• Archive of "Iraq" Category

    Would You Have Chelsea Manning’s Courage When Called?

    January 17, 2017 // 13 Comments »




    Chelsea will be free in May!


    With more than a little irony, while I was in Iraq working for the State Department, Chelsea Manning’s office was across the hall from mine. While I was winning the war by writing emails to the embassy, Manning was across the hall capturing the texts of hundreds of thousands of State Department cables, famously released by Wikileaks, showing that was could never be won.

    My war in Iraq ended in near-complete failure. What Manning did will have an impact far beyond that terrible struggle. In this video, I ask the question of why I didn’t do what Manning did, and challenge the audience: when faced with history, would you have the courage to do what Manning did?

    I didn’t.


    Skip ahead to about 2:30





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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    Yer Fake News Garbage: Trevor Noah Knows Nothing About the Secret Service

    December 1, 2016 // 29 Comments »

    About 1:30 into the video above, Daily Show host Trevor Noah, as echoed by the Huffington Post, committed fake news.

    Well, to be fair, it was more like ignorance than fake, because Noah’s shock and accusations that Trump is going to charge the Secret Service $1.5 million in rent to help protect him at Trump Tower was only a couple of Googles away from being shown to be wrong.

    To begin, Noah appears somewhat surprised that a president-elect is protected, and that protection costs a lot of money. Noah seems somewhat offended that that protection will take place at Trump Tower.

    Surprise! Any president-elect has to live somewhere. It makes sense he’d stay living where he always does. There is no junior White House. Also, presidents do not give up their homes when they move into the White House. All have kept their own homes and the Secret Service has always protected them there. Reagan and Bush had their ranches, remember. Nothing new here.



    Surprise! The Secret Service has always paid for the facilities they use for their work. See, the government cannot commandeer private property. The payments are based on federal standards, not the commercial rents reported by Noah. The many news services, including Noah, slinging around the $1.5 million figure are basing it on estimated commercial prices. Here’s a source on how the feds pay.

    And here’s Joe Biden charging the Secret Service rent on a cottage he owns, so that they can protect him when he visits his family home in Delaware.

    Speaking of Biden, the taxpayers shell out for Secret Service protection so his spouse, Jill Biden, can keep her paid teaching job at a Northern Virginia community college.

    Oh, but it’s Trump Tower. Now it does make sense for the Secret Service to set up in the building where the protectee lives so when something happens they can run down the stairs, not the street. And because the agents do need office space and to occasionally sleep, what might be the alternative? Hotel rooms at midtown Manhattan prices? The nearest hotel is the Plaza, where rooms go for the high hundreds a night and no federal per diem rates are listed.


    And this: the Secret Service always has reimbursed candidates for certain expenses all the time. An accounting from September showed they had paid $2.6 million back to the Clinton campaign for air fare, $1.6 to Trump.


    Another theme of Noah’s is that Trump is personally profiting from all this. This may be true, as some money is indeed going into his businesses. Of course since the Secret Service isn’t paying commercial rent, Trump might actually be losing money. In addition, let’s wonder, even at commercial rates, how much actually reaches Donald’s own personal pocket after salaries and expenses and all that? Yeah, I know, not enough to notice.


    So bottom line: Noah and HuffPo are back to their old tricks. Taking advantage of the ignorance of their viewers on the basics of security to spread false news, and/or acting on their own ignorance and the apparent inaccessibility of Google to fail once again in their duty as “journalists” to inform the public.


    BONUS: Please don’t waste time claiming Noah and the Daily Show (and I guess HuffPo) aren’t journalists. For better or worse, they serve as a significant source of news for too many people, and, through retweets and social media, have a deep reach into our society.


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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    Those Damn Emails

    November 19, 2016 // 53 Comments »

    hillary clinton

    In they end, the emails mattered. How much they mattered — how many votes went to Trump, how many would be-Clinton supporters stayed home, how many voted third party — we’ll never know.

    Clinton supporters were surprised the emails mattered at all, because they had been fed a regular and often fully-factually wrong diet by the majority of the media. There was some good reporting on what the emails meant, and how classification works, but it was almost all on right-of-center websites Clinton people did not read, and blithely dismissed as biased when the sites were brought to their attention. And yeah, sometimes things got a bit too partisan in tone, but the facts were also there.

    After holding a security clearance for some 23 years, I tried, for some 18 months, to write as intelligently as I could about the damn emails. I tried to explain, in detail, what the whole thing meant, and that it was a significant problem for Clinton. Not bragging, just telling. If you’d like to read back through what I’ve had to say and judge yourself, here it is. There’s a lot there, so if you just want a taste, here.


    But I do want to make this as clear as possible, so…

    — All (not insignificant) questions of legality aside, the emails were about judgement, epically poor judgement. Clinton skirting/violating all rational thought and rules to set up a fully independent email server unprecedented in scope and scale, bypass federal records laws and the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act, and establish no oversight on the flow of classified information, is not the level of judgment a president must display. Yeah, I know, Trump, but this is about why Hillary Clinton emails mattered and whether anyone likes it or not Trump is the president-elect in part because of the emails.

    — The most basic tenant of the classified world is that you simply do not expose classified material on an unclassified system. That’s why classified systems exist. This is at the “duh” level. Opinions differ on what should be classified, over-classification is a big problem, yada yada, but those issues are not resolved by circumventing the classified world. To more than a few voters, that seemed obvious. It also again speaks to judgement. There were many experts who explained this, but it seems most Clinton supporters listed to John Oliver instead.

    — Nobody (the Republicans, the FBI, etc.) created any of the core mess except Hillary Clinton. She then seemingly took every chance to dig the hole deeper, shifting her explanations, allowing information to drip drip drip out over the length of the campaign, and all the rest until everything collapsed around the pathetic human wreckage of Anthony Weiner.

    — As an added problem, “the emails” in many voters’ minds became shorthand for a range of issues related to trust, ethics, and propriety, including the Clinton Foundation, pay-for-play, and the Goldman-Sachs speeches.

    — Clinton’s opponents inside and outside the government took advantage of the emails — kinda what opponents do — but none of that would have been possible if Clinton had not created all of this herself. Take this campaign, put up Sanders or Biden instead of Clinton, subtract out all of the negatives associated with the emails, and run a little thought experiment on how many votes that may have been worth.



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    Deal With It: The Democratic National Committee Lost This Election

    November 10, 2016 // 56 Comments »

    history

    There is a meme ripping through the social media of Clinton supporters that her loss is in large part the fault of third party voters. Or the misogyny apocalypse. People, please.


    How about 18 months of unresolved email questions? The destruction of Bernie Sanders by the Democratic National Committee alongside Hillary-friendly media? The lack of outreach to third party voters along with fear mongering that a vote for Johnson or Stein would bring on Armageddon, the ridiculous name calling towards Republicans that should have been courted to crossover and vote against a candidate many did not enthusiastically support, the unresolved questions about the Clinton Foundation and pay-for-play, the unreleased Goldman-Sachs speeches, the changes of position and policy, the untrustworthiness, the empty and depressing strategy of I’m the Lesser of Two Evils, the weasel stuff like Bill on Loretta Lynch’s plane, the grossly negative final weeks of the campaign, the poor turnout in places, the silly accusations that Putin and Wikileaks and the FBI were rigging the election, the sneaky stuff like CNN leaking debate questions to her ahead of time — any of that matter?

    I mean, who could have anticipated a candidate with all that baggage, and some epically bad decision-making skills, might run into problems getting elected?

    Watching perhaps history’s least media-genic candidate, an old socialist with barely combed hair, come out of nowhere and only lose to Hillary via some dirty tricks, who on the Democratic side could have seen their candidate had any weaknesses?

    Meanwhile, out of deference to the Clinton Dynasty (How old will Chelsea be in 2020?!?!), excellent candidates such as Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and hell, even Joe Biden, were left on the bench. It is very likely that any of the three could have beaten Trump. At the very least, with their clean backgrounds, they could have kept the election on the issues and not seen it devolve into the mess it did. Imagine Biden pinning Trump down on foreign policy questions instead of leaving him a bucket of ammunition about pay-for-play to work with instead?

    The FBI did not defeat Clinton. Putin did not. Third party voters did not. The Democratic National Committee teed Clinton up to defeat herself, and whatever happens in the next four years is on them. Somebody better remember that before the 2020 election.



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    Clinton the Victim, FBI-Email Edition

    October 29, 2016 // 65 Comments »

    hillaryskates


    Hillary Clinton has shape-shifted through a list of personas this election, trying on different roles to see if any might stick with the public.

    She’s settled on the one to ride into November 8: victim.

    A Woman of Many Faces

    Her first role was as “woman,” hoping to sweep up roughly 50% of the electorate in a single empowering noun. As with Obama, she hoped to mobilize a huge swath of voters who wanted to participate in electing the first Black female president. Didn’t go mainstream. Grandmother, same. Competent life-long government person, hmmm, cut both ways, many people wanted a change. Third Obama Term, meh, took some steam out of Bernie’s campaign but not much more. Killer of bin Laden, sorta worked in one debate, dragged on into an SNL skit cliche through the others.

    When the first news of the emails came out in March 2015. Hillary didn’t really have a persona for that, mumbling about no classified, then about not wanting multiple devices, prevaricating here, avoiding there. She tried blaming Colin Powell, then the State Department’s creaky IT infrastructure.

    Until she nailed it: She was the victim of a conspiracy.



    The Victim

    The sources of that conspiracy shifted, back and forth, to and from “the Republicans,” lots of Putin, some “hackers,” Wikileaks, men/misogynists often looped together, oddly at times the all-to-hagiographic media, Trump the Assaulter, and now, only three months after he was her hero, James Comey, FBI Director.

    And thus Hillary Clinton, the One who would empower all, chooses her last persona, the Victim.

    How the “victim” thing plays out depends on how closely voters want to listen (and many Clinton apologists are more than willing not only to forgive her apparently any sin, but also to actively put their hands over their ears and sing LA LALALALALALA LA until November 8.)

    The problem is that if Hillary is a victim, she is also her own villian.

    But… But… Why Now?

    Why is it only ten days ahead of the election that the FBI is talking about tens of thousands of more Hillary emails?

    — Because Hillary had a private server and kept it a secret for six years and

    — Because that server was gobbed up with classified material most of us could never judge things enough to trust Hillary and

    — Because Huma Abedin did not turn over to the FBI months ago a crusty computer full of evidence connected to the previous investigation and

    — Because a sexting pervert sexting with a minor had access to all those emails



    Deep Inside Hillary

    The broader explanation lies deep inside the psyche of Clinton.

    She has had 18 months of chances to explain, or at least try to explain, the entire email saga. Instead, she avoided most questions, gave patently false answers (“I didn’t want to carry multiple devices”) and hid behind her State Department’s near-criminal slow walking of Freedom of Information Act requests to out the emails. At one point she “apologized” but insisted at the same time she did nothing wrong, at another said she took full responsibility but took none in practice, and then fell into legalese parsing of words and laws, aided by a surrogate media.

    And that’s even before some of the server emails, and many of the Podesta emails, revealed connections among the Clintons-Donors-Favors-the Clinton Foundation.

    So all that’s left is to cry wolf one more time and see if it sticks. Like Putin, Comey is out to get her. It’s all so unfair!

