Month: December 2008

Will Russia Buy the Crimea from Ukraine?

This is all pure speculation on my part, and my record on predictions is only marginally better than that of the Detroit Lions with regards to football, but I think that there is a distinct possibility that this might happen.

We have a number of developments going on simultaneously, with Medvedev and Gazprom playing hardball on a $2.1 billion debt and warning of a cutoff of gas if there is no resolution.

Then we have Edward Hugh’s amusingly named essay, “As The Politicians Battle It Out Ukraine’s Economy Tunnels South In Search Of Australia,” (H/T, Paul Krugman Blog for the link) which provides us with the included chart pr0n.*

You see industrial production falling by nearly 25%, and inflation and the central banks both topping 20%.

Simply put, this is an economic meltdown that starts looking like something out of Mad Max.

When you juxtapose this with reports that Russian PM Vladimir Putin Ukrainian PM Yulia Timoshenko are holding talks to resolve the issue, it appears to me that the Ukrainians have very little leverage.

About the only thing that I think that the Ukrainians can offer Russia is the Crimea, which is already primarily a Russian speaking province, and had been a part Russia until Khrushchev gifted it to Ukraine in 1954.

I’m not sure whether a “sale” of the Crimea to Russia would involve an actual negotiated transfer of territory. We could see extensions regarding treaty rights for the Russian naval base at Sevastopol, increased autonomy for the region, and perhaps agreements to protect the “heritage” of the province, which would mean that the Russian speaking nature of the the Crimea would be preserved.

In the long run though, a full separation of the Crimea from the Ukraine might be beneficial for both sides. For the Russians, the benefits are obvious, the protection of ethnic Russians and national pride, and for the Ukrainians, it creates a less ethnically diverse state, which means that you will likely have real issues of governance, as opposed to the current paralysis which is driven by the Russian minority being largely disengaged.

*I tend to disagree with Hugh’s thesis that demographic issues are at the root of much of this problem. While the Ukrainian population has fallen by a remarkable 11% since 1992, and with the death rate exceeding the birth rate by over 50%, I do not believe that a growing population is necessary for economic well-being.
Case in point what happened in Europe following the Black Death, which had a with a mortality rate of around 50%. There was a marked increase in social mobility and wages for the average worker, largely at the expense of the landholders and other members of the economic elite, despite largely ineffective anti-labor laws that were instituted. The lesson here is that if population falls, the total GDP may fall, it certainly did during the black death, but per capita GDP went up, and if you can pry this out of the hands of the economic elites, life can be better for everyone.

Your Daily Dose of Batsh%$ Insane (Israel/Palestine Edition)

In the process of googling things about the blow-up in Gaza, I came across an opinion piece in the the Grauniad* that I found rather interesting by Seth Freedman.

Well before quoting someone’s OP/Ed, I always check out their other articles, and/or Wiki them, just to make sure that they are not raving moonbats.

It is a policy that I wholeheartedly recommend.

In any case, it turns out that Mr. Freedman is not a raving moonbat, his opinions on the conflict seem to be pretty much in line with the Guardian‘s editorial stance.

He is “in country”, and writes rather a lot about what is going on there, and his “beat” seems to involve a lot of writing about what is going on with the various NGOs out there.

So, I’m perusing his articles, and I come across one that he wrote just over a week ago, “Aid workers reveal their deep malaise in ‘western-style gym’ battle,” and I gave it a read.

It appears that there is a mailing list dedicated to discussing issues confronting employees of NGOs in the territories, and someone posted what should have been an innocuous question, “Is there a proper, western-style gym in Ramallah? If so, where is it?

The response from a sane human being should be some asking what the person wants from the gym. “Western-style,” could mean fancy machines, or mixed gender, or any other number of options.

But that’s not what happened.

Instead, someone suggested that the request was racist, “You forgot to add: ‘where only white people go,’ so it can’t be ‘proper’ if not ‘western-style’? If you miss western styles that much, get your ass out of here and keep it in your western world.

From that point, it devolved in a flame war lasting at least a week.

Too many people in this world take themselves way too seriously.

