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    Who’s to Blame for Losing Afghanistan?

    August 28, 2021 // 14 Comments »


     

    Who should we blame for losing Afghanistan? Why blame anyone?

    Did anyone expect the U.S. war in Afghanistan to end cleanly? If so, you bought the lies all along and the cold water now is hitting sharp. While the actual ending is particularly harsh and clearly spliced together from old clips of Saigon 1975, those are simply details.

    Why blame Biden? He played his part as a Senator and VP keeping the war going, but his role today is just being the last guy in a long line of people to blame, a pawn in the game. That Biden is willing to be the “president who lost Afghanistan” is all the proof you need he does not intend to run again for anything. Kind of an ironic version of a young John Kerry’s take on Vietnam “how do you ask the last man to die for a mistake?” Turns out, it’s easy: call Joe.

    Blame Trump for the deal? One of the saddest things about the brutal ending of the U.S.-Afghan war is we would have gotten the same deal — just leave it to the Taliban and go home — at basically any point during the last 20 years. That makes every death and every dollar a waste. Afghanistan is simply reverting, quickly, to more or less status quo 9/10/01 and everything between then and now, including lost opportunities, will have been wasted.

    Blame the NeoCons? No one in Washington who supported this war was ever called out, with the possible exception of Donald Rumsfeld who, if there is a hell, now cleans truck stop toilets there. Dick Cheney walks free. The generals and diplomats who ran the war have nice think tank or university jobs, if they are not still in government making equally bad decisions. No one has been legally, financially, or professionally disadvantaged by the blood on their hands. Some of the era’s senior leaders — Blinken, Rice, Power, Nuland — are now working in better jobs for Biden. I’d like to hope they have trouble sleeping at night, but I doubt it.

    George Bush is a cuddly grandpa today, not the man who drove the United States into building a global prison archipelago to torture people. Barack Obama, who kept much of that system in place and added the drone killing of American citizens to his resume, remains a Democratic rock god. Neither man nor any of his significant underlings has expressed any regret or remorse.

    For example, I just listened to Ryan Crocker, our former ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan, on CNN. Making myself listen to him was about as fun as sticking my tongue in a wood chipper. Same for former general David Petraeus and the usual gang of idiots. None of them, the ones who made the decisions, accept any blame. Instead. they seem settled on blaming Trump because, well, everything bad is Trump’s fault even if he came into all this in the middle of the movie.

    In the end the only people punished were the whistleblowers.

    No one in the who is to blame community seems willing to take the story back to its beginning, at least the beginning for America’s latest round in the Graveyard of Empires (talk about missing an early clue.) This is what makes Blame Trump and Blame Biden so absurd. America’s modern involvement in this war began in 1979 when Jimmy Carter, overreacting to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to prop up what was already a pro-Soviet puppet government, began arming and organizing Islamic warriors we now collectively know as “The Taliban.”

    People who want to only see trees they can chop down and purposely want to miss the vastness of the forest ahead at this point try to sideline things by claiming there never was a single entity called “The Taliban” and the young Saudis who flocked to jihad to kill Russians technically weren’t funded by the U.S. (it was indirectly through Pakistan) or that the turning point was the 1991 Gulf War, etc. Quibbles and distractions.

    If Carter’s baby steps to pay for Islamic warriors to fight the Red Army was playing with matches, Ronald Reagan poured gas, then jet fuel, on the fire. Under the Reagan administration the U.S. funded the warriors (called mujaheddin if not freedom fighters back then), armed them, invited their ilk to the White House, helped lead them, worked with the Saudis to send in even more money, and fanned the flames of jihad to ensure a steady stream of new recruits.

    When we “won” it was hailed as the beginning of the real end of the Evil Empire. The U.S. defeated the mighty Red Army by sending over some covert operators to fight alongside stooge Islam warriors for whom a washing machine was high technology. Pundits saw it as a new low-cost model for executing American imperial will.

    We paid little attention to events as we broke up the band and cut off the warriors post-Soviet withdrawal (soon enough some bozo at the State Department declared “the end of history.” He teaches at Stanford now) until the blowback from this all nipped us in the largely unsuccessful World Trade Center bombing of 1993, followed by the very successful World Trade Center bombing on September 11, 2001. Seems like there was still some history left to go.

    How did U.S. intelligence know who the 9/11 culprits were so quickly? Several of them had been on our payroll, or received financing via proxies in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, or were inspired by what had happened in Afghanistan, the defeat of the infidels (again; check Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, the Mughal Empire, various Persian Empires, the Sikhs, the British, et al.)

    If post-9/11 the U.S. had limited itself to a vengeful hissy fit in Afghanistan, ending with Bush’s 2003 declaration of “Mission Accomplished,” things would have been different. If the U.S. had used the assassination of Osama bin Laden, living “undiscovered” in the shadow of Pakistan’s military academy, as an excuse of sorts to call it a day in Afghanistan, things would have been different.

    Instead Afghanistan became a petri dish to try out the worst NeoCon wet dream, nation-building across the Middle East. Our best and brightest would not just bomb Afghanistan into the stone age, they would then phoenix-it from the rubble as a functioning democracy. There was something for everyone: a military task to displace post-Cold War budget cuts, a pork-laden reconstruction program for contractors and diplomats, even a plan to empower Afghan women to placate the left.

    Though many claim Bush pulling resources away from Afghanistan for Iraq doomed the big plans, it was never just a matter of not enough resources. Afghanistan was never a country in any modern sense to begin with, just an association of tribal entities who hated each other almost as much as they hated the west. The underpinnings of the society were a virulent strain of Islam, about as far away from any western political and social ideas as possible. Absent a few turbaned Uncle Toms, nobody in Afghanistan was asking to be freed by the United States anyway.

    Pakistan, America’s “ally” in all this, was a principal funder and friend of the Taliban, always more focused on the perceived threat from India, seeing a failed state in Afghanistan as a buffer zone. Afghanistan was a narco-state with its only real export heroin. Not only did this mean the U.S. wanted to build a modern economy on a base of crime, the U.S. in different periods actually encouraged/ignored the drug trade into American cities in favor of the cash flow.

    The Afghan puppet government and military the U.S. formed were uniformly corrupt, and encouraged by the endless inflow of American money to get more corrupt all the time. They had no support from the people and could care less. The Afghans in general and the Afghan military in particular did not fail to hold up their end of the fighting; they never signed up for the fight in the first place. No Afghan wanted to be the last man to die in service to American foreign policy.

    There was no way to win. The “turning point” was starting the war at all. Afghanistan had to fail. There was no other path for it, other than being propped up at ever-higher costs. That was American policy for two decades: prop up things and hope something might change. It was like sending more money to a Nigerian cyber-scammer hoping to recoup your original loss.

    Everything significant our government, the military, and the MSM told us about Afghanistan was a lie. They filled and refilled the bag with bullhockey and Americans bought it every time expecting candy canes. Keep that in mind when you decide who to listen to next time, because of course there will be a next time. Who has not by now realized that? We just passively watched 20 years of Vietnam all over again, including the sad ending. So really, who’s to blame?

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Afghanistan, Biden, Embassy/State, Military, Trump

    QAnon Militia Embed

    July 31, 2021 // 14 Comments »


    See if you think this is funny.

    He called himself a QAnon Tier I Ranger SEAL Operator, and had the 17 tabs down one sleeve overflowing with velcro to prove it. “In a situation like this, you, Embed, stick to me and I’ll get you home, brother. Unless the GPS gets us lost again.”

    Behind the wheel of his F-150 looking for parking near the state capitol, I knew he meant it. The eyes, always the eyes. In the backseat was his AR-15 gun with the handle on top, equipped with several dozen accessories from Bass Pro. His personal gear said he was ready, clothing half in arctic-urban-backyard camo, half blaze orange. “I can’t afford this sh*t unless I can get two seasons out of it,” he said. He asked I call him “Mike,” though I found out on Facebook his real name is Michael. His tactical hair gel caught the light as he spoke.

    “The plan goes down like this. If we find free parking we approach from the east. If we have to feed the meter, I come in from the north and the guys coming by city bus will enter east. The radio rang. “Honey, I told you it’ll be after 6pm… I don’t know, get a pizza,” he said in some sort of code.

    “The mission today is simple. Occupy the space in front of the CNN camera crew and dominate the interviews. The CNN crew will ID themselves by removing their heads from their own butts, so watch for the signal. Stay frosty in case we spot Maddow and I call an audible. And bunch up so it looks like there’re more of us.”

     

    Hah, pretty funny, yeah? I made that up. But this is true: Daily Beast published a “scoop” revealing one of the men charged in the January 6 riot had a fully assembled Lego model of the Capitol in his home, which the FBI insinuated was used as a tactical planning tool and thus seized as evidence. It formed part of the prosecution’s argument against bail. The problem is even that wasn’t true; the man merely had the unopened Lego set and the prosecutors lied. “In original detention memoranda, the undersigned stated that law enforcement found a ‘fully constructed U.S. Capitol Lego set.’ The Lego set was in a box and not fully constructed at the time of the search,” the new filing says. Meanwhile the accused rioter remains in jail. The Lego Capitol set, once sold in the Capitol gift shop, is still available on Amazon.

     

    And this is true and not so funny. Most of the 538 people arrested for the January riot did not commit acts of violence, and face accusations of little more than gussied up trespassing. Many were charged simply with violating a 6 pm curfew imposed that day. Yet almost all have been denied bail and are being held in solitary in Washington, D.C. city jails as a “safety measure.” The result is the accused find themselves in lockdown 23 hours a day before their trials even start.

    In any other context such treatment of innocent people would raise a woke storm. The ACLU claims “prolonged solitary confinement is torture and certainly should not be used as a punitive tool to intimidate or extract cooperation.” Except that it is in what has become a punitive political prosecution. The decision maker on the accused’s jail conditions? Biden’s Attorney General.

    Meanwhile, after six months, the first person was finally tried. She turned out to be a woman who plead to a misdemeanor charge of “parading in the Capitol building” and was given probation. The second prosecution ended with time served on a misdemeanor charge. Next up was a yet-unsentenced plea to “obstructing Congress.” Another trespasser had his bail revoked and was sent to solitary for leaving a voicemail referencing “the size of his genitalia.” In a Zoom hearing, the same fellow “wore sweatpants and ate breakfast on the call,” and in February sent a “vulgar” email where he called an FBI agent “fat necked.” Brownshirt stuff, amiright?

    In another pending case involving no violence or vandalism, prosecutors demanded maximum penalties, stating though “individuals convicted of such behavior may have no criminal history, their beliefs make them unique among criminals in the likelihood of recidivism.” In other words, a thought crime. The single felony conviction out of all of this led to only an 8 month sentence for “obstructing an official proceeding.” Prosecutors had demanded a much greater sentence by claiming the action was a bombastic “assault on democracy.” As a metric, Hitler was sentenced to 5 years in prison following his attempted “beer hall putsch.”

    Only 533 cases more to go to see justice. Rarely have so many resources been used to accomplish so little.

     

    This is also true but not so funny. The day after the Capitol riots, the FBI asked Americans “to step up” and identify people who participated. Not only did friends and relatives rat each other out, but armies of unrelated people jumped at the chance to roleplay Stasi. Even somewhat news organization CNN helped ID people on behalf of the FBI. The NYT published a guide to militia symbols so would-be sleuths could tell their Oathkeepers  from their QAnons. The AP called these citizens “sedition hunters” as America weaponized Kancel Kulture Kids into an e-mob.

    “I put my emotions behind me to do what I thought was right,” said Jackson Reffitt, whose GoFundMe hit $140k after he turned in his own father to the FBI. Himmler’s heart grew three times in size seeing the zeal of ordinary people to get with the pogram.

    Tech found its niche. While the mob was still in the Capitol building multiple groups, including Bellingcat, started to scrape everything posted to build evidence for the FBI. Reddit users created a 12GB tranche of videos. Intelligence X (whose customers are “companies of all sizes and governments”) has 1,300 files. The goal is to crowdsource IDing so no rioter escapes. “If you look at the history and incidents like the 1812 breach of the Capitol as well as the 1933 German Reichstag fire it highlights the need for accurate and original data in historical context,” said Intelligence X’s CEO. Wired reminds us in the context of 1/6 how “Previously, third-party groups archiving video and photo evidence has been crucial in the process of identifying war crimes happening in Syria.” The 1812 breach was by the British Army in time of war. There was no fire, Reichstag or otherwise, on January 6, and no certainly no war crimes.

    Further extending the private sector’s reach into Americans’ civil rights and privacy, the Department of Justice hired a contractor (Deloitte @ $6.1 million) to categorize all this tech-collected data, surrendering the decision of who is prosecutable to private industry. A judge has currently put the project on hold.

    Working the other side of the operation, Facebook, Twitch, and YouTube deleted live streams of the Capitol riot and demonetized the accounts. Twitter went further, tagging Trump’s tweets about the riot with a warning, deactivated most engagement “due to a risk of violence,” all before removing the Trump material completely. For next time, Facebook revealed it has a tool called CrowdTangle which tracks users’ high engagement levels with whatever the hell Facebook thinks is a right-wing media source. The tool is available only to selected academics and journalists, of course.

