advice from a fake consultant

out-of-the-box thinking about economics, politics, and more... 

Saturday, March 29, 2008

On Filling The Time, Or, The 24 Hour News Cycle Improved

In the beginning, there was darkness.

But then unto the world can Edward R. Murrow, who begat Walter Cronkite…and then there came to pass Huntley and Brinkley.

And it was good, and we were happy.

But then before Pharaoh came Ted Turner, who cried: “Let my people go!”…and thus was CNN brought forth upon the Earth.

For some it was a miracle…but for others the endless repetition of the same stories over and over represents a new 40 years of wandering in the desert.

Can the cycle be broken?
Can an oasis in this desert be found?
Can our thirst for more useful insight be sated?

Those are the questions we pose today…and before we’re done, I’ll offer one potential answer.

To be completely fair here, it’s hardly all CNN’s fault. To keep the Biblical analogy going just a bit longer, additional begatting has brought us MSNBC, the Fox (Excuse For) News Channel, NY1, Bloomberg’s contribution to business news, ESPN…and of course, the constellation of smaller satellites that make up the rest of the firmament—the various CNBCs, CNN’s Headline News, and the Fox Business Channel being quick examples of the genre.

The uninformed observer might think this has created an explosion of “new” news, but as the band P.M. Dawn would tell you…“reality and life are not the same”.

The current state of the news cycle, for those unaware, is that something happens…and then every channel discusses that same event over and over, at least 24 times, during the next 24 hours.

“Experts” from one side or the other discuss, with great urgency, the import of the event. During campaign season some “experts” become “surrogates”…and the urgency becomes more urgent. The efforts to spin each result to the favor of one side or the other and drown out the opposing “talking head” become so intense during the run-up to the news events—and just after--that the National Weather Service is actually considering co-locating tornado detection devices in certain broadcast studios for the protection of those nearby.

Eventually the stories, after the process has finished with them, may end up literally becoming marks on a daily scoreboard, thanks to the newest incarnation of the process; wherein a host takes over the role of “final arbiter” and issues his somewhat official “Verdict”, following a final daily session of “harrumph-harrumph-harrumph” from the show’s panel participants.

Because of the increased demand brought on by the endless campaign cycle, we’ve noted how the professional “talking head” community has grown much larger and much more sophisticated. Talking heads can now morph from “reporter” to “advisor/consultant/surrogate”—and sometimes even into a “candidate”, “appointee”, or “elected official” role…and then eventually back to “talking head”.

Others will remain “neutral and unbiased observers”, representing, in a manner that defies the biological need for sleep, one (or more) media outlets…and in what seems to be an extension of a process pioneered by CNBC and The Wall Street Journal, media entities are forming their own alliances, presumably to force the others “off the island”.

Under the right circumstances they can offer a considerable contribution to the exercise of analysis—but many are kept on a short leash. All of this is, naturally, dependant on the status into which they have currently morphed.

While this is a well-designed system for those who might watch news one hour a day or less, the downside is that the entire day becomes an endless repetition of the same talking points, or video clips, or gaffe…which, for those of us who might partake of more than an hour of “informational” programming daily (bless you, C-SPAN!), seems to be a waste of valuable “talking head” resources.

You might think this sort of structure would eventually collapse under its own “spin load”, creating a mess that resembles an Oklahoma trailer park after a tornado moves through…leaving only reruns of “Lockup: Raw” and that weird Lou Dobbs show to fill the void…but as of today none of the participants have so fallen (rumors about Fox Business notwithstanding), and the public appears to remain willing to watch.

That’s the history…but what about the future?

Here’s an idea:

There are a ton of stories that are not being discussed daily that are of considerable importance, yet just can’t seem to get on the national radar screen.

Why not take an hour a day and turn it into a discussion of one of those stories—making use of the “talking heads” to fill out the last three or four segments of the hour?

Need some help getting started?

Here are a few stories that absolutely need discussion…and could absolutely use analysis by the candidate’s surrogates:

--The Coast Guard’s “Deepwater” program.

--The trials and tribulations (and budget issues) relating to the effort to replace most of the US Air Force’s fighter fleet with the F-22 and F-35. (Then on Tuesday—tankers and bombers…)

--Infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure. There are so many bridges, highways, and sewers to be replaced that you could send a show on the road to do location stories once a week from now until November—and among the excellent locations available…New York City’s new water tunnel, or the bridge replacement in Minneapolis (excellent political tie-in), or the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Winsor, Ontario.

--Medicare and the issues related to its funding.

--Now this one is the story that every member of the staff will be more than anxious to cover. Why not examine the effect of climate change on Florida’s (politically important) economy? Start with the issue of property insurance and “firewalling” (a problem that could spread to California…and already is spreading to Texas), and end with an examination of how Florida would cope with a rise in sea levels.

Such a story would surely require many visits to the affected locations to really get the perspective the public demands…many visits that would get people out of Manhattan in lousy weather season…and require the networks to send them to Florida--with expense accounts. The truly resourceful news manager (Dan Abrams, are you listening?) will decide to investigate the question of how Florida’s theme parks will cope with the changes…and how could such a story possibly be presented without going to the parks themselves?

In each case, make the candidate surrogates explain where each of these national needs fits into an Administration’s budget…how they’d pay for each program…and force them to answer the question: offsetting budget cuts—or taxes raised?

My guess: the discussions, and the squirming and shuffling, will be just as interesting as what we see today—and you can still use a scoreboard--but the issues involved will be issues that average voters might actually care about.

Not to mention the fact that all this new news footage created by the squirming and shuffling will make excellent filler for the other 23 hours of the news cycle.

Now we’ve had lots of fun with these story ideas (and frankly, played a bit of realpolitik as well); but the fact is we have here an idea that could actually break the repeat, repeat, repeat that is today’s cable news—and do it in a way that puts news organizations back in the business of driving the news cycle…instead of merely being couriers of the press releases of others.

I’m guessing Murrow and Huntley and Brinkley—and maybe even Cronkite—would approve…and even more importantly, I bet the audience would as well.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

On A Startling Breakthrough, Or, Will Your New Eye Need Tech Support?

We have all seen some impressive advances in technology over the past couple of decades—and many of them have represented science fiction becoming, to one degree or another, science fact.

Sometimes even better.

Dick Tracy’s “wrist TV” is at least equaled by the iPhone...the average minivan carries an network of electronic signal distribution that rivals anything in Buck Rogers...and modern communicators are giving George Orwell a run for his predictive money by advancing their arts in ways that I’m willing to bet even he never anticipated.

