Alarmed by Ike

Jeff Masters isn’t liking what he’s seeing as Hurricane Ike rebuilds in the Gulf of Mexico. Texas is in the crosshairs:

Ike is likely to be a extremely dangerous major hurricane at landfall, and will likely do $10-$30 billion in damage. The chances of hundreds of people being killed in this storm is high if people do not heed evacuation orders. It is possible that Ike will make a direct hit on Galveston as a Category 4 hurricane with 145 mph winds. The potential storm surge from such a hit could be in the 15-25 foot range, which is capable of overwhelming the 17 foot sea wall in Galveston. I put the odds of such an event at about 5%. 

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Tough Guys

This quote, a dissenting view from Jeffrey Goldberg’s lengthy piece on McCain’s views on preemption, stood out because it called to mind a friend’s observation that the Vietnamese are the only battlefield enemy we’ve faced that didn’t crumble under the weight of B-52 strikes:

“We lost in Vietnam because we got beat,” Andrew J. Bacevich, an international-relations scholar at Boston University and a Vietnam veteran, told me. “I served during the period when Abrams was supposedly winning the war, and what I saw there [in the Central Highlands of Vietnam] makes it impossible for me to believe that we were winning. That’s a personal statement, not a scholarly judgment, but what I saw were South Vietnamese forces that were utterly incapable, a South Vietnamese government that was utterly ineffective, and an American Army that was falling apart.” 

My friend’s takeaway point was that the outcome of the Vietnam War said more about the North Vietnamese than it said about us. They’re pure warriors and damn near impossible to beat on their home ground.

Goldberg’s article is worth reading in full.

Will Play for Food

Rhodri Marsden isn’t seeing a business model that works for the music industry, and doesn’t necessarily consider that a bad thing:

Slight poverty is what drives music forward. It only works if you’re in the red. You’ve never felt so alive as when you’ve just maxed out your credit card to get your band on a cross channel ferry for a one-off gig in Antwerp.

Feeling Apocalyptic

Kevin Drum and Tom Friedman both see trouble ahead. Drum:

McCain, in his overwhelming desire for office, is unloosing [culture-war] forces that are likely to make the country only barely governable no matter who wins. This would be very bad juju at any time, but George Bush has so seriously weakened the country over the course of his administration that we don’t have a lot of room for error left if we want to avoid losing the war on terror for good and turning America into a banana republic while we’re at it. 

Friedman:

I have long felt that what propelled Obama early was the fact that many Americans understand in their guts that we need a change, but the change we need is to focus on nation-building at home. We’re in decline. We need to get back to work on our country.

Not that Jeffrey Goldberg is any more cheerful:

The next president must do one thing, and one thing only, if he is to be judged a success: He must prevent Al Qaeda, or a Qaeda imitator, from gaining control of a nuclear device and detonating it in America. Everything else — Fannie Mae, health care reform, energy independence, the budget shortfall in Wasilla, Alaska — is commentary. The nuclear destruction of Lower Manhattan, or downtown Washington, would cause the deaths of thousands, or hundreds of thousands; a catastrophic depression; the reversal of globalization; a permanent climate of fear in the West; and the comprehensive repudiation of America’s culture of civil liberties.

Risk Premium

Via Daniel Drezner, a bit of bad news:

The price of credit default swaps on five-year US government debt hit a record 18 basis points in early trading, according to CMA Datavision. This means that it costs $18,000 a year to buy insurance on $10m of US government debt.

Tim Backshall, chief strategist at Credit Derivatives Research, said the price implied that the US was more likely to default on its obligations than Japan, Germany, France, Quebec, the Netherlands and several Scandinavian countries. Traders said the CDS market for US debt was illiquid and it was hard to see evidence of increased concern over US creditworthiness in broader market prices.

Niall Ferguson once noted that Imperial Germany’s financial problems, including its inability to borrow on the most favorable terms, fed the risk-taking that prompted it to launch World War I as a preemptive measure against the Russians.

Man, Not Monkey

Aviation Week wonders if the Navy is fully with the program when it comes to UAVs:

The Navy also worries about drone reliability and safety.

The Navy developed its first unmanned combat aircraft in the 1950s and 1960s. But the Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter, which operated off destroyers and frigates, was plagued by accidents and pilot error, and half were lost.

Cripes, guys, that was half a century ago. Glenn Curtiss’ first creations didn’t fly so well either, not that their failures predicted much about the performance of the jets the Navy was flying 50 years on.

Fighting Through

Michael Yon tells the tale of the British dam-construction convoy in Afghanistan. The stakes were pretty high:

This mission was one of the largest logistics operations during the entire war and certainly one of the most important civil affairs efforts.  Although it was top secret at the time, news of mission failure would quickly spread.  In terms of propaganda value, failure would be a major victory for the enemy.