    And this is not funny at all. The FBI published a manual for citizens to use to report on each other for “displaying a readiness to commit a
    violent act” or even “displaying a mindset oriented toward committing a violent act.” Most of it is recycled from some post-9/11 “How to Spot an Islamic Terrorist Under Your Bed” campaign, making it even more obvious white militia is to be this generation’s jihadi boogie man. Though a jaunty warning reminds many of the FBI’s “indicators” are also constitutionally protected actions, such as owning a gun and criticizing the government, the main point is when in doubt, turn them, Citizen, Your Government will sort them out from inside solitary.

     

    Lot of laffs there. Funny as it is, despite the wishes of Democrats, their FBI, and their MSM, the January 6 riot just was not an attempt to overthrow the U.S. government or change an election. The rioters had absolutely no path to doing that, no mechanism for stopping Joe Biden becoming president. They hardly even qualified as vandals: no fires set, no destruction of priceless paintings or statues, no ransacking of files. They dispersed relatively quickly and simply went home. In contrast, BLM riots took dozens of lives and did millions of dollars in damage across the nation for months.

    The Democrats also have a larger goal in mind, to get people used to working to further political law enforcement, and to become more comfortable with if not demanding of unequal law enforcement as a political tool. So no surprise the Biden administration just unveiled a national strategy to combat “domestic extremism,” calling for ideological screening of government employees for ties to “hate groups.” The plan highlights a shift in the government’s approach to counterterrorism, which for decades prioritized fighting foreign terrorists. Those same tools of war will now be turned inward, on us. And that for sure is not funny.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Afghanistan, Biden, Embassy/State, Military, Trump

    A Tale of Two Murders: George Floyd and Ashli Babbit

    July 24, 2021 // 16 Comments »


    Here’s a tale of two cops and two murders, Derek Chauvin and George Floyd, and John Doe* and Ashli Babbitt. Two cops, two unarmed citizens killed. One you care about, one you don’t. Even murder is politicized these days.

    It is hard to imagine anyone needs much of a recap on Chauvin-Floyd. George Floyd, a black man, tried to pass off a counterfeit $20 bill while messed up on drugs. Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin and other cops responded, and in the process of restraining Floyd, killed him. Everyone has seen the video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck, and as if it was a civic duty, judged for themselves whether it was appropriate, necessary, and the cause of Floyd’s death.

    A jury judged those things, too, and the result was a 22.5 year sentence for Chauvin (in handing down the sentence the judge said it was justified in part because Chauvin “committed his crime in the presence of children,” who of course had gathered to help jeer at the cops.) The woman who shot the snuff video won a Pulitzer prize.

    Floyd’s death set off an angry summer of violence under the rubric Black Lives Matter, as progressives shut down opposing voices and several downtowns to insist Chauvin’s actions were part of something called systemic racism reaching back as far as 1619 in unbroken lineage. Celebrities, politicians, and academics jostled each other for camera time to demand the police be defunded. You might have seen something about all this on the teevee?

    There’s video of Ashli Babbitt being killed by law enforcement but it has been played by the MSM maybe 1/10,000 as often as the Floyd murder porn. Babbitt, wearing a Trump flag like a cape, was one of the rioters who smashing the glass on the door leading to the Speaker’s Lobby of the Capitol. A plain clothes Capitol Police officer without warning fired a shot and Babbitt fell into the crowd and died. It was the only shot fired in the riot. A SWAT team just behind Babbitt saw the situation differently and never fired on her or those with her.

    Like Floyd, Babbitt was unarmed. Like Floyd resisting, Babbitt was committing a crime when she was killed by a cop. Unlike Floyd, there is no question of whether she was resisting arrest because the cop never got that far. He just shot her.

     

    In Floyd’s case, we know everything about Derek Chauvin, and saw him convicted in open court. Not so with Babbitt’s killer. Almost all police departments nationwide are required to release an officer’s name after a fatal shooting. Not the U.S. Capitol Police, which answers only to Congress. Even as Congress demands nationwide police reforms (ironically, the new, lower standards of proof proposed by H.R.1280 — George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021 — would condemn the Capitol cop) they have steadfastly refused to release the name of Babbitt’s killer. In February, the Capitol Police stated they would “share additional information once an investigation is complete.” Investigators closed the case in April, cleared the unnamed officer of wrongdoing in Babbitt’s death without addressing the fact that the medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, and left it at that. Stuff happens, ya know?

    No trial, no public accounting, not even a name for the Babbitt family to use in filing a wrongful death suit. Because Congress exempts the Capitol Police from Freedom of Information Act requests, the family is forced to sue “for documents that identify the officer who shot Babbitt… as well as notes and summaries of what the officer said regarding the shooting and the reasons he discharged his weapon.”

    They’d like more information on Babbitt’s death than the “investigation” provided. The Department of Justice simply wrote there was “insufficient evidence to support a criminal prosecution.” DOJ did not hide its legal fudge, which had its investigators look narrowly on a Constitutional question, not the homicide.

    Without shame DOJ said it focused on 18 U.S.C. § 242, a federal criminal civil rights statute. This requires prosecutors prove the officer acted willfully to deprive Babbitt of a right protected by the Constitution, here the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable seizure.  Prosecutors would have to prove not only that the officer used force that was constitutionally unreasonable, but that the officer did so “willfully” to deprive Babbitt of her 4A rights. That meant evidence an officer acted out of fear, mistake, panic, misperception, negligence, or even poor judgment cannot establish the high level of intent required. In lay terms, that’s called a set-up enroute to a cover-up.

    Contrast that with the Chauvin prosecution, where prosecutors charged manslaughter, second-degree murder, and third-degree murder in the one death of George Floyd, leaving the civil rights question which saved the Capitol cop as a separate matter. That allowed prosecutors to instruct the jury (there of course was no jury in Babbitt’s case) to decide on emotion, saying “Use your common sense. Believe your eyes. What you saw, you saw.” Imagine a jury in Babbitt’s case, exposed to a looping video of her killing, acting on the same instructions. But that never happened.

    No one had much to say during the Babbitt investigation. In Floyd’s case, Joe Biden said he was praying the jury would reach the “right verdict,” calling the evidence “overwhelming in my view.” Maxine Waters demanded protesters become “more confrontational” if Chauvin was acquitted. That was so blatantly inflammatory it was almost grounds for a mistrial.

    The president cheers on one prosecution, remaining silent while another murder is made to go away. Cities erect monuments to George Floyd while the NYT runs gossipy articles on Babbitt’s marriage problems. Asking for justice in Floyd’s case is a duty, even if it means burning down stores. Those who want the same justice for Babbitt are mocked as QAnon cultists. Did she not also bleed?

    Oh, there’s more. Floyd was only on drugs passing fake money because of racism whereas Babbitt was a seditionist, a vandal, who asked for it as certain as if she wore a mini skirt down a dark alley to taunt her rapist. Floyd’s death created a movement for change. Candidate Trump’s embrace of Ashli Babbitt as a martyr anointed “January 6 a heroic uprising” for white supremacists seeking to overthrow democracy. Absolutely no one would write of Floyd, as one MSM outlet did of Babbitt, “her death, while tragic, occurred for a very good reason. The Air Force veteran, who had been fully converted into the most dangerous and fantastical pro-Trump conspiracy theories, had joined the aggressive vanguard of the January 6 insurrection.” Bitch deserved it. The article went on to compare Babbitt’s martyrdom to “Horst Wessel, a German storm trooper killed by communists in 1930, who inspired the eponymous Nazi anthem.

    Others claim Trump is liable for the death, that the answer to Who Killed Ashli Babbitt? is Trump. WaPo wrote “The death of Ashli Babbitt offers the purest distillation of Donald Trump’s view of justice,” which apparently means to them Trump supported George Floyd’s killing while mourning Babbitt’s. Daily Beast frets “If the base believes they are being prosecuted and even ‘assassinated’ [like Babbitt] they will justify anything to reject Democratic rule and future elections that deprive them of power.” Sears and Kmart apologized and pulled from sale T-shirts reading “Ashli Babbitt American Patriot” after an outcry on social media. Headlines read “Marjorie Taylor Greene provokes outrage by comparing Ashli Babbitt’s death to George Floyd’s” because Babbitt was OK-shot “while actively participating in a violent riot” and Floyd was murdered by racists.

    It is difficult in the face of so much hypocrisy to find the air to comment on the state of our country. Some murders are more equal than others. Dead bodies only matter when they can be used for your sides’ political purposes. How many white conservative deaths does it take to equal one black death? Why are some cops murderers and others protected with anonymity and a free-pass investigation?

    The absolute craven transparency of the progressive argument is what gives me hope. Hope that at some point enough Americans will set aside their blind Trump rage, look past the 24/7 propaganda directed at them, and come to realize even murder now only matters for the clicks it generates. Our media is happy to justify Babbitt’s death, seeing it almost in biblical terms for supporting Trump. Floyd, always just a victim of an unjust society.

    Ashli Babbitt was put down for our political sins, and her killer escaped justice with the government’s help. Now ain’t that the Democratic vision of America?

    ———

    *The Capitol Police and the Congress which controls them refuse to name the officer who shot Ashli Babbitt to death on January 6. RealClearInvestigations, however, has identified the shooter as Lieutenant Michael Byrd, a black man. Since then, CNN and others have “voluntarily” removed Byrd’s name from hearing transcripts, and his social media has been scrubbed.

     

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Afghanistan, Biden, Embassy/State, Military, Trump

    The Taxman as Progressive Hero: The Latest Trump Prosecution

    July 17, 2021 // 1 Comment »

    Political prosecutions are not new in America but political pograms are. It is sad to watch the Democratic party embrace such third world practices as policy. It is sadder to note there has never in history been a more sustained yet unsuccessful effort to oust or destroy one man.

    Even before Donald Trump took office Democrats claimed Russia elected him, the Manchurian Candidate. The intelligence community-Democratic Party-media tripartite axis then swung for the fences, using wiretaps obtained through FISA fraud, honeytraps, Australian and Israeli cutouts, intel scrubbed by GHQ, and every other trick in the spy biz.

    They came up so empty-handed even a Deep State O.G. like Robert Mueller could not find anything indictable. Mueller is a forgotten hero, knowing he had nothing and willing to let his legacy be just that, a fade to black, rather than be remembered as the guy who took a dump on the rule of law. You won’t see such courage in failure again; keep reading.

    Despite their beat down over Russiagate’s failed putsch, post-Mueller the Democrats almost immediately set out to impeach Trump on much of nothing. An anonymous whistleblower was planted and then dug up among the intel community, and impeachment hearings kicked off with the speed of a pre-fabbed garage erection. A long string of State Department clones and one sad-sack warrior-bureaucrat basically said they didn’t care for Trump’s Ukraine policy, so let’s impeach him. The whole thing collapsed because a) there was no impeachable offense and b) the more Democrats rooted in the sty for evidence against Trump the more they kept ending up with the Joe and Hunter Biden Ukraine scandal in front of them.

    Not content with one failed impeachment, the Democrats impeached Trump a second time, as a private citizen after he had left office. The set up was to exaggerate unorganized vandalism at the Capitol on January 6 into a full-on coup attempt. Left out was that the vandals had no path whatsoever to overturning the election, were quickly chased out of the building, and just went home. The faux Reichstag moment was then pasted onto Trump’s back like a Kick Me sign in full defiance of the speech-as-incitement rules set by the Supreme Court. A silly show trial failed again.

    In the background were political prosecution attempts so pathetic they never made it to full-failure: the Emolument Clause cases, Stormy Daniels, all things Michael’s Avannati and Cohen, E. Jean Carroll’s rape-cum-defamation case, that one so egregiously lousy even the Biden DOJ took Trump’s side, 25th Amendment shenanigans, plus all the sideshow accusations against Trump family members, including incest. The Southern District of New York leading the current case already failed in 2012 to indict Trump’s children and failed to prosecute Paul Manafort. All the smoking guns fired blanks.

     

    But why quit now? The state and city of New York just filed criminal fraud charges against Trump CFO Allen Weisselberg and the Trump Organization for failing to pay taxes on fringe benefits such as lodging and transportation offered to Weisselberg. Most of the alleged acts took place years ago, before Trump was even president.

    Feel bad for the poor CNN intern whose weekend was ruined after being told to read through New York tax code and “look for dirt.” What he’ll find is a complex mess of taxable and non-taxable fringe benefits. For example, a company car is not taxable when used for business trips but is taxable, on a per mile basis, when used to commute.  You’re supposed to keep records. That of course is unless you elect to use the ALV rule, or if the fair market value exceeds set amounts in the year the vehicle was assigned. Imagine the jury spending days sorting this out only then to also be asked to assess intent; did the Trump Organization intend to commit criminal fraud by mistakenly applying the cents-per-mile standard instead of the ALV? No proven intent means no criminal conviction. And when you’re done with that, members of the jury, move on to the equally dense text covering fringe benefits such as lodging, tuition, and parking.

    The sad thing is all of this is usually dealt with via a tax bill and perhaps an administrative penalty — the point in every previous (non-Trump) case was simply for the state to collect the tax revenue owed. Even NYT admitted it is “highly unusual to indict a company for failing to pay payroll taxes on fringe benefits alone.” But in this case and this case alone prosecutors went further, criminalizing the affair claiming it was intentional fraud. That raised the specter of jail time, and sent the case into the headlines where it was supposed to be for maximum political impact.

