less capable warplanes for missions that don't require 5th and 6th generation fighters. Even when 5th and 6th generation fighters can be used to fight and win against low end opponents, their extreme cost hurts the U.S. in the long run war of attrition against low end opponents.

We've learned that many of the missions that U.S. tactical warplanes need to fulfill don't require the capabilities like supersonic speed and stealth that made the F-22 and F-35 so expensive, and make even the F-15, F-16, and F-18 expensive overkill. Homeland defense and attack aircraft missions in secure airspace are two of those instances of overkill.

Homeland Defense

One of those missions is protecting U.S. airspace from errant civilian aircraft and warplanes improved by irregular insurgent military forces from civilian aircraft. This role is currently carried out mostly with a significant number of F-16 and F-35A aircraft when alternative "homeland defense interceptors" that lack stealth, bombing capabilities, supersonic speeds, and the capacity to maneuver in extreme "Top Gun" style dog fights could do the same job with much lower acquisition and operational costs and would be much easier to train Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve pilots to operate.

The Light Attack Aircraft Mission

Another mission for which the F-15, F-16, F-18, F-22 and F-35A are expensive overkill is the task of serving as a low capacity bomber or close air support aircraft in operations in which the U.S. has secured air superiority and our opponents do not have sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles or have only a few MANPADs (like the infantry carried and operated Stinger anti-aircraft missile). This was the situation in the later days of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has a decent probability of presenting itself in operations that the U.S. could become embroiled in at some future date in Latin America, Africa, or Southeast Asia.

An aircraft that only needs to drop smart bombs or launch guided missiles from altitudes sufficient to stay out of range of small arms fire that needs only minimal air to air combat capabilities, can be much less expensive to buy and operate, and much easier to train pilots to operate. Our allies in Iraq and Afghanistan, and many of the countries where these capabilities would be useful have procured inexpensive warplanes for this purpose and there is a place for these kinds of warplanes in the U.S. military.

Light attack aircraft aren't a perfect substitute for the A-10, but they are well suited to carrying out many of its roles.

The Transport Bomber Mission

Another mission that doesn't require sophisticated and expensive tactical fighters or ultra-expensive stealth bombers is launching long range guided missiles far from battlefields and dropping smart bombs from high altitudes that are beyond the range of our opponents, in uncontested airspace.

Given the fact that in all but a handful of conflicts since the 1980s, a short air to air combat phase of a conflict was followed by a long period of time where the more technologically sophisticated military had air superiority, this has proven itself to be a common military aircraft mission that can be performed perfectly adequately with less expensive and sophisticate aircraft, even when the bomber needs to deliver more ordinance in a sortie than a fighter or light attack aircraft can handle, or needs the range to operate from more distant airbases than fighters or light attack aircraft can manage.

This mission doesn't even require dedicated bomber aircraft. It can be met with simple  military and civilian cargo planes flying out of general aviation grade airports carrying palletized missiles with few design tweaks from their civilian versions.

* Pre-Smart Bomb Fleet Sizes No Longer Make Sense

The current size of the U.S. tactical aircraft fleet was designed around the large number of sorties required to destroy each target before U.S. warplane began to almost exclusively use smart bombs and guided missiles. But it has been the case for decades now that U.S. warplanes in bombing missions come very close to the ideal of one shot, one kill for almost all of their targets. It now takes less than a tenth the number of planes to destroy the same number of targets in hostile territory that it did when the number of 4th generation fighters that the U.S. military needed was determined.

The character of air-to-air combat has also changed dramatically. In the predominant case (which is itself very rare) air-to-air combat involves an aggressor warplane identifying the warplane it seeks to destroy and launching a guided missile that will usually destroy the target warplane on the first shot before the target even knows that the warplane trying to shoot it down is there. In a minority of cases, a near peer target warplane with an exceptionally capable pilot will realize that it is under attack before it is too late, will manage to escape the incoming guided missile and possibly return fire with a guided missile of its own (not infrequently downing the aggressor aircraft as a result). Prolonged air-to-air dogfights and slug throwing cannon fire in air-to-air dogfights have almost disappeared, in favor of a first to see, first to kill strategy with highly accurate and effective air-to-air guided missiles. Victory in the rare instances of air-to-air combat that still happen generally goes to the first warplane to identify an opponent within range.