But even in the context of all this “gee-whiz” technology something comes along that offers the potential to change so much of what we do today that it deserves special note—even in the midst of a madly competitive political season.

And it will most assuredly change the way you see the world—forever.

So what’s all this big fuss, you’re asking?

How about this: University of Washington scientists have figured out how to implant minute circuitry inside contact lenses that makes it possible for the lenses to function in ways never before possible...meaning that everything you know about human vision is about to utterly and completely change.


How about contact lenses capable of acting as telescopes and microscopes?

How about night vision...or infrared...or the ability to switch modes as needed?

This is entirely possible; reports Babak Parviz of the UW’s School of Engineering...and it may be commercially available within 10 years.

How can this be done?

Traditional methods of manufacturing miniaturized circuits involve etching the required circuits onto “buildups” of appropriate material, layer by layer (a process that would destroy any contact lens material)...but in this case, the circuits are “self-assembled” inside an ordinary contact lens, using capillary action to pull the tiny units together within the lens itself.

(Speaking of science fiction coming to pass: this is a perfect example of the potential of nanotechnology becoming reality...)

The lenses, to the eye, feel exactly the same as the contact lenses you wear today (because they basically are), and because there are portions of the eye’s surface that do not gather light, there’s plenty of space to implant circuitry that will never be seen by the wearer.

The news I’ve presented so far is great if you’re an amateur astronomer...or ornithologist...or crime scene investigator.

But to be honest, it doesn’t really offer the “zing!” I promised in the beginning of the story. So let’s kick it up a notch, shall we?

Why don’t we...oh, I don’t know...why don’t we give your new eye a wi-fi connection?

Are you kidding?

No, I’m not.
It’s actually, again, well within the realm of possibility...and not even that technically daunting of a task, if I understand correctly.

Now you may be asking: “What does a wireless connection do for me”?

How about a contact lens that can display your iPhone directly to your eye, transparently, so that you see the Internet through your contact lens “screen” while simultaneously maintaining a view of the “real” world?

Of course, with the exception of those annoying bandwidth, signal-to-noise, and second-order interference issues sending what you see will be the simplest thing ever (broadcast engineers are allowed to do a spit take at this point) making everything from emails to sports coverage a completely new experience for everyone. (Imagine seeing the incoming fastball exactly as the batter sees it—through his very own eyes...or seeing the quarterback’s view as the defense closes in, thanks to the “in eye” cameras that sports broadcasters will rush to adopt as soon as they’re available.)

Driving will be utterly transformed. Imagine a rear view camera superimposed over one eye whenever you want to know what’s behind you...or, again, night vision capabilities—or an enhanced ability to see in fog...or the ability to see farther into the distance as your speed increases—not to mention the ability to determine the speed of the other cars, and access to traffic information and traffic cameras...and all the while never taking your eyes off the road..

Soldiers who can “see” through walls...cops and firefighters who can access databases and maps while outside the vehicle...mechanics who can access the tech manual while looking at the part being repaired...and surgeons who can access imaging of a patient while operating on that patient--and compare old images to new anatomy without ever lifting a scalpel or turning the head away from the work.

And none of this is even the coolest part.

Try, just for a moment, to imagine what this is going to do to video games, simulations (pilot training, for example), engineering and architectural design tools...and the movie and television industries.

For example, if you have a couple of hours to kill (perhaps an airplane flight...) you might access Netflix and download a video to your handheld device...and then watch it in the aspect ratio of your choice directly on your eye(s).

The next generations of PSP-like devices might interact with the new eyes by becoming more sophisticated controller devices, leaving the contact lenses to become the display...the potentially 100% immersive display that creates an environment that can be as transparent as you wish—either allowing you to see the outside world...or completely removing it from your sight.

Now you gotta admit, that is pretty cool.

So that’s our story for today: a new way of making contact lenses that will soon make the way we look at vision totally obsolete, transform the way we perform a thousand common tasks, and turn entertainment from something we look at on a screen to something that fills every part of our vision—creating images we could never before experience in such an immersive way...and it’s predicted all of this could occur in the next decade.

I don’t know about you, but this is one time I’m actually looking forward to an impending future.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

On Music And Succession, Or, The Tao Of Texas


To think about the place is to consider the duality of Tao.

A State with a dramatic duality of geography—the trees and rolling hills of East Texas compare starkly to the Panhandle...or Corpus Christi, for that matter.

The duality extends to politics as well.

Consider today’s “Madness of King George”, the weird nexus between Conservative politics and State governance as practiced by Rick “Leadership by Coiffure” Perry, and the perennially wacky antics of the Lege and the unique personalities who find there safe harbor.

Balanced against that are the “aw shucks” kinda folks who have truly made Texas great: Jim Hightower, Ann Richards, and Molly Ivins being three examples who between them represent just a tiny scratch on the deeply carved surface of the big picnic table upon which the BBQ of Texas society is served.

Duality factors into today’s conversation as well; as we intertwine thoughts of West Berlin, succession, and a mini-review of one of the world’s preeminent music festivals: SXSW.

Then let’s get to it.

“It was a nice neighborhood. If you liked neighborhoods.”

--Kinky Friedman, from the book “A Case of Lone Star

The SXSW Festival (pronounced South by Southwest, for those not familiar), based in Austin (the Texas State Capitol), has grown from a neighborhood effort capitalizing on the city’s well-deserved reputation as a haven for live music performance to the new “Aspen”; with A & R reps, movie industry types (there’s now a semi-big semi-fancy film festival in addition to the music), and thousands of glitterati and their retinue roaming 6th Street in search of the “next big thing”.

Your friendly fake consultant was not able to attend in person (issues...), but thanks to the courtesy of a satellite provider who shall remain nameless (but which rhymes with Smerect TV) I’ve been given the chance to see almost a dozen bands in live performance over the past 48 hours, including Daniel Lanois, Dizzee Rascal, Tift Merritt, Sia, X...even the former teen sensations Hanson.

Much of our discussion will focus on my impressions of these bands (and more as yet unmentioned); but first, a few words about West Berlin.

At the end of the Second World War, the defeated Germany became a nation divided by the victors, with French, American, British, and Russian Zones of Occupation. Berlin, the nation’s capital, was also divided into four zones; even though it was entirely within the larger Russian Zone of Occupation.

At the height of the Cold War, Berlin was an island city surrounded by East Germany (a Warsaw Pact member in very good standing and the former Russian Zone; the rest of Germany became known as West Germany) and separated from the world by a series of barriers that collectively became known as the Berlin Wall.