In any case, it is a very amusing read.

*According to the Wiki, The Guardian, formerly the Manchester Guardian in the UK. It’s nicknamed the Grauniad because of its penchant for typographical errors, “The nickname The Grauniad for the paper originated with the satirical magazine Private Eye. It came about because of its reputation for frequent and sometimes unintentionally amusing typographical errors, hence the popular myth that the paper once misspelled its own name on the page one masthead as The Gaurdian, though many recall the more inventive The Grauniad.”

Brazil to Buy French Assistance on Nuke Boat

It’s a part of a $12 billion purchase by Brazil

Brazil on Dec. 23 signed contracts worth $12 billion to buy 50 military transport helicopters and five submarines from France.

The submarine deal involves the purchase of four conventionally powered Scorpene submarines, and the construction of a nuclear-powered submarine to be built with French cooperation.

It’s unclear to me what “French Cooperation” means, though it appears that the nuclear reactor would be a wholly Brazilian endeavor.

Like This is a Surprise

Well, defence ministry spokesman Huang Xueping has announced that China is considering building an aircraft carrier.

This is really no surprise. There have been indications that China was considering building a carrier for some time, as I have noted.

It will be news when China actually starts formally drawing up requirements, and again when it starts cutting metal or negotiating a purchase, but this is no surprise.

Your Defense Procurement Dollars at Work

The USAF has announced a “restructuring” of the Transformational Satellite Communications System which will delay the launch of the first satellite from 2013 to 2019.

It’s supposed to replace MILSTAR, and it is suppose to have 100 times the bandwidth, and from what I know of the “systems of systems” that is supposed to be the new networked military, this capability is very much a part of it.

And now it’s been delayed 6 years.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?


OK, Israel has launched a large air strike on Gaza, see here, here, and here, with total reported casualties somewhere in the 225 range.

As to what the eventual death toll will be, FAIR’s report on Jenin noted that similar numbers were initially counted there, but it turned out to be 52, and the original estimates at deaths on 911 were over 6,000, when the final tally was 2974, so the final number is likely to be much lower.

Note that is not meant to minimize what happened, but to note that people who are going to simply spew what are very preliminary numbers by and imply that this constitutes reasoned arguments are ninnies.

I tend to be more hawkish on these things than my other political leanings would indicate, so here is my assessment at this point.

I do not think that this, whether or not it is followed by a ground assault, will solve anything in the long term, but it will have the effect of disrupting the chain of command of Hamas, particularly as the leadership of the organization is likely to go to ground at this point, as they have when similar strikes have been launched against them.

It does not buy peace, but it will buy somewhere between 6 and 18 months of quiet.

I disagree with the rather simplistic assessment at Worldwide War Pigs of, “Don’t like getting bombed? Clean up your act,” particularly when he invokes the rather awful Sly Stallone movie Cobra in the process.

Nothing good ever comes from evoking Sylvester Stallone, and there is no purely military solution.

By the same token, I think that Jeremy Ben-Ami, Executive Director of J-Street is wrong too, where he makes rather mealy-mouthed statements about, “Respecting Israel’s right to defend itself,” but at it’s core is the argument that this will contribute to the, “cycle of violence”, which is such a useless cliche that it borders on the moronic.

Further I disagree with Mr. Ben-Ami’s assertion that, “strong diplomatic intervention by the United States, the Quartet and allies in the region to negotiate a resumption of the ceasefire,” is essential.

The Quartet has been part of the problem, as it has distracted the principals, Israel, the PA, and Hamas, away from dealing with each other, and toward gaming their position vis-a-vis support from the 4 nations. It has taken negotiation, and made it theater.

I believe that the stage given to all parties by the Quartet serves no one except the members of the Quartet, who are allowed to pretend that they are doing something positive.

At this point, the best course is for the rest of the world disentangle themselves from this situation.

As to final status negotiations, I do not believe that Israel can achieve its goals purely through military force, and I do not believe that the Palestinians, either Hamas or the PA are currently able to negotiate in good faith, as any serious good faith negotiations would result in compromises that would delegitimatize whoever made them.