Certainly, past experience does not guarantee future results. The most capable potential opponents that the U.S. could face in air-to-air combat are Russia and China. 

Russia's failure to utilize what was widely perceived to be its superior air forces in the Ukraine War to secure air superiority in that conflict, however, continues to be a mystery. This failure casts doubt on how serious a threat Russia's air forces would be in an effort by the U.S. and its allies to gain air superiority in a conventional war with Russia.

China's air forces also look impressive on paper and its military is unlikely to be as hollow as Russia's military has proven itself to be. 

The United States which has fought small wars continuously with only brief interruptions from the Korean War through the conclusion of the war in Afghanistan in 2021, demonstrating its military capabilities in ways that can't be hidden or faked. The world knows most of the U.S. military's strengths and weaknesses to a considerable degree of accuracy.

But China's military has fired shots in anger only vary rarely since the Communist regime came into power, and some of the few wars and battles it did participate like the border war in the Himalayas between China and India in the 1960s, and its occupation of Tibet, took place more than half a century ago and sheds little light on the state of its military forces today. 

Recent Chinese military exercise that have been part training and part P.R. and saber rattling, have provided a glimpse of China's military capabilities, but the truth of the matter is the no one, not even the Chinese, know for sure how the Chinese military would perform in actual combat against opponents with advanced military forces and a U.S. military ally, like Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. The mission of defending these three East Asian allies of the U.S. against military threats from China, Russia, and North Korea is by far the most demanding driver of the U.S. military's need for advanced air and naval power.

But even in a notional conflict with China or North Korea or Russia or Iran, in East Asia or in Europe or in the Middle East, the U.S. mission is pretty much limited to defending countries which are U.S. allies from invasions or attacks from one of these handful of possible aggressors as part of a coalition of allied countries with advance military forces.

There is no reasonable or foreseeable scenario in which the U.S. military, with or without support from its allies, would seek to invade or occupy any significant part of China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, Libya, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Cuba, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Peru, or Nigeria, to provide a few examples, for any longer than it took to destroy some critical military resource in one of those countries and leave, at least for any area larger than a tiny beachhead enclave like Hong Kong or Macau or Guantanamo Bay.

U.S. troops in a ground war with Russia in Europe would be fighting on the territory of allies like Lithuania, Finland, Poland, Germany, Ukraine, or Turkey as part of a coalition made up of most or all of the nations in NATO. This, of course, assumes that a large scale conventional war could be fought there at all, as it has been in Ukraine, without going nuclear.

U.S. troops in ground war in East Asia with China, North Korea and/or Russia would be fighting on the territory of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Guam, the Mariana Islands, the Philippines, Fiji, or Samoa, in a coalition that would, at a minimum, directly include the military forces of the defended nation and indirect logistic and regional sea and airspace support from the other U.S. allies in the region. Again, this assumes that a conventional warfare conflict like this could be fought without the U.S., China, or North Korea resorting to the use of nuclear arms. In the face of a nuclear attack, the U.S. and its allies might conceivably resort to occupying North Korea, but even in the face of a nuclear attack, the U.S. and its allies would probably not try to occupy any significant amount of territory in China.

It is also virtually unthinkable that Russia would try to make any deeper incursion than a quick strike and retreat against key military or economic targets in Alaska beyond the Aleutian Islands, or that either Russia or China would seek to occupy Hawaii even if one of those countries attempted to replay the Pearl Harbor scenario there. 

The losses Russia's Black Sea fleet has suffered at the hands of Ukraine which basically doesn't even have a navy of its own and hasn't deployed its warplanes against Russian naval forces and the mishaps its major warships have suffered through accidents in recent years, also suggests that Russia's Pacific naval fleet is highly vulnerable and hollow.

Similarly, North Korea has no meaningful ability to deploy ground troops even to China, South Korea, Japan, or Russia, despite the immense number of soldiers and reserve forces it has relative to its population, as its military (with the possible exception of its nuclear missile capabilities and perhaps its capacity to harry commercial and military ships with its submarines) is undoubtedly hollow. North Korea isn't strong enough militarily to invade anyone.