    As for the jail time, that is designed specifically to pressure the only person actually accused of anything here, Trump accountant Allen Weisselberg, age 73, to trade dirt on Donald Trump for leniency in his golden years. Amid all the tiresome Godfather cliches is the certainty there has to be more, and that Weisselberg knows everything. For those tracking third world touch points, ask yourself how that all looks, the full power of the government being screwed against the aged Weisselberg for the sole purpose of coercing him to testify against his will. If they’d used wooden clubs to beat him instead of law books we would call it torture, Gitmo-style: You must know something and I’m gonna beat you until you tell me.

    That one of the key prosecution witnesses is Weisselberg’s son’s now-divorced acrimonious wife is only where questions raised will begin. The defense, in explaining the blatant political nature of the case, will no doubt ask why here and why now. Some of the alleged infractions go back 15 years. Why didn’t the state, or the IRS, uncover any of this during all that time? The IRS has had the Trump Organization under audit since 2010 yet somehow never noticed a thing? Why is this prosecution only happening at the state level in Democratic New York, safe from the federal level where it could more clearly backfire on Biden? And by the way, did multi-millionaire Trump CFO Weisselberg himself sit down each year with a copy of TurboTax to do his own taxes? If not, why isn’t his accountant on trial? The uber question of course is since these tax cases have to everyone’s knowledge solely been handled as administrative matters in recent memory, why in this case alone are criminal charges stacked on?

    Of course since this indictment is the result of over a year of investigation by both state and city attorneys general and involved two trips to the Supreme Court, the amount of money in question must be H-U-G-E. Except it is not. The government says the total amount of undeclared benefits over a 15 year period is $1.7 million. Assuming it is all truly taxable, at a 20 percent tax rate that’s $22k a year. To rubes like you and me it sounds like a lot but seriously friends, it is not. Democrats are also counting on voters to agree there is no crime in New York otherwise deserving of the resources used in this case.

     

    Of course the MSM is a twitter claiming this is just the tip of the iceberg, that Weisselberg with flip, the walls are closing in, etc.  Don’t believe it. You heard all that before with Russiagate and two impeachments and it amounted to zilch. And as with Russiagate, if the prosecutors actually had something real to work with (i.e., Trump was a Russian spy, here’s the evidence) they would have led with that, not some piddle of a complex tax case. But Al Capone! Yes, mobster Al Capone went to jail on tax evasion, but that was based on his failing to file any Federal taxes at all for eleven consecutive years on income fully illegally obtained to include murder for hire. Not quite the same thing here.

    In the end the “jury” which really matters here is not the one who’ll like assign some sort of tax penalty against Weisselberg. The real jury will be the voters, because even if Trump does not run he will be a kingmaker. There are of course those True Blues who live to see Trump disemboweled on TV by progressives wearing George Floyd masks and celebrate any misfortune. But if purple voters come to see this prosecution as petty and vengeful, realizing the offenses occurred long before Trump was president and were overlooked until they could be used as political cudgels, the risk is in making Trump a martyr.  Wait for him saying at his next rally “I told you they were unfair and now look at this.” Meanwhile Dems are trying to make a people’s hero out of… the taxman? Coupled with Biden’s crumbling agenda, it is a bad spin heading into midterms. Trump is not going to jail and anything less than that makes him stronger.

    This level of paranoid vengefulness is scary, a sign a portion of the electorate’s critical thinking skills have been eaten by political syphilis. The Democrats should carefully consider the secondary effects of their actions, and ask (as voters will) if the goal is law enforcement or a political kill shot. If it is the latter, they better not miss again. This trial is potentially one of the most divisive acts of modern American politics.

     

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Afghanistan, Biden, Embassy/State, Military, Trump

    Rape and the Modern Belief Template

    July 3, 2021 // 4 Comments »

     

    A New York Times article  details an alleged rape from some 18 years ago, and multiple incidents of sexual harassment since experienced by the author over her long career covering professional baseball in Texas.

    It follows a now near-template structure: something terrible may have taken place many years ago, long past any statute of limitations. No physical evidence remains, and there never were any witnesses. The writer kept this to herself all this time (variant: once told her close friends but no one else) but now wants to “help bring about systemic change” by making a media event of it. She never explains how her article will contribute to systemic change, or what that change is beside perhaps “less sex crimes,” something pretty much everyone already agrees on. She demands you “believe her” in lieu of proof of both the incident and evidence of the connection to something systemic (did we use this term in this way before 2021?) and condemns you if you don’t.

    Since these stories follow a template, there are some boilerplate things I need to attend to. I’m aware this is not a subject we’re allowed to talk about in a critical way. It is politically taboo, so more of your woke friends will praise you for knee-jerk reactions to this than thoughtful consideration. I am of course in no way condoning rape. Of course people unfairly use their power.

    And even though I am a non-woman I understand violence. I’ve been the victim of (non-sexual) violent crime. I know what it is like to feel unsafe. Pain is universal. As a victim I want vengeance, mean and horrible. If I could see my assailants run over by a bus I would prefer that to a judicial process that might fail. But as a citizen I have higher goals. That’s the difference between what I am writing here and the genre of victim stories which infuse progressive media.

     

    The NYT author follows the progressive victim template to a T in dropping enough hints as to her assailant that an inside baseball audience can likely make a good guess, but chooses not to name him, just as she chose not to report any of this to law enforcement or the team he played for years before. She wants change, she wants justice, but she wants it 2021-style, imploring the reader to “believe” her, scolding the men (of course) in her life who don’t believe her, and wanting to fully deny her alleged rapist any chance to defend himself. She wants no chance someone will file a defamation suit against her. She wants a one-sided argument, supported only by the new-found righteousness of 2021 that her word because she is a woman negates the rule of law and is enough to condemn someone. She won’t name him because that would trigger a fully accounting and she only wants her side printed in the New York Times. Like her assailant, no fair fight.

    Are you now knee jerking in large part agreement? Try it in a different context, a thought experiment. I implore you to believe my boss of 20 years ago stole money out of my wallet. I choose not to name her and thus disallow her the chance to explain, defend herself, or add to a narrative I’m telling you is true or else. No he said/she said if there is no he named. But I’ll drop enough hints that my old office mates know who I’m talking about now that she is in a senior position, and I’ll cite examples of not believing victims as my full justification. If you don’t buy this, you’re dismissed as a misogynist, racist, victim shamer, whatever, no further discussion allowed. The response to denying victim rights in the past is to deny the accused rights today.

    Back in the template, the author explains why she did not report her alleged rape. “I choose not to name him because it would only open me up to the possibility of having dirt thrown on my reputation.” She follows up with “I knew that if I told anyone what happened that it would ruin my career. I was 22 with no track record, and at that time — nearly two decades ago — most people in baseball would have rallied to protect the athlete.” She wraps herself in “believe me” to avoid the much harder path an actual rule-based society demands; that accusations are insufficient, all people have rights, including the right to due process and a fair hearing in court or inside Human Resources. She goes on to cite her view of the unfairness of due process as justification for bypassing the process for what one imagines she thinks is street justice journalism-style. She demands everything based on “believe me” and mocks those who would “believe him.”

    (Bonus Belief Rules: We will never talk about Tara Reade, who credibly accused Joe Biden of sexual assault. We will refer to any accusations against Biden in a jocular fashion, Old  “Touchy Feely” Joe, can’t help himself, same way we sigh and giggle when grandpa passes gas at the dinner table.)

    Let’s go back to our thought experiment and my old boss, the one I claim stole money out of my wallet years ago. Would you shake your head in sad agreement that I was justified in not revealing anything, calling the cops, or going to HR because in a self-serving way I wanted to further my own career more than getting justice and avoid the problems of her defending herself against my accusation? That I buried the crime to get ahead, indeed did get ahead, and now 20 years want it both ways, victimhood points in the New York Times, perhaps a book deal or a Tina Fey mini-series, maybe a chance to smear without consequences someone I just don’t like, and still benefit from the career success I enjoyed for shutting up?

    What if I told you my boss went on to steal (I’m told…) money from other subordinates’ wallets, that I wasn’t the first or only victim? Would you agree I really had no choice and made a righteous decision to let her slide? That by benefiting from my decision to remain silent I may have harmed others who fell victim over the years but I’m still your hero in 2021? See how your emotions change when you’re convinced the crime is less personal and the victim (white, male) less deserving? Even as I implore you to believe me in my self-serving confession after explaining to you my self-serving silence?

    If any of this sounds familiar it is, because this playbook has been run against non-progressive men again and again these last few years. Accusations, made by the right kind of victim, are as useful as verdicts to a partisan press wanting voters to believe the president is a spy, violated arcane election funding laws, or out and out is simply an actual criminal rapist. The technique reached its nadir with a picture perfect accuser (a woman reanimated out of a horcrux from Hillary herself) demanding to be believed no matter that exculpatory evidence overwhelmed her testimony, weaponized to try to keep Brett Kavanaugh off the Supreme Court.

    And if any of that sounds familiar it is, because in 2021 “belief” in something you already want to agree with has replaced critical thinking. A series of events is presented which are more or less true but incompletely rendered — blacks have been enslaved in America since 1619, kids learn more about Gettysburg than Tulsa — and then they are presented as causation for a modern problem. So it was because of Dutch explorers owning slaves in 1619 in what would not be America for another 150 years cops today shoot black perps. The link isn’t proven, it likely does not even exist, but believe it. Arguments, ranging from Twitter-class nutholes to considered academic thinking are dismissed with memes and insults. And you can always count on the New York Times to help out!

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Afghanistan, Biden, Embassy/State, Military, Trump

    The Case that U.S. Paid for the Work in Wuhan Which Created COVID

    June 5, 2021 // 7 Comments »


    It reads like science fiction but it is very real. The work which likely created COVID-19 was paid for by the United States. Research which could create a bioweapon — genetically engineering the highest possible infectivity for human cells — was subcontracted to the Chinese government. And thanks to a series of cover-ups, we are unlikely to ever know the full truth. The people who lost loved ones, lost their jobs, who fell into despair under societal restrictions, deserve better.

    There are two origin stories for COVID-19. One is that it emerged naturally, evolving from a bat virus to infect humans. The other is COVID-19 was genetically created by China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology via gain of function research funded by the U.S. The virus then escaped into the world. That year you spent at home, those loved ones who died, might have been our own fault. The point is more than assigning guilt; understanding the true origin of the pandemic is critical to preventing it from happening again, as well as as a guide to future gain of function research. It is hard to overstate the importance of this; our lives depend on it.

     

    The first bioscientist to take a serious look at the origins of the virus raised the possibility it had been manipulated by humans, not nature. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists went on to ask directly “Did people or nature open Pandora’s Box at Wuhan?” and goes on to make a strong case it was us.

    It starts with EcoHealth Alliance of New York. For 20 years they have routinely created viruses more dangerous than those that exist in nature. In favor of what common sense would immediately see as a bioweapon capable of destroying the human race, some scientists argue by getting ahead of nature they could predict and prevent “spillovers” of viruses from animal hosts to humans. Like something out of Jurassic Park, this is known as gain of function research, genetic manipulation to “improve” nature. Such work already allowed scientists to recreate the 1918 flu virus, to show how the almost extinct polio virus can be synthesized from its published DNA sequence, and introduce a smallpox gene into a related virus.

    Some of that work was done at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, teamed with researchers at the University of North Carolina. Specifically, they focused on enhancing the ability of bat viruses to attack humans. In November 2015 they together created a manufactured virus that was once dangerous only to bats now able to infect the cells of the human airway.

    The key Chinese researcher in this work at Wuhan Institute of Virology, known as the “Bat Lady,” specialized further, engineering coronaviruses to attack human cells. Her research was funded by the Obama administration’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIH initially assigned those grants to an American company, EcoHealth, who subcontracted the work to Wuhan. To be clear: the work which likely created COVID-19 was paid for by the United States. Research which along with its medical potential could create a bioweapon was subcontracted to the Chinese government by an American company.

    The Wuhan lab was already a nexus of attention pre-pandemic. The Bat Lady had previously traveled to Mozambique in September 2019 to give a controversial presentation on bat coronaviruses. Outcry quickly led Wuhan to pull their virus database offline following the trip. The Chinese government still refuses to provide any of its raw data, safety logs or lab records. Another Wuhan scientist was forced to leave a Canadian university for shipping deadly viruses, including ebola, back to China. The lab also allegedly tried to steal intellectual property regarding remdesivir, a class of antiviral medications used to treat COVID-19 prior to the vaccine. No small connection, the editorial board of the Bat Lady’s virology journal includes members of the Chinese military.

    There is also the question of safety at the Wuhan lab. As early as 2018 Wuhan alarmed U.S. State Department inspectors who visited it. “The new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory,” the inspectors wrote. They warned the lab’s work on “bat coronaviruses and their potential human transmission represented a risk of a new SARS-like pandemic.” Though they had higher security facilities, the Chinese were working in mostly BSL2-level safety conditions which were far too lax to contain a virus like COVID-19.