I would also note the lesson of the American Civil War, where ambiguities that were “left for later”, became the basis for conflict. Incrementalism is the enemy of a solution, not a friend.

Pardongate is Coming Early This Year

George W. Bush released 19 pardons, including one for Mr. Isaac Robert Toussie, a crooked real estate developer who victimized minority first time home buyers.

When the details came out, and it was revealed that his father, Robert Toussie, had contributed heavily to the Republican National Committee (RNC), Bush decided to reverse the pardon.

No bit surprise there. It’s embarrassed having been caught selling a pardon, and it makes it very difficult for the ‘Phants to challenge Obama’s AG nominee, Eric Holder, on the Mark Rich pardon.

The interesting thing is that Bush may not have the power to reverse the pardon, maintaining that it had not been “delivered” because the, “Pardon Attorney had yet to “execute and deliver grants of clemency to the named individuals.”

According to the Pardon Power Blog, this may not be true, as “The Office of the Pardon Attorney (OPA) called each grantee (or his counsel) via telephone and told him that he’d been pardoned by the President,” so the pardons may have already been legally delivered and accepted, and that “receiving the president’s warrant and sending notifications to the petitioners is purely ‘a ministerial act of notification.’

So, once again, we are hip deep in a complete f$#@-up courtesy of Bush and His Evil Minions.

Palin In-Law Drug Bust Delayed for Election

Well, this story is interesting.

It appears that the dope-dealing case of Sherry L. Johnston, whose son, Levi is due to marry Bristol Palin, Sarah Palin’s pregnant daughter, has taken a few twists:

  • Ms. Johnston Believed that she was already under surveillance, being caught on wiretap texting to a customer, “”Hey, my phones are tapped and reporters and god knows who else is always following me and the family so no privacy. I will let u no when I can go for cof. [Oxycontin]”
  • That the search warrant was purposely delayed until after the election so that Johnston was, “no longer under the protection or surveillance of the Secret Service.”
    • This last bit is particularly interesting, as the only time that she should be under surveillance or protection of the Secret Service would be when she was with Sarah Palin.

This raises the question as to whether Palin was using her position to delay the execution of a search warrant.

Rumored At The Mountains Of Madness Film

It appears that director Guillermo Del Toro is interested in directing a film based on the H.P. Lovecraft story, at least that’s what he is saying in this interview:

With regard to At the Mountains of Madness, I’d love to see you tackle H.P. Lovecraft in a way that hasn’t been done.

Del Toro: Me too. Me too. … Part of the arrangement with Universal–in being essentially there for now until 2017–part of the arrangement was they would finance research and development for Mountains of Madness. And we are doing it. There are many technical tools in creating the monsters that don’t exist, and we need to develop them. The creatures, Lovecraft’s creatures, the tools that exist for CG and the materials that exist for makeup effects, you need to push them to get there, and we’re going to push them.

I am unfamiliar with Del Toro’s oeuvre, but I would really like to see this made into a film.

It’s my favorite Lovecraft story, and I think that it would translate to film fairly nicely.

More at link about the technical challenges….Yeah….A Shoggoth is “challenging”.

Russia Strategic Missile Forces Update

We are now hearing rumblings that Russia may be putting a nuclear missile installation in Belarus, specifically, the mobile strategic missile the Topol, though it’s unclear from the report as to whether it is the RT-2PM Topol (SS-25 Sickle), or the more advanced RT-2UTTH (SS-27 Sickle B).

In either case, I’m not sure whether this intended to make the strategic missiles targeting the US less vulnerable to the interceptors, or to imply that these could be launched on a depressed trajectory against the European BMD sites, though I would lean toward the latter.

Belarus borders Poland, and so I would think that interception of missiles launched toward the US would be relatively straightforward, though the kinematics of the missiles in question and the intercept solutions are above my pay grade.

Also, we have reports that the Russian military is looking at commissioning 70 new nuclear missiles over the next 3 years, though reports of a failure in the most recent test of the Bulava SLBM (see also here) might throw a monkey wrench into what seems to be a very aggressive timetable.