    In this election cycle, ten days is a lifetime. Who knows what new information will come out, what new ways Trump will find to turn a political development in his favor into hash, and most of all, how voters will process all this. Expect the Clinton campaign to go all-in demanding its supporters vote early (before anything else emerges) and cranking up whatever crap they have left on Trump to ear-bleeding volumes.



    Those Damn Emails

    But the thing that will remain are those emails.

    If Clinton does win, she’ll go to her swearing in ceremony knowing any Republican left in Washington will be preparing hearings and calls for impeachment, leaving her a herculean task of accomplishing anything in her term that she can use to run for her second term.

    But that’s OK; she’ll blame the opposition for disabling her, a victim once again.



    BONUS: Boy does the State Department hope Clinton wins. Republicans in power will tear that building apart, taking heads and exposing emails and other evidence. State’s budget will be cut to the point where they won’t be able to afford Internet access so people can comb Craigslist looking for new jobs.



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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    Looking Ahead: Clinton’s Plans for Syria

    October 25, 2016 // 23 Comments »

    Hillary Clinton has a plan for defeating Islamic State in Syria. Donald Trump has one, too. With the conflict in Syria spreading beyond its borders, it’s essential to understand the new president’s strategies and how they may need to be adjusted over the next four years.


    Trump: Safe Zones

    Trump has advocated for a “safe zone” for Syrians to ride out the conflict. Such a zone would be a swath of territory inside the country, where today’s refugees would reside instead of fleeing to Europe and elsewhere. Trump has offered no details on how such a zone would be created, or by whom. American support for this initiative, Trump has made clear, would be limited to some economic assistance, with the bulk of the costs borne by the Gulf States. Though Trump does not support a no-fly zone per se, it seems difficult anyone could create and protect a safe zone without a no-fly-zone.


    Clinton: No Fly Zones

    Clinton has also made the case for safe zones, as well as consistently proposing a no-fly zone. America, under Clinton’s plan, would make a portion of Syrian national airspace inaccessible to any but potentially its own planes. Russian strike aircraft and Syrian government helicopters would risk being shot down.

    Clinton has said the no-fly zone would “create those safe refuges within Syria, to try to protect people on the ground both from Assad’s forces, who continue to drop barrel bombs, and from ISIS. And of course, it has to be de-conflicted with the Russians, who are also flying in that space.” She has also stated that “A no-fly zone would prevent the outflow of refugees and give us a chance to have some safe spaces.”

    Clinton’s no-fly zone, and in practical terms, Trump’s safe zone, both open the same door to a greatly enlarged conflict.

    General Martin Dempsey, the then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, explained in 2012 imposing a no-fly zone would require as many as 70,000 American servicepeople to dismantle Syria’s air defense system, as a no-fly zone could not coexist alongside the possibility Assad might shoot down American aircraft. An attack on Assad of that magnitude would almost certainly demand a response; how would Russia come to the defense of its ally?

    In addition, any no-fly zone (or safe zone for that matter) must address the near-certainty it will be challenged by the Russians; it almost has to be, given the struggle for dominance in the region. Shooting down a Russian plane would enlarge the conflict in Syria while at the same time risking a retaliatory move that could take place anywhere in the world, perhaps even in cyberspace.

    The possible juice from a no-fly or safe zone just isn’t worth the squeeze of an enlarged conflict with nation-state level, global implications. President Barack Obama has rejected the idea of a no-fly/safe zone in Syria for years. Would President Clinton, or Trump, really roll the dice on possible direct military conflict with Russia when their predecessor did not?


    Boots on the Ground

    Another Syrian strategy option, sending in American ground forces, will also be on the table for the next president to weigh.

    Trump appears to have split with running mate Mike Pence over Syria; Pence says the United States should meet Russian “provocations” with strength, backing the use of military force to do so. Trump, when asked about that statement, claimed “He and I disagree.” Though the notion of a disagreement has been walked back, the nature of a Trump administration policy towards American forces deployed in Syria remains unclear.

    Despite Clinton’s assertions that her plan for Syria does not include boots on the ground, and Trump’s apparent interest in not introducing troops, the new president will inherit an evolving situation: the boots are not only already firmly on the ground, their numbers are growing. Since April President Barack Obama has overseen the largest expansion of ground forces in Syria since its civil war began, bringing the number of Special Forces deployed to about 1,500. A year ago the United States had only 50 soldiers in Syria.

    Experience suggests mission creep in both scale and headcount is likely. The current fight against Islamic State in Iraq has seen American ground forces grow to some 6,000 on regular deployment, with an additional, unknown, number of Marines on “temporary duty” and not counted against the total. The mission has also expanded, from advising to direct action, including artillery and helicopter gunship ground attacks.

    In Syria, the tactical picture is even tougher than in Iraq. The United States faces not only Islamic State, but also potentially troops from Russia and Syria, Iranian special forces, and/or militias professionally armed and trained by Russia, Syria, and Iran. The American side of the equation sweeps in an ad hoc collection of Syrian groups of questionable loyalty and radical ideology, Kurds who oppose Turks, Turks who oppose Kurds, and perhaps third party Arab fighters.


    Post Assad?

    Any new strategy for Syria will unfold on a complex game board.

    As long as Assad stays in power, even without Islamic State, the bloody civil war will continue. If Assad goes, who could replace him and not trigger a new round of civil war? Who will pay for Syria to rebuild at some point?

    Enlarging the picture, how will the Kurd-Turk struggle be managed now that the genie of Kurdish independence is out of the lamp? How will the next phase of the Sunni-Shi’ite relationship in Iraq affect Syria? How will growing Iranian influence in Iraq, a likely consequence of any defeat of Islamic State there, factor in? The Russians are now on the ground again in the Middle East. What effect will that have on the broader regional and global strategic balance?

    The task facing the next president is not just defeating Islamic State inside Syria, but doing so even as the local problems there have metastasized into broad issues with global consequences. President Clinton or President Trump may find their current proposed plans will run into the same vexing realities the Obama administration has struggled with for years. The candidates’ current proposed plans do not seem up to the task. The new administration will have to quickly devise strategies that have otherwise eluded America’s best strategic thinkers since the earliest days of the Syrian civil war.




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    Trump, Victim Shaming, Coincidences and Some Questions About the New York Times

    October 15, 2016 // 82 Comments »

    whitehouse



    I do not like Donald Trump. I don’t support what he says about women in any way. I’m not voting for him. But I am concerned about how the media is handling this election, and I am (cautiously) calling bullsh*t. So go ahead and hate me, but…


    — In the week ahead of the second presidential debate, Trump threatened more than once he would bring up Bill Clinton’s infidelities.

    — After sitting on the information for 11 years of Trump media attention, including during his celebrity run on his Apprentice show, Billy Bush releases the now-infamous “pussy grabbing” tape the Friday before the second presidential debate. It would have made a splashy story at many points in the past, but no one surfaced it.

    — On Sunday night, 48 hours later, Clinton, aided by moderator Anderson Cooper, repeatedly brings up the tape. Cooper is, if not the first, the first mainstream voice to state Trump’s 11-year-old lewd words are in fact sexual assault. He insists Trump answer the question of whether or not he has committed a sexual assault, a first in the history of presidential questioning, a live-on-TV admission of felony guilt. Trump says no.

    — A couple of days after that, the New York Times front pages a story where two women accuse Trump of sexual assault. One woman said the previously-unreported incident with Trump took place over 30 years earlier. The other woman’s accusations related to an event 11 years earlier. In their article, the Times did not interview any collaborating witnesses.

    — Since those accusations, a steady stream of new accusations have come out. Any planned Trump statements about Bill Clinton’s infidelities are ripped off the media agenda.


    Some Questions

    Did none of the many, many Republican primary candidates do any opposition research about Trump during the months and months of the primary season? Given the apparent accessibility of Trump sexual assault material, how was none of this found by Trump’s earlier opponents, who were certainly digging for dirt? A Ted Cruz or a Marco Rubio could have knocked Trump out of the race in April with half this information.

    Similar question; did no media investigate Trump’s background during his 18 months of candidacy?

    Coincidences happen, just not as often as we’d like to believe. Was any of the timing of any of this indeed coincidental, given much of this information was never reported for decades but is now front paged a few weeks before the election?

    I am well-aware of the reasons a woman might choose not to report an attack for many years. I am not calling any of the accusers liars. I am however skeptical when after 30 years, during which Trump was in the media spotlight, and then another 18 months of Trump as a leading candidate, the accusations emerge only weeks before the election, timed nearly to the day with bookended presidential debates.


    And the big one.

    What process did the New York Times pursue before it decided to print the stories of the two initial Trump accusers? How did the Times vett their stories? If I were to walk into the Times’ newsroom today and report that either Trump or Hillary had inappropriately touched me in 1979, what process would unfold at the Times before my statement was published?

    I’m not being a smartass. I am not “victim shaming.” I do not believe asking these questions, especially the procedural questions about how the Times conducted its journalism, amounts to victim shaming. This is politics. No one is saying they are suing Trump, or engaged in a criminal case against him. None of these accusations will ever be tried before a jury or subjected to any examination other than in the media. It is at this point pure politics. We should, can, and need to talk about this.

    I am talking about a series of media events that are likely to change the outcome of this election, and send one candidate to the White House out of what was 10 days ago a virtual tie of a race.

    With all of the statements Russia is somehow trying to manipulate our election, it seems worthy of at least a couple of answers when it may be that the election manipulation is taking place right here at home.


    NOTE: OK, so I guess we do need to go there. I do not make any of these statements lightly. A close relative of mine was the victim of unwanted sexual attention by a man in a position of power over her. She was not believed by the organization or any third party when she came forward. I watched her suffer. Justice was not done in her case. I get it. So don’t embarrass yourself by dismissing these concerns by calling me some hater name.



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    CNN Celebrates Iraqi Housewife Who Beheaded and Then Cooked the Skulls of ISIS fighters

    October 4, 2016 // 21 Comments »

    cnn


    When Islamic State beheads someone it is terrorism. When an Iraqi housewife beheads an ISIS fighter and cooks his skull, it is freedom. That is the CNN doctrine.


    CNN reports the story of 39-year-old Wahida Mohamed aka Um Hanadi, an Iraqi woman who supposedly leads a tribal militia force of around 70 men south of Mosul. She and her band allegedly helped “government forces” drive Islamic State out of a small town.

    “I began fighting the terrorists in 2004, working with Iraqi security forces and the coalition,” she told CNN. CNN cites no other source other than Um Hanadi herself and Facebook in its coverage.

    As a result, Um Hanadi said, she attracted the wrath of what eventually became al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, which later morphed into ISIS. “I received threats from the top leadership of ISIS, including from Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi himself,” she says. “I’m at the top of their most wanted list, even more than the [Iraqi] Prime Minister.”

    Um Hanadi stated al Qaeda/AQI/ISIS planted car bombs outside her home in 2006, 2009, 2010, 2013, and 2014.

    Along the way, her first husband was killed in action. She remarried, but ISIS killed her second husband. ISIS also killed her father and three brothers. They also killed, she added, her sheep, her dogs and her birds, and tried to otherwise assassinate her six times.



    Where Has Um Hanadi Been Hiding All These Years?

    Despite her claim to have worked with the U.S. coalition, to be higher on the ISIS hit list than the Prime Minister, to have been the target of multiple bombing attempts, and to be a very, very, very rare example of a Muslim woman leading Muslim men in combat, I could not find any references to Um Hanadi that predate the CNN report. Um Hanadi does have a self-created social media presence which she updates between battles.