West Berlin’s location deep within a Soviet client State offered a unique perspective on life within this otherwise closed society; making it a legendary locale for espionage...and a legendary location for escape, as East Berliners realized life in the proximity of the West was far less appealing than a life actually in the West.

Because of limited space, SXSW invites about 25% of the bands that apply to participate in the Festival, meaning only about 1,600 bands are able to play during the three-day run of the event, and 25 of those are featured in the satellite provider’s per hour for three days. With re-runs, it means you get three chances to see each band, and there were some bands that I did see twice—including Daniel Lanois (who actually performed at least double duty, also appearing in Martha Wainwright’s band), who` is touring with his guitar and Brian Blades, a drummer who was more than ready to swap melodies with Lanois through the several long-form songs they played.

You may not know Lanois by name, but his work as the producing U2 albums makes him one of those “unknown soldiers” who have had much more influence on your music than you might think. It is also reported that Lanois has been touring with a documentary filmmaker...and with any luck, he’ll be coming to your TV set (or cooperative arthouse theater) in the not-too-distant future.

The Soviet Union’s frustration regarding West Berlin’s status inside East Germany led to an effort to blockade the city’s rail and road connections to the outside world; this in an effort to force the remaining former Allies (an alliance which later begat NATO) to abandon the city to the East Germans.

Harry Truman refused to be bent to the Soviet’s will; the result was the Berlin Airlift, the first effort to feed and supply a city of this size entirely by air.

The treaty creating the German partitioning arrangements had granted to the three Allies the right to access Berlin through certain air corridors...which could not be blockaded by Soviet air forces without committing acts of war (a bad decision at the time, as the US enjoyed a nuclear monopoly—which we had made use of only three years earlier against Japan).

The story of those who engaged in this effort is one of the great epic tales of American and British military history...and one of those rare times when having a military—and using it—truly is the mark of a great power; beyond that it may be the single event that made America the most admired nation on the planet for at least a generation...which eventually sort of turned a President into a self-described pastry:

“Ich bin ein Berliner...”

--President John F. Kennedy, June 26, 1963

Sia is the former lead singer of the band Zero 7, and as much as I enjoyed her music, I was also struck by the fact that her presentation and personality bear a startling resemblance to Cyndi Lauper—not in costume, but in the unpretentious and self-deprecating way she interacted with the crowd...and while I do wholeheartedly recommend her songs, I would also tell you that she looks like one of those people who, if your tire was flat, might help you change it—and might even have a joke handy to lighten the moment.

Are you all familiar with the expression “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”?

Hanson and X (featuring Xcene Cervenka, as the doyenne of punk) performed.

In keeping with the same “say nice things” policy, I will relate to you my “short skirt” theory of music, naming the innocent, and protecting the guilty.

The theory is simple: the shorter the skirt, the more the band sucks.

Results based on a universe of three bands confirmed the hypothesis: the skirt of the first “skirt band” female singer was quite short...and I did not find the band particularly interesting musically.

The second skirt was not only short enough to permit unanticipated gynecological examination in the event of even a minor accident, it was actually cut so as to expose additional hip...which, frankly, may have been a mistake.

There is no question that this particular band practiced posing in their glittery costumes far more than writing and playing recently...which was also a mistake, as it left them even farther down (or up, if you prefer) in the “skirt vs. music” rankings.

Then comes before us Nicole Atkins and the Sea; she of the American Express commercials and a nearly knee-length skirt (and fascinating top that almost appeared to be an inverted whalebone corset in emerald green).

She did a great show, by far the best of this group of three, and I would encourage you to give her a listen. She’s got a folk-rock/storytelling thing going on, and all in all I felt she did great work.

The Soviets tried mightily to prevent the use of the air corridors, occasionally swooping near US and British cargo aircraft (among those the legendary C-47, some of which are still in service to this day) in their smaller, more agile fighters. Despite these efforts at intimidation, the deliveries increased from a few thousands of tons of supplies daily to such a river of air cargo that the Soviets were forced to abandon the effort...and the blockcade was broken.

It taught the Soviets that we would not be beaten...a lesson that may have paid dividends a few years later.

Some of the coolest new musicians today are the British “grime” bands, who combine hip/hop, reggae, and dance into a heady mix of fun; high among that group of artists is Dizzee Rascal (see also: Audiobullys, Roots Manuva, or The Streets); a “straight edge” performer in a ganja world who released one of my favorite albums of last year: “Maths + English”. Check out “Sirens”, or “Bubbles”, or the instant classic “Wanna Be” featuring the most excellent Lily Allen (“So you wanna be a gangster / tell me just one thing / whatcha know about bein’ a hard man / your Mom buys your bling...”), an improbable remake of a Paul Williams song from the ‘70’s movie “Bugsy Malone”.

He had a pretty good broadcast show, and he was the only one of the participants to bring on other artists he is promoting to do the first few songs of the set.

Austin, the home of SXSW, holds a place in the cultural milieu of Texas that is not dissimilar to the position a Democratic precinct captain would have in the George W. Bush household—Austin may be family, but they often get the last scoop of the mashed potatoes at dinner...and never the big piece of chicken.

It seems to be related to the fact that Austin is a giant college town in a State that values the “git ‘er done” guy far more than the average PhD...but whatever the reason, the city, much like West Berlin, is an island of liberal thought trapped within an Evil Empire of hyper-Conservatism—and that’s where this entire story comes together.

What I have attempted to do up to this point is to explain the importance of preserving Austin while demonstrating what can be done to protect even a deeply isolated outpost which finds itself under siege.

How does that apply here?

I’m proposing that we work together to help Austin secede from Texas.
Secede, you say?
Yes, I do.

How might this work?

My proposal would send clandestine agents into the Austin area to identify and organize potential supporters of secession, while at the same time introducing into Congress a proposal to establish Austin as a second Federal District; giving the city the same status as Washington, DC.

There is even a politically palatable way to frame the using the same scare tactics so popular amongst Conservatives—National Security.

Yes, National Security.

If we frame the argument correctly, we could convince the nervous that Washington might be the target of a terrorist attack at any time...and that it is imperative to our National Survival to have a backup location ready for Continuity of Government purposes.

That’s where our supporters come in...some are playing the part of “the nervous” to help spread fear about a potential attack, some represent interests who hope to benefit from a change in control—and of course, we hope to enlist the city’s saloon and bar community, a critical resource for changing public opinion in any Western society.