Considering the scope of the plausible wars that might be fought in these regions is relevant to determining what air power the U.S. military needs now. 

The right approach to determining how many and what kind of warplanes the U.S. military needs is to analyze the handful of plausible scenarios like the ones above one by one with reasonable assumptions about what kind of fight with what objectives it would be, who our allies would be and what their military resources are, and with whom we would be fighting in each conflict (considering also their allies) having what military capabilities, rather than simply seeking to replace legacy warplanes one for one with new warplanes of the same kind.

This needs analysis should also consider the extent to which these needs could be better met by helping to arm our allies with modern weapons.

This needs analysis should also consider any circumstances in which diplomacy could mitigate these needs. For example, a treaty might limit conventional arms that are expensive to counter like hypersonic missiles or submarines. 

Or, diplomatic arrangements could secure long term stable international arrangements between our allies and our potential adversaries that would eliminate the likelihood of one or more future military conflicts. For example, a mutually agreeable long term resolution of the conflict between the People's Republic of China and Taiwan.

Other Considerations

A determination of the right size and mix of aircraft for the U.S. military's fleet of aircraft should also consider some additional factors;

* Intense battles for air superiority in a theater are likely to last only for weeks or a few months, this part of any given regional war is unlikely to to be fought with full strength at the same time as another regional war, and air power can be relocated from one theater to another anywhere else in the world in a matter of a few days. Once air superiority is achieved in a theater, it needs far fewer warplanes at once there. The requirement that the U.S. military be able to fight two regional wars at full intensity at the same time is excessive for warplanes that can be swiftly relocated to any other theater of warfare in the world in a matter of hours or days.

* A large share of U.S. warplanes can and should be replaced with unmanned armed drones and/or cruise missiles. This is ready for prime time technology not just for aerial refueling, small counterinsurgency strikes, deploying bombs and missiles in preplanned strikes, and transport planes. Carrier and land based unmanned fighter planes with capabilities comparable to 5th generation fighters are viable now. It isn't necessary or appropriate to replace all or almost all warplanes with combat drones, but a lot of them can and should be replaced. They are smaller and cheaper for comparable capabilities, don't put U.S. warplane crews in harm's way, can take risks that would be unacceptable for manned warplanes, and can perform maneuvers that would leave human pilots overwhelmed by G-forces or too dizzy to operate their planes at full capacity.

* U.S. warplane fleets (such as the P-8 maritime patrol aircraft and long range bombers like the B-21) supported by aerial refueling, should assume tasks currently performed by U.S. warships, like strikes on enemy surface ships, strike on distant ground targets, and a significant share of anti-submarine warfare. In particular, many of the missions assigned to the U.S. Navy's guided missile destroyers could be done better by warplanes which have equally potent offensive capabilities, are much less vulnerable to various kinds of enemy attacks, put far fewer U.S. military service people in harm's way, and are less expensive and more easily shifted where needed on short notice. This, however, requires more searching examination of the U.S. air power logistics chain if degraded by enemy attacks to determine what warplane resources can deploy from ground bases possibly far from the places that the planes will strike, and what warplane resources are best suited to naval carrier based deployment.

* Some functions served by warplanes, however, can be better provided by ground based guided missiles that ground forces control, can be much less expensive than warplanes using guided bombs and missiles, are easier to train service members to use, and can continue to be useful even if air superiority is lost. 

The U.S. has slighted its high end surface to air missile capabilities against enemy aircraft for the reasonable reason that it has kept air superiority in all recent conflicts, but that isn't a situation that is guaranteed to recur every time and the existence of the capability can deter enemy forces from trying to use their warplanes in the first place.

Similarly, resources like HIMAR multiple rocket launcher batteries  and Switchblade "loitering munitions" and ground based anti-ship missiles, like the Naval Strike Missile batteries that the U.S. Marine Corps is planning to deploy, can eliminate the need to strike parts of enemy bases, artillery batteries, sensor resources, and warships that aircraft when this would have required attack aircraft sorties in the past.

Off Topic: The Submersible Special Forces Delivery Airplane That The U.S. Studied But Didn't Buy

Another interesting article examines warplanes that the U.S. seriously considered but didn't end up buying. 