    In addition, Um Hanadi may be the luckiest person in Iraq, apparently cheating death on a near-daily basis.

    CNN did not explain in its coverage how it came to locate and interview Um Hanadi amid the chaos of present-day Iraq.



    The Beheadings

    Now, on to the beheadings.

    CNN quotes Um Hanadi as saying of ISIS “I fought them. I beheaded them. I cooked their heads, I burned their bodies.” CNN states “She made no excuses, nor attempted to rationalize this. It was delivered as a boast, not a confession.”

    “This is all documented,” she said. “You can see it on my Facebook page.”

    The CNN reporter wrote that he indeed checked her Facebook page and saw photos, and though he could not verify them, still “got the point.”

    Comment

    This is propaganda of the worst, and most infantile, kind. In addition to the broad question of whether or not any of this is even true, the question of who set CNN up to meet with Um Hanadi is left unanswered. That CNN would run this story on its television news, and website, is a shameful descent into the decaying corpse of the First Amendment. Media around the globe, including the once venerable New York Times, have reprinted the story.

    Lastly is the horrific idea that atrocities such as beheading people are somehow right when an anti-ISIS person does it, and justification for an entire undeclared war by the U.S. when ISIS does it.

    CNN have you no shame? Hah, trick question, you bast*rds really don’t, do you?





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    The New York Times and Trump’s Taxes: Another Marker on the End of Journalism

    October 3, 2016 // 12 Comments »

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    I don’t support Trump. I don’t support Clinton. But what I really don’t support is shoddy journalism, and that’s what is all awhirl regarding the leak of three pages of Trumps’ federal tax return from 21 years ago.



    Trump the Tax Cheat?

    The New York Times is running front-page amok (italics added here) with the exclusive that Trump declared a $916 million loss on his 1995 income tax returns, a tax deduction so substantial, the writers claim, it could have allowed him to avoid paying any federal income taxes for up to 18 years.

    The Times continues “Although Mr. Trump’s taxable income in subsequent years is as yet unknown, a $916 million loss in 1995 would have been large enough to wipe out more than $50 million a year in taxable income over 18 years… [the loss] could have eliminated any federal income taxes… for each episode of The Apprentice, or the roughly $45 million he was paid between 1995 and 2009 when he was chairman or chief executive of the publicly traded company he created to assume ownership of his troubled Atlantic City casinos.”



    How To Do Journalism With No Information

    Let’s pause for a moment: all the Times has is three pages of Trump’s lengthy tax filing from 1995. None of the schedules are there, nothing that details the profits and losses. Everything the Times writes otherwise is speculation, extrapolation, and that word, “could,” over and over.

    The newspaper even uncorks a statement that would get any undergrad booted out of her first journalism class “In the absence of any disclosures from Mr. Trump, The New York Times and other news outlets have attempted to fill in the gaps.”

    Pro-Clinton Vox takes it another step, stating without any evidence “Trump still isn’t releasing his returns. And here’s what that means: whatever is in his returns is worse than what the New York Times is telling the world is in his returns. The Trump campaign has decided it prefers the picture the Times is painting — a picture where Trump didn’t pay taxes for 18 years — to the picture Trump’s real records would paint.”

    Summary: in the absence of information, 2016-era journalists can just make up whatever they like.



    How Taxes Work for Grownups

    But all that aside, let’s go back to the shoddy journalism.

    For all of the Times’ hyperbole, it seems to miss, or just not bother to state, the obvious: what Trump did, deduct business losses from gains to reduce his tax burden, and likely spread those losses over a period of years, is exactly what every business does. In fact, the tax forms even give you little boxes to insert those numbers in to take the deduction.

    There is literally nothing to see here.

    I know of no person who actively seeks to maximize the taxes s/he pays.

    Instead, every taxpayer does what the tax laws intend, take deductions to lessen the amount they pay in taxes. I do it, you do it, the Clintons do it. There are the business loss deductions, the capital loss deductions, the business expense deductions, the mortgage interest deductions and on and on and on. If you follow the tax law, then the amount at the end of the return is what your “fair share” is.

    Even the Times’ story has to sorta, kinda admit that, assuming you make it deep into the text, that “Tax experts consulted by The Times said nothing in the 1995 documents suggested any wrongdoing by Mr. Trump.”

    That line seems significant, especially given what came before it on the front page.

    And yep, most of these deductions are only available to the rich, at least in dollar amounts that matter. We can argue separately how messed up the tax system is (a subject the Times may consider covering at some point), but we cannot argue that what Trump did is not the way the system is. Neither can Clinton.

    But the funnest of fun parts here is while the Times, and Clinton, reluctantly point out that nothing Trump did was illegal, they both make it clear they think what he did was ethically wrong, a bad thing worthy of slinging around. Given the parallels to the emails (not illegal!) and the Clinton Foundation (not illegal!), that seems thin ice to skate on.

    BONUS: Coincidentally, it was only at last Monday’s presidential debate that Hillary Clinton said Trump was refusing to release his tax returns so voters would not know “he’s paid nothing in federal taxes.” Then, what do you know, a few days later an excerpt of those returns just pops into the New York Times’ Inbox. Small world.



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    Here’s How Clinton (or Trump) Can Win Tonight’s Debate

    September 26, 2016 // 28 Comments »

    trump-clinton



    Don’t miss tonight’s first presidential debate, starting at 9 pm EST. Two will enter, one will emerge victorious. Who will it be?

    Clinton Wins!

    For Hillary to win, she has to:

    — More than anything, convince people she is not a liar. This is her last chance to clear the air, even a little, over the deadly, lingering doubts about her email, the Clinton Foundation, her speeches, all of it. If Hillary dismisses this pile of stuff, or otherwise panhandles her usual non-answers, she may lose. If Trump comes armed with specifics, dates, and facts, Hillary has to deal with them with specifics, dates, and facts.

    — Not collapse on stage and not appear severely medicated. If she can say something convincing about her health, she can win. If the warfarin blood thinners hit her too hard tonight as they did at the 9/11 memorial, the election is over.

    — Not stumble into Trump. If Hillary keeps to the high road, maybe limit herself to one burst of faux righteous anger as she did in the Benghazi hearings (“What does it even matter anymore!”) she wins. If she gets into name-calling with Trump, she loses. She cannot out-Trump Trump and should not try.

    Of all of everything, it is the first item above that will sink or allow Hillary to swim on.


    Trump Wins!

    For Trump to win, he has to:

    — Rattle Hillary. Needle her. Get her to act “unpresidential,” i.e., more like him. Her criticisms of him evaporate if she breaks character.

    — Stay on the offensive. Ask her hard and if possible, fact-based questions about her email, the Clinton Foundation, her speeches, all of it. Don’t let her sidetrack this with calls for his tax returns. Take the hit on that and keep punching. She has more to hide than his tax returns.

    — Not get dragged into some policy wonk discussion. That’s Clinton’s home turf.

    — Be Trump, but maybe just a little less Trump. Don’t abandon what has worked and brought him to this stage, but give enough room for some undecided voters to think “Well, I’ve heard a lot of crap about this guy, but he doesn’t seem as bad as people have said.” Don’t let it look to moderates like Hillary is debating an a*shole. Use the fact that expectations are low to his advantage.

    — If at all possible, a big if, show a flash or two of humor. Turn any Hillary accusation back. Let her try some sophomoric crap like calling him “Donald” and make her seem silly and childish.

    — Stay away from Bill’s sexescapdes. The base knows all about them, and the undecideds don’t want to hear about it.

    — Have a really good answer when Hillary attacks him on being Putin’s man. Maybe throw her love affairs with the Saudis at her.



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    We’re Winning the War Against ISIS! Maybe? On Social Media?

    September 22, 2016 // 23 Comments »

    isis twitter.resized


    Now if we can just stop them from blowing stuff up all the time, this thing is in the bag.



    Social Media Uber Alles

    Despite the reality that propaganda in wartime is as old as dirt, America collectively is freaking out because a lot of ISIS’ takes place on social media. The elderly and feeble who run our government do not understand The Online gizmos and thus are terrified of them and declare they must be turned off with a big switch somewhere.

    The young who serve them and understand little outside their own online bubbly life, all want to get ahead and so are eager to “engage” in online warfare with ISIS as if it was all just a cooler version of Pokemon Go.

    So it was without meaning or surprise that the Obama Administration announced that Twitter traffic to pro-ISIS accounts has fallen 45 percent in the past two years.



    American Strikes Back in the Twitter Wars

    See, two years ago the administration put together an international coalition that’s mostly just America to fight ISIS, with one of the goals being to discourage the popularity of the group online. The “coalition” has been unsuccessful, making “gaffes” that seem, um, amateur. For example, a lot of the content was written solely in English, which sort of didn’t help in that a lot of ISIS people read only Arabic or whatever Chechens speak.

    The State Department, who is in charge of all this media-ing, also spent $1.5 million of your taxpayer money earlier this year making a TV drama for Afghans saying ISIS is bad. Silicon Valley executives even met with top government officials to “game out” strategies to counter Islamic State online.

    There’s been ever so much “messaging” over the last two years. One example is that in honor of #HumanRightsDay 2015, the State Department’s “Think Again Turn Away” program Twittered and Facebooked out the message of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a discredited Islamophobe who says things like Islam itself is a death cult. In 2007, she called for the west to destroy Islam using military force.

    Also, in a whole-of-government effort, everyone calls ISIS “Daesh,” which supposedly is a meany word in Arabic. I guess the idea is that in a war for minds, sending every ISIS fighter to bed angry at being called a name by the Secretary of State is a thing.



    But It’s All Better Now

    According to an Administration spokesperson, the coalition now uses “memes” — like a teddy bear that says ISIS “slaughters childhood” — written in Arabic. And Anonymous declared war on ISIS with, most recently, a member shaming ISIS by hacking their accounts and posting sexy photos of women. The same group once hacked an ISIS web site and replaced it with a Viagra ad. Laffs!

    The only problem of course is that ISIS seems to have no problem recruiting people to replace those killed by the “coalition.” Could it be… that U.S. actions on the ground stomping on Muslims, and U.S. actions from the air droning women and children, and U.S. actions garrisoning Muslim lands, could possibly play more of a role in ISIS recruitment than 140 characters on Twitter?




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    Was Bin Laden Right About 9/11?

    September 12, 2016 // 20 Comments »

    9-11


    #NeverForget911 . Wait, did something happen yesterday besides #ClintonCollapse ? I forgot.


    OK, ok, serious now. It’s been 15 years now people, so we can talk about this kind of thing, ‘kay? That’s what anniversaries are for, after all.


    Peter Bergen, at CNN, who is often the sanest clown in the CNN circus, tell us that al Qaeda really blew it on 9/11.

    “Like the attack on Pearl Harbor,” says Bergen, “9/11 was a great tactical victory for America’s enemies. But in both these cases the tactical success of the attacks was not matched by strategic victories. Quite the reverse.” He goes on to remind us the U.S. totally kicked Japan’s butt.

    Now it can get a little fuzzy when you try to jam 9/11 and al Qaeda into the Saving Private Ryan narrative framework. So it’s important to understand what Bergen thinks al Qaeda’s goal was with the attacks 15 years ago. I’ll quote him so when I call him an idiot a bit later, you’ll understand my reasoning:

    “Bin Laden believed that al Qaeda’s attacks on New York and Washington would result in an American withdrawal from the Middle East. Instead, the United States quickly toppled the Taliban and al Qaeda… The United States not only did not reduce its influence in the Middle East, but it also established or added to massive bases in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. And, of course, it also occupied both Afghanistan and Iraq. Bin Laden’s tactical victory on 9/11 turned out to be a spectacular strategic flop.”