Augustana is a San Diego band that bears no resemblance whatever to 311 (it is reported they toured with Counting Crows, and it’s easy to see why) but I like them just the same...and I would think that they and Tift Merritt might be one of the better tours of the year, should they ever link up.

Despite the fact that they have quite a good group of writers there already, I seem to have a bit of a following in North Carolina (thanks to the kind folks at BlueNC); so if you’re reading this, be on the lookout for fellow Tarheel Tift Merritt. She has a pretty good alt. country band...and from the look of the beards on the band members I’m guessing they hail from the farthest Western region of the State—or UNC.

Now the key to our plan is the fact the Austin has plenty of available land surrounding the city (an entire state, to be exact)—which means from time to time we can use the Federal Government’s power of eminent domain to expand the District...until eventually, all of Texas is ours! (Insert evil laugh here.)

So that’s unusual but doable plan that uses West Berlin as a model for how to save an endangered city...and perhaps, eventually, an entire State.

Not to mention a small peek at some music that is worth your attention—with a final note. The SXSW organizers have a website operating that has video of the bands we discussed today and many, many more...which means a visit to will be time well spent the next rainy day.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

On Truth, Or, An Open Letter To A Reverend

Dear Reverend Wright,

I write to you today to offer a small bit of support at what might be a difficult time for your family and yourself.

There are a series of comments of which you are certainly aware that are causing considerable outrage in some quarters this week…but if I may be so bold, I do not understand exactly why the sermons that are today being proffered as unacceptable speech deserve to generate the degree of shock and anger being expressed in the larger political and media communities.

It is clear that you express your positions with great fire—and we presume an appropriate level of brimstone as well—but when you suggest that our imperious foreign policy has come home to roost, I think you speak truth in a way that makes many uncomfortable, yet seems to be borne out by a dispassionate examination of facts.

To be completely honest, I have forever wondered why we have never had a national conversation that centers around the question of whether we might be, through our own behavior, causing others to contemplate attacks of a similar nature to the events of 9/11; and rather than offering condemnation, I write today to thank you for having the courage to raise a most difficult issue.

Another quick note—again, with your kind indulgence.

I have never been a nigger.

But I have seen, with my own two eyes, the look of dismissive contempt on the face of someone close to me talking about “lazy niggers” who would just as soon kill you as rob you…and it hurts me, deep in my soul, to imagine the torment that statement causes in the hearts of those to whom the remarks are directed.

I will never feel that torment personally…and the fact is neither Hillary Clinton nor John McCain have either. It is also a fact that there is a candidate running who has had that experience—and in a time when reconsidering how we relate to each other and the world is more critical than ever, that experience may in fact matter.

Which brings me to my final topic:

As a child I can recall watching the images of the “Long Hot Summers” and then being told that I had to recite the Pledge of Allegiance when school resumed.

I could never resolve the conflict between those images and “One Nation Under God”, even at that young age.

From the age of 10 I refused--never out loud, but silently—to participate in the morning ritual; and for the rest of my school career I stood silently with my arms at my sides.

With that in mind, I want you to know that I do well understand what you meant when you said “God Damn America”; and while it was said in a manner that was clearly designed to cause discomfort to the listener, it does not change the fact that behind the words is again an overarching truth many wish would remain unspoken.

And I would go a step further.

I would suggest that the exercise of speaking truth to power is in fact the very essence of a Reverend’s chosen vocation…and that choosing to remain silent is choosing to assent to injustice.

The most important power possessed by the United States is not military, or economic, or superficially cultural. Instead, our greatest strength lies in the fact that we are not a “love it or leave it” nation—that we are indeed capable of great and painful introspection, and from time to time, great and painful change.

But that change, as you so well know, is not achieved by the meek.

And I write today to tell you that I think a Nation that began a process of great and painful change with a Civil War in the 19th Century and consecrated even more hallowed ground at a bridge in Selma in the 20th Century can stand a bit of strident truth telling in this 21st Century …and that, despite today’s hue and cry, if we really think about the meaning of your words we will find within them dark and unsettling truths.

But if we are willing to face those truths…to look within ourselves and give that “last great measure of devotion”…we may finally find the power to set ourselves truly free.

Should that day come, Reverend Wright, a God who has blessed us so richly in the past will have bestowed upon America the greatest blessing of a

Friday, March 14, 2008

On A Vice President, Or, A Fake Consultant Advises Obama

Your friendly fake consultant is an equal-opportunity consultative provider, and having recently been called upon to advise Hillary Clinton, I thought I might turn my attention today to helping out Barack Obama.

The thing is, should the gentleman be nominated, he’s going to need to choose a running mate…and it might not be as easy as it would seem.

For reasons we’ll discuss, the normal crop of candidates might be better left undisturbed…but what if we could bring to the table a running mate who offers an extraordinary understanding of the world’s interconnected economy, a close, personal relationship with many of the world’s leaders—and the kind of negotiating skills that humble even the United States Government?

And if all that wasn’t enough…a candidate for whom fundraising most assuredly won’t be a problem.

Follow along, then, and we shall see…

Now before we begin naming names, let’s take a moment to explain why a large pool of ordinarily available likely running mates might not be available in this cycle.

An effective strategy in the past has been to choose from the community of sitting Senators, and many of the names being considered for Vice Presidential contention today are, in fact, of that group--Jim Webb, Chris Dodd, and Hillary Clinton being three quick examples.

But employing that strategy in ‘08 might be a bad idea. At a time when Democrats are trying desperately to get 60 votes in the Senate; when at least one Democratic Senator is likely to be leaving for other elective office (and another is Joe Lieberman), we need to conserve whatever forces we have there for the legislative fights ahead.

Of course, that does leave Governors, ex-Governors, and distinguished former members of the military…which makes Bill Richardson, Janet Napolitano, Wes Clark—and maybe even Anthony Zinni—pretty good options.

But in the case of Governors, again, we hate to lose one who might currently hold office…and for reasons related to perceived foreign policy experience it would be even closer to an optimal condition if Obama could team up with someone who is on an intimate, first-name basis with many of the planet’s most influential leaders…and not just attending teas and MC’ing USO concerts while meeting them.

It would also be nice to have an individual who is passionately devoted to expanding educational opportunities to the downtrodden worldwide…and providing them health care to boot—two issues that will be huge in this electoral cycle.

A choice that is out-of-the-box—and at the same time deeply mainstream.

So who might this magical personage be?

Ladies and gentlemen, I ask you to consider…Vice President Bill Gates.