Many were familiar but I hadn't heard about the "Flying SDV" which is something out of a James Bond movie (which actually did feature something similar in one case).

A declassified Navy program from 2010 shows a concerted effort to field flying submarines, or SEAL Delivery Vehicles (SDVs), for high-risk special operations.

The Navy’s 2010 study largely leveraged DARPA’s outlined requirements, or Concept of Operations, for a submersible aircraft aimed at transporting special operators. The first was obvious: that the flying submarine could be deployed from existing Navy or auxiliary platforms. The vehicle had to be able to land and take off unassisted from the surface of the water, with an in-flight range of 400 miles or more. It needed to be able to transit at least 12 miles once submerged, and loiter for up to 72 hours while hiding from detection. Perhaps most importantly of all, it also had to be able to traverse those same 12 miles beneath the waves and 400 in the sky on the way back, as well. Two designs were ultimately developed.

Both designs leverage multiple watertight compartments, with one keeping the two-person crew separate from a single personnel compartment capable of carrying six special operators, and the other using two smaller personnel compartments that could each hold three. In both designs, the wings would carry fuel in a membrane that would allow any unoccupied space in the wings to be flooded with seawater while submerged. Likewise, the personnel compartments were intended to be free-flooding when the vehicle was underwater.

Two turbofan motors would propel the vehicle while in flight and on the surface of the water, which would be sealed using torpedo-style doors while submerged to protect them from seawater. Submerged propulsion would be managed by a drop-down azimuthing pod with electric motor, capable of maintaining a speed of 6 knots.

Both variants of the flying submarine concept were to operate at depths of around 30 meters (98.4 feet) and be able to take off and land on specially designed inflatable floats.

A Post-Christian Society

American society is moving on from Christianity. Douthat concludes the column quoted below as a pollyanna imaging a Christian resurgence and counterrevolution. But the younger generations in the United States are more secular than the older ones, and the older ones, little by little are dying.
So on right and left alike, the nation-of-heretics framework still seems useful. But then the question, and the challenge for my thesis now, is exactly how far the decline of Christianity can go before a term like “heresy” stops being analytically appropriate. Because at some point, presumably, the influence of Christianity becomes merely genealogical, and you have to credit spiritual experimenters with reaching distinct religious territory.

A core of Christian practice and belief in this country seems relatively resilient. But the idea of a “nation of heretics” assumed a lot of Americans with loose ties to Christianity — Christmas-and-Easter churchgoers, people raised with at least some idea of the faith’s tenets. And it’s the loosely-affiliated who have separated most in recent years, further attenuating the connections between Christianity and its possible rivals or successors. . . .
When I was writing “Bad Religion” there was still interest in the various “historical Jesus” projects, the scholarly reconstructions that promised to deliver a Jesus better suited the spiritual assumptions of a late-modern United States. And it felt like there was a strong cultural incentive to recruit some version of the Nazarene — as Dan Brown did in The Da Vinci Code, for instance — for your personal spiritual project, to gain Jesus’s blessing for leaving Christian orthodoxy behind.

Today, though, my sense is that Jesus himself is less culturally central, less necessary to religious entrepreneurs — as though where Americans are going now in their post-Christian explorations, they don’t want or need his blessing.
- Ross Douthat, "The Americanization of Religion" The New York Times (December 21, 2022).

20 December 2022

Habeas Corpus Gutted In 5th Circuit

It is troubling that far right jurists have gotten so far afield and so prone to disregarding settled law.

Federal law explicitly authorizes federal courts to review convictions and sentences handed down by state courts, and to invalidate them if a prisoner is held “in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.”

Last Thursday, however, a far-right panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit effectively eliminated state prisoners’ right to seek what is known as a “writ of habeas corpus” when they are imprisoned in violation of the Constitution or federal law, except in cases of “factual innocence.”

Among other things, this means that someone who is “factually guilty” of an unconstitutional crime — such as violating a Jim Crow law or a law prohibiting individuals from criticizing the president — would be stripped of their habeas rights in federal court. It could also potentially enable abusive conduct by police and prosecutors, such as coerced confessions or warrantless searches, by removing nearly all federal supervision of states that overlook such violations.