    Um, OK.


    Bergen is an idiot. Al Qaeda got much, much more than it ever hoped for out of 9/11, and Bergen’s silly retelling of al Qaeda’s goals is part and parcel of what drives American foreign policy off a cliff on a daily basis in the Middle East.

    Japan was a nation set on territorial conquest in WWII. It bombed Pearl Harbor to destroy as much of America’s Navy as it could to buy itself as much time as it could to conquer as much as it could across the Pacific before America got back on its naval feet. Standard war as it has been since Caesar.

    Terrorists fight a different war, a political one. They don’t have navies. They have guys who hijack planes.


    Quite the opposite of what Bergen says, al Qaeda did not want America to withdraw from the Middle East, he wanted to pull America into a Middle Eastern quagmire as deep and sticky as possible. This would drive recruits to al Qaeda’s cause, establishing with global certainty the west was at war with Islam.

    That worked; see Islamic State, and the way war and chaos has spread from edge-to-edge in the region, as well as the presence of so-called lone wolves in the U.S. and Europe. And remember, on 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and Libya were all stable countries and there were no lone wolves in California and Florida.

    Bin Laden did almost blow it. He expected the west to bog down in the graveyard of Afghanistan very quickly, but that didn’t happen. The early successes that drove the Taliban out of governing and into the mountains were done with very few troops and relatively clean bombing attacks. It was after that the Afghan war grew messy, when reconstruction and democracy and all that became the new goals interlaced with the U.S. having new tolerance for the nasty bastards running Pakistan.


    And, of course, the crown jewel of bin Laden’s success, the invasion of Iraq.

    Bush’s invasion of Iraq was so transparently pointless to everyone but most Americans that it made concrete all the things bin Laden was saying: America was at war with Islam, America sought to conquer the Middle East, America wanted the oil, and so forth. But even bin Laden could not have hoped for the free gifts his cause got out of the invasion: the chance for al Qaeda to set up shop in Iraq, the massacre at Fallujah when the Marines reduced the city to medieval rubble, the images of torture from Abu Ghraib, the jihadi training grounds at prison Camp Bucca, and, of course, the overall Sunni-Shia clusterf*ck the invasion ended up as. You know, the one that is driving the current ISIS war today.

    And never mind the U.S. destruction of the Libyan state, America’s clumsy hand in crushing the Arab Spring, the growth of Islamic State and the little wars between the Turks and the Kurds, in Yemen, and more to come. Chaos and failed states favor the terrorists.

    As Canadian historian Gwynne Dyer, a guy we all should be listening to said, “It is hard enough for Westerners to recognize that their attackers actually have a coherent strategy and are not simply mad fanatics motivated by hatred. To accept that these terrorist attacks are not really about Western countries at all, but merely an attempt to use the overreaction of Western countries to create change in the Middle East, is beyond their understanding.”

    What Peter Bergen cannot seem to understand himself is bin Laden was practicing a kind of tough love when he staged the 9/11 attacks, to bring the wrath of the United States down on innocent Muslims to radicalize and politicize them. It is, bin Laden (and now ISIS) believe, for their own long-term good.


    We’ll need to wait longer to find out if the U.S. will ever get it. See you next year for the next anniversary of 9/11.



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    What You Really Should #NeverForget on 9/11

    September 11, 2016 // 23 Comments »

    eagle_weeps


    Happy 9/11 Day, our fifteenth anniversary together. If it was a child, she’d be almost ready to drive. They do grow up so fast, don’t they?

    We’re instituted full background checks, body scanners and cavity searches at my home for all guests and pets (can’t be too careful!), which keeps me pretty busy, so this will be a short post. Because they hate our freedoms, we’ve taken them away for safekeeping.

    So here’s our fun thing for today: reflecting. So let’s get started:

    State of Things September 11, 2001

    — There was no Islamic State.

    — Syria and Libya were peaceful places more or less.

    — There was no global refugee crisis.

    — There was no Saudi war ongoing in Yemen.

    — Iraq opposed Iran, helping establish a balance of power in the Middle East. Any danger Saddam was worth was contained by the no-fly zones and had been, successfully, since 1991.

    — Iran’s plans were cooled by an enemy on its western border, Iraq, and one on its eastern border, the Taliban.

    — The Taliban controlled much of Afghanistan.

    — The U.S. was not at war, and 4,486 Americans had not died in Iraq and 1,935 had not died in Afghanistan. A bunch o’ brown people were still alive. Suicide was not the most common cause of death in our military.

    — The U.S. was not known as a torturer, a keeper of secret prisons, an assassin with drones.

    — The Saudis were America’s friend and helped finance jihad (in Afghanistan.)

    — America was represented abroad primarily by diplomats.

    — Americans at home were secure, protected from abuses by their government by the First and Fourth Amendments.


    State of Things September 11, 2016

    — There is an Islamic State (and still an al Qaeda) that makes war across the Middle East and commits terrorism in Europe.

    — Syria and Libya are failed states, at war, and sanctuaries for Islamic State and al Qaeda.

    — There is a global refugee crisis that threatens the stability of Europe.

    — There is a Saudi war ongoing in Yemen.

    — Iran has become a dominant power in the Middle East, with well-established ties in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    — The Taliban control much of Afghanistan.

    — The U.S. government actively and continuously spies on Americans, particularly through electronic means. Once aimed only abroad, the NSA now devotes a substantial portion of its mighty resources inside the U.S.

    — The U.S. government drone assassinates American Citizen abroad without trial.

    — The Saudis were America’s friend and help finance jihad (in Afghanistan, Syria, maybe for a day in New York.)

    — We’re all scared as hell about terrorism all the time.

    Crystal is the traditional material of the 15th anniversary gift. Fitting, in that it breaks easily.


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    Clinton, Trump, Lauer, All Lose Battle of the MSNBC CINC Forum

    September 8, 2016 // 13 Comments »

    lauer


    In the end, it was actually America who lost last night at the MSNBC Commander-in-Chief forum, because one of these people will be our president in a few months, and the other two will no doubt live forever on our TVs.


    Clinton

    Hillary Clinton dug her own hole that much deeper, failing in front of a skeptical audience of mostly military veterans to push aside any of their skepticism, or ours. Given, once again, the chance to swing for the fences and put at least some of her bad decisions and scandals behind her, Clinton went for the safe grounder every time.

    Clinton came off as defensive and lawyerly.

    She said her vote for the Iraq War in 2003 was a mistake but would not say in front of the assembled vets the war itself was a mistake. She added a new excuse to her litany of email excuses — none of the information typed into her unclassified system had classification headings on it (like TOP SECRET), as if someone who was knowingly typing in such information would, sure, also document the felony by adding the header. She said hundreds of people at State violated classification rules with email, so presumably she was OK doing it, too. She stressed her long years of experience handling classified without mentioning that she said “I don’t know” 40 times to the FBI in answer to questions about how to handle classified information. She noted that State’s unclassified email system was hacked, while there was “no proof” hers was also broken into, a very lame defense when her communications should have been nearly 100% on a classified system to begin with.

    Clinton finished her self-mutilation by telling a veteran who questioned her handling of sensitive information: “I did exactly what I should have done and I take it very seriously, always have, always will.”


    Trump

    Trump then came out and did Trump, all Trump, hugely Trump, I can tell you, Trump, Trump, Trumpy Trumpster. He has a plan for ISIS, but won’t tell us what it is. He doesn’t like generals who lose. He thinks Putin is a helluva leader and Obama isn’t. He insulting female combat troops in remarks about sexual assault, and corrected a veteran with an incorrect figure about soldier suicides. Trump just kept Trumping and no one was very surprised.

    Lauer

    The major fail of the night was moderator Matt Lauer, to the point where #LaueringTheBar is trending on Twitter. Lauer tossed questions to the candidates and then took a nap as they answered, failing to follow-up or challenge most points. He was unable to control the length of answers given, and he allowed Clinton to violate her pledge to talk about herself and not use her answers to smear Trump. At one point Clinton actually stood in front of the seated Lauer, basically sending him off to bed while she handled the forum for awhile.

    Lauer also spent far too much time fishing for faux-controversy and ignoring the stated point of the forum, to explore how each candidate would act as commander-in-chief. And so we heard about the emails, we heard a lot of Trump’s man-boy love for Putin, and we had Lauer try and bait Trump into revealing something, anything, he’d heard in his classified briefings. When a veteran in the audience asked Clinton to describe her plan to defeat Islamic State, Lauer interjected “to keep it brief” before the candidate even began her reply.




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    Some Hindsight: The Lies that Dumped America Into the Syrian War

    September 2, 2016 // 40 Comments »

    assad


    Checking out the news these days, it might seem pretty clear why the U.S. is at war in Syria: destroy ISIS. That is almost certainly the way the two main presidential candidates will see it during their upcoming first debate, in a rare point of agreement.


    The funny thing is that ISIS did not become the reason for what now is a major regional war until late in the game.

    If we rewind about three years, the original justification was to “rid the world of the dictator,” Syrian president Bashar Assad. The U.S. involvement was started under the pretext that Assad was using chemical weapons against the other side in what was once confined to a civil war. American declared Assad thus had to go to avoid a genocide and humanitarian disaster.

    FYI: If you read no further, remember anytime a politician uses the word “genocide” these days we’re about to be dragged into another conflict that will morph into a quagmire.

    So here’s a reprise of something I wrote three years ago. Let’s revisit it and see whether or not any of the current disaster, political and humanitarian, could have been anticipated.


    From Three Years Ago:

    As for intervening in Syria, the United Nations does not say to do it. The United Kingdom voted against it, the first time in two decades the UK has not supported U.S. military action [the UK later changed it’s policy and is now involved across the Middle East again]. The U.S. Congress will not have an opportunity to vote on it, though many members have reservations. Many in our own military have doubts. Half of all American oppose it. Why does the president insist America must attack Syria?

    Obama’s reasons seem vague at best, something from the 19th century about “firing a shot across Assad’s bow” as if this is a pirate movie. Or maybe protecting the U.S., though Syria (and others) have had chemical weapons for years without threatening the U.S. Even Saddam did not use chemical weapons against the U.S. during two American-led invasions of his own country. To protect the women and children of Syria? If that is the goal, the U.S. might best send doctors and medicine to the refugee camps, and nerve gas antidotes into Syria itself.

    Vagueness is a very poor basis for the U.S. entering into another war in the Middle East, throwing itself deeper into a chaotic and volatile situation it little understands.

    So let’s reprise our handy questions summary:

    — The U.S. is intervening in Syria’s civil war because maybe it was Assad who used poison gas.

    — The poison gas killed a couple of thousand people. A horrible thing by any measure.

    — Close to 100,000 people have been killed in the Syrian civil war to date [in 2013; the death toll is now likely in the millions].

    — The U.S. is thus going to war again in the Middle East because a tiny percentage of the deaths were caused by gas instead of artillery, aerial bombs, machine guns, tanks, rockets, grenades, car bombs, mines, bad food, or sticks and stones.

    Because it seems Obama is not asking himself some important questions, here’s a list he may wish to consult:

    — Is it Iraq again? That went well.

    — Does it have oil?