Go ahead. Let it sink in for a second.
It kind of works, doesn’t it?
Now let’s do a bit of why and why not:

What does it do for Obama?

Well, there is no doubt that Gates is vastly more familiar with all of our trading partners than almost anyone…blunting any attacks McCain might seek to launch regarding the Obama ticket’s “experience”.

McCain can probably tell you what the initials ECB stand for, but Gates knows from decades of experience what international trade hardball with the European Union is all about…and he has years of personal experience negotiating across a table with our Chinese and Middle Eastern friends as well.

Africa is a place of major importance to the world as we advance into this century, and Gates can fairly be described by this time as an “Old Africa Hand” who knows his way around the continent because of his work with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation…in fact, I’m willing to bet that he, too, owns some Somali clothing.

Then there’s education. McCain supports the failed “No Child Left Behind” concept, while Gates has spent $2 billion of his own money funding experimental school programs in this country and abroad for years that are ready to be rolled out nationwide and have a measurable track record of raising educational achievement…creating a record of accomplishment, a virtual Rolodex, and a depth of understanding regarding educational issues that neither McCain nor any other likely VP candidate--for either party--can touch.

And he can say the same things about healthcare—billions of his own money spent on increasing access to care, a second virtual Rolodex, and a record I suspect even John Edwards respects in helping those less fortunate live healthier lives.

Frankly, the “family bench” is so deep here that the two spouses could be Cabinet members in an Obama Administration; then come back in 2016 and run on their own ticket, with a good chance of winning—Michelle Obama is today a medical administrator who is well respected in her field…and Melinda Gates?

The record shows she moved from a senior management position with the world’s largest software firm to a senior management position at one of the world’s largest philanthropic institutions—suggesting that if the two of them were running this cycle they’d have a reasonable shot at beating any likely Republican ticket themselves.

And what about funding? There’s the possibility that McCain might choose Romney for a running mate—and that a Romney nomination might cause the Republican duo to consider using some of the Romney fortune to advance their campaign (think unusual loan arrangements here…).

In what might be the greatest understatement ever, I posit that it is unlikely Romney would have access to more self-funding resources than Gates…which more than obviates any potential advantage such a move might create on the GOP side.

Another understatement? Gates running as Obama’s VP should “lock in” the all-important geek, nerd, and dork vote (as if we weren’t voting Obama anyway…). Even Steve Jobs might be inclined to vote for Gates.

One more? Name recognition…probably not a huge problem.

What would possibly motivate Gates to accept such a…well, a demotion?

For an answer, take the time to watch Gates’ March 12th testimony before the House Science and Technology Committee at their 50th anniversary event. As the most extremist Republicans tried and tried again to vilify him, it seemed to this observer that his responses suggested he was enjoying the skewering he gave Members such as Dana Rohrabacher and the overtly racist Phil Gingery in his replies.

There’s also precedent for such a move: The Gates Foundation has “lent” their own CEO to the Smithsonian Institution’s Board of Directors for “corporate housekeeping” purposes.

There’s also the fact that his mother gave years of public service though her presence as a University of Washington Regent—and what son doesn’t want to make his Mom proud? (If you’re listening, Bill…this would make quite a Mother’s Day gift.)

And if all that wasn’t enough, Gates is transitioning away from a hands-on role at Microsoft…and might well be interested in an entirely new kind of challenge.

So if I were the Obama team, I might offer Gates the “science / education / technology” portfolio…and also a chance to be the behind the scenes “dragonslayer” in Congress—a sort of lobbyist-in-chief for the “nerd community” with a goal of improving education…which is the essential first step in resolving the “Two Americas” problem…who also has the ability to move the healthcare debate—here and worldwide.

I might also use the allure of giving him the chance to more directly oversee the spending of the $5 billion in checks Gates reports he has personally written over the years in income tax payments to the US Government—an idea that, based on the look on his face as he was referencing the payments, he might find very appealing.

And guess what? Gates is an immigration advocate—his company (and virtually all US tech companies) wants to expand the opportunities for H-1B visas…and it’s hard to find a better argument for immigration than pointing to jobs that Gates himself has seen created (as he says) “around” the top engineers and scientists that the visa program has brought to the US economy.

That’s the good news.

Unfortunately, it’s not always sunny in Bill’s Philadelphia

The very same antitrust cases that gave him experience staring down government negotiators will not be great for his image now—but this can be mitigated by pointing out that today he’s older and wiser; when combined with the relative obscurity of the subject matter (“antitrust…smantitrust” will be the likely “average voter” reaction) there should be no insurmountable issues…and besides, what are the odds that John McCain (a Keating Five survivor, just for starters) wins a battle of business ethics with any capitalist left of JP Morgan?

There are also those who view the H-1B program as a detriment to the ability to keep US programmers working…and just as with the NAFTA debate, those who see the benefit in open markets will have to effectively defend their point of view to the public at large.

The fact that Obama’s and Gates’ public statements suggest they might see the issue from different points of view could be considered a plus (if you support the idea that a President should have access to multiple viewpoints and robust debate when making decisions), or a minus (based on the idea that there would be constant infighting, rather than progress on issues).

So there we are: today’s advice is that grabbing a VP candidate from the pool of individuals commonly chosen might not be the best option this time…but if we reach way outside the system there’s a potential candidate that’s amazingly conversant with the very same foreign policy and national security issues upon which Obama will be challenged by McCain; a candidate for whom a commitment to improving education and healthcare is a demonstrable effort upon which he has personally spent billions of his own dollars…and a VP partner that is guaranteed to have access to more self-funding dollars than not just Romney, but possibly the entire state of Utah.

Go get him, Barack…and then let the battle be joined.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

On 3 AM Phone Calls, Or, A Fake Consultant Advises Hillary

As so many of us discover, late nights are the best time to do any serious writing that has piled up during the day. No meetings to attend, no phone calls to interrupt the flow…and most importantly, nobody else’s fires to put out.

And sure enough, there I was, working away, when the phone rang.

I knew who it was going to be…Hillary.
After all, she’s the only one who ever calls me at 3 AM.

She sounded like she’d been drinking…and not Mimosas either. Her voice had that angry edge, like it did the time she called up and told me about the photographs from that night Bill and Chris and that guy from “The West Wing” were partying at The Bulldog.

She’d been hitting the mescal hard last night as the Mississippi results were coming in, she told me, and before she called she’d already put four bullets into the poster-sized photograph of Monica Lewinsky she keeps inside the garage door—and everyone who knows her knows Gusano Rojo makes Hillary even more mean than usual.

