The Bear Roars

Vox has a long think-piece about the potential for a war with Russia, which could include a nuclear conflict. I think the article is a bit alarmist but it’s worth a read. The essential point is that Russia trying to re-establish itself as a premier power and is consumed with the idea that the United States wants to weaken and topple its leadership. To that end, they are engaging in more and more provocative action and have lowered the bar for the use of nuclear weapons. There is a real fear that they might attack the Baltics to try to break NATO, with the threat of nuclear attack backing it up. And the lowering of nuclear thresholds has made an accidental nuclear war more likely.

A few scattered thoughts:

First, I’m old enough to remember when Mitt Romney was openly mocked and derided for declaring that Russia was one of the chief dangers we faced. There’s a part of me that wonders if Romney didn’t actually win the 2012 election and is keeping Obama in as a figurehead. We certainly seem to be, in the inept Obama way, pursuing every foreign policy initiative Romney advocated.

Second, the idea that the US would invade Russia and topple the regime is insane. But, as Robert Heinlein noted during the Cold War, the defining element of Russian foreign policy has always been paranoia. It still is. And we need to be careful in how we deal with them.

Third, I think this means that missile has moved from critical to even more critical, especially given the danger of an accidental war.

Fourth, we need to seriously think about what we’re going to do if Putin attacks the Baltic states. Do we let him take them and risk having NATO fall apart? Do we defend them and risk a large-scale war? This is the kind of issue that needs to be front and center in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Science Sunday: SpaceX Explodes

Ouch:

An unmanned rocket by Elon Musk’s SpaceX on a resupply mission to the International Space Station exploded Sunday just minutes after launch.

It wasn’t clear what caused the rocket, named Dragon, to fail. SpaceX will conduct an investigation overseen by the Federal Aviation Administration.

It was the third resupply mission to fail in recent months. The three astronauts on the space station have about four months worth of supplies, according to NASA.

This is the first big failure for SpaceX, which has had a good track record so far (they’ve had a few failed launches of experimental craft as well). You can follow Phil Plait here who speculates that it was a fuel tank rupture.

I’m a big fan of private space flight and disappointed that Congress is trying to curtail it a bit. The potential savings is good but the potential for breakthrough technology is very large. Hopefully, this won’t be too big a setback.

Movie Review: American Sniper

I just saw American Sniper on DVD. You may remember that this film caused some controversy early this year for supposedly being pro-war and portraying the Iraqis as savages and monsters. A planned screening at the University of Michigan was scotched because students complained that it was “anti-Muslim”.

First things first: the film is very good. Clint Eastwood’s directing is sharp and clear. Bradley Cooper gives an astonishing subdued performance as Chris Kyle. It is tense, well-paced and definitely worth your time (although it is definitely not for children as it features some brutal violence).

I can also report that the political aspects are massively overblown. As with Eastwood’s previous Letters from Iwo Jima and Flags of Our Fathers (and the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker) the politics is subdued if it exists at all. It focuses heavily on the experience of the soldiers, both in the war and when they get home. While Kyle says he is not haunted by the people he killed (only the people he failed to save), the film hints that this is not entirely true. Cooper’s nuanced performance and Eastwood’s excellent direction suggest that the Kyle’s battle wounds go deeper than he lets on. But it’s not hammered home. It is not broadcast with screaming banners and clunky dialogue. You have to watch and think.

And I think that’s what bothers many liberals about the movie. They wanted a movie that would portray Kyle — a sniper who likely claimed over 200 kills — as a monster. They wanted it to get into what a mistake the Iraq War was. And that it was made by the man who gave a memorable anti-Obama speech at the 2012 Republican convention only exacerbated that need. But the movie steadfastly avoids politics (just as Letters avoided any politicizing about the Japanese Empire). You can draw whatever conclusions you want — that the war was a mistake or that the war was a good idea. But the movie cares mainly about the stress, the terror and the cost that our soldiers endure.

(As for the movie not being sympathetic to the Iraqis: it actually does get into it a little, especially one brutal sequence that demonstrates clearly that many Iraqis were caught between a rock and a hard place — wanting to help the US, but facing horrific retaliation if they did. There are scenes showing the heavy cost the war took on the Iraqi people. The main antagonist of the film is also humanized a little, showing his family and hinting at a past. But because the movie is mainly concerned with Kyle, these things are subtle and again require you to watch … and think.)