    — Does it pose a direct threat to America, i.e., knife to our throat?

    — Can you define specifically what U.S. interests are at stake (no fair just citing generic “world peace” or “evil dictator” or a magical “red line”)?

    — Does the Chemical Weapons Treaty say it is the U.S.’ job to take punitive action against violators? [Trick question; it does not.]

    — Is Syria’s evil dictator somehow super-worse than the many other evil dictators scattered across the world where the U.S. is not intervening?

    — Did Syria attack any U.S. forces somewhere? Kidnap Americans? Commit 9/11?

    — Does the U.S. have a specific, detailed follow-on plan for what happens if Assad departs or is killed?

    — Does the U.S. have a specific plan to ensure weapons given to the rebels, some of whom are openly al Qaeda [Now ISIS], won’t migrate out of Syria as they did in Libya?

    — Does the U.S. believe its secret deal with the “rebels” whoever the hell they are to hand over Syria’s chemical weapons after they take power is airtight?

    — With that in mind, can the U.S. tell with accuracy the “good” rebels from the “bad” rebels?

    — Has the U.S. considered in detail what affect a rebel (Sunni) victory in Syria will have on chaotic Iraq next door and the greater Middle East?

    — What are the possible unintended consequences of another military strike? Are they worth whatever is hoped to be gained by the strike?

    Obama, if the answer was “No” to any of the above questions, you should not intervene in Syria.

    NOTE: Obama did intervene, and golly, who could have thought it, look what happened!




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    Some Important Things That Really Do Matter About Hillary Clinton

    August 31, 2016 // 24 Comments »

    hillary


    Even if everyone does it, that does not make it right. That excuse did not work for you in 6th grade when you were caught smoking in the girl’s room and it should not be accepted from a presidential candidate or her supporters in the media.

    Many politicians do crappy things. That is not an excuse for you to also do them. See above.

    “Well, at least I wasn’t indicted” is not a very high standard for the presidency.

    “There is no proof of quid pro quo.” What do you mean by proof? A notarized statement “This guy gave us money, so let’s sell him weapons?” Reality doesn’t work that way so spare us the strawman argument. Phone calls are made. Conversations happen. Minions learn quickly what their boss wants. People at the Clintons’ level rarely leave paper trails behind and when they do, they delete them before the FBI arrives to pick up the server.

    If someone offers you millions of dollars for essentially no work (i.e., a speech) they are going to want something in return. If you want more money, you will need to give something to them.

    “All they wanted was a meeting with the secretary to offer their views.” Sure, maybe. But in Washington the currency is closeness to power. For a wealthy person, buying just material things loses its charm after a while. They buy access, they buy the appearance of power, they buy chances to take those photos of themselves with prominent world leaders all rich people have on their walls. You look like a sap, arm candy in return for cash. Quid pro quo can mean a meeting, a visa issued, an arms deal made.

    How do you feel when you find out your doctor prescribed you medication from a pharmaceutical company that paid him large speaking fees? Appearances do matter and it is likely that such money does not impact judgement.



    Follow the money. Always follow the money.


    If the secretary of state’s name is Clinton and the foundation receiving the money is named Clinton, they are part of the same thing.

    If you put classified material on an unclassified server, that is wrong. It exposes that material to America’s adversaries. Presidents should simply not do that. No one else in government has ever knowingly been allowed to do that.

    There is such a thing inside the U.S. government called retroactive classification. You may not like it, and you may have convinced sops in the media to pretend with you it does not exist, but it is real. I’ll Google it for you, here, and here. Retroactive classification was tested at the Supreme Court level; see DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY v. MACLEAN. Someone please call CNN and pass them those links.

    The Clinton Foundation as a charity has done some good deeds. But do not conflate those with its role as a money laundering tool. The two are very separate functions of the same organization. And you can have the first without the second. In fact, that’s how good charities work.

    Avoiding even the appearance of unethical behavior is important. Persons throughout the government watch what their senior leaders do as signals as to what they can get away with. Leadership matters, and that means staying clean and making sure everyone sees that you are clean. You lead by example, one way or the other.

    When global leaders come to wonder if you can be bought off for some “donations,” they will either lose respect for you, or want to buy you off themselves. They will not simply ignore it.

    Putin could really not give a sh*t which assclown is elected president. He’ll go on acting in his country’s best interests no matter who is in the White House, as he has done through multiple administrations already. Get over yourself.

    Hiding from the press and not holding press conferences seems like the behavior of a petulant six-year-old.

    It is not leadership nor is it presidential to be caught as a liar and a prevaricator on a regular basis. People do not trust you; not voters, not the Congresspeople you will need to work with, not other world leaders you will have to negotiate with.

    The lesser of two evils is still evil. Why do you want to knowingly vote for evil?




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    Tell Us Why We’re At War, Candidates

    August 29, 2016 // 24 Comments »

    20090218221111!Vietnam_war_memorial




    When I was a kid, successive presidents told us we had to fight in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, because if we didn’t fight them over there, we’d have to fight them on the beaches of California. We believed. It was a lie.

    I was a teenager during the Cold War, several presidents told us we needed to create massive stockpiles of nuclear weapons, garrison the world, maybe invade Cuba, fight covert wars and use the CIA to overthrow democratically elected governments and replace them with dictators, or the Russians would destroy us. We believed. It was a lie.

    When I was in college our president told us that we needed to fight in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua or the Sandinistas would come to the United States. He told us Managua was closer to Washington DC than LA was. He told us we needed to fight in Lebanon, Grenada and Libya to protect ourselves. We believed. It was a lie.

    When I was a little older our president told us how evil Saddam Hussein was, how his soldiers bayoneted babies in Kuwait. He told us Saddam was a threat to America. He told us we needed to invade Panama to oust a dictator to protect America. We believed. It was a lie.

    Another president told us we had to fight terrorists in Somalia, as well as bomb Iraq, to protect ourselves. We believed. It was a lie.

    The one after him told us that because a bunch of Saudis from a group loosely tied to Afghanistan attacked us on 9/11, we needed to occupy that country and destroy the Taliban, who had not attacked us, for our own safety. The Taliban are still there 15 years later, and so is the American army. We believed. It was a lie.

    After that the same President told us Saddam Hussein threatened every one of our children with weapons of mass destruction, that the smoking gun would be a mushroom cloud, that Saddam was in league with al Qaeda. We believed. It was a lie.

    In 2011 the president and his secretary of state, now running for president herself, told us we needed regime change in Libya, to protect us from an evil dictator. We believed. It was a lie.

    In August 2014 the same president told us we needed to intervene again in Iraq, on a humanitarian mission to save the Yazidis. No boots on the ground, a simple, limited act only the United States could conduct, and then we’d leave. We believed. It was a lie.

    That same president later told us Americans will need to fight and die in Syria. He says this is necessary to protect us, because if we do not defeat Islamic State over there, they will come here, to what we now call without shame or irony The Homeland. We believe. We’ll let history roll around again to tell it is again a lie.

    The two main candidates for president both tell us they will expand the war in Syria, maybe Libya. Too many of our fellow citizens still want to believe it is necessary to protect America more. They want to know it is not a lie.

    So candidates, please explain why what you plan is different than everything listed above. Tell us why we should believe you — this time.


    (This article is a reimagining of a piece I wrote about a year ago, when the war in Syria was less so, and the U.S. has not re-entered the fight overtly in Libya. I’ll update it from time to time as new wars happen.)




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    How I Was Blacklisted at CNN, and How Easily America Goes to War Now

    August 26, 2016 // 14 Comments »



    It was about two years ago to the day I was blacklisted at CNN.

    I don’t want to remind them they were sadly wrong, but they were. So write this off however you prefer, but understand that we were lied to again to drag us again into an open-ended war in Iraq-Syria. Last time it was Bush and those missing Weapons of Mass Destruction. This time is was Obama and saving the Yazidi people from genocide.

    Wait, what? Who are the Yazidis? How they get us back into Iraq?

    Ah, how fast time flies.


    Two years ago a group of Yazidis, a minority spread across Iran, Iraq and Turkey, were being threatened by a group called ISIS few American were focused on. Obama declared a genocide was about to happen, and the U.S. had to act. U.S. officials said they believed that some type of ground force would be necessary to secure the safety of the stranded members of the Yazidi group. The military drew up plans for limited airstrikes and the deployment of 150 ground troops.

    No Congressional authorization was sought, no attempt was made to secure UN sanction, no effort was made to seek Iraqi military help to save their own people inside their own country. However, promises were made by the White House of having no American “boots on the ground” and that the airstrikes to kill people were for a humanitarian purpose.

    Two years later the U.S. has some 6,000 troops on the ground, including artillery units and aircraft based inside Iraq and Syria. The limited airstrikes have expanded to a 24 month broad-based bombing campaign, which has spread into Syria, with the sideshows of complete collapse of democracy in Turkey, a Russian military presence in Syria, and an Iranian military presence in Iraq. For the record, the Yazidis are pretty much fine, as are ISIS and Syrian president Assad. The Yazadis do occasionally show up in fear-mongering, unsourced stories about ISIS sex slaves, usually spoon-fed to American media, and only American media, by pro-Yazidi ethnic groups safely in the west.

    In fact, other than a massive regional death toll and no progress toward whatever the actual goal for the United States is (um, whatever, “destroy” ISIS), things are pretty much the same after two years, +chaos. And whomever is elected this November will be the fifth U.S. president to make war in Iraq.


    Back to CNN.

    As the Yazidi situation was unfolding, I was invited to tape a discussion there alongside the usual retired U.S. military colonel. I was asked a single question, explained in my answer that the U.S. was in fact using the Yazidi “humanitarian crisis/faux genocide” as an excuse to re-enter the Iraq quagmire, and equated it to George W. Bush’s flim-flam about weapons of mass destruction in 2003.

    The host literally said I was wrong. I was not asked another question, though the colonel was given several minutes to explain the urgency of the situation, demand America act where no one else would, and assure the public that Obama planned only limited, surgical strikes and that was it, one and done.

    My question was edited out, the colonel’s lengthy answer was played on air, and my very brief moment in the glow of CNN was ended even though I wore a nice suit and a tie. Oh well, we still have each other here, and hey, CNN, my number’s still the same if you wanna call.



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    Did an ISIS Fighter Try to Sell Sex Slaves on Facebook?

    August 25, 2016 // 3 Comments »

    slave


    Well, maybe. It is amazing how these horrific stories about ISIS just happen to appear on global social media, and then are instantly picked up by the mainstream media as fact.

    Why, it is almost as if someone is creating them, and then calling the mass media’s attention to them on obscure sources, for anti-ISIS propaganda purposes. Hmm.


    Well, don’t be shocked, but…

    “To all the bros thinking about buying a slave, this one is $8,000,” began the Facebook posting attributed to an Islamic State fighter who calls himself Abu Assad Almani. The same man posted a second image a few hours later, this one a pale young woman’s face with weepy red eyes.

    “Another sabiyah [slave], also about $8,000,” the posting reads. “Yay, or nay?”


    The photos were taken down within hours by Facebook but of course still were coincidentally captured by the Middle East Media Research Institute, a Washington nonprofit group with unclear funding sources that monitors jihadists’ ­social media accounts. That Institute then pumped the story out across the web.

    “We have seen a great deal of brutality, but the content that ISIS has been disseminating over the past two years has surpassed it all for sheer evil,” said a researcher for the Institute. “Sales of slave girls on social media is just one more example of this.”