I could hear the crunching of the worm between her teeth as she fired another round into the poster…

“I told you I could stay in this race” she hissed at me through the phone. The gun went off again. She usually keeps 13 in the clip…it’s a superstition, I’m told. Seven more to go until she reloads.

She’s been pissed at me ever since I predicted a year ago that she would never be elected President…and especially since I recently suggested to her that she would be better off going back to the Senate and living off the graft Bill’s been bringing in with his “Presidential Library” money. She’d fired off at least two clips that night—and I heard she had to have a new Monica and a new garage door installed the next day.

“I know you can stay in” I tell her, “but you’ll never win…especially not the way you’re hitting Obama with any lame crap you and Wolfson and the rest of that crazy-ass crew over there can fake up. It’s killing any “change” credibility you have left.”

“Of course I can” she screamed back: “look at Pennsylvania. I know places up there that are racist as hell. I can send Geraldine up there and they’ll love her. Indiana? They have quite a history with a former Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan and their former Governor. They’ll love me there. West Virginia? Need I even go on?”

Boom! Boom!
Two more shots.
“Right in the eye. How you like that, Monica?” the voice came down the line.

“After that, I’m sending ‘Obama in Somali clothing’ bobbleheads to all the Superdelegates…and I want to talk to you about an ad idea I had…”

“Really?” My eyebrows were arching at this point, because this is where I really earn my money…and being the only honest voice she ever hears is becoming a nice piece of my fake income this cycle.

“Here it is.
I think it makes the '3 AM' ad look like Sesame Street, but tell me what you think.

Picture a school bus, on a beautiful sunny day, all the kids singing songs…and all of a sudden black vans surround the bus. After it stops, masked men in Arabic clothing storm the bus, screaming “Death to America”. Then they load the bus up with explosives, all the while shouting ‘jihad, jihad’. Then they drive away in the bus, filled with terrorists and explosives and the terrified children.

The bus crashes through the gates of a nuclear power plant, terrorists firing their machine guns the entire time…and before anyone can stop them, the bus full of children and explosives is heading straight into the reactor building, with nothing to stop it.

At the last second the camera reveals the driver, who takes off his mask just before the bus bomb causes the reactor to explode…and that’s when we discover the driver is a smiling Barack Obama.

The graphic comes up as the mushroom cloud goes off:

‘Barack Hussein Obama.
Can we trust him with our kids?”

“What do I think?”

“I think you need to get out of the race this second, Hillary. I think you need to fire Mark and Howard so they can go out and start a Fight Club somewhere…and I think you and Chris need to seriously think about an afternoon at The Bulldog.”

Boom! Boom!
“Suck lead, bitch!”

Three shots left.

“The thing is, Hillary, the longer you stay at this the worse it gets. Look, the last time you went negative you lost 11 in a row…and after Mississippi and Wyoming that means at least a few more losses ahead…and the “entitlement” thing is getting more and more threadbare every day…and even Oprah’s finally turned against you.

Oprah, Hillary.
You actually managed to alienate Oprah.
Do you realize how far you’ve fallen?
Do you realize that at this moment Oprah respects Steadman more than you?”

Boom! Boom! Boom! Crash!
Click. Click.

My guess: three shots, she threw the empty bottle at “Monica”…and then she jacked in a new clip.

“But Hillary, here’s a bigger question. Obama has changed the game by bringing in all these new voters that have, in the past, distrusted the process. What you’re doing right now means that they may vote for Obama, but they’ll never become Democrats.

Now if you lose you’re going back to the Senate…but if those new voters become real Democrats, they’ll vote for Democratic candidates besides Obama in every state, cycle after cycle…including you… and you could quickly find yourself in a Senate with 60 Democrats.

The Senate has no term limits, unlike the Presidency.
That means you could find yourself facing one of two possible futures:

Would you rather be reelected, over and over, as a popular Senator, even having a shot at Majority Leader…or would you rather go down in history as the “Ralph Nader” of 2008?

You know which one John McCain hopes you choose, right?

You want my advice? Being willing to say or do anything to achieve a momentary victory is no victory at all…and the more that ugly side of you becomes known to the people you want to rule, the less they’ll want you as their ruler.

Now put the gun away, stop buying mescal, switch back to the Bailey’s…drop out of the race…and hire yourself a really great looking handyman to fix the garage door. Maybe even two.

And have them come over the weekend you send Bill to Pittsburgh.
I won’t tell if you don’t.

And for God’s sake quit chewing on that worm.
It’s really annoying.

I’ll send a bill for the consult in the morning.
Now go to bed…and when you wake up, end this mess.”

And with that, the phone went dead.
But as she was hanging up I could hear her voice, amused, saying: “I do need a new door…”

Monday, March 10, 2008

On Lazy Days, Or, The Things You See On TV

The brain has been full of thoughts of nuclear war this past week, and as a result we’re taking another “lazy day” before we return to that most challenging topic.

Today we discuss the potential opportunities offered by imposing mandates, a curious advertising opportunity as yet unused, and although I usually don’t do breaking news, it appears today we’ll also be discussing an Emperor who had an opportunity to see a Governor who had no clothes.

I’ve been thinking about mandates lately, what with Hillary Clinton making them an important part of her conversation...and It occurs to me that there are lots of opportunities to expand the idea.

For example, why don’t we use mandates to solve America’s obesity problem?

Now, the regular writer might simply suggest we make being overweight unlawful...but I have a better plan: I think we should mandate that all physicals, from this day forward, be conducted aboard spacecraft.

Spacecraft, you say?

Absolutely. By mandating that all weigh-ins be conducted in a zero-gravity environment, we guarantee that everyone will comply with today’s height and weight guidelines...and once we’ve ended obesity, we will quickly see diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, and lots of other ailments heading on a downward trend that will benefit not just the individuals involved, but the taxpayer as well.

Virgin Galactic is already positioning themselves to do in-flight physicals, and considering how much money insurance companies will save as all these other ailments are eradicated, there should be a tremendous interest in the idea as the technology of personal space travel becomes more widespread.

I am constantly watching and listening to something during my day, and over and over lately the Internet matchmaking service has been running ads that feature women who report that despite the fact that they are nice people (at least in their own minds) they are among the million others have been rejected by rival matchmaking service eHarmony...for reasons suspiciously unknown.

If you were eHarmony, how might you respond?

One way might be to agree with every element of the other side’s argument.

“We’ve rejected over a million you won’t have to.”