     

    The other origin theory, natural emergence, never has had any evidence to support it. The Bulletin states “This was surprising because both the SARS1 and MERS viruses [related to COVID-19] had left copious traces in the environment. The intermediary host species of SARS1 was identified within four months of the epidemic outbreak, and the host of MERS within nine months.”

    Yet some 15 months after the COVID-19 pandemic began, Chinese researchers had failed to find either the original bat population, or the intermediate species to which COVID-19 might have jumped, or any serological evidence that any Chinese population, including that of Wuhan, had ever been exposed to the virus prior to late 2019. Natural emergence remained a conjecture which had gained not a shred of supporting evidence in over a year. In just one example of that lack of evidence, the search in China for the natural origin of the virus included testing more than 80,000 different animals from across dozens of Chinese provinces. Not a single case of COVID-19 in nature was found. Chinese researchers did primordial cases in people from Wuhan with no link to that infamous wet market China claims sold an infected bat eaten by Patient One.

    So why has the natural origin theory persisted in the face of no evidence? One of the strongest shows of support for the natural theory was a letter from dozens of scientists published in early 2020 in the British medical journal Lancet. The letter had actually been organized and written not by the scientists, but by Peter Daszak, president of the EcoHealth the grantee who subcontracted with Wuhan, though his involvement was not disclosed at the time. If the virus had indeed escaped from research they funded, EcoHealth would be potentially liable, as of course would the American government. Ecohealth went on to plant never-challenged stories in the MSM labeling anyone who thought Wuhan was to blame as a conspiracy crank.

    Meanwhile, a Chinese-affiliated scientific journal at the University of Massachusetts Medical School commissioned commentary to refute that COVID-19 originated in the Wuhan lab, the same position held by the Chinese government. Mirroring the American media, the journal called anything to the contrary “speculations, rumors, and conspiracy theories.” Chinese officials also objected elsewhere to any name, such as the Wuhan Flu, linking the virus to China.

    In addition to these cover-up efforts, there were those of Dr. Anthony Fauci. In answer to Senator Rand Paul, Fauci stated “you are entirely and completely incorrect — that the NIH has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.” He appears to have committed perjury, as Fauci now admits “there’s no way of guaranteeing” American taxpayer money routed to Wuhan virology didn’t fund gain-of-function research. Fauci has also reversed himself completely in saying he is not convinced COVID developed naturally. The Senate passed a Rand Paul-sponsored amendment banning funding of gain of function research in China.

     

    The cover-up was aided in every possible way by the media. Though in 2021 The Wall Street Journal reported three researchers the Wuhan Institute of Virology became “sick enough in November 2019 [a month before the first “public” cases] with COVID-19-like symptoms that they sought hospital care, according to a previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report,” they along with their peers showed little curiosity a year earlier.

    One important word in the Journal’s sentence is undisclosed. What they mean is the media did not know about the report, but the U.S. government did. When the president tried to talk to the American people about his now-prescient decision to shut down travel from China in early 2020, he knew about the intel report. As in most cases involving intelligence, the president had to act on the information, and inform the public, without without giving away sources and methods. No thinking person today can claim the move to shut down travel was a mistake.

    The media, however, had other priorities, especially the task of defeating Donald Trump. They immediately slammed the decision as racist, and promoted the Chinese government’s evidence-free explanation the Wuhan lab had no connection with the pandemic.

    A WaPo headline read “Experts debunk fringe theory linking China’s coronavirus to weapons research” and a separate story said believing the Chinese had anything to do with creating COVID was as credible as the Soviet Union in 1985 accusing the CIA of manufacturing AIDS. “Senator Tom Cotton Repeats Fringe Theory of Coronavirus Origins,” said the New York Times in February 2020, adding “Scientists have dismissed suggestions that the Chinese government was behind the outbreak.” The Times’ article, however, did not quote or name any of the supposed scientists. Then there was a hagiographic bio piece on the Bat Lady. Later, Time named her one of the 100 most influential people of 2020, claiming her “scientific accomplishments and foresight are exactly what we need if we want to stop more coronaviruses.”

    It is only now, months into the safety of the Biden administration, that the media is willing to take a peek inside Pandora’s Box. Politifact walked back its slam dunk “fact check” China had nothing to do with it, and Facebook announced it would no longer censor posts claiming the virus was man-made. Yet despite the deaths of millions of people, Washington still has little interest into the origin story. The Biden administration shut down a State Department investigation in March of this year, claiming the work was politically motivated. Under pressure Biden later asked for his own investigation from the intelligence community, which will by definition produce a paper of ambiguous findings, concluding happily none of the scenarios can be confidently ruled in or ruled out.

     

    There will be no smoking gun. The people who know the truth, the Chinese government and Ecohealth, have already been caught lying. Gain of function research does not leave a physical marker to prove origin. To date, there is no evidence COVID-19 was of a natural origin. There is much to show it was not. To argue any other way requires an expert understanding of terms like furin site, RBM, RaTG13, and spike protein, not Google.

    We do know Wuhan conducted gain of function research aimed at doing what COVID-19 does, making a virus originally not dangerous to humans into a super-infector designed to spread quickly while resisting then-existing cures and vaccines. We know the Patient One cases of the virus were in Wuhan. We know researchers at the lab were infected in November 2019. We know safety standards at the lab were insufficient to contain the virus. In a murder case this would be enough to show means, motive, and method beyond a reasonable doubt.

    We know the basic gain of function research at the lab was funded by the United States. We know we were lied to about this.

    We also know despite the global importance of the story, investigations never mind curiosity were non-existent in the media. They instead promoted the cover-up stories produced by Ecohealth, the WHO, and the Chinese government. The media shut out dissenting opinions by labeling them as conspiracy fodder, even mocking the co-discoverer of HIV and Nobel Prize winner for suggesting non-natural origins.

    We are unlikely to definitively ever know the origin of COVID-19, and politicians and pundits will make the most of the ambiguity.  But as the wise man said, cut through all the lies and there it is, right in front of you.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Afghanistan, Biden, Embassy/State, Military, Trump

    Fascism Americano

    May 8, 2021 // 1 Comment »

     

    If you were upset or frightened by Trump, or Leftist Biden, hold on. They’re amateur opportunists; just wait for the pros.

     

    Once only on social media, now commonplace among the legacy media, we encounter near-constant pleas to kill white people, or cancel them, or push them aside. A friend married to the same Asian woman for decades is cursed at as a fetishist. It is completely acceptable in our public discourse to say things like that.

     

    Coupled with the sentiments toward white people is a similar theme against men. Twitter from time to time will blurt out popular hashtags like #WorldWithoutMen, with Tweets that range between funny-not funny jokes about how women can get by with “more batteries” (i.e., vibrators) to outright calls for violence.

     

    Of course the rules of media, social and anti-social, say this is OK even as they punish those who say exactly the same things but change the target from white to black (racist) or men to women (misogynists.) As each outlet cuts out more and more dissenting voices, the anti-white, anti-male pieces expand and absorb more and more of the bandwidth. To push back is hard, given the increasing lack of access to platforms which are not protected by the 1A and their increasing dominance of time-mind space. Absent repeated attempts to create a legal version of dismissing “hate speech,” progressives have used economic power to create a de facto one outside the law. The hate they fight against however, seems to only flow one way.

     

    This trend follows naturally the one developed over the last four years, that if you hold certain opinions (such as vote Republican, support free speech, own a legal weapon) you are inherently wrong and evil, not just your ideas. You can’t be persuaded, and you are not worth listening to. This is merging with the political currents of our time, and candidates who bark as progressive employ similar language in their campaigns. Even America’s two whitest dads, Bruce Springsteen and Barack Obama, demonize many of us as toxic. Image that, a human being being toxic based on the way he was born. There should be a term for that.

     

    There comes now a concurrent theme that because of all this, when bad things happen to white men, they deserve it. Persons who otherwise advocate for better bail and prison conditions become joyous at the thought of white men who attacked the Capitol being assaulted in prison. The same sounds were heard during the Trump administration whenever the media decided henchman so-and-so was going to jail (most never did) he would be abused in the showers, homophobic threats of rape presented as justice when done to Trump supporters.

     

    Many people are savvy enough to know Twitter is just acting out and its daily wallop of threats are without merit. We get the desire to out shock one’s competitors with claims “whites are a public health crisis” and the like. Stick and stones. We know it’s mostly bull from journalists who call themselves “wypipologists” to ignore.

     

    But that angry, hateful bull more and more rises up enough to cause someone to lose his livelihood over a misunderstood Facebook post from 10 years ago, or false testimony about rape that is given credibility by a slogan (#BelieveWomen.) It begins to look like this can make the jump from online to the real world with real world consequences. That does alarm people, even nice people willing to dismiss much as just rhetoric.

     

    There is great danger. Leaving Dr. King’s dream of a world where color does not matter, progressive America is purposefully seeking a return to circa-1950 when color mattered a lot. They believe they can control the monster this time, so that favoring color (or gender) means advantages at work and school for blacks, and whatever nibblers they can attract from the mountain of “people of color” who in many cases see little of themselves in black activism. The point is the new progressive world damn well intends to base things on the color of one’s skin, relying on the most simplistic definition of racism: if the percentage of blacks (mortgage holders, Harvard, jail) is different than the percentage of blacks in society, that means racism. No complications, no explanations. Conveniently, if you disagree, you’re a racist! This is an imposed ideology, pressed home as truth without much discussion on either side.

     

    Seeing color as an essential part of identity is what America spent 120 years fighting to get away from. The progressive reversal is little short of a confession that that idea, and all that followed it, including the civil rights movement, Dr. King, and our first black president, failed. The answer, it seems, is to declare a mass of Americans, those male and/or white, essentially in the way, and that they must be eliminated for others to progress. We will never otherwise get 13.4 percent of blacks into everything, they say as if that goal rivaled the moon shot in the national mind. That is not going to go over well.

     

    It’s ironic because this solution to what some consider an unfair advantage for whites is to recreate that unfair advantage for themselves. They are in fact validating the worst racist impulses — that color matters — and the worst version of a society, that there are only so many chances out there, never enough to go around, so our group will have to take some from your group. It takes nothing more than watching toddlers, or puppies, fighting over limited toys to know how that has to end.

     

    And there is what is frightening. Many people are smart enough to know when someone is just shouting hateful things with little means or intent to do much about it. But what about everyone else? We saw a taste of this in the election of Donald Trump. Democrats want to fob that off as a mistake, a one-time thing, powered by foreign intervention (and maybe, in private, a bad decision to run a bad candidate in Hillary.) Joe Biden was supposed to be the ideological palate cleanser. Unity and all that.

     

    But Biden is instead fanning the flames in slavish debt paying to the people who reluctantly voted for him. Open the borders! More support for quotas and “empowerment” in the law for one group over another! Reparations! And if you don’t agree, you’re a racist hater KKK Nazi. No dissent tolerated. As a white supremacist, you don’t need to be heard, you need to be punched.

     

    Biden is at best passively following a pre-written social justice agenda (who knows what he believes himself, or is even aware of), and counting on the complexity of how we vote and choose a president to re-elect his party. He ignores how lousy a candidate and how clumsy a president Trump was but yet who still polls high in defeat.

     

    It is best to look at Trump as version 1.0 of who we’ll elect someday. Trump said the right buzz words to a group of Americans who were disenfranchised, and did well with many others despite being crude and often embarrassing. But he dragged around too much baggage from decades of public life, and proved himself unable to keep from reflexively firing the staff needed to run a national campaign, never mind govern. He never learned, or even tried, to understand how to get things done in Washington, wasting time trying to impose his own odd business management model on the Deep State. His opposition was almost comical, sticking with a fully false Russian narrative for three years.

     

    But with eye toward how this has evolved among rightists in Europe, think about the next guy, or one after that, who is articulate and smart, who can turn the knob up or down as needed when addressing unemployed factory workers or angry suburbanites whose kids can’t get into a good school due to quotas, both groups worn weary by the rising taxes imposed to pay for the Democratic version of “justice,” both groups suffering from rising crime even as leaders call for defunding the police and making them more liable for individual lawsuits for doing their job. Would you expect something else, given a multi-year effort first to scold then to scapegoat half the population? Did people think no one would notice?

     

    Put that candidate into a future world where media which backstopped Biden is even more granular, where the big guys like CNN matter even less, and new platforms emerge to make Twitter and Facebook less significant. The media’s credibility is heading toward the bottom anyway; all but the most partisan can see the doubles-standards employed. Some 58 percent of us already think “most news organizations are more concerned with supporting an ideology or political position than with informing the public.” Media has collapsed into pure unapologetic simplistic advocacy journalism.

     

    The kind of Republican candidate likely to emerge from all this will promise to take charge, to force change backwards, and will manipulate the newly validated laws which say discrimination by race is what people want. He will find an audience grown larger by ham-handed Democratic efforts to impose a partisan flavor of social change against the majority will. He will be called a fascist or an authoritarian and he may be so, but he will also be seen as the least worst answer to a system that has swung way too far from center.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Afghanistan, Biden, Embassy/State, Military, Trump

    Afghanistan Mon Amour

    May 1, 2021 // Comments Off on Afghanistan Mon Amour

    President Biden announced he will withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by September 11. That will end 20 years of a war which killed some 2,300 Americans, an unknown number of Afghans, and cost trillions of dollars to accomplish nothing.

