Just Say No

This story got buried under the news of Andrew McCabe’s firing on Friday, but it’s important if we want to elect people who can bring about responsible government. That starts now, as we move toward November’s elections.

You know those cute little quizzes that are supposed to tell you something about who you are? Which movie star are you? Are you a cat or a dog person? What is your color? So much fun to compare with what you think of yourself and with your friends’ results. In fact, you could share on Facebook and urge your friends to see what their favorite color was. Those quizzes asked you to share most of your Facebook data before you could play.

You may have been contributing data to Cambridge Analytica’s work to help elect Donald Trump. Read More

Links – March 16, 2018

No, Scott Kelly’s year in space didn’t mutate his DNA. There is a lot of VERY bad reporting on this. Top photo from here – Mark Kelly on the left, and Scott on the right.

A good proposal for how Britain might respond to the Salisbury nerve agent attack. Another possibility: Take Putin to the International Criminal Court. Some basic information about nerve agents. Legal basis for options. Decoding the Prime Minister’s speechBackground on Sergei Skripal.

If you read only one thing on the Trump-Kim summit, this should be it. And here are a couple more, from Evans Revere and Jeffrey Lewis. An interview with Siegfried Hecker.

Update: The New York Times has a clickbait article on Russian hacking of the US electrical system. Philip Bump at the Washington Post actually reports on the grid and why it’s not that vulnerable.

Kazakhstan Moves To Latin Alphabet

Kazakhstan will now officially use the Latin alphabet rather than Cyrillic. They have been moving toward the change for some time. I can recall quite a few signs in the Latin alphabet from the early 2000s.

Part of the reason is to establish Kazakhstan more firmly as independent from Russia. When Vladimir Putin grabbed Crimea from Ukraine and started a war in the Donbas, Kazakhstan’s president Nursultan Nazarbayev took notice. There is a significant Russian ethnic population in northern Kazakhstan.

Nazarbayev ruled Kazakhstan as a part of the Soviet Union. He is inclined to dictatorial ways, but he has helped Kazakhstan develop as an independent country and is an acute policitician.

As Estonia Passes 100, Tallinn has Successfully Integrated Nearly 90 Percent of Its Ethnic Russians, Experts Say

Russia has gotten a lot of mileage out of claims about ethnic Russians in the Baltic States. Those claims become less true with every passing year. Paul Goble reports that most ethnic Russians in Estonia are now loyal to Estonia, even if they speak only Russian.

That’s consistent with what I saw in the early 2000s. Many ethnic Russians who were uninterested in Estonian citizenship were older people who wanted to stay where they had always lived and did not care about voting or a passport to travel. They are dying off now, and more and more ethnic Russians have grown up in a free Estonia, part of the European Union.

Links – March 4, 2018

National Security Pros, It’s Time to Talk About Right-Wing Extremism.

Russia cancels talks with US. This just after Vladimir Putin displays his, um, nukes. Twelve-year-old boys are in charge of at least three nations’ nuclear arsenals.

Reactions to Putin’s “state of the nation” speech. More about the weapons mentioned in that speech. Yet more from Jeffrey Lewis. I take Putin’s claims with a grain of salt. Russia has claimed weapons that never went into production. I suspect significant exaggeration in his claims of testing. But we have to keep open the possibility that the weapons are real, if not yet ready for use. Read More

Making Sense Of That Nuclear Deal With Saudi Arabia

The United States is trying to develop a nuclear cooperation agreement (123 agreement) with Saudi Arabia. The stories (another) focus on whether such an agreement would limit Saudi Arabia’s access to uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing, two technologies that can produce materials for nuclear weapons.

Let’s look at two other factors. 1) Although Saudi Arabia has had big ambitions for nuclear power, starting from sixteen reactors and now down to two, it is not clear that they can afford those reactors and have no administrative support for them. 2) Westinghouse, the company being pushed by the United States, is in no position to build those reactors. Read More

Stephen Walt Agrees With Me

On the Nuclear Posture Review. He goes on about more aspects of it than I did yesterday, but his conclusions in that area are very similar to mine.

Moreover, I find the elaborate scenarios that nuclear strategists dream up to justify new weapons to be both militarily and politically unrealistic. They tend to assume that complex military operations will go off without a hitch the very first time they are attempted (and in the crucible of a nuclear crisis), and they further assume that political leaders in the real world would be willing to order the slaughter of millions for something less than existential stakes. My main concern has been that some gullible politician would actually believe that one of these elaborate scenarios would actually work and might therefore be tempted to try it. Just as bad: An adversary might think the United States thought it could win such a war and might decide it had no choice but to try to hit it first.

I also find the obsession with matching capabilities at every rung of some hypothetical “escalation ladder” to be slightly absurd. Is it realistic to think that U.S. leaders defending vital interests against a possible Russian threat would be stymied because they didn’t have a capability that exactly mirrored whatever Russia had or was threatening to do? Would a top advisor really say to the president: “Oh dear, sir, Russia just threatened to attack with a nuclear weapon with a yield of 7.2 kilotons. We have lots of 5-kiloton bombs and lots of 11-kiloton bombs all ready to go, but if we use the little one, they’ll think we’re wimps, and if we use the big one, then the onus of escalation will be on us. I guess they’ve got us over the whing-whang, sir, and we’ll just have to do whatever Putin says. If only we had built more 7.2 kiloton bombs than they did!

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