But all this is the small stuff.

Even as we speak, Elliot Spitzer, the Governor of the State of New York, has just given a press conference in which he did not deny today’s New York Times story detailing “involvement” in a prostitution ring.

The “Emperor’s Club VIP” is alleged by the FBI and IRS to have provided certain personal services (at prices ranging from $1000 to above $5000 per hour) to a variety of high-end clients in numerous cities in the US and Europe...and the story at the moment suggests things are quite serious for Spitzer.

Both the Times and the Associated Press are reporting that Federal investigators captured electronic communications between himself and the Club...and it is being reported that Spitzer may be “client number nine” in the Federal indictment charging the Club with not only being a prostitution and money laundering operation, but also a component of the Gambino crime family.

(It is also reported that the Club’s website offered “investment advice”, and one wonders what sort of advice was offered. Perhaps the investment representative was a fan of the early Damon Wayans:

“We take yo’ money, put it into ‘ho money, and then you make...’mo money.”

But I digress)

All of this, for the sake of the foreign reader, needs a quick bit of background.

Governor Spitzer rose to his current job (rumors of his imminent resignation are swirling around at the moment, but nothing has come to pass as of this writing) from his prior position as State Attorney General (New York State’s top law enforcement official), where he was personally and publicly responsible for the prosecution of prostitution rings...people who, in his own words, he found to be “disgusting”.

All of this is balanced against the public perception of the Governor as a highly-principled, straight-arrow kind of guy which has been crumbling under a variety of political and legal challenges to his Administration (“Troopergate”, for one), which dates from his days as a prosecutor and law enforcement leader and was punctuated by his campaign promises to come to Albany and clean things up.

The Wall Street investment community has a split opinion of Spitzer: on the one hand, he is a pariah to the mainline investment firms, who were forced to reconstruct the relationship between their research and “selling” operations...but on the other hand, many investors feel that his efforts have made for a more fair and open environment in which to do business, and for a number of them he is truly a hero.

The Governor has been a very public supporter of Hillary Clinton (and of course, is a Superdelegate), and it is possible that the fallout will spill over into the Presidential race...but as of this moment what impact will occur in unknown.

It is also as yet far too early to know the outcome of the larger story, but there is an additional element to the events that could be far more damaging to Spitzer personally than anything else we’ve discussed so far.

If the facts as presented in the indictment do indeed prove to be true, and Spitzer is indeed “client number nine”, then evidence collected from wiretaps reports he hired a woman to visit him in Washington, DC (and according to the indictment, paid her $4300) on February 13th of this year.

And as we all know, February 14th is Valentine’s Day.

The Governor’s wife is a leader in the environmental movement, and certainly his unfortunate timing raises the possibility that she may choose to have him recycled...and even if she turns out to be one of the most forgiving wives in recent history you gotta believe come Christmas, environmentalist or not, at the very least she’ll be putting a giant lump of coal in his stocking.

Well, that’s it for today...and next time...we return to the far more mundane, but far more real, world of nonstrategic nuclear weapons--where we’ll ask the question “why is Mr. Bush asking everyone else to give up their weapons while we develop new ones?”

Sunday, March 2, 2008

On Baby Nukes, Or, Sometimes The Smallest Things Cause The Biggest Problems

We come before you today with another of those giant stories.

In fact, this one is so large that to make it a bit more digestible we’re going to break it down into smaller parts. Today’s, obviously, is part one.

The issues we’ll discuss will be an immediate concern of the next President, they impact upon our relationships with many of the world’s nations, and they directly affect whether we will return to a nuclear arms race with Russia…and even more fundamentally, whether we will be a nation that embraces the “first use” of nuclear weapons while asking others to give them up.

And with that, I bid you welcome to the mostly uncharted territory of “Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons”.

Because this is a particularly large story, I want to take a moment to offer you a preview of what’s to come: we will explain exactly what the weapons are we’re talking about, how they’re used, who has them…and of course, some history to orient our thinking, and an analysis of the potential futures to tie it all together.

(A quick author’s note: unless otherwise noted, the quotes used throughout the series are from the Congressional Research Service’s report “Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons”; which as of this writing is just over a month old.)

The first question you might be asking is: how exactly does this affect the next Administration?

Congress has also required that the next Administration conduct a new review of U.S. nuclear weapons posture and programs in the FY2008 Defense Authorization Bill (H.Rept. 110-477).

So: just what exactly are nonstrategic nuclear weapons, and how are nuclear weapons used “tactically”?

According to the Department of Defense Dictionary of Military Terms, a strategic mission is:

Directed against one or more of a selected series of enemy targets with the purpose of progressive destruction and disintegration of the enemy’s warmaking capacity and will to make war. Targets include key manufacturing systems, sources of raw material, critical material, stockpiles, power systems, transportation systems, communication facilities, and other such target systems.

As opposed to tactical operations, strategic operations are designed to have a long-range rather than immediate effect on the enemy and its military forces.

In contrast, the tactical use of nuclear weapons is defined as “the use of nuclear weapons by land, sea, or air forces against opposing forces, supporting installations or facilities, in support of operations that contribute to the accomplishment of a military mission of limited scope, or in support of the military commander’s scheme of maneuver, usually limited to the area of military operations.”

In times past, the distinction was made through weapons design and capabilities—for example, long-range Russian ICBMs at one time were not accurate enough for tactical use; and there was no delivery system capable of launching short-range US nuclear artillery shells from Germany to Moscow.

This view seems to be no longer valid. For example, first generation Soviet submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) had a relatively short range of less than 500 miles, but were absolutely strategic weapons. By the same token, modern US Air Force or Navy cruise missiles that we normally use tactically can become strategic weapons if the targeting is changed.

In fact, the same Tomahawk cruise missiles that were launched from the sea into command and control targets in downtown Baghdad during the “shock and awe” campaign might have been used just as easily against Chinese naval vessels in the Taiwan Strait…and it may happen yet, if our defense establishment is to be believed.

A third way of defining “nonstrategic” weapons is by identifying them as those weapons that are not today covered by any other arms-control treaties or agreements.

While this third definition is the one we’ll be focused upon in these discussions (most of the time anyway); we should also keep in mind as we go along that the “strategic and tactical” definition of these weapons intertwines with our “not in a treaty” definition, and neither is mutually exclusive of the other.

Estimates suggest that by 1991 the Soviets possessed somewhere around 20,000 nonstrategic nuclear weapons, down from a peak of about 25,000. It is estimated the US possessed a number nearer to 7,000. These numbers had been trending down throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s as both sides modernized weapons systems and ratified various arms-control pacts.