    Uh huh. It must all be true.


    BONUS: Selling sex slaves violates Facebook’s Terms of Use, so ISIS that did wrong thing too. Bastards have no respect for our American social media.



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    Russia Teams Up With Iran to Continue to Bomb Syria

    August 22, 2016 // 12 Comments »

    pokemongo_syria

    Ho, ho, ho, here’s a scenario no one could have possibly anticipated: some complex thing in the Middle East as a temporary patch to some previous complicated thing in the Middle East turned out to backfire for the U.S. because of a lack of any semblance of an actual policy as opposed to a series of random actions linked only in temporal order. Soon a new thing will be needed to counteract the lastest old thing, but that’s for next week.


    The most current thing is that Russia deployed bomber and fighter aircraft to Iran for air strikes on rebels in Syria, the first time in 37 years that Iran allowed foreign forces to base and deploy from its territory. The new basing dramatically cuts into the number of frequent flyer miles the Russian air forces needs to bomb Syria. Flying out of Iran instead of from inside Russia means more sorties a day, maybe lower maintenance burdens, maybe heavier payloads.

    Iran has, for now, walked back the arrangement, apparently embarrassed at the publicity. The larger issues still remain.



    So a review, to put things in context. We’ll go quick here, kind of like the opening song of the Big Bang Theory, where they cover the history of the whole universe in 30 seconds of jaunty song:

    — About 13 years ago Iraq was a stable place, just another crappy Mideast stinkhole run by the same dictator it had been for decades. U.S. invades to “free Iraq,” chaos ensues through two presidencies with a third teed up. The more or less stable Iraqi-Syrian border became a porous sore for Sunni baddies to enter and leave the fight, precursor foot soldiers to ISIS. The Sunni collaboration with (then) al Qaeda to protect themselves from Shiite militias spread into Syria.

    — Five years ago Syria was a stable place, just another crappy Mideast stinkhole run by the same family of dictators it has been since the 1960s. The U.S. had tolerated, dealt with and cooperated with the Assad family during much of that time. Why, post-9/11, the U.S. even outsourced some torture to them. There were no Syrian aid agencies, no orphaned kids of Aleppo, no global refugee crisis.

    — The Arab Spring starts in 2011, U.S. sees an opening, fans the flames in what started as a legitimate people’s revolt in Syria. Assad fights back, U.S. keeps intervening just enough to keep the fires burning but not much else, chaos ensues. Hillary and David Petraeus demand more U.S. war in Syria, end up instead getting a new U.S. invasion of Libya as a consolation prize from Obama and another failed state is created in another crappy Mideast stinkhole that had been run stably by the same dictator for decades. But we digress.

    — Blah blah, time passes, people die, U.S. declares Assad an evil dictator who “must go,” thinks it negotiates the Russians into the new war to help “free Syria.” Russians grin wildly as they establish new full-force, on-the-ground military footprint inside Syria without a shot fired. They’re back into the game in the Middle East, half-invited by the U.S.!

    — The oops! It turns out the sneaky Russians support Assad (who knew???), as America used to, and aren’t fighting him, like America wants them to. Bad, bad. John Kerry flies around Europe ignored by the White House (“sure, John, off you go, don’t forget to write and let us know how it’s going”) with his trademark Muppety “cautious but optimistic” face.

    — But oops! Things change; the U.S. doesn’t like Assad, no sir, evil dictator kills his own people genocide barrel bombs poison gas save children, but isn’t going to attack him either like the Russians won’t attack him, because the war isn’t about “taking him out” per se except when asked to say that on TV news in America, it is about defeating destroying ISIS. So, the U.S., Russia and hey, sure, why not, Iran, are all on the same side, fighting ISIS.

    — BONUS: The U.S. and Iran are also “fighting ISIS” in Iraq. Iran, the big winner of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, is grinning wildly as it establishes a new full-force, on-the-ground military footprint inside Iraq without a shot fired. They’re back in the game, half-invited by the U.S. Iran had been training and equipping the people who had been fighting the U.S. in Iraq 2003-2011. Now they are helping U.S.-supported Iraqi Shiite militias who had been fighting the U.S. in Iraq 2003-2011 retake the same cities U.S. soldiers died taking 2003-2011.


    And that brings us to this week, where Assad is still around, ISIS is still around, Iraq is still a sectarian mess, Iran more or less controls the Iraqi government and the powerful Shiite militias except for the ones who might just rebel and/or slaughter Sunnis to complete a slow-burn civil war, Turkey a newly-collapsing crappy Mideast-ish stinkhole run by a new dictator and Russia and Iran, always a bit wary of one another, are cooperating militarily to attack ISIS (U.S. thumbs up!) in support of Assad (U.S. thumbs down!)

    And that’s all before we get to the Kurds, who are well on their way to creating a confederacy of Kurdistan carved out of parts of Iraq, Syria and Turkey. That will be the impetus behind the next war inside the Middle East, with most of the same players now in Syria joining in. Figure maybe a year from now or so.




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    If Anyone Runs Out of Guns and Grenades, Here’s a Shopping Market in Baghdad That’s Well-Stocked

    August 12, 2016 // 27 Comments »

    sadr city


    You know how it is. You just get back from a trip to the store and your significant other says “Honey, I just realized we are all out of AK-47s. And while you’re at the market, could you also grab a couple of mortars and some grenades in case your mother stops by again unexpectedly?”


    Yes, it could be Texas, but it actually is what’s going on in Baghdad.

    Iraq news site Niqash tells us about a market in Baghdad’s Sadr City, where masked men display their wares on open tables the same way vegetable sellers do in other city markets. Next to grenades on the tables are rockets, mortars and plenty of other weaponry, with markings that indicate they come from a number of different sources. Welcome one and all to Maridi market, one of Baghdad’s, if not, Iraq’s, most famous “illegal” arms markets.

    (The photo above shows beautiful Sadr City back in the good old days, when America liberated it.)

    There are a lot of ways he obtains weapons, said one trader in the market. The most significant route is across unguarded border crossings from NATO ally Turkey. The guns and other weapons enter Kurdistan (another American ally) and are then brought to Baghdad; checkpoints (manned by Iraqi security forces the U.S. pays for) don’t seem to be a problem and if they are, counterfeit ID cards or a bribe will often work.

    “Most of the weapons come from the military, especially those located near the front,” a vendor told Niqash. “Soldiers who lose their weapons during fighting are not questioned as to why. If a soldier dies fighting, lost weapons are registered in their name. So a lot of the lost weapons are registered in dead soldiers’ names. And those weapons go to the arms dealers.”

    Thanks to many Iraqis wanting to leave the country, soldiers and members of the state security forces also sell their weapons as part of efforts to raise funds. Some soldiers simply want to supplement their income.

    This all could have something to do with why the U.S. can’t seem to win the war in Iraq, but I just can’t put my finger on it right now.



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    Who the Muslim Father’s DNC Speech Really Pandered To

    July 31, 2016 // 37 Comments »

    khan


    Last Thursday night, speaking at the Democratic National Convention, Khizr Khan paid tribute to his son, U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan, who died in Iraq on June 8, 2004, after he tried to stop a suicide bomber.


    As for every parent, husband, wife, brother, sister and friend who lost someone any war, I grieve with them. I am sorry for the Khan’s loss. I am a parent and can all too easily be sent to thinking about the loss of a child.

    So go ahead and hate on me. But of the almost 7,000 American families who lost sons and daughters in the last 15 years of American war of terror, why did the Democrats choose a single Muslim family to highlight?

    No one knows how many hundreds of thousands (millions?) of non-American Muslims were killed as collateral damage along the way in those wars. Who spoke for them at the Convention?



    I found the Democrats’ message shallow. It was pandering of the most contemptible kind, but not as some say simple pandering for Muslim votes from those alienated by Trump’s rhetoric.

    The Democratic pandering was to an America that wants to believe we have good Muslims (who express their goodness by sending their kids to fight our wars) and “they” have the bad Muslims (who express their badness by sending their kids to fight their wars.) The pandering was to the cozy narrative that makes the majority of Americans comfortable with perpetual war in the Middle East and Africa.


    MORE: At one point Khan challenged Trump, “You have sacrificed nothing and no one.” True. But let us also remember the Clinton family sent no one to war. Their daughter did not serve any more than any Trump kid. Bill and Hillary served exactly as many days as Trump and Melania. Khan should have been more inclusive in his condemnation.

    I would also like to ask Khan how he reconciles his son’s death with the fact that only a few years later Iraq is still deep in war.

    Trump is an ass and I do not support him in any way. I am particularly troubled by his hate speech directed at Muslims, and Mexicans, and everyone else he hates.

    It is not disrespectful to discuss these things. Khan choose to put himself and his son’s death on television to serve a partisan political purpose. We need to talk about what he talked about.





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    Defeating Islamic Terrorism. Here’s How…

    July 25, 2016 // 3 Comments »

    isis lego


    As terrorism struck again in Nice and Germany and… Donald Trump outlined his policy against Islamic State: as president, he will seek a full declaration of war from Congress, the first such formal invocation since Pearl Harbor.


    Trump was short on specifics but very clear he would take the strategies of the post-9/11 era into a presidency. Clinton, for her part, intends on “intensifying the current air campaign [and] stepping up support for local forces on the ground.” Their French counterpart, President Francois Hollande, declared “We will continue striking those who attack us on our own soil.”


    The problem is that none of that will work. While perhaps necessary at times, military force is far from sufficient in defeating Islamic terrorism.

    Post-Germany, Post-Nice, post-Brussels, post-Turkey, post-Paris… it is clear the last 15 years of the war on terror in general, and the last two against Islamic State in particular, have not worked. No society can defend itself fully when any truck can be turned into a weapon. No amount of curating social media will prevent disenfranchised people from becoming radicalized. Ramadi fell, Fallujah fell, Mosul will likely fall, and Nice still happened.

    “The effect that’s going to happen now is like stepping on a ball of mercury,” stated one American intelligence analyst. “You step on a ball of mercury, all the pieces break up and spread around the world.”


    A new way of thinking is needed.


    The west must be willing to understand Islamic terror beyond scary search engine terms and decide if we wish to tackle the problem at its core, or simply choose to live with a new normal where incidents like Nice will just happen. Here is what might be considered. It will be hard, and will be unpopular.


    — Admit the current strategy has not worked. Agree, in the U.S. and abroad, that something new is needed. Statements such as those from Trump and Clinton block anything beyond more of the same.


    — Understand that the roots of Islamic terror rest in part in the Sunni-Shia divide, which the west helped fuel in arming jihadists in Afghanistan in the 1980s and whose fuse the west lit in 2003 when it invaded once-stable Iraq. A significant amount of terror takes place insider the Muslim world, and sectarianism is a steady fuel for recruitment.

    At the same time, both sides of the divide recruit well off of horror stories of CIA torture, the continued existence of Guantanamo, the fits of Islamophobia played out in western refugee policy, French and American militarization of Islamic Africa, and a core belief that the actual goal of the western powers is not to “defeat Islamic State,” but to create a permanent state of war against Muslims while garrisoning the Middle East (it used to be more about taking Arab oil, but the point is the same.) More war, more troops, and more draconian security measures are just gas on those fires.