A Thrust-to-Weight Ratio of 6.6:1

Bill Sweetman teases out some information which sheds some light on the relatively low thrust to weight ratio of the F-35 JSF, the fact that the Pratt & Whitney F135 engine has a thrust to weight ratio of only 6.6:1.

By comparison, the F-100 engine (F-15, F-16), whose contract was awarded in 1970, has a thrust/weight ratio of 7.8:1, and the more modern F414 and EJ2000 (Superbug and Typhoon) exceed 9:1 thrust to weight.

Additionally, he notes that the vertical lift system used on the F-35B weighs 10,472 pounds with a thrust of 40,550 pounds, giving a thrust to weight ratio in that mode of 3.87:1, as compared to 5.6:1 for the Rolls Royce Pegasus used on the Harrier.

There is a saying that you can’t make a race horse out of a pig, but you can get an awfully fast pig, the F-4 Phantom comes to mind, but this is not a fast pig.

Pics of the F135 promotional brochure are from here.

Economics Update

Retail sales tanked in the Christmas shopping season, down 5.5% in November and 8% in December, though ex-retail gasoline sales, where the fall in prices drove things further down, the numbers were -2.5% and -4%, which are pretty worrying too.

I think that when the numbers are adjusted later with more complete data, they will be worse, because customer visits to retailers fell 24% on the weekend before Christmas.

FWIW, it does not look like the rest of the world will be pulling themselves, or anyone else, out of recession soon, as Japanese industrial production fell 8.1% YoY in November, and the Japanese central bank has no where to go with interest rates, having just lowered them to 0.10% (no misplaced decimal).

About the only piece of good news are The Big Picture’s Credit Crisis Indicators, which are showing a bit of improvement, with the TED spread and the LIBOR-OIS spread improving, though rates on Treasuries are still very low.

In the meantime, mortgage rates for a 30 year fixed mortgagehit the lowest number since at least 1971, when Freddie Mac started keeping these records, 5.14%, though there is the caveat that you can get these only if the banks are willing to lend at all.

Note that this is for the “conforming” mortgage, which is packaged and resold by the GSEs, which now have an explicit guarantee from the government, and, as noted earlier, “non-conforming” mortgages are at about 2% more, an all time high.

Oil was up a bit on announcements by suppliers of production cuts by the UAE and House of Saud.

Nothing much happened with currency. The 26th is a day off for most American traders, and Boxing Day in the UK, so there was not much activity.

Afghan Erection Update

Not a typo. They CIA is using Viagra to win friends and influence tribal leaders in Afthanistan:

The Afghan chieftain looked older than his 60-odd years, and his bearded face bore the creases of a man burdened with duties as tribal patriarch and husband to four younger women. His visitor, a CIA officer, saw an opportunity, and reached into his bag for a small gift.

Four blue pills. Viagra.

“Take one of these. You’ll love it,” the officer said. Compliments of Uncle Sam.

The enticement worked. The officer, who described the encounter, returned four days later to an enthusiastic reception. The grinning chief offered up a bonanza of information about Taliban movements and supply routes — followed by a request for more pills.

At least this cannot be turned into an IED.

No, this is not the Onion.

Three Heads, All of Them Firmly Planted Up Their Ass

I am referring to, of course, Cerberus Capital Management LLC, which is now showing signs of distress.

It appears that their plan to buy Chrysler for some beans, and then flip it for a profit has run into some snags, so the good folks named after the 3-headed dog that guards the gates of hell are experiencing some cash flow issues.

So, they are
placing limits on redemptions their hedge fund, because they had been forcing them to liquidate assets at bargain basement prices to generate the cash.

Additionally, one of the big roadblocks in the now completed transition of GMAC into a bank holding company was the feeling that bond holders were being asked to take a haircut while Cerberus wasn’t.

While that has now been resolved, it is unclear what, if anything Cerberus put into the transition.

Additionally, it now appears that they are attempting to cut a deal that will allow them to simply walk away from Chrysler.

There are increasing indications that Cerberus would like to simply dump Chrysler on its creditors, because with flipping an increasing distant option, they simply want to flee.