What types of weapons are we talking about?

At different times during the period, [the Soviet Union] deployed “suitcase bombs,” nuclear mines, shells for artillery, short-, medium, and intermediate ballistic missiles, short-range air-delivered missiles, and gravity bombs.

With the exception of suitcase bombs (as far as we know) the US deployed the same types of weapons in Europe and Asia.

Both sides required so many nonstrategic weapons, particularly in the European theater, because Soviet doctrine envisioned surprise tactical nuclear attacks on NATO positions followed by masses of armor and infantry as the beginning of a Western European invasion (picture the process of “walking” artillery into an enemy encampment with your ground forces close behind the explosions and you have the idea on a smaller scale)…and NATO doctrine saw them as a tool to delay or stop such an invasion.

It is worth noting that for NATO these weapons also serve a political purpose. There are today weapons in storage sites located on bases in several of the NATO countries. Agreement among the NATO members seems to be required before they would be used…but beyond that, the presence of these weapons on European soil means even if the US chose not to respond to an aggression against a NATO ally, that ally could. This creates a certainty of deterrence that is believed to benefit the alliance in ways that extend beyond the weapons’ direct military utility.

By the 1980s, Soviet leaders had come to the conclusion that any tactical use of nuclear weapons against the US or NATO would lead to a “full exchange” of weapons, which would be…well, Mutually Assured Destruction.

In 1991, the United States began unilaterally reducing not just the inventory of warheads, but more importantly, nonstrategic nuclear weapons’ delivery systems. Nuclear anti-aircraft systems and the “atomic cannon” were among the decedents.

Current public disclosure reports only US attack submarines and aircraft can deliver such weapons.

It is reported that about 1100 of these weapons currently remain in the US arsenal. About 500 of the weapons are believed to be bombs which are stored in the NATO countries. About 320 sea-launched cruise missiles are believed to be stored in facilities in the US. The remainders are believed to be bombs, also stored on US territory.

The US, at the direction of the smarter President Bush, began to destroy the warheads from these weapons. The work continues to this day at the Pantex Plant in Texas (An example of how fast progress is made? The last W-79 nuclear artillery shell was destroyed in 2003). Due to the volume of backlogged work and the inability to increase processing capacity, job security at Pantex seems to be assured for some number of years to come.

Concurrent with the US reductions, the Soviet Union and later Russia also unilaterally reduced the number of their deployed weapons…but they do not appear to be dismantling all the warheads (despite earlier promises to do so), choosing instead to store them; either for future use or to be dismantled when more funding becomes available for such efforts.

For a number of years the Russian Federation has also been destroying strategic warheads (consistent with other treaty obligations); and in addition to the factors discussed above capacity restraints might account for the decision not to destroy the nonstrategic warheads.

Additionally, the Russians have recently made public statements that they need to store the warheads because they are concerned about US efforts to develop new generations of warheads.

Another reason the question of future use is being raised is because Russia, in contrast to our position at the time, chose to continue to consider the use-including first use-of nonstrategic nuclear weapons to be important part of their military doctrine.

From the CRS report:

Russia revised its national security and military strategy several times during the 1990s, with each successive version appearing to place a greater reliance on nuclear weapons. For example, the military doctrine issued in 1997 allowed for the use of nuclear weapons “…in case of a threat to the existence of the Russian Federation.”

The doctrine published in 2000 expanded the circumstances when Russia might use nuclear weapons to include attacks using weapons of mass destruction against Russia or its allies “as well as in response to large-scale aggression utilizing conventional weapons in situations critical to the national security of the Russian Federation.”

To understand the second paragraph of that quote completely, see: Chechnya, Inability to End Insurgency Using Conventional Forces…and then read the faux book “Russia Doesn’t Need Another Afghanistan, Thank You”.

There seems to be a low probability that Russia will resume a conventional military buildup sufficient to allow the nation’s military to reduce its reliance on “substrategic” nukes (the term favored by the United Nations’ WMD Commission) if only because of the unbelievable cost involved.

The US is looking at the better part of $800 billion, by my estimation, to “re-up” our military rolling stock and aircraft after the current Iraq adventure—and that does not include the cost of payroll for the soldiers to operate the new equipment…a cost we bear today, but the Russians do not.

There is no evidence that the kind of money required for such a buildup is even available to the Russian Federation—and as the Soviets discovered, the public will eventually demand butter over guns if they discover butter.

And today, Russian citizens know about butter.

That said, there were other reasons for the Russian decision to continue to rely on “battlefield nukes”. Examples include the concerns regarding NATO expansion and the inability to influence the NATO military actions against the Serbs in Kosovo; both of which also appear to have factored into the mix to one degree or another.

It is speculated that Russia may today have the ability to deploy nonstrategic nuclear weapons from aircraft, ships at sea, and in the form of air-defense missiles. There may also be weapons deployable by ground forces.

One Russian analyst has speculated that the [military planning] documents approved in 1999 focused on the development of operations plans that would allow Russia to conduct “limited nuclear war with strategic means in order to deter the enemy, requiring the infliction of preplanned, but limited damage.”

The concerns were as much about countries to the south (Iran, Pakistan, and maybe Iraq, we are told) as the US—and the ten years since then have made that assessment more relevant than ever.

These matters have become more noteworthy since Russia threatened to withdraw from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in the first half of 2007.

Let’s take a moment to reconsider where we’ve been so far:

There are certain nuclear weapons that once could be classified by their targeting, or their size, or their range, as “non strategic” or “substrategic” nuclear weapons.

Today we recognize them as those weapons not included in other arms-control regimes. We also now realize that many weapons could conceivably be strategic or nonstrategic depending on how the device is targeted.

Both the US and the Russian Federation are unilaterally decreasing the numbers of weapons in this class that are deployed, but there are issues related to the destruction of the warheads associated with those weapons and their possible future use.

Russian military doctrine continues to envision the first use of nuclear weapons against some targets…and as concerns over Islamist-inspired terrorism and its impact on the Russian state increase; the probability of their actual use does as well.

That probability is further increased when you realize that Russian Federation conventional forces are not today likely to be able to mount an expeditionary campaign similar to our own Iraq/Afghanistan campaigns, should they be the victims of a “9/11” style attack.

That’s plenty to digest for today…and for next time: the evolution of US doctrine regarding the use of nonstrategic nuclear weapons, the changing cast of potential characters, and the challenges we face going forward as those first two topics interact.