Judge Andrew Oldham’s decision in Crawford v. Cain is completely lawless. It finds this novel requirement that an unconstitutional or illegal conviction or sentence must stand, unless the prisoner shows they are innocent, within a federal statute that states that federal courts hearing habeas cases “shall summarily hear and determine the facts, and dispose of the matter as law and justice require.” Oldham, along with the two other Republican-appointed judges who joined his opinion, claims that only factual innocence “satisfies the law-and-justice requirement.”

From Vox. Last Thursday's three judge panel ruling is here.

19 December 2022

Who Is Helping Whom In Ukraine?

I've said this many times, but others get it too. 

The fundamental misconception among many congressional Republicans (and some progressives on the left) is that we’re doing Ukraine a favor by sending it weapons. Not so. We are holding Ukraine’s coat as it is sacrificing lives and infrastructure in ways that benefit us, by degrading Russia’s military threat to NATO and Western Europe — and thus to us.

“They’re doing us a favor; they’re fighting our fight,” Wesley Clark, the retired American general and former supreme allied commander of NATO forces in Europe, told me. “The fight in Ukraine is a fight about the future of the international community.”

From Nicholas Kristof at the New York Times. 

Quote Of The Day

Why would anyone fork out hard earned cash to get tired and sweaty in public?
- Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out (Season 2, Episode 5).

18 December 2022

Tanks Are Obsolete Against Forces With Modern Anti-Tank Missiles (A Video)

Modern anti-tank missiles can defeat any kind of tank armor, even explosive reactive armor. Even hard active defenses may be ineffective against attacks by multiple anti-tank missiles. Yet, anti-tank missiles are vastly lighter and less expensive than tanks.

17 December 2022

Pieces Of Russa

Federal subjects of Russia.
Wikipedia summarizes the constituent pieces (the "Federal subjects") of the Russian Federation.

There are 83 parts that are internationally recognized including 26 that have significant autonomy (21 republics (in green), 4 autonomous districts within provinces (in blue), and 1 autonomous province (in purple)), and also 46 provinces (oblasts, in yellow), 9 territories (krais, in orange), and 2 federal cities (in red) that have less autonomy. 

As of 2022 according to official Russian Federation estimates the 21 Republics are home to 24,532,230 people, the four autonomous districts have 2,310,894 people, and the autonomous province has 150,453 people, for a total of 26,993,577 people in the 26 parts with significant autonomy. The 46 provinces are home to 78,986,698 people, the 9 territories have 22,589,845 people, and the 2 federal cities (Moscow and St. Petersberg) have 18,612,023 people, for a total of 120,188,566 people in the 57 parts with less autonomy, and 147,182,123 people in the Russian federation in all.

There are also 6 parts in occupied Ukraine that are not internationally recognized: 3 Republics (Crimea, Dontesk and Luganst), and the independent city of Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula, which have been held de facto since 2014, and two provinces purportedly annexed in 2022 (Kherson and Zaporozhye). Official Russian statistics estimate that there are 1,934,640 people in Crimea, 547,820 people in Sevastopol, 4,100,280 people in Dontesk, 2,121,322 people in Luganst, 1,666,515 in Zaporozhye, and 1,016,707 people in Kherson. In all, Russia claims that 11,387,284 live in occupied Ukraine.

Each federal subject belongs to one of the following types.
  46 oblasts
  2 unrecognized
The most common type, with a governor and locally elected legislature. Commonly named after their administrative centres.
Kherson and Zaporozhye oblasts are partially occupied and were annexed in 2022 and are not internationally recognized as parts of Russia.
  21 republics
  3 unrecognized
Nominally autonomous,[9][10] each with its own constitution, language, and legislature, but represented by the federal government in international affairs. Most are home to a specific ethnic minority (or group of minorities, in the cases of Dagestan and Mordovia).
Donetsk and Lugansk Republics are partially occupied since 2014 and were annexed in 2022 and are not internationally recognized as parts of Russia; Crimea was annexed in 2014 and is not internationally recognized as part of Russia.
  9 krais
For all intents and purposes, krais are legally identical to oblasts. The title "krai" ("frontier" or "territory") is historic, related to geographic (frontier) position in a certain period of history. The current krais are not related to frontiers.
Occasionally referred to as "autonomous district", "autonomous area", or "autonomous region", each with a substantial or predominant ethnic minority. With the exception of Chukotka, each of the autonomous okrugs are a part of another oblast (Arkhangelsk and Tyumen), as well as its own federal subject.
  1 unrecognized
Major cities that function as separate regions.
Sevastopol was annexed in 2014 and is not internationally recognized as part of Russia.
The only one is the Jewish Autonomous Oblast.