    — Another driver of Islamic terror is the unhappiness of many Muslim youth with the autocratic, secular governments in most of their Arab nations. The west must pull back its support for such governments and lessen its fear of non-secular governments. What Washington sees, for example as expedient, realpolitik decisions to support the repressive Saudi government, Bahrain where the United States turns a blind eye to human rights in return for an important naval base, or allowing the Arab Spring to be crushed in Egypt as a military coup unseated the only democratically elected president in the nation’s history, have not worked well in even the medium term. Same for supporting the corrupt government in Baghdad.

    The west must find rapprochement with Muslim leadership (Iran, with a robust participatory component inside a fundamentalist theocracy, is an interesting example.) Much of radical jihadism is less about destroying the west than it is about changing the Middle East; even 9/11, the worst of the terror attacks, had as its extended purpose pulling the United States into Afghanistan in hopes of triggering a broader Muslim uprising across the region.


    — Immigration out of the Middle East is toothpaste out of the tube. It can’t be snaked back in by tough policies against refugees or stopping Muslims from entering the United States. Western nations must assimilate their Islamic immigrants.

    Islamophobia, law enforcement discriminatory targeting of Muslims, hot-headed rhetoric and the rise of right wing governments pleasing citizens enamored anxious to trade their freedom for security, fuel the anger and sense of displacement of so-called lone wolves, and send them to the solutions offered by groups such as Islamic State. It is not about cleaning up Twitter. It is about chipping away at the mindset that makes those 140 character messages so attractive.


    This is, in the end, a long war of ideas. Success must include difficult decisions to acknowledge the tides of history moving across the Middle East. Because you can’t stop the next truck. You do have a chance at making it so a man won’t choose to get behind the wheel.



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    Whither Turkey?

    July 15, 2016 // 15 Comments »

    A friend of the blog passes on these comments:

    I have just been watching the “Breaking News” about the military coup in Turkey and have been appalled at the historical ignorance of what all of these talking heads, Wolf Blitzer, et al are telling the American people.

    Not a single anchorperson has referred to the Turkish military’s traditional role as the protector of Kemal Ataturk’s original 1920’s military coup to make Turkey a modern sectarian state rather than an Islamist Ottoman oligarchy. This was just following Turkey’s defeat in WWI and the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire, which was aligned with Germany during the war.

    All of the anchors keep referring to the coup using the phrase “the coup is attempting to overthrow the democratically elected government of Erdogan.” Not a single one has appended that statement with the explanatory note that Erdogan, whose Party is the Islamist Party in Turkey, has used his term in office to slowly restrict free speech, crackdown on a free press, suppress opposition parties, and wage endless wars against the Kurds while tacitly supporting Jihadist groups in Syria who are aligned with ISIS. His aim was to become a permanent ruler in an Islamist state.


    Another interesting sideline that our MSM carefully stays away from is analyzing the potential conflicts within the U.S. government which this coup presents.

    On one hand there must exist very close ties between the U.S. military and Turkish military, since we jointly use Incirlik air base for operations. Then there is the State Department, who is probably having kiniptions over the deal that we signed with Erdogan for Turkey to hold hundreds of thousands of Iraqi-Syrian refugees from entering Europe.

    There still is very testy question of how we can do any business with a coup government that has overthrown a NATO member government. Of course our morals on that are very loose since we helped the Egyptian military overthrow their government, but they didn’t belong to NATO.

    My feeling is that this coup is long overdue and the outcome can be positive for returning Turkey to a more open society. Turkey, under Erdogan and his party, were aligned with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf regressive kingdoms so a sectarian Turkey may cut that tie. A little light in an otherwise dismal outlook.



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    Clinton Says She Was ‘Unaware’ She Was Sending Classified Material on Email Server

    July 12, 2016 // 24 Comments »

    hillary


    She never, through the year and a half that the email saga played out, claimed she did not realize she was transmitting highly classified government secrets through her private email server. Until now.

    A quick recap of Clinton’s explanations about all that classified material on her personal email server, because she has a couple of new ones now.

    — For six some years she hid the fact that she used a personal email server at all;

    — When first outed, she said unambiguously there was no classified at all;

    — After the first reports that highly classified data was sent and received, she changed her line to “nothing marked classified.”

    Now that the FBI has declined prosecution stating Clinton had no “intent” to send and receive all sorts of classified data, marked and unmarked, Hillary has adopted a brand new excuse: why, golly gosh, she just didn’t know it was classified! She is also throwing some of her staff under the bus for good measure.

    On Friday, Clinton said she did not realize she was transmitting highly classified government secrets through her private email server while U.S. secretary of state.

    Instead, Clinton shifted the blame onto her former colleagues at the State Department, saying in television interviews she followed their lead on whether or not information was classified. “They, I believe, did not believe they were sending any material that was classified, they were pursuing their responsibilities,” she said in an interview with MSNBC.

    She did not address the findings by the Federal Bureau of Investigation that she herself sent information on topics classified at the highest levels of classification.



    Her newest excuse is obviously tailored to match what the FBI said. It holds no water.

    First of course is that with her decades of government experience, it is expected that Clinton would know highly classified data from unclassified. Some of the documents that passed through her server were at the Top Secret/Special Access Program level, and appear to have discussed information obtained via satellite spying on North Korea. Others discussed the names of CIA officials, including at least one who was undercover as a Defense Attache abroad. Some documents were clearly marked classified as Clinton saw them on her Blackberry.

    You may not have had a clearance for decades like Hillary, but it seems even a lay person would know that is not run-of-the-mill stuff. At the very least, you might have asked someone to check into it. Clinton’s newest excuse, essentially an ignorance defense, seems a weak qualification for the presidency.

    In addition, by statute, Clinton was the senior classification officer for the Department of State. Of course most of that job was delegated, but delegation does not remove responsibility. Indeed, as president she will delegate most of her work, and blaming problems on underlings is a clear sign of poor leader.

    I know, I know, you’ll vote for her anyway.



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    The Baghdad Bombings, Islamic State and What America Still Hasn’t Learned

    July 8, 2016 // 12 Comments »

    Baghdad_Sign from 2004


    The suicide bombings in Baghdad by Islamic State, timed for maximum violence, are only the latest reminders that the United States should not downplay the group.

    Since the wave of Islamic State suicide bombings in May – killing 522 people inside Baghdad, and 148 people inside Syria – American officials have downplayed the suicide bombing strategy as defensive. Brett McGurk, the Special Presidential Envoy in the fight against Islamic State, said the group “returned to suicide bombing” as the area under its control shrinks. The American strategy of focusing primarily on the “big picture” recapture of territory seems to push the suicide bombings to the side. “It’s their last card,” stated a compliant Iraqi spokesperson in response to the attacks.

    The reality is just the opposite. Just a day after the June 26 liberation of Fallujah, car bombs exploded in eastern and southern Baghdad. Two other suicide bombers were killed outside the city. An improvised explosive device exploded in southwest Baghdad a day earlier. And now the latest, with a death toll approaching 200.

    Washington should know better than to underestimate the power of small weapons to shape large events. After Donald Rumsfeld labeled Iraqi insurgents as “dead enders” in 2003, they began taking a deadly toll of American forces via suicide bombs. It was the 2006 bombing of the Shi’ite al-Askari Golden Mosque in Samarra that kicked the Iraqi civil war into high gear. It was improvised explosive devices and car bombs that kept American forces on the defensive through 2011.

    To believe suicide bombings represent a weakening of Islamic State is a near-total misunderstanding of the hybrid nature of the group; Islamic State melds elements of a conventional army and an insurgency. To “win,” one must defeat both versions.

    ISIS differs from a traditional insurgency in that it seeks to hold territory. This separates it from al Qaeda, and most other radical groups, and falsely leads the United States to believe that retaking strategic cities like Fallujah from Islamic State is akin to “defeating” it, as if it is World War Two again and we are watching blue arrows move across the map toward Berlin. McGurk, following Fallujah, even held a press conference announcing Islamic State has now lost 47 percent of its territory. That may be true, but it also does not really matter.


    Simultaneously with holding and losing territory, Islamic State uses terror and violence to achieve political ends.

    Islamic State has no aircraft and no significant long-range weapons, making it a very weak conventional army when facing down the combined forces of the United States, Iran and Iraq in set piece battles. It can, however, use suicide bombs to strike into the very heart of Shi’ite Baghdad (and Syria, Jordan, Yemen, and Turkey – as Tuesday’s bombing reminds us), acting as a strong transnational insurgency.


    Why does such strength matter in the face of ISIS’ large-scale losses such as Fallujah?

    Violence in the heart of Iraqi Shi’ite neighborhoods empowers hardliners to seek revenge. Core Sunni support for Islamic State grows out of the need for protection from a Shi’ite dominated military, which seeks to marginalize if not destroy the Sunnis. Reports of Shi’ite atrocities leaking out of the ruins of Sunni Fallujah are thus significant. Fallujah was largely destroyed in order to “save” it, generating some 85,000 displaced persons, mirroring what happened in Ramadi. Those actions remind many Sunnis of why they supported Islamic State (and al Qaeda before them) in the first place.

    Suicide strikes reduce the confidence of the people in their government’s ability to protect them; Prime Minister Abadi was ridiculed at the site of the most recent attack, and a member of his cabinet forced to resign. In Iraq, that sends Shi’ite militias into the streets, and raises questions about the value of civil institutions like the Iraqi National Police. Victories such as the retaking of Ramadi and Fallujah, and a promised assault on Mosul, mean little to people living at risk inside the nation’s capital.

    American commanders have already had to talk the Iraqi government out of pulling troops from the field to defend Baghdad, even as roughly half of all Iraqi security forces are already deployed there. This almost guarantees more American soldiers will be needed to take up the slack.

    Anything that pulls more American troops into Iraq fits well with the anti-American Islamic State narrative. Few Iraqis are left who imagine the United States can be an honest broker in their country. A State Department report found that one-third of all Iraqis believe the Americans are actually supporting Islamic State, while 40 percent are convinced that the United States is trying to destabilize Iraq for its own purposes.

    The suicide bombings — in Iraq and elsewhere — are not desperate or defensive moves. They are not inconsequential. They are careful strategy, the well-thought out application of violence by Islamic State. The United States downplays them at great risk.



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    Stop Giving Chickens Away, Bill Gates

    June 30, 2016 // 29 Comments »

    chicken

    Bill Gates’ philanthropic efforts are usually greeted with near-universal praise from people who love his money believe he is a great humanitarian, but Bill Gates knows very little about sustainable, intelligent development.



    Bolivia to Bill Gates: Go to Hell and Take Your Chickens with You

    The billionaire recently sought to donate 100,000 chickens to impoverished countries. The leftist government of Bolivia, one of the nations to receive the poultry, refused the donation, describing Gates’ gift as “offensive.”

    “He does not know Bolivia’s reality to think we are living 500 years ago, in the middle of the jungle not knowing how to produce,” said Bolivia’s minister of land and rural development. “Respectfully, he should stop talking about Bolivia, and once he knows more, apologize to us.”

    Coop Dreams

    Gates announced the chicken initiative — dubbed [Honestly, I am not making this up] “Coop Dreams” — earlier this month.

    “It’s pretty clear to me that just about anyone who’s living in extreme poverty is better off if they have chickens,” wrote Gates, who was born in a well-to-do suburb and has pretty much been one of the One Percent ever since. “In fact, if I were in their shoes, that’s what I would do — I would raise chickens.” He says that the animals are easy and inexpensive to raise, empower women (“because chickens are small and stay close to home”), and can help feed children in poor families.