    Biden speaks more plainly about failure than any previous president. “We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan hoping to create the ideal conditions for our withdrawal, expecting a different result. I am now the fourth American president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans. Two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility to a fifth.” We’ll take Biden at his word for now. Best to focus on the good.

    So leave aside how Biden piggy-backed off Trump’s decision, roundly criticized, to negotiate with the Taliban, and how Trump’s own plans to withdraw troops were sabotaged by the Deep State, including the false claims Russians were paying bounties for dead Americans. This could have been over two years ago, same as it could have been over 10 years ago. But neither Bush nor Obama had the courage to do it, Hillary certainly would not have, Trump was stopped, and so the dirty work fell to Joe.

    Let’s also leave aside the inevitable as America runs for the exit (and this alone suggests Biden plans on being a one-term president, setting himself like this.) The puppet regime in Kabul will dissolve like paper in the rain. The only question is how ugly the Taliban takeover will be; will they just close schools or will they behead teachers on TV?

    We should leave aside the Bush decision to invade Afghanistan at all. Sure the 9/11 hijackers were mostly Saudi, but Afghanistan was such an easy target and Al Qaeda did have some training camps there. Of course the 9/11 hijackers trained in American flight schools but even Dick Cheney wouldn’t bomb those (Biden’s choice of 9/11/2021 as the withdrawal date is meant to support that original sin of a lie.) Revenge morphed into nation building, “democracy in a box” it was called, and so by late 2001 the framework of the 20 year war was set. At the next off ramp, Obama let David Petraeus, then waiting for someone to cast Tom Hanks in his biopic, talk him into a surge of 30,000 troops soon after he took home his Nobel Peace Prize, the most ironic reward since Henry Kissinger got his. The rest is history.

     

    The modern American way of war is well-defined. Go in without an endgame, quit when the political cost hits critical, and leave the people supposedly democratized or otherwise liberated to their fate (Newspeak: “author of their own future”) while we honor our wounded troops with a free breakfast at Denny’s. Biden’s good friend, John Kerry, is an easy target because of his famous statement in 1971 about Vietnam: “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” Turns out it’s pretty easy.

    (The last American solider to die in Afghanistan, as of today, is Javier Gutierrez. He was shot to death by an Afghan soldier after a disagreement.)

    Next unleash the pundits to write about lessons learned. Their usual pattern is we had good intentions but the Iraqis, Afghans, Vietnamese, Pakistanis, et al, just didn’t do their share and we should never repeat this kind of thing. Nobody talks much about inertia, bureaucratic cowardliness, endless war as a questionable prophylaxis against terrorism, the ugliness of staying in because you don’t know why you started and are afraid of what happens if you end it. The only people now whining about unfinished business are feminists who seem to believe Marines should die so girls don’t have to wear burkas.

     

    The key theme in all these lessons learned is how could we have ever known it would turn out this way?

    Even before it started the war had to fail. Afghanistan, the graveyard of empires, had beaten Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, the Mughal Empire, various Persian Empires, the Sikhs, the British, and the mighty Red Army. What betting man would think the U.S. would end up any different? 

    Many knew the war would fail when it was back-burnered for an equally doomed jihad in Iraq in 2003. Or maybe it was when Bin Laden escaped Afghanistan, and again when he was killed 10 years after the initial U.S. invasion and yet the troops stayed on. Perhaps it was when SNL 20 years back did a skit about a suburban cocktail party that comes to a halt to celebrate the U.S. capture of Kandahar though no one knows exactly why it mattered, just that we won!

    Others foresaw the eventual failure upon the death of Pat Tilman, the NFL star who joined the Army post-9/11 only to die in a volley of friendly fire and Pentagon lies. Maybe it was after a Taliban IED tore apart State Department officer Anne Smedinghoff (say her name) while on a propaganda mission. Maybe it was in 2009 when former Marine Matthew Hoh resigned in protest from his post in Afghanistan with the State Department over the war’s escalation. It could have been all those “feel good” media pieces about sons deploying to the same Afghan battlefields their fathers had served on.

    Or maybe when The Washington Post, long an advocate for all the wars everywhere, took a bruised penance publishing the Afghanistan Papers showing the government lied at every step. “We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” wrote Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations. “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.” It’s a sordid trip down a street without joy, with little grace and less honor, last chapter just as bad as the first. FYI, America will mark the 50th anniversary of the Pentagon Papers this year.

    The final knowing point for me personally was in 2012. That was when, after having written a whistleblowing book on the failure of Iraq reconstruction and nation building, focusing on the carpetbaggers the U.S. hired to do most of the ground work, I began receiving requests for recommendations. The U.S. was hiring the same monkeys to work on the Afghan program.

    I responded to each inquiry with a short note and a draft copy of my book, only to find later in every case the person who had helped sink the U.S. effort in Iraq was rehired in Afghanistan. Ironically, the initial title for my book wasn’t the unwieldy We Meant Well: How I Lost the War for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People but Lessons for Afghanistan from the Reconstruction of Iraq. The publisher changed it, thinking the war in Afghanistan might be over before we hit the shelves almost a decade ago.

    Those with any sense of history saw Afghanistan (and Iraq for that matter) and heard echoes of Vietnam-Vietnam-Vietnam. Others looked back to a war where far more Americans were killed, some 35,000, where we stayed for 70 years without a peace treaty, with the North Korea we “beat” now a nuclear power. Yet politicians dared stand up in 2001 to say “we’ll get it right this time, trust us.” Who could have imagined nearly all Americans did answer “OK.” And then said OK again and again for 20 years even as their own sons and daughters came home dead, maimed or psychologically destroyed.

    Lessons learned? None at all. We’ll do it again just as Vietnam followed Korea, and Afghanistan followed Vietnam. Fathers whose hands shake with PTSD sent their sons off to the same fate. If that, that, can’t stop these pointless wars, nothing ever will. So, nothing ever will.

     

    We will do this again because failure has no such consequences for the decision makers. Bush is reborn as a cuddly old goof, Obama remembered as the bestest president ever. Trump is criticized both as a war monger and for talking about pulling back U.S. troops in the Middle East. The era’s senior leaders — Blinken, Rice, Power, Nuland — are now working in better jobs for Biden. I’d like to hope they have trouble sleeping at night, but I doubt it.

    In the classic 1959 film Hiroshima Mon Amour a Japanese man says to his French lover “You saw nothing in Hiroshima. Nothing.” His frustration is in the two being bystanders on opposite sides of a war where all sides were inherently evil. There is always in the background talk about justice. What justice will be available to the Americans who went to their God like soldiers in Afghanistan, the uncountable Afghans who died at our hands, the promises to the living of a better future all now reviled lies?

    There are still those nights it takes a fair amount of whisky to abort thoughts about why no one gets impeached for wasting lives. But for tonight at least I’ll fill a glass half empty so I can raise it to Joe, for finally, imperfectly, awfully, clumsily ending this mess, better late than forever.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Afghanistan, Biden, Embassy/State, Military, Trump

    Asian Hate Crime or White Supremacy? No.

    April 3, 2021 // 2 Comments »

     

    Following yet another mass shooting in America (Atlanta, not Boulder or any others this week), we turn to the most important question: how it can be politicized?

    That means reflexively declaring the murders in Georgia a hate crime against Asians, triggered within a mentally ill white man by remarks Trump made months ago labeling COVID the “Wuhan Flu.” The women killed, with a mix of Korean and Chinese names, some of whom may have been American Citizens, simply are first turned into generic “Asians” by the media, and then ubiquitous victim-props of, well, Trump, white supremacy, maybe all Fox viewers. Of the eight shot, two, one-fourth, are not Asian at all and are quickly falling out of the media’s focal point as not tracking the narrative. Trump’s direct culpability may be grounds for another impeachment. The mass killing in Boulder, which appears mostly white-on-white, holds little interest for the nation.

    Kidding. Of course the anti-Asian hate crime politicization is wrong.

    What we should agree is the proper politicization is guns are simply too easy to obtain in America. While the media was focused on the three quarters of the victims who were Asian, working hard not to say something cliched as they gleefully mispronounced the “foreign” names (#SAYHERNAME, nah, too hard) and reaffirmed sex work and the trafficking that drives it are A-OK (the media sang a different song about rub ‘n tug joints when Patriots owner Robert Kraft was caught in one), they wasted valuable time not tracking down the gun store where the killer got his weapon. They skipped the interview with the owner in a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert tee saying he had followed all the regulations, or maybe the bad dude at the gun show in his QAnon fan gear saying there were already too many laws against gun ownership. This could have been followed by a long discussion about whether the killer used an “assault rifle” or a “military-style weapon” and whether his clothing was “tactical.”

    But that politicization would have meant leaving out the “this will keep happening until we get full socialized medicine, including mental health care” politicization. CNN would have wasted no time tracking down the killer’s neighbors, who would say either a) he was crazy as a drunk bedbug and everyone knew this was gonna happen someday or b) he was the quiet type, kept to himself, and that’s what worried them. Either way, had he lived in Sweden mental health care would have saved those poor Asians and any other races shot. With thoughts and prayers, we ask when will we learn, Chris, when will we learn? Back to you.

    The mental health politicization is a good one because it dovetails well with the dangers of social media (it used to be heavy metal and satanism) and white supremacy politicization. No doubt the killer posted more than cuddly kitten pictures on his social media. This would all be tracked down by some Social Media Hate Crimes Task Force who would no doubt locate some pretty odd stuff online (bonus points if it was Parler.) If the guy had any friends/followers, at least one of them would be flashing some sign which we would assured was a symbol of white supremacy, such as scratching his nose. The links would be clear: social media causes white supremacy. The problem with this one is the victims are really not that important to the narrative, just background players, and America is demanding a racial angle to loop Trump’s viral remarks in.

    Politicization in most any form also means the media can have fun being racist. Ignoring that many crimes against Asians appear to be perpetrated by blacks, the killer is not just white, he’s that kind of white — you know, the really bad kind, him being from the South, rocking that Joe Dirt cosplay look. And he was a Southern Baptist who told a roommate he worried about falling “out of God’s grace” for basically watching too much porn (bet it was the nasty stuff, too, not the good kind that encourages foreplay.) We all just know he has a confederate flag on his bumper, or tatted on his shoulder, or at least thought about getting one after he cashed his last welfare check whilst complaining about gay socialism.

    Some deep-thinking Op-Ed will call him a part of a “maligned minority to purchase firearms in the fear of worse to come as the pandemic deepens.” Sooner or later we’ll learn the killer was afraid of losing his high status as a white man, marked by a lifestyle that included cheap massage parlors and a flip phone. All followed by someone calling white people a “public health crisis” and another chiming in “White fragility is a disease, and it just killed six Asian women.”

    Every proper politicization benefits from a religious angle. So the NYT visited the killer’s church to reveal its “bylaws include a lengthy passage on marriage and sexuality that condemns ‘adultery, fornication, homosexuality, bisexual conduct, bestiality, incest, polygamy, pedophilia, pornography, or any attempt to change one’s sex.'” And the Times dug deep to find the church’s lead pastor preached a sermon about gender roles in September, drawing on a biblical passage which instructs women to dress modestly and to “learn in quietness and full submission.” For those reading outside of Austin or the coasts, that’s all progressive code to say the killer’s natural sexual urges were warped as a child by some messed up religious doctrine which is why he killed people, just like all those raised in a conservative church eventually get around to doing. Had he only been allowed to attend more drag queen reading events things might have ended differently. Religion radicalized him, like with ISIS.

    To be fair, there is debate within the oppression olympics community over which politicization scheme is best employed. “People on here literally debating if this was a misogynistic attack against women or a racist attack against Asians,” tweeted the founder of an Asian-American feminist and pop culture blog. “What if — wait for it — it was both.” Others also tried for a rich word tapestry of blame, coming up with “racialized misogyny” and “male supremacist terrorism.” One prominent feminist author wrote “I don’t care that the shooter told police his attack wasn’t ‘racially-motivated.’ This was a racist misogynist crime.” She also said “we should sideline white male reporters when it comes to mass shootings because they obviously can’t be objective.” Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth agreed that the evidence be damned if it does not fit the storyline. She expressed doubts about FBI Director Chris Wray’s assessment that the shooting may not constitute a hate crime because “it looks racially motivated” to her from several hundred miles away.

    After admitting “very little is known about the motives of the Atlanta gunman,” the Times quickly added “but organizations that track hate crimes have paid increasing attention to misogyny as a ‘gateway drug’ to other types of extremism, such as violent racism” (for younger readers, the term “gateway drug” was last used seriously by anti-marijuana crusaders in the 1980s certain one joint would have you addicted to heroin within a week.) An organization which claims to be a “grassroots Chinese massage parlor worker coalition” tried for a Theory of Everything, stating “Whether or not they were actually sex workers or self-identified under that label, we know that as massage workers, they were subjected to sexualized violence stemming from the hatred of sex workers, Asian women, working class people, and immigrants.” The term for all this share-the-blame is “intersectionality” to deal with problems like racism and sexism that overlap to create Venn diagrams of social injustice and apparently endless commentary that itself is so full of hate.