15 December 2022

Quote Of The Day

Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.
- Napoleon Bonaparte (attributed).

Abortion Laws In The U.S. In One Map

From the New York Times (in an article discussing efforts by states where abortion is banned to ban abortion inducing drugs).

Weed is cheap.

Marijuana in Colorado is currently selling for $41 an ounce.

It was $100 an ounce when it was illegal* when I was in high school in the late 1980s. Adjusting for inflation, it would have been $240 an ounce in 2022 dollars when I was in high school.

And, the quality is much, much better now than it was then, even before considering the fact that you no longer have to risk being arrested.

* Yes, I know that it remains an illegal Schedule I controlled substance under federal law, although there is an official policy of not prosecuting those offenses in most circumstances in Colorado, and President Biden has adopted a national policy of not prosecuting mere marijuana possession offenses.

13 December 2022

Easy Legal Questions That Turns Out To Be Hard

There are some legal questions which sound like they should have easy answer which in fact are complicated and difficult question. Some examples:

1. The law related to trees on or near property lines that overhang the boundary line.

2. The tax and employment law related to remote work.

3. The question of that laws apply to business conducted over the Internet.

Redistribution Of Income

From this Twitter thread.

The U.S. is more redistributive in its tax system than most other countries, but uses the money it collects to a far smaller extent to redistribute income.

Also relevant is the pre-transfer distribution of income in a country:

Of the 27 countries considered in this paper, the United States thus ranks third in terms of average national income per adult, but nineteenth when it comes to the average income of the poorest 50 percent. On average, pretax income inequality at the bottom is lowest in Northern Europe (with a bottom 50 percent share of 24 percent), followed by Western Europe (21 percent) and Eastern Europe (20 percent). With a bottom 50 percent pretax income share of only 11.7 percent, the United States is by far the most unequal of all countries, followed by a distant Serbia (16 percent) and very far from the values observed in the Czech Republic, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden (all above 25 percent). These differences appeared even more pronounced at the very bottom of the distribution: the average income of the poorest 20 percent was €11,600 in Northern Europe in 2017, more than 3 times larger than its counterpart in the United States (€3,800).

12 December 2022

The Kerch Straight And The Linguistic Makeup Of Ukraine

One of the main Russian justifications for the Ukraine War is to provide a land corridor from the rest of Russia to the Crimean Peninsula. But this justification doesn't hold water, because the Crimean Bridge across the Kerch Straight (shown in the red oval below) that connects the shallow Azov Sea and the Black Sea, has been open to road traffic since 2018 and to rail traffic since 2019.

The Sea of Azov is the shallowest sea in the world with an average depth of 7 metres (23 ft) and maximum depth of 14 metres (46 ft).
The Kerch Strait . . . connects the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, separating the Kerch Peninsula of Crimea in the west from the Taman Peninsula of Russia's Krasnodar Krai in the east. 
The strait is 3.1 kilometres (1.9 mi) to 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) wide and up to 18 metres (59 ft) deep. The most important harbor, the Crimean city of Kerch, gives its name to the strait, formerly known as the Cimmerian Bosporus. It has also been called the Straits of Yenikale after the Yeni-Kale fortress in Kerch.

Taman, the most important settlement on the Taman Peninsula side of the strait, sits on Taman Bay, which is separated from the main Kerch Strait by the Chushka Spit to the north and the former Tuzla Spit to the south; the Tuzla Spit is now Tuzla Island, connected to the Taman Peninsula by a 2003 Russian-built 3.8-kilometre-long (2.4 mi) dam, and to mainland Crimea by the Crimean Bridge opened in 2018. A major cargo port is under construction near Taman. . . .
After the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea the government of Russia decided to build a bridge across the Kerch Strait. The 19-kilometre (11.6 mi) Crimean Bridge opened to road traffic in 2018 and the rail section opened in 2019.