There’s a line from the movie Black Hawk Down, another excellent war film, that I’m fond of:

When I go home people’ll ask me, “Hey Hoot, why do you do it man? What, you some kinda war junkie?” You know what I’ll say? I won’t say a goddamn word. Why? They won’t understand. They won’t understand why we do it. They won’t understand that it’s about the men next to you, and that’s it. That’s all it is.

That quote is the key to understanding American Sniper. It’s a good movie. It might even be a great movie. You should see it. And stuff the politics.

Gay Marriage Debate Ends

A lot going on today, but the big news is that the Court has upheld gay marriage by a 5-4 vote. With that, the debate over the subject is effectively over. And, as someone who has supported the GOP in the past, I couldn’t be happier. The issue can go away and we can focus on more substantive issues.

More to come.

You should read the opinions. It includes vintage Scalia. But it also includes a very good dissent from Roberts who argues that the problem is not gay marriage; the problem is the way the Court has interpreted the Constitution. It’s quite good and conciliatory. Roberts can drive me nuts sometimes, but I still think he’s one of the best things to come out of the Bush 43 Administration.

King Denied

The Supreme Court has just ruled 6-3 that the Obamacare subsidies apply to states that do not run their own exchanges, thus upholding a major provision of the law. I’ll post more when I have time. Discuss.

One thing I’ll note: I was not surprised. The Roberts Court really hates to overturn legislation. They prefer to let legislators do that. The theme from Roberts in the two Obamacare decisions is basically this: if you want to repeal, repeal the law. We’re not going to do it for you.

Update: The more I think about it, the more I think the Court reached the right decision here, much as it pains me to say so. I don’t think King’s case was “ridiculous” as many liberal pundits opined. It’s never ridiculous to argue that a law should be interpreted as it was written. But I do think it was the language was ambiguous enough and the intent of Congress during the debates plain enough for the Court to defer to them. The message from the Court, as I noted above is “we’re not going to repeal Obamacare for you”.

(And I think the GOP is secretly grateful. As Thrill pointed on Twitter, this decisions basically saved them from having to repair the law.)

The way forward is pretty clear: replacing Obamacare becomes the key GOP electoral issue in 2016. The law, as Justice Roberts noted in his majority opinion, is still a mess. While the number of insured has been reduced, there has been no improvement in overall health. It’s saving some people from crippling financial bills but at enormous cost. And we are still in very real danger of an insurance “death spiral” that will destroy the individual market.

The shape of that replacement is up in the air right now. I prefer a bill that eases the link between insurance and employment, allows insurance to be sold across state lines and encourages the kind of high-deductible insurance that has been shown to reduce healthcare costs with little impact on overall health. But we’ll see what happens. The Court has put the ball into the GOP’s court. Let’s hope they don’t step on it and fall on their ass.

Update: You should read Scalia’s blistering dissent. It’s vintage Scalia, complete with saying the law should now be called “SCOTUScare”. It makes good points, I think, and shouldn’t be dismissed.

Update: Doug Mataconis explains the Court’s reasoning:

As Chief Justice Roberts noted, Courts have always been deferential when it comes to statutory interpretation in order to ensure that Judges are not substituting their judgment for elected representatives. The fact that there is a drafting error, or that language in a bill that was more than a thousand pages long is inexact in some way should not necessarily mean that a Court must interpret a law in a manner that brings down an entire statutory scheme. The alternative would be a world where the lack of a single word, or an in-artfully drafted sentence, would bring down an entire law, and that’s never been the way the Courts have interpreted statutes. In my past comments about this subsidy issue, I’ve been somewhat sympathetic to the argument of the Plaintiffs in this case, but reviewing the pleadings and the oral argument in this case have caused me to reconsider that position. I’m still not a fan of the PPACA, and I think that it’s going to create long-term economic incentives that will make health care more expensive rather than less expensive, but that is a policy matter not a legal one. As it stands, it seems clear to me that the Justices in the majority got it right.