Sunday, February 29, 2004

40,000 new troops 

At Calpundit, some interesting discussion of John Kerry's proposal to add 40,000 new troops to the Army. Several posters wondered if this was really a way of saying we might need a draft. I doubt a draft would be required to get 40,000 new recruits, which is less than one tenth the size of the Army. Still, the Petagon's "stop loss" orders, which prevent currently enlisted troops from leaving the armed forces, are deeply alarming. Already over 40,000 troops have been prevented from leaving the Army alone. When you factor in the number of troops who want to and should be allowed to leave the armed forces, increasing the size of the Army by 40,000 troops becomes a much more daunting task. Kerry should release a detailed plan indicating how he would obtain enough new recruits to make his proposal feasible.

As to the merits of Kerry's proposal, there are pros and cons. While Kerry is right that our military is overextended and new troops are needed to prevent reserves from having to serve on active duty all the time, his proposal would renew a commitment to American empire and further increase the size of an already grotesque military budget. In fact, the size of the army already exceeds the limit of 480,000 troops set by congress. I'm willing to concede that additional troops may be necessary while we have so many soldiers committed to Iraq, but the changes Kerry proposes should certainly not be permanent.

UPDATE: Kerry doesn't think they should be permanent, either. But he thinks the changes will "likely last the remainder of the decade." Sounds a bit on the long side to me. Do we really still plan to be occupying Iraq in 2010? But Kerry also says he can pay for his proposal with cuts in missile defense, which would be great.

Kerry's proposal will be budget neutral because he will streamline some large weapons programs, putting more emphasis on electronics and advanced sensors and munitions and by reducing the total amount of money spent on missile defense.

The Expectations Game 

Not sure what to make of this:

President Bush's campaign strategists say they now expect to trail or do no better than run even with Senator John Kerry through the summer, despite their aggressive new effort to counter months of Democratic attacks.

Call me pessimistic, but my feeling about the recent surge of democrats in the polls was that it was a temporary boost due to (1) media attention as a result of the primary, (2) the Bush AWOL story and (3) the fact that the Bush reelection machine isn't fully geared up yet. The Chandler victory might also have added to the effect. But once the excitement of the primaries dies down, Americans become more acquainted with John Kerry's somewhat boring personality, and Bush's $200 million enters the fray, it seems likely that Bush's poll numbers will improve substantially. So it's a bit surprising that the Bush campaign would admit that they're in trouble in the polls. It's possible that they just want to lower expectations. Or maybe the democrats' fortunes really have turned.

Aristide leaves Haiti 

The CIA's "black budget" 

Here is a very interesting study of the CIA's budget. On the one hand, the CIA has secret "black" projects funded through the defense budget, where they appear with cryptic one-line descriptions like "CLASSIC WIZARD" or "special evaluation program." Congress knows about this practice and tolerates it; some project details naturally need to be kept secret. However, Michael Salla, the study's author, claims there is a whole set of supersecret "deep black" CIA programs which do not even appear in the budget at all. According to Salla, the money to fund these programs is "laundered" through other federal agencies such as Housing and Urban Development.

What is surprising is that there should be a need for this kind of circuitous (and possibly illegal) means of funding. After all, the only information publicly known about the "black" projects is the size of their budgets; what can be so secret about these "deep black" programs that not even the size of their budgets can be released? Because of the deceptive way in which they are funded, these programs are completely free from congressional oversight.

The CIA's "black budget" practice seems to violate Article I sec. 9 of the constitution which reads in part

No money shall be drawn from the treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law; and a regular statement and account of receipts and expenditures of all public money shall be published from time to time.

Interestingly, as Salla points out, there is special language in the CIA's mandate which exempts it from these budgetary constraints. The constitutionality of these exemptions has been challenged with mixed results.

UPDATE: Here is another, much older, article on the black budget.

Election Odds 

Tradesports.com has odds on all kinds of political events. Rather than set the odds themselves, they run a futures market, letting customers buy and sell contracts from each other. Historically, futures markets have predicted election outcomes and other events with remarkable accuracy.

Chance that Bin Laden is captured or killed by the end of 2004? 55%. That's bad news for the democrats' chances in November.

Who will be the democratic VP nominee? The frontrunner is John Edwards (35%), followed by Wesley Clark and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson tied at 12%. I'm surprised Richardson is that low given his inherent advantages (hispanic, from a swing state, Washington outsider with foreign policy experience; he was formerly the US ambassador to the UN). Dick Gephardt is fourth at 7%.

Hilarious poll 


"As you best recall, which side did the United States support in the war: North Vietnam or South Vietnam?" N=1,150 adults nationwide.

North Vietnam: 18%
South Vietnam: 57%
Don’t Know: 26%

The Fog of War 

Saw Robert McNamara memoir/documentary The Fog of War tonight. The film puts a human face on the much-vilified Vietnam-era secretary of defense. While I recommend the film, its almost comically positive portrayal of McNamara is a major flaw. Based only on the film I would be left with impression that McNamara saw the quagmire coming and worked to get US troops out of Vietnam as quickly as possible, but was overruled by a foolish and ignorant President Johnson. This impression is achieved by selectively quoting McNamara's conversations with the president in which he expresses his misgivings about the conflict. Despite these private misgivings, McNamara played a key role in the escalation of the war. When asked who should bear responsibility for the Vietnam war, McNamara shamelessly shifts the blame entirely onto LBJ's shoulders, saying Kennedy would not have allowed the conflict to escalate in the same way. Regardless, the secretary of defense ought to accept some responsibility for wars conducted during his tenure!

McNamara declined to answer most of the tougher questions put to him, and answered others with platitudes. "Every military commander makes mistakes" was a common refrain. I was particularly disappointed by McNamara's refusal to discuss why he didn't speak out against the war in 1968 after he was fired for opposing further escalation. He also seemed to resort quite often to end-justifies-the-means type arguments: "in order to do good, you may have to engage in evil." As a justification for his role in the firebombing of Tokyo in 1945 this argument had its merits. But McNamara's attempts to apply this type of reasoning to Vietnam fall flat. Most frustrating was McNamara's recollection of "nearly coming to blows" with a Vietnamese scholar who explained that from his perspective, the Vietnam war was a struggle for independence against colonial powers -- first Japan, then France, and finally the United States. Despite his obvious regrets, McNamara has not shed his Cold Warrior mentality. To him, Vietnam was a domino, the Vietnam war was a war of ideology, and the end of anticommunism justified the means.

First post 

Broadly speaking, this is intended to be a political weblog. Like many political blogs, though, it will include in its wider focus discussions of science, society and the law. Why "Odd Hours"? I tend to keep odd hours, and odd hours are probably when most of the posting will be going on. In the long run I envision a group blog of perhaps ten regular contributors each putting in a few odd hours a week. Something along the lines of Daily Kos or The Volokh Conspiracy. Contributors could focus on individual topics of interest such as electoral politics, foreign policy, legal news, science and technology, etc. About me: I'm a graduate student at UC Berkeley. Here is my homepage.
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