    Melinda Gates also likes chickens and women. She calls chickens “the ATM of the poor,” because they are easy to sell on short notice to cover day-to-day expenses.



    What’s Wrong with Free Stuff?

    So Bolivia aside, what could be wrong with free chickens?

    — All countries have some sort of market economy going on. Farmers raise animals, and sell them to local people. In places without a lot of electricity and transportation, this all functions at a micro-level. There is a relationship between the economic needs and capacities of the farmer and how much food the local people want to buy. If you dump lots of free chicken into that system, the system tends to collapse. Prices can go up if people get greedy and push food out of the budgets of many, or go down because supply exceeds demand, and that can drive farmers out of business.

    — The bit about “empowering women” by having them raise chickens can have the same effect as above, basically adding lots more producers into a closed system and hoping everything does not go to hell. It also ignores the question of what else those women might have to do, how many know anything about raising chickens, have space to do it and have the money needed to buy feed, veterinary services, whatever chicken raisers need.

    — If the woman ends up with more chicken than her family needs, how is she to market it? Does she have access to transportation? Is there a dealer network? Most markets in the developing world are closed systems; one does not simply wander in and set up a stall.

    — If a large number of women, or anybody, are raising chickens, why would others need to buy chickens? Wouldn’t they be raising their own?

    — When people come to believe someone from the outside will randomly show up with free stuff, they tend to stop working very hard and just wait for the next shipment. Until it doesn’t come and then pretty much their world collapses.

    — In developing economies, one does not just acquire 100,000 chickens, or import them, and drive around the countryside in four-wheel drive Ubers. One must work with the host country officials, who, sad to say, see their jobs mainly as a way to get rich off of corruption. There is a very good chance the well-meaning Gates’ will encourage host-country corruption by paying the bribes, processing fees, needed for their chickens, and there is a good chance the local officials will shake down the recipients of the charity once Bill has moved on to do good elsewhere.

    — Now the reason you would donate chickens to a country is because that country lacks enough chickens. Well, you better hope that the chickens you buy somewhere else don’t bring in anything like disease or pests that the host country is not ready for.

    — Bill claims most of the people he wants to give chickens to earn only $2 a day, but that the chickens sell for $5 a bird. Who will be buying up all that chicken? Maybe at some point a kind of chicken-trickle-down effect will occur?

    — Bill and Melinda write about how when women in these countries become entrepreneurs with chicken, they will “have a voice.” Money certainly does talk in the world Bill and Melinda live in, but in traditional societies (for better or worse) the role of women changes very, very slowly. A few bucks made selling chickens, if that even happens, is unlikely to dent thousands of years of culture, particularly if that culture is also deeply embedded in a religion such as Islam. And some women may not really want to be entrepreneurs. The West tends to assume that all Muslim women, for example, hate the way their life works and wish to one day were mini-skirts and strappy red high heels



    Sustainability

    If you are talking about a short-term food donation to stave off hunger, such as after an earthquake, go ahead, please help. But for any long-term good to come of all this, it must respect the realities of the local market, and it must be sustainable. Free chickens are unlikely to do that.


    BONUS: Now some might ask: Peter, how do you know anything about this? To which I would answer: because I watched an almost identical project fail in Iraq. The United States, in what we called Operation Chicken Run, sought to remake the local chicken market in a rural area of Iraq, and every bad thing I mentioned above actually did happen, in real time, around us. There’s a whole chapter in my book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People about this, appropriately titled “Chicken Sh*t.”

    DOUBLE BONUS: Bill Gates would probably improve the lives of more people by dumping 100,000 X-Boxes on them.




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    Destroying Fallujah to ‘Save It’

    June 21, 2016 // 10 Comments »

    ramadi

    One of the concepts that emerged from the Vietnam War was that of destroying a village to save it.

    The idea was that by leveling a place where people once lived, the area would be denied to the Viet Cong. The people? Well, they’d just have to find somewhere else. And you’re welcome, for your freedom!

    The same cynical policy seems very much underway now in Iraq, in the U.S.-led campaign against Islamic State.


    Fallujah

    The current focus is on the city of Fallujah. During Iraq War 2.0, the United States captured the city twice, the final time via a siege that would have embarrassed the Nazis outside Stalingrad. White phosphorus and depleted uranium weapons were used against a civilian population living amidst some groups of Sunni militias and al Qaeda terrorists. No one knows the civilian death count.

    In Iraq War 3.0, 2016 edition, beleaguered Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was quick to declare victory in mid-June after Shia militias reached the center of Fallujah, displacing the Islamic State (an official in the U.S.-led coalition said Iraqi forces had so far taken only half of Fallujah, but why does that matter.)

    Whomever is winning, the fighting has forced more than 85,000 residents to flee in a humanitarian crisis you’ll need to work hard to learn more about. One of the few Western journalists actually on the ground in Fallujah, the Washington Post’s Loveday Morris (follow her at @LovedayM if you have any interest in Iraq at all), described the scene as “No tents, latrines, water tanks for some. Aid agencies just can’t keep up. In 4.5 years covering Syria and Iraq I’ve never seen conditions this bad… No words.”


    Ramadi

    It will be years, if ever, before Fallujah is a functioning city again. How do we know? Because of Ramadi.

    Ramadi was the city before Fallujah that was destroyed to free it from Islamic State. Some six months after that victory, the city remains a disaster zone. Estimates are that almost 80 percent of the buildings in Ramadi, including the majority of around 32,000 residential housing units, infrastructure, government departments and schools, have been damaged or destroyed. ISIS did its share of damage, but the U.S. launched thousands of airstrikes, artillery barrages and rocket attacks into the urban areas. Shia militias did the rest.

    Special engineering committees were created to assess the damages, award compensation and schedule re-building. Forms are still being given out to members of the public who venture back into the ruins. According to local administrators, around $19.5 billion will be needed to rebuild the city.

    Since the committees started work in May, they have received around 17,000 applications for compensation, says the mayor of Ramadi. About 50,000 are expected. Staff have managed to process 3,000 applications so far and have made the required site visits at a rate of only 30 and 50 per day.

    So far, the Baghdad central government has only provided about one million dollars. That’s Ramadi. Fallujah awaits.



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    Is ISIS Converting Two-Thirds of Humvees Given to Iraq Into Car Bombs?

    June 17, 2016 // 7 Comments »

    Humvee


    We may have achieved peak military-industrial complex: the U.S. is in part supplying both sides of the Iraq-Islamic State conflict and through that, creating the need for a new class of weapons to be sold as a counter measure. As arms manufacturers across our great land say, it doesn’t get any better than this.


    Islamic State militants have not only acquired a grand majority of the military Humvees gifted to and then abandoned by the Iraqi Army, they are now re-purposing them into car bombs to use against the Iraqi Army (Hint: don’t leave the keys in the car next time.*)

    Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi confirmed that 2,300 are in ISIS hands, more than two-thirds of all Humvees provided to Iraq by the U.S.

    While the vehicles make for handy battlefield transportation, it turns out they are almost tailor-made for use as suicide car bombs.

    “There’s a simple reason the militants are using Humvees and other armored vehicles as rolling bombs,” reported Foreign Policy. “Their armor plating prevents defenders from killing the trucks’ drivers before the militants can detonate their loads, while the vehicles’ capacity to carry enormous amounts of weight means the Islamic State can pack in a ton of explosives.”


    What to do when the weapons you gave to the Iraqi Army ended up as a super weapon of the enemy? Why, you sell new weapons to the Iraqi Army!

    And so the U.S. has outfitted the Kurdish Peshmerga with 1,000 AT-4 anti-tank missiles last year, and plans to send 2,000 to the so-called Iraqi Army. Germany has provided the Peshmerga with the Milan guided missile, which has also been proven effective against the Humvee bombs. Assuming the Iraqi side holds on to their American-made missiles, they can be used to blow up the American-made Humvees.

    The things work well. In fact, according to the Daily Caller, the anti-tank missiles are so popular, one Kurdish family even named their child after the weapon.


    * Joke! They don’t have keys.



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    It’s You, Isn’t It Hillary?

    June 3, 2016 // 23 Comments »

    hillary1


    After losing the race for president in 2008, Hillary made plans to never have that happen again.


    She believed — no, she was certain — that history had chosen her to be the first woman president of the United States. All the years of acting the role of First Lady, all the public humiliation with Bill’s sex life strewn across TV, it would all finally pay off.

    And she wrote a damn good script. Once again swallowing her pride, Hillary came to publicly support Barack Obama, taking as her prize the job of Secretary of State. As Secretary, she amassed hours of B-roll footage of herself traveling around the world empowering women, talking tough to dictators, showing concern, lots of safe smoke with no dangerous fire.


    About a year ago everything looked good.

    She had a summer autobiography out with a not-running-for-president book tour to get her into the news ahead of a fall announcement to run. Bill was again at her side, the Old Dog returning some big favors by sharing his popular image. The Democratic National Party made sure the fix was in, assuring that she’d only have as “competition” loyal punching bag Martin O’Malley, who’d fight the good fight for awhile before graciously disappearing forever. And just in case, the superdelegate system was tweaked up to ensure Hillary didn’t even really need to win too many primaries. That would also bank campaign funds for the general election. She’d be on the offensive the whole time, controlling the message, basically running an 18 month general election campaign.

    On the Republican side, Hillary faced no real challenge. A limp Jeb, a frustrating Mario, an unsteady Cruz and some has-beens and never will be’s. It’d be a turkey shoot.


    But… but… Hillary just couldn’t stop being herself.

    She is now struggling to just stay above water, hoping to limp to the nomination based on some funny delegate math and a few earlier victories in the South. If she is the nominee, she’ll be the least popular and least trusted nominee from her party in its history, with a negative campaign based nearly 100% on hoping people dislike Trump just a bit more than they dislike her.


    And she did it all by herself.

    Her endless paranoia led her to create that private email server as Secretary of State, despite advice to the contrary (as well as common sense.) She tried to hide it, until she got caught. Her reaction then was to sound like a desperate lawyer without much of case, parsing words and claiming she was the victim of a “vast right wing conspiracy.” Under pressure, she later issued a without-consequences faux apology and pleaded with people to forget the whole thing. Served by a compliant media, she was pretty successful.

    But her lies and parsing and prevarications ended her up as the only candidate in U.S. history running for office while under investigation by the FBI.

    She and her aides are being subpoenaed in multiple Freedom of Information Act cases. The State Department — her State Department — issued a scathing Inspector General report blowing holes in her multiple explanations for the server. State still has an open and ongoing conflict of interest investigation into Clinton’s decision to have senior aide Huma Abedin employed simultaneously by Clinton, the State Department, a Clinton-connected private firm and the Clinton Foundation. Accusations and investigations into the shady finances of and overseas donations to the Clinton Foundation swirl.


    If any of this would have caught the public’s eye a few months sooner, Bernie Sanders would already have the Democratic nomination. If somehow the primary season had a few more months to go, Bernie Sanders would have the nomination.

    The game is not over, and Clinton must survive the final primaries, an FBI report on her mishandling of classified materials on her email server, the convention, and of course the general election itself. Trump will be a rough opponent, and Clinton will be on the defensive much of the time. It is unclear how many of Sanders’ supporters will come over to her after such a bitter primary season.


    Clinton may yet sneak through all this to claim her prize, floating on the apparent new standard for the presidency, “at least she’s not under indictment.” But is that really the way we want to now choose our leaders?



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