    And if the story of the media creating a racist narrative t fit their needs sounds familiar, it is. Remember the Covington kids, whom the media cast without evidence as racist bullies who attacked an elderly Native American. It was not true, there was no evidence to support it and much to show it was wrong, but the MSM went on anyway, all the way to losing a defamation lawsuit, to show those white, Catholic, MAGA youth were the bad guys.

    And as if you needed more proof of how this works, pay attention to the relative lack of attention paid to the Boulder incident. Where are the rallies, the ethnic celebrities to tell us what to think? Is Biden enroute to Colorado to sing Amazing Grace? Unless the killer has a wacky manifesto in his closet, meh.

    Back in Atlanta, there seems little interest in weeping for the dead, unless that act too can be used for some political purpose amid more performance art journalism. The politicization of tragedies is so instant and so ingrained, even as the narrative shifts with popular whims, that it prevents us from ever understanding what really happened. Nowhere will we let this thing just be what it is, as if it is not terrible enough on its own, yet another mentally ill person in a violent, hateful, soulless, divided society.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Afghanistan, Biden, Embassy/State, Military, Trump

    Running Biden vs. Governing Biden (Pick One)

    March 6, 2021 // Comments Off on Running Biden vs. Governing Biden (Pick One)


    Joe Biden and the Democrats did OK getting elected. When do they plan to start the governing part?

    Everyone was supposed to calm down once Uncle Joe took office. Good old Joe. CNN got it, running an article about how Joe plays Mario Kart with the grandkids, has a nice non-dumpster wood fire in the Oval Office, and goes to bed early. Politico ran a hard-biting piece on how “the first couple’s romantic gestures aren’t just genuine — they’re restorative.” Mr. Rogers with some PDA. A lot of familiar people are in the cabinet and mid-level positions. It’s almost as if it is 2016 again. Safe, happy 2016. But better, as we now also have Kamala (remember her, the first ever this-and-that vice president?)

    It’s nice. But the governing part is off to a slow start. Congress has been busy, albeit with another failed impeachment trial (counting Russiagate/Mueller, let’s call it impeachment shot in the dark III) of a guy who is not even president anymore, with a 9/11 style commission apparently to follow. At his Senate hearing the nominee for Attorney General was goaded into agreeing to some sort of additional investigation. “Hold him accountable” people say. Well, he lost the election, that’s pretty accountable. And why not — hearings are scheduled for the Postmaster General, whose days in the job are numbered, about why maybe some mail-in ballots might have been delivered late on accidental purpose five months ago.

    Trump nostalgia? No, keep fear alive seems to be the driver. For the first time in history the Capitol has a non-scalable fence enclosing it, and the Kapitol Kops are asking that the barbed wire stay in place until September “while authorities work to track down threats.” The National Guard is on near-permanent assignment (cost to date $480 million) on the Hill for no apparent reason other than to give directions to a few lost tourists. Political theatre, re-election stunts. A waste of time when the clock is running so hard against us.

    Because if we accept the Democratic/MSM campaign premise Trump nearly destroyed America, then this is a time of great urgency, life or death stuff. Things need fixing. But not that you’d know watching Biden and his Democratic Congress run the partisan table while the real problems sit like grandma in a Cuomo nursing home.

     

    Let’s see what the Democrats, in full control of Congress, are really up to. They haven’t been in such a position of power since 2008 during First Obama, and they know it. Their solution to fix America? Stamp out the opposition ahead of the 2022 midterms.

    Start with a mess ‘o politically driven Executive Orders canceling Trump. No more Muslim ban! Yea, except nobody can travel anyway because of COVID. Except of course everybody along the Mexican border with hazy asylum claims, whom Biden is fast tracking into America. Business travel from Europe, hmmm, dangerous, but anyone living in a tent outside El Paso, bienvenido.

    So it’s no surprise the first major legislation the Democratic Congress is to take up is an amnesty to transform the 11 million illegal immigrants who have collected in the U.S. since the last amnesty into 11 million new Democrats, er, citizens, within eight years (i.e., the next next presidential election but it may not matter because climate czar John “Muppet Lurch” Kerry says we only have 9 years left to live) The bill includes $4 billion to boost economic development in Latin American countries, which are not in the unemployed United States. Viva!

    Elsewhere the House wants reparations for slavery ended 150 years ago because that will fix everything on TV. The military has been restocked with transpeople. In another game-changing Executive Order, Biden revoked Trump’s E.O. creating an apprenticeship program paid for by industry to be replaced by one paid for by the Federal government which will favor the unions Dems need to be re-elected. President Biden has shown real concern for the people of Texas, hit by natural disaster, by ignoring them. The Dems in general are no longer demanding Ted Cruz leave the state forever but return to it to stop the blizzards. Outside of the halls of Congress, Democrats are trying to cancel conservative media from major cable providers.

    But the real hot button issue is finding a way an Executive Order can wipe out trillions of dollars of student loan debt without any thought to the broader economic consequences of such a decision and without reforming the way higher education is funded going forward. Because giving out free temporary debt relief is a primary function of government, some clause or amendment they talked about in civics class the day everybody faked being sick to go to the KISS concert. The Dems haven’t (yet) gone as far as nominating the corpse of Ruth Bader Ginsburg back to the bench but keep an eye on the news.

     

    What about America’s real issues? Stuff like COVID vaccine availability, the economic and social effect of lockdowns (San Francisco kids are committing suicide at an alarming rate, in New York as well, but at least they’re not in cages), unemployment (millions of people are forbidden from earning a living by their government), maybe the crumbling infrastructure. Or lockdown-driven drug overdoses, with deaths 3x those from COVID in San Francisco. The solution so far? Not school openings, because the Dems owe the teachers unions big time for their votes. Most of Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion Coronavirus Relief Bill has little to do with public health; only 1 percent is allotted to the vaccine. Biden even said after whooping COVID, he is going after cancer. But for now here’s $1400 bucks, knock yourselves out, buy Gamestop.

    Remember foreign policy? Joe said recently “diplomacy is back” so, well, OK then. Iran still needs tending to and says we’re moving too slow. Russia must be up to something. Word is China is a big dealio. Anything? Bueller? All we’ve gotten so far is a non-decision to not follow through on Trump’s troop withdrawals from Afghanistan and elsewhere along the failed path of the Global War of Terror. We all know we do have Susan Rice’s next bright idea to look forward to. One hears Libya needs re-liberating.

    Everyone knows it is possible to walk and chew gum at the same time. The problem is the Dems have chosen to only do one, not attempt both.

     

    On the other hand, think about how this might play in the midterms. Obama made the mistake of actually trying to take his election momentum and control of Congress and turn it into history making health care reform. He ended up losing his majority and producing a new half-baked health care system to augment the old half-baked system while creating a political football for all to play with.

    Not so for the Biden Democratic party. Their goal is paying off electoral votes while finding ways to make January 6 a 2022 top line issue for voters. That what running looks like, creating a narrative, not governing.

    “For four years, all that’s been in the news is Trump. The next four years, I want to make sure all the news is the American people. I’m tired of talking about Trump,” Biden said during a campaign appearance at a CNN town hall tongue bath, albeit a month into his term as president not candidate. But while Biden takes pains to refer to Trump as “the former guy” or “the previous administration” the attention Trump gets from Congress and the media, coupled with Biden’s lack of action, keeps the whole machine in campaign mode and that always requires a villian, an opponent, and that’s Trump. Dems want to run against Trump whether he is or is not ever again a candidate.

    We need more than that, you even told us so Joe. Remember during the campaign, Joe, when you promised to “crush” the virus the day you took office? We’re quarantining until our skin becomes translucent for lack of sunlight. Our national symbol is Karen telling someone they need to wear a yellow hazmat suit to Safeway or they’ll have her kid’s blood on their hands. An America with its schools closed, its people out of work due to government decree, its worker’s economy weezing, its faith in itself low, an America where no one believes anything is true anymore and the president is just puddling along playing Mario Kart while settling political debts? Joe, you’ve been in office for six weeks, close to half of those all-important First 100 Days you talked about during the campaign.

    Like about half the country, I didn’t vote for Biden, but like all of the country I live here. Unlike some Democrats, who for example realized lockdowns were a useful tool in destroying the economy that was leading to Trump’s re-election, I do not want to see further suffering for partisan gain. If a Democrat can solve some of our problems, I celebrate that. So get started. Fix something. We’re bleeding out here, Joe.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Afghanistan, Biden, Embassy/State, Military, Trump

    No Nuclear Iran; Try Again with the Accord

    February 27, 2021 // 6 Comments »


     (This article ran originally on The American Conservative a week ago, pre-Syria, though I just posted it today here on the blog. It appears Biden didn’t read my advice…)

    As the new administration drags itself into the muck of Obama political cosplay-replay (everything but Joe in blackface) one leftover bit of foreign policy does really deserves a second life: the Iran Nuclear Accords. The events and situations which made steps toward peace a good idea in 2015 make it an even better idea in 2021.

    The United States and Iran have an opportunity to end decades of outright hostility that haven’t produced the right results for either side. The Nuclear Accord would bind the two nations to years of engagement and leave open the door open to a far fuller relationship. Even under minimum standards, the accord would lower the temperature across the Middle East.

    For roughly the last six decades the U.S.-Iranian relationship has been hostile, antagonistic, unproductive, and violent. Untangling all this requires small steps; the Accord may be one of them.

    Begin in 1953 when the CIA helped oust Iran’s democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh. Mosaddegh made the mistake of trying to nationalize Iran’s oil industry, then largely controlled by the U.S. and the U.K. Washington installed a puppet leader worthy of the sleaziest of banana republics, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Washington lapped up the Shah’s oil like a hobo who scored a bottle of the good stuff and, in return, sold him the modern weapons he fetishized. Through the 1970s, the U.S. also supplied more nuclear fuel and reactor technology to Iran to build on Dwight Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” initiative, which had kicked off Iran’s nuclear program in 1957.

    Fast forward to 1979 when the Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile to seize power through the Islamic Revolution. Iranian “students” channeled decades of rage into a takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran. In an event that few Americans of a certain age are likely to forget, 52 American staffers were held hostage there for some 15 months. In retaliation, the U.S. would, among other things, assist Saddam Hussein in his war with Iran in the 1980s, and in 1988, an American guided missile cruiser in the Persian Gulf would by “accident” shoot down a civilian Iran Air flight, killing all 290 people on board. In 2003, when Iran reached out to Washington following American military successes in Afghanistan, George W. Bush pooed foreign policy the bed, declaring that country part of the “Axis of Evil.”

    Iran responded with a Shiite insurgency against the United States in Iraq. In tit-for-tat fashion, U.S. forces raided an Iranian diplomatic office there and arrested several staffers. The U.S. and Israel gutted Iran’s nuclear program with malware. Washington imposed economic sanctions on the country and its crucial energy production sector. Iran won the U.S.-Iraq War and today runs Iraq as a client state. Under the Trump administration the U.S. killed Iranian general and national hero Qasem Soleimani (the Iranians responded with a missle attack on an American base in Iraq), grew even closer to Iranian enemies Israel and Saudi Arabia, fashioned peace accords with various Iranian rivals, former friends, and Gulf neighbors, and walked away from the 2015 Nuclear Accord.

     

    The current sum of this ugly history is Iran remains isolated globally. At the same time, Iran is in many ways an even more stronger regional power than it was a few years ago. The U.S. eliminated Iran’s border enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan, and handed the Iraqi oil reserves and pipeline pathway to the sea to Tehran. While the U.S.-Iran proxy war is over in Iraq, it continues in Yemen and Syria; holding the U.S. in place counts as a win for Iran.

    And it’s six years later and the same folks are still in power in Tehran and not going away. Iran is probably the most stable Muslim nation in the Middle East. It has existed more or less within its current borders for thousands of years. It is almost completely ethnically, religiously, culturally, and linguistically homogeneous, with its minorities comparatively under control. While still governed in large part by its clerics, the country has nonetheless experienced a series of increasingly democratic electoral transitions since the 1979 revolution. Most significantly, unlike nearly every other nation in the Middle East, Iran’s leaders do not rule in fear of an Islamic revolution. They already had one.

    And accord or no accord, Iran remains a nuclear threshold state, a very powerful position nearly akin (and in some ways better) than actually having the Bomb. A threshold state holds most or all of the technology and materials needed to make a weapon, but chooses not to take the final steps. Dozens of nations exist in some version of that state, from South Korea to Saudi Arabia. Just exactly how close a country is at any given moment to having a working nuclear weapon is called “breakout time.”

    If Iran were to get too close, with too short a breakout time, or actually went nuclear, a devastating attack by Israel and/or the United States would be inevitabile. The Israelis destroyed Saddam’s program, as they did Syria’s.  The cyberwar attack on Iran’s nuclear centrifuges was a clear warning shot to back away from the fire, and a clear message (like the drone killing of Soleimani) that the West has tools beyond what you do. There are limits to this game, it all says, best you understand them. Call it a terrible game of chicken (Iran recently increased the purity of its uranium enrichment and threatens additional steps) and nobody really wins much, but one in which all the players involved always know who has to blink first.