 The Crimean Bridge in 2019 via Wikipedia.

The Ukraine War, of course, only began in February of 2022, four years after the road portion of the Crimean Bridge was completed and three years after the rail portion of the Crimean Bridge was completed.

In the 2007 election in Ukraine, much of Eastern Ukraine sided with pro-Russian parties (the blue Party of Regions and the Red Communist Party of Ukraine) over the pro-Western parties (the purple Tymoshenko block and the orange Our Ukraine party) in a closely divided election, but the regions where the second place party was the Communist Party of Ukraine was the most hard core. (The pink Socialist Party of Ukraine didn't win enough support to win seats in parliament and was second place only in areas where the Party of Regions was particularly strong).

Final 2007 Results (first place) (from Wikipedia)

Final 2007 Results (second place) (from Wikipedia)

Orange Parties (Pro-Western)
Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc 156 seats
Our Ukraine–People's Self-Defense Bloc 72 seats
Subtotal: 228 seats

Pro-Russian Parties
Party of Regions 175
Communist Party of Ukraine 27 seats
Subtotal: 202 seats

Other Parties
Lytvyn Bloc 20 seats

Total: 450 seats (a majority it 226; a two-thirds majority is 300).

But, politics have change a lot in fifteen years in Ukraine, and the annexation of Crimea in 2014 tipped the political balance in favor of pro-Western forces.

The Ukraine War makes more sense as an effort on the part of Russia to gain control of majority Russian language speaking areas.

The map below (from here) shows the percentage of people for whom Russian was their primary language in 2001:

Broken down on a province by province basis, the same data is as follows:

Thus, from north to south, the province of Luhansk was 68.8% Russian speaking, the province of Donetsk was 74.9% Russian speaking, the province of Zaporizhia was 48.2% Russian speaking, the province of Kherson was 24.9% Russian speaking, most of Crimea was 77% Russian speaking, and one enclave on the Crimean peninsula was 90.6% Russian speaking.

Moreover, in Zaporizhia and Kherson, the Russian speaking population was concentrated along the coast of the Sea of Azov.

There was also a 41.9% Russian speaking population in Odessa, in the far southwest of Ukraine.
According to a 2004 public opinion poll by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, the number of people using Russian language in their homes considerably exceeds the number of those who declared Russian as their native language in the census. According to the survey, Russian is used at home by 43–46% of the population of the country (in other words a similar proportion to Ukrainian) and Russophones make a majority of the population in Eastern and Southern regions of Ukraine:
While the survey figures may be more accurate, the census figures may be a better gauge of political identity.

The territory that came under the control of Russia or Russian separatists in 2014 was almost all majority Russian speaking (based upon the 2001 census), and most of it was 60% or more Russian speaking (based upon the 2001 census).

Of course, the situation has changed since the 2001 census, the 2004 survey cited, and the 2007 election. 

Some of the Ukrainian speaking minority in Russian annexed Crimea and Russian separatist controlled portions of Luhansk and Donetsk probably fled when those areas came under the control of Russia and Russian allied separatists in 2014. More Ukrainian speakers have probably fled from the entire region in Eastern Ukraine that Russia has held at some point or another in 2022.

Likewise, probably some Russian speakers in the rest of Ukraine have probably migrated to Russian controlled areas, although this move was probably less decisive.

Ukrainian speakers in areas with large Russian speaking minorities as of 2007 who backed the Party of Regions as a moderating force against the Pro-Western Parties, have probably changed their alliances decisively towards Pro-Western political forces.

The referendums that Russia has held in 2022 in Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhia, and Kherson were mere show elections held while these provinces were under military rule. But if free and fair elections had been held even prior to the February 2022 invasion, large majorities in Luhansk and Donetsk would probably have supported Russian annexation, and voters probably would have opposed annexation in Kherson (where fighting is currently intense and a fair amount of Ukrainian de facto control has been restored).

In Zaporizhia, a free and fair election held in 2021 would probably have rejected annexation by a much narrower margin, but an out flux of Ukrainian speaking refugees in 2022 might have shifted the balance narrowly towards Russia among people who remain there.