Will Russia Invade Ukraine?

Nobody knows. But Russia has been deploying troops around its border with Ukraine, particularly around the Donbas, the area where Russia has been carrying on a small war since late 2014. Earlier that year, Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula, part of Ukraine.

The latest buildup, according to military experts, looks like it could be in preparation for a major invasion of Ukraine. But why? A great deal of speculation is possible on the basis of official Russian statements and history. It’s hard not to be snarky about some of this – Vladimir Putin seems to live in a land all his own, part pre-1905, part World War II, part nuclear age. Living in a land of his own, however, doesn’t mean that he can’t precipitate a war, so I’ll avoid snark.

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How To Respond To The Russian Buildup?

Over the weekend, Samuel Charap, a political scientist at the RAND Corporation, published his thoughts on the situation in Ukraine. Russia has been building up troops along the Ukraine border and making threatening noises. Dan Nexon outlined the situation.

Part of Charap’s argument is that the United States should pressure Ukraine to fulfill its commitments to the Minsk Accord, which slowed down military action in the eastern part of Ukraine but is unfavorable to Ukraine. That provoked heated argument from analysts of Russia.

I’ll post some of the better arguments here and leave my analysis for a later post. They are mostly Twitter threads, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see them expanded into articles. Sadly, some of the discussion has degenerated to “You’re being paid by Putin” and similar accusations. I won’t include that.

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The Biggest Bomb

Popular movements in the late 1950s pressed toward the Limited Test-Ban Treaty (LTBT), signed in 1963, which prohibited atmospheric testing. It was preceded by a voluntary test moratorium by the United States and the Soviet Union from 1958 through 1961. At the time, the development of nuclear weapons – and other things like a nuclear-powered airplane – was wild and woolly.

One of the points of competition was the size of explosion that a nuclear weapon could produce. This was a somewhat silly competition, because the amount of damage a bomb could wreak increases with the cube root of its energy. So ten 10-megaton (MT; that’s millions of tons of TNT equivalent) weapons would be much more damaging than one 100-MT weapon. But for some, size does matter.

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The Biden-Putin Summit

What can we expect from the summit meeting between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin?

Nothing.

That is the expectation that Biden is setting. There will be no grand pronouncements, no reset, maybe not even a perfunctory statement of agreement on a minor point. That is part of the reason that Biden plans to hold a press conference by himself. The other part, of course, is in contrast with Donald Trump’s disastrous showing at Helsinki.

But the meeting is necessary and important. Russia is a major country, with a nuclear arsenal equivalent to America’s. Russia is adjacent to our allies in Europe and supplies energy to many of them. It has a long land border across which untoward things can happen. Those are reason enough for the leaders to meet.

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American Aid To India

The covid situation in India is horrendous: 350,000 infections a day, 2500 deaths. After an apparent delay, the United States is sending help.

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That Thin Blue Line Flag

The Police Department in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, where Daunte Wright was killed by an officer, has been flying a “Thin Blue Line” flag just below the American flag. The mayor of Brooklyn Center requested that the flag be taken down because it is inflammatory, and the police complied. Its use has been banned by the University of Wisconsin and Pelham, NY, police departments.

The TBL flag has a lot wrong with it. It is related to the “Blue lives matter” slogan, which developed in response to “Black lives matter” to minimize that claim. It is used by white supremacist factions. The flag was displayed in the January 6 attack on the Capitol, with attackers somewhat contradictorily attacking Capitol police with poles with the flag attached.

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A Few Relevant Numbers

Few people are publicly considering what the COVID-19 pandemic is doing to the American economy. Paul Krugman is not optimistic. I agree with him. The country will, arguably, have less money to spend in the future, although there are many caveats to that.

The right, in the past, has used crises to justify radical social changes. It’s time for progressives to do that. A Democratic sweep in November makes many things possible. Let’s assume that can happen.

To start, we need to know some numbers, to get a handle on the scale of things.

National Debt  $24.95 trillion

Deficit in 2019  $984 billion

Wealth of top one percent (Exceeds wealth of bottom 80 percent)  $25 trillion

Department of Defense 2019 budget  $686.1 billion

Department of State 2018 budget  $52.4 billion

Amount spent on policing 2017  $115 billion   Corrections  $79 billion

Community colleges   $126 billion*

Student debt  $1.5 trillion

Healthcare  $3.5 trillion

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* Calculated from the report as 9 million students x $14,000 per student per year

Cross-posted to Balloon Juice

The End Of The INF Treaty

A commenter at Balloon Juice asked if I plan to write on the end of the INF Treaty. I hadn’t intended to – there’s an enormous amount of good commentary (Twitter threads here and here) on it – but as I thought about it, I have some thoughts beyond the standard commentary.

First, an overview of the situation.

The Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty was concluded between the US and the USSR in 1987. Both countries had been emplacing missiles in Europe in such a way as to dangerously shorten the warning time for a nuclear attack on Europe or Moscow. The treaty banned a whole class of missiles and largely ended the nuclear terrors of the early 1980s. Read More

We Must Turn The Country Around

I attended a symposium on authoritarianism a week or so ago. Two of the presentations implicitly compared Trump to Adolf Hitler and Hugo Chavez. The parallels are striking. Jay West, retired from teaching Russian history at Middlebury College, spoke about Nazi Germany and the temptations of fascism, something that naturally accompanies Russian history. Charles Shapiro, American ambassador to Venezuela during the Chavez years, spoke about his experience with Chavez.

Hitler, Chavez, and Donald Trump were all elected. Portions of the electorate disapproved of them for one reason or another, but they supported them because they thought they shared common goals and that those elected would be controllable. West and Shapiro gave much longer lists. Read More