    Iran knows while it cannot get too strong it also cannot become too weak. The example of Qaddafi’s Libya being destroyed after he voluntarily gave up his nuclear ambitions, never mind what happened to a non-nuclear Saddam, are all too clear. So think of the 2015 Obama Nuclear Accord as turning the nuclear dial down from 7 to 6, but nothing much more. There was no mechanism in the agreement to denuclearize and neither side intended it to do so. If a new Accord is signed with the same text as the old one Iran will slowly move from its desired current two- to three-month breakout time to a year or more. Iran doesn’t have nukes now, it would not have nukes if there were no accord, and it won’t have nukes with the accord. In other words, the agreement will eliminate weapons of mass destruction that never existed.

    So why bother? Because there are issues far beyond Iranian breakout time that need the world’s attention and a new accord would be the start of the start. It would bind the two nations to years of engagement and leave the door open to a far fuller relationship. It’s how essential diplomacy works. The goal is not to defeat an enemy, find quick fixes, or solve every bilateral issue. The goal is to achieve a mutually agreeable resolution to a specific problem. Then on to the next if possible. And for those who don’t yet see the other gorilla in the room, almost all of the above applies to North Korea, except that they managed to actually go nuclear while the U.S. was distracted by its global war on terrorism.

     

    The passage of the last few years, which despite all the incidents, of relative peace between Iran and the U.S. implies a growing maturity in Tehran that suggests it may be ready for a new accord. When I was in Iran a few years ago, the one consistent takeaway from everyone I met with was a failure to understand the role of domestic politics on U.S. foreign policy. There was little sense of the powerful role U.S. domestic politics played in moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, faint awareness of the influence of the evangelical voting bloc. Instead, Washington’s actions are evidence of… everything. Iran is a nation under attack. Zionist banks control the media. There is a dictatorship of the United Nations, Hollywood, and the International Monetary Fund.

    But the Iranian reaction has sharpened (maybe dulled is a better word) to the point where they maybe — may be — ready to work within the complicated triangle of U.S. domestic policy, U.S. foreign policy, and their own needs for a status quo in the Gulf which would allow some lifting of sanctions. The Iranians did not overreact to the Jerusalem move. They did not press against the tender edges of the accord, when it was in place or not. They did not rise to the constant bait the Trump administration placed in front of them. They waited. They waited for Trump to leave office, they seemingly understood America’s motives are more complex then once thought, they showed they are taking steps toward working inside the current geopolitical system by not seeking to muck it up.

    It is time to talk. People from the Iranian foreign ministry and former diplomats spoke to me of a deep frustration over having no Americans to talk to, unsure why more than 40 years after the Revolution the United States still questions the stability of Iran’s complex democratic theocracy. The anger from Washington, one older diplomat said, was like a phantom itch that people who have lost limbs sometimes experience, left from some past, stuck in the present, an itch there is no way to scratch. “Do you want this to all fail?” he asked, sweeping the room with his arm. “The Americans everywhere seem to have quit trying.”

    It is time to try again. Reviving the Nuclear Accord is the place to start.

     

     

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Afghanistan, Biden, Embassy/State, Military, Trump

    Trump, A Man in Full

    January 22, 2021 // 2 Comments »

    Twitterless, Donald Trump will soon disappear into obscurity or some commentator job, basically about the same. It will be for the fullness of history to judge his term, but it is certain the summation will be it was four years of lies and barely Constitutional actions that have forever dented America’s democracy. Lies and actions by Democrats and the media, of course. For Trump himself, history will show he accomplished little and personally mattered in the grander sweep even less.

    Trump’s term began with the Dem’s lie he was not legitimately elected. Though it was all swept away when Trump challenged the results in 2020, in 2016 the Democratic Party and MSM were embroiled in a whole of society effort to stop the Electoral College from making Trump the official winner (disbelievers, Google “faithless electors 2016” and note the fever over the technically meaningless popular vote) Another push was made to prevent Trump from taking office under the Emoluments clause. The actors described their own efforts as patriotic, life saving.
     
    The media told us with certainty the stock market would never recover. We’d be at war with North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, maybe China. NATO would collapse. Putin would run the U.S. via blackmailing Trump because Trump had been a Russian agent since the 1980s. Trump judges would dismantle the rule of law, end same sex marriage, and make abortions illegal. White nationalists would control our cities. Everyone in Puerto Rico was doomed.
    None of that happened. It was all made up. Every bit of it fiction.
     
    Depending on your political stance, some “bad” things did happen. But they were stopped by courts (Trump’s plan to end DACA, his own election challenges) prevented by Congress (Trump’s plan to ease sanctions on Russia), undermined by the Deep State (Trump’s plans to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria), throttled by the press (Trump’s continuation of the Obama child-separation policy), or corrected by civil servants (coronavirus misinformation.) Far from any authoritarian, when his executive orders were declared unconstitutional, Trump revised them to fit judicial requirements, as with the “Muslim ban.” Behind the chorus of whining from CNN and NPR, no one was jailed for criticizing Trump, let alone killed (Obama still solidly holds the record for the use of the Espionage Act to stifle sources and journalists.) By failing to understand how to work the levers of government, nearly everything Trump did was by executive decree and can be turned around on day one by Joe Biden the same way. Trump’s supposed fascistic acts were purely performative.
    Yet despite his repeated failings as a would-be dictator, false apocalyptic spiraling was applied to everything Trump touched. The Kavanaugh kid who was a slug in high school decades ago became a gang rapist whose purpose was to overturn Roe v. Wade while helping Hitler stay in power. A new standard was invented on the fly by the same people who worried about the rule of law, so instead of “innocent until proven guilty” it became “credible accusation,” adjudicated by online mobs. A narrative based on no facts whatsoever was created that somewhere in Trump’s taxes, undiscovered by the IRS all these years, was a 1099 form “Misc Espionage Work, Russia.”
    Russiagate was the peak. Democrats paid someone from British intelligence to make up bad things about Trump. American intelligence then used what they knew was a work of fiction as an excuse to spy for real dirt on Americans in the Trump campaign, lying to the FISA court along the way. It was an outrageous Constitutional violation and a direct act of interference by the intel community in a democratic election, as if this was Honduras or Guatemala. When even that illegal spying turned up nothing, the whole thing spoon-fed to the MSM, who ran the table with three years of outright falsehoods. 
    But COVID! The Democratic Party, et al, created one of the most successful information operations in history, convincing a large number of Americans they must fear for their lives and they must blame Donald Trump. The success here dwarfed the failure of Russiagate, though was equally untethered to facts.

    COVID was a global event. U.S. deaths (91 per 100,000 people) for example, are lower than in Belgium (158), Italy (107), Spain (102), Britain (97), and Argentina (92), none of which were presided over by Donald Trump. It seemed hard to point a finger based on those numbers, so the finger was pointed at mask shortages, ventilator shortages, hospital shortages, racism, and Republican-run superspreader events. The vaccine which was going to take years to develop instead took months. We never needed the Navy hospital ships. We never needed the hospital tent facilities set up in Central Park. We never needed the mass graves. We never ran out of ventilators.

    The irony is that if anything in the last four years might have opened the door to a more authoritarian president it could have been COVID. Trump, had he really had authoritarianism in mind, could have federalized the National Guard to secure hospitals (or whatever fiction the public would have accepted, and in March of last year they would have accepted pretty much anything.) He could have created some sort of WPA-like body to decide nationally who could work and who could not. He could have demanded censorship to “prevent panic.” It was all on the table, and Trump did none of it. Not exactly Kim Jong Un-level material.

    What the media wanted so badly to be the capstone event of the last four years, the Charge of the Rednecks against the Capitol Building, was not. A mob out of control at worst, with the usual weak performance by the Kapital Kops, amounted to nothing. America awoke the next morning to find it was not Judgment Day, merely morning. No tanks on the White House lawn. Not even a cop car burned.
    The event was goonish, embarrassing, but in the end about as historical meaningful as a floor brawl in the Taiwanese legislature. For it to be a coup, insurrection, etc., it would have needed a path toward accomplishing a change of government. There never was any. Joe Biden was always going to be president. All the mob accomplished was a meaningless few hours’ delay in that happening. Trump’s actions vacillated between bizarre and shameful, his tone pathetic, but it was almost all just meaningless words no one will remember; nothing stuck and he’s gone. No civil war. Hardly Weimar material. As the fat kid in Jojo Rabbit said, “Not a good time for Nazis.”

    So what did happen? Trump is the first president since WWII not to start a new war. U.S. military fatalities during the Obama term were 1,912. Trump’s number to date is only 123. ISIS is gone. He was the first president in some 20 years to conduct active diplomacy with North Korea. For the first time in a quarter-century, Arab nations normalized relations with Israel, the Abraham Accords. Actually quite a bit of diplomacy from a guy popularly credited with destroying it. Record stock market highs. Trump appointed 227 conservative judges, more than a quarter of the total, including three to the Supreme Court.

    Some things did change under Trump. The media gave up any pretense of objectivity, and the majority of Americans welcomed it. They came to imagine tearing down some old statues or seeing a gay couple in a Target ad were real social progress. Public shaming by a mob — canceling — became a fine way to deal with thought crimes. Humiliation and name calling took the place of commentary. Terms of Service replaced the 1A. Corporate censorship of people and ideas is firmly now the norm, welcomed by a large number of Americans.

    Those left of center developed striking political amnesia. After decades of complaining about police brutality, they wanted more of it when directed at conservatives at the Capitol. They want censorship, against Trump, against ideas they disagree with, against whatever “hate speech” is defined as today. They want corporate speech police. They want a president who has voted for and helped run wars for the last ten years. They demanded new anti-democratic standards, Because Trump means any means is allowed if it justifies the end. They believed accusations of mental illness against a sitting president by doctors who never met him, a tried Soviet and Maoist tactic, are part of legitimate political discourse. Nancy Pelosi was still invoking this days before Biden’s inauguration, screeching for a resignation, the 25th Amendment, outright impeachment — something! — a bit of vengeance blithely supported by far too many Americans. Third World moves, bro.

    Those ideas, the rejection of democratic ideals and any politics but your own, won. The Trump era changed America but it is hard to argue it was for the better.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Afghanistan, Biden, Embassy/State, Military, Trump

    Cleaning Up Biden’s Leadership Leftovers in Iraq

    January 9, 2021 // 4 Comments »

    As Trump leaves office the only president to have not started a new war since WWII, and Joe Biden, who supported so many of America’s wars, including voting for and (vice-) presiding over the second and third Iraq Wars, heads into office, the talk is again what should be the most terrifying words anyone outside the U.S. could hear: American Leadership. Thing is, we haven’t really cleaned up the leftovers from the last bout of such leadership yet.

    President-Elect Biden pulls no punches about how he feels about Trump’s lack of war, saying “Trump has abdicated American leadership in mobilizing collective action to meet new threats. This is the time to tap the strength and audacity that took us to victory in two world wars and brought down the Iron Curtain.”

    ‘Merica, hells yeah! In a 2015 speech SecState-nominee Antony Blinken employed some version of the word “leadership” 16 times. Biden himself wrote an essay in Foreign Affairs titled “Why America Must Lead Again.” Last week, when he introduced his national security nominees, he said that “America is back, ready to lead the world.” Let there be no doubt in foreign policy terms leadership is the happy-talk, bipartisan, and benign euphemism for America First nationalism. And that usually means some sort of war. Biden already has his warriors in place from the Obama years: Bloody Susan Rice, Blinken at State, Lloyd Austin as Secretary of Defense. There will be others filling in the mid ranks as those principals call in their former deputies, who call theirs. Turn the leadership dial up to 11 and burn the house down!

    The problem with America’s leadership spurts is that they are often left uncompleted. They are played for U.S. domestic political consumption and thus appear in four year bursts, and leave behind a mess someone else has to clean up when those politics shift. Worst of all, no one in America seems to ask those nice foreigners overseas who are about to be freed, liberated, encouraged to revolt, or otherwise enlightened by the arrival of the American Empire if they indeed want any leadership today.

    So maybe before spewing out any new leadership, Biden could start by cleaning up some of the leadership he and others left behind. Start with Iraq.

     

    Quick, Jeopardy-style, when did the Iraq War end? Correct answer of course is “What is never.” America wrecked the place from the air in 1991, then invaded by land in 2003. Those American troops mostly left in 2010, then returned in 2014, and loiter like last year’s dropouts in the high school parking lot in unknown but relatively small numbers today. The American Embassy in Iraq, physically still the size of the Vatican and once the largest embassy in the world in diplomatic headcount, sits mostly empty with a security guard-to-diplomat ratio that would embarrass any Twitter warrior.

    You would wish that was all, but the horrors of the Iraq Wars are such that even bodies already buried find their way to the surface. Among the many U.S. atrocities few today know about (Google “Haditha Massacre,” “Mahmudiyah rape,” and if you don’t know what happened there, “Abu Ghraib torture”) loom the Nisour Square murders.
    On a hot as hell September 16, 2007, Blackwater mercenaries hired by the State Department as security killed 17 Iraqi civilians, including two children, and injured 20, in Nisour Square, central Baghdad. The U.S. lied and prevaricated for years, until finally the truth slithered out that none of the Iraqis were armed, the Blackwater guys panicked, and their so-called defensive fire was beyond any legitimate rule of war. The State Department tried to intervene, allowing the defendants to claim State’s own Diplomatic Security officers had offered them on-the-street immunity in return for later recanted testimony (Nisour Square wasn’t the only time State lied to cover for Blackwater.) It took seven full years until four Blackwater employees were convicted in a U.S. court. All four were pardoned by Donald Trump in December 2020.
    “That was years ago” say many of the same Americans willing to connect a police shooting today to the first slaves arriving on this continent in 1619. Though the average American might remember something bad happened with Blackwater, every Iraqi knows what Nisour Square stands for: American invasion, false promises of freedom, arrogant use of power. The same way Vietnamese know My Lai and thousands of other such incidents whose names never made it into the American press. Or perhaps how the remaining scraps of the Lakota people still reference Wounded Knee. No reckoning allowed save the marvelous sleight of hand of America’s fragile memory.
    I’ve been to Nisour Square. It is a giant roundabout, a confusing place made worse by the Iraqi practice of driving with total disregard for traffic laws if not physics and, at the time, the American convoy practice of never slowing and never stopping for any reason. The place smells of diesel fuel and the cheap gas the old Iraqi cars ran off. There’s a perpetual blue-gray haze over the intersection. It is so noisy there most people would not have been aware of the attack, at least until Blackwater started using grenades against civilians.
    At the very beginning of my Iraq tour with the State Department Blackwater provided my security. They were bullies. They grab-assed women. They were sloppy with their weapons. You could practically get a contact high off the steroids they used just by hanging around. Count on them to wear the most expensive sunglasses and the most unnecessary gear (gold man bracelets, tactical hair gel), a bit like Jersey Shore rejects. Aryan and dudely. In my book I called them “a frat house with guns.” It is easy to imagine how it all happened.
    The Trump pardon of Blackwater personnel for their role in the Nisour Square killing was a grotesque mistake Biden will shrug off as if he had nothing to do with it. But the absolute lack of focus on what put those Blackwater killers and their State Department charges in Nisour Square in the first place — the lust to exert some American Leadership and reform the MidEast — assures it will happen again. The rest of the world knew this was all wrong long before Trump. Does Biden?
    Biden’s foreign policy does not start at zero on Day One. All the good American leadership failed to do lingers. Even while the physical infrastructure damage from Iraq War I keeps water and sewage resources to third world standards, the Iranian-installed government which took over after the chaos of War II 2003-2010 remains in power. The anti-ISIS War III campaign of 2014 created tens of thousands of internal refugees in Iraq, mostly Sunnis the majority Shia government blames for ISIS’ initial successes, and many of them are about to die.

    Years after the destruction of ISIS at least one million Sunni civilians remain in government-run displacement camps. Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, backed by Tehran, has made shutting the camps a priority. Initial closures have already left more than 100,000 people homeless as winter comes and the pandemic continues.

    The Iraqi government plans to soon close the remaining camps, forcibly return the Sunnis to their villages. It will be a bloodbath. In many cases the places they came from still resemble the ruins of Dresden; there physically are no homes. Other Sunnis already know their Shia neighbors took what property they once held and have nothing to return to. The worst off face retribution for siding with ISIS, or because rumor says they did. Memories are long in the Middle East. Revenge reaches across generations. Blood for blood. The best scenario awaiting a few is to become a permanent underclass in Shia Iraq, ripe for exploitation by whatever Sunni group replaces ISIS which replaced Al Qaeda because across three wars of leadership the U.S. never resolved the underlying core issues in Iraq and just made them worse.

    The Obama-Trump leadership strategy was medieval: kill people until there was no Sunni-supported Islamic State left inside Iraq, then allow the Iranians and Shia Iraqis to do whatever they pleased with the Sunnis in the aftermath, expedience over morality. This was the big takeaway from the Iraq War III of 2014 onward: there would be no political follow-on, no nation building. The United States would pay no mind to internal Iraqi actions. Genocidal-scale events that might have once set American front pages atwitter aren’t even worth a tweet today. Whatever happens in Iraq to the displaced persons, the U.S. is not involved.

    Americans demanded answers when Trump sent refugees back across the border to Mexico to await processing, but remain willfully ignorant of the hundreds of thousands of internal refugees created by American actions left to disappear somehow in Iraq. But in a way perhaps this is hardly worth noting. It is part of the American way of leadership, arriving unwanted in some third world nation with promises to liberate and then leaving when that war turns into an unwanted child. And so our wars leave behind the children, refugees in Iraq and elsewhere, literal unwanted kids from Vietnam. We walk away from the destruction we create, having burned out the jungles in Southeast Asia with Agent Orange and turned functioning countries like Libya, Syria, and Iraq who dare bark at the American Empire into failed states.
    When Joe Biden speaks of the need for American global leadership, perhaps he should first talk to those we have already left behind.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Afghanistan, Biden, Embassy/State, Military, Trump

    China Policy: Trump vs. Biden

    October 18, 2020 // 1 Comment »

    Despite the campaign’s focus on domestic issues, there is still a world out there the next president will have to deal with. And there’s a very significant policy difference between Trump and Biden to be explored: China.

    First, a quick look back at 2016. What to do about Syria was a major point of contention between candidates Trump and Clinton. Remember how “boots on the ground” was a popular catch phrase and ISIS our bad guys? Clinton was going to war in Syria. Trump wanted no part of it, and proposed a broader change in U.S. foreign policy to not look for buckets of gasoline abroad to throw matches into. Four years later no politician is talking about terrorism and the wars which dominated the past two decades are background noise for most voters.

    (Knock knock. Who’s there? 9/11. 9/11 who? Aw, you said you’d never forget.)

    Did we win? Well anyway, terrorism seems to be gone. The thing is America does always need a foreign enemy, enough but not too much, to fuel defense spending, to justify a global imperial stance, to blame for our economic woes, and to serve as a rallying point for American jingoism as needed for domestic political purposes. The Russians did well in the role for many years but are hard to see as a rising global threat. “The Terrorists” had a good run until disappearing in a fast fade.

    The problem of having a standing enemy found its solution in China. The sword rattling had already begun in Late Obama. As president, Donald Trump built on those brewing animosities to break long-standing U.S. policy toward China. Since 1979 the country was characterized as a rising autocracy with at times aggressive but containable behaviors, a competitor but not an enemy. Trade-offs were necessary in such a relationship, especially if the U.S. was going to continue to push China on human rights issues. Not Trump: he saw the U.S. and China as enemies across a multiverse of economic, intellectual, technologic, and military issues.

    Inflamed by the COVID crisis, Trump continued what in a second term may develop into a policy of real Cold War. Trump imposed trade sanctions. Trump cut back on student visas, academic exchanges, and turned up the heat on Chinese espionage inside the U.S. Trump is selling F-35s to Japan and South Korea as part of a broad military check on Chinese ambitions. Administration officials portray China as an existential threat to the United States. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mocked “the old paradigm” and accused President Xi of seeking “global hegemony of Chinese communism.” Given the chance in November, Trump will likely continue to accelerate the process of “decoupling.”

    What about President Joe Biden? Biden has learned beating up on China is a cost-free way to prove his toughness, and has oddly even called out Trump for being too weak. It seems very likely Biden, if elected, will continue near but not in Trump’s footsteps with Target China. The difference will very likely be found in Biden himself, who with decades of experience on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, will pay attention to the actual state of affairs between the U.S. and China versus Trump the ideologue and populist. So more challenges and possibilities, fewer problems and threats.

    The economic relationship alone is staggering. China purchased $165 billion in goods and services from the United States in 2015, such that China is the third-largest destination for American exports. China holds the most U.S. government debt of any foreign country. Much was made when one McDonald’s opened in Red Square during the Cold War. Yet the numbers for China represent a whole lot more reality for two supposed “enemies.”

    China’s military ambitions are both overstated and misunderstood. Beijing has made strides toward a real blue water navy but is it not there yet. Claims China might best the U.S. in the Pacific are mostly excuses to increase short-term defense spending. The PLAN is just the latest boogeyman for the military industrial complex.

    China does not yet have one modern carrier. The U.S. has 11 nuclear carrier groups, plus nine amphibious assault ships which can launch the F-35 as a strike aircraft. Japan, Korea, and Australia have similar amphibious ships to add to the fight. That of course is all just in the first responder category; land based American aircraft from Japan, Korea, Guam, and the U.S. mainland would assure air dominance. More importantly, America’s military is fully blooded and experienced, a sad legacy of the last 19 years of war. The modern PLAN has yet to fire a shot in anger, and learning under fire is expensive.

    Even more important is understanding China holds few territorial ambitions in the traditional sense of competing with the U.S. for control of land masses and populations. Nearly any place the U.S. might call a target — Japan and Taiwan stand out — is instead a major trading destination for China. Attacking a partner? War is bad for business. The Chinese do have a nationalist fixation on security and for a global order safe for their autocracy, but embarking on ideological or imperial crusades to remake other countries in its image is reserved for the United States.

    It’s not hard to see the difference in action. As head of a State Department Provincial Reconstruction Team in Iraq, I was tasked with improving water supply in our sector for the Iraqis. Fruitlessly driving through small towns looking for some place to create a water project, we spied a large stack of crated water pipes and pumps. Upon inspection, all had come from China. The locals told us Chinese salespeople had sold them the stuff and left months ago. The U.S. sent the 10th Mountain Division, the Chinese sent a sales team.

    Some saber rattling and fusses over tiny islands, of course, but always within boundaries. This is how it has worked regionally for decades. For example, Japan has challenged Russia for control of some northern islands for 75 years without violence (or progress.) Much the same for Taiwan and the Spratlys, claimed by multiple nations. The last real shooting between Taiwan and the Mainland was in the 1950s.

    President Biden will need to cooperate with China as he returns to America’s traditional international agenda. Transnational issues like climate change demand active engagement between the world’s two biggest economies. China is a major buyer of Iranian oil and key to any effective sanctions. A sleeper transnational issue is North Korea. Any serious change in the North requires Chinese cooperation. Or imagine the need to work together following a massive earthquake or Chernobyl-level nuclear accident in the North, as China struggles with a refugee crisis on its border under a drifting cloud of radiation.

    That doesn’t mean Biden can’t have a little of everything. Talk tough at home, do little abroad is something the Chinese have come to understand and expect from the U.S., a kind of necessary tax on the more important parts of the relationship.

    So during the primaries Biden called President Xi a thug for having “a million Uyghurs in reconstruction camps meaning concentration camps.” After Beijing imposed the new national security law in Hong Kong Biden vowed to “prohibit U.S. companies from abetting repression and supporting the Chinese Communist Party’s surveillance state.” At the same time Biden is respectful of how the great game is played. So expect fewer tariffs via Tweet, less nasty jabs against things like student visas and cell phone apps. There are well-known soft spots the U.S. must be cautious of, and Biden has long been a champion of strategic ambiguity on Taiwan. Biden’s will be a pragmatic China policy. Trump’s an emotive, populist one.

    A significant danger will come from Obama alums like Susan Rice and Samantha Power, perhaps even Bloody Hillary as some sort of elder statesman/special envoy, who will try to press Biden into the kind of open conflict they bluntly championed across the Middle East. Biden will have to resist them, as well as the defense intellectuals who see war between the Dragon and the Eagle as inevitable. The NYT, out front as always, reviewed scary Chinese military propaganda videos on YouTube as a way of warning us, not even getting the irony that one video is pieced together from borrowed Hollywood blockbuster footage.

    But if Biden holds steady, it won’t be cold war; let’s call it lukewarm at worst. The ties that bind the two nations are important enough that Biden and the Chinese will always be careful to color inside the lines. It is likely Biden will sound like a version of Trump but act much like Obama’s predecessors. China understands this game; the rules were established long ago over things like the multi-administration tsk tsk response to Tienanmen and the One Child Policy. Look for semi-tough words even as the cargo ships crowd each other out crossing the Pacific.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Afghanistan, Biden, Embassy/State, Military, Trump

    Why the Dems Can’t Have Nice Things (Like the White House)

    October 10, 2020 // 3 Comments »

    Here’s why the Democrats can’t have nice things. Like the White House.

    Though by now the media has awarded Biden all 270 electoral votes and taped a transcript of his debate performance on the national refrigerator door, it is unclear Joe Biden really wants to be president. He barely campaigns and usually ends his working day at noon. Since mid-August Biden logged 22 days where he either didn’t make a public campaign appearance (during the same period Trump visited 19 states.) Biden has slept at home every night of the campaign. He has no signature policy initiative. He often appears overwhelmed. He simply presents his waxy self as the embodiment of the empty and depressing strategy of I’m the Lesser of Two Evils and marks off the days until it will all be over.

    The Democratic party itself seems to feel much the same way. After four years of complaining Trump is an old white draft dodging man linked to corruption, the best the Dem process could cough up was an even older white draft dodging man linked to corruption. On a rare Biden visit outside his own yard to Charlotte, North Carolina, local organizers only turned out 16 people to meet the candidate. The chairwoman of the African American caucus only learned of the event from TV. Meanwhile, the party insists on its own demographic illusion. Latinos, key in crucial states like  Arizona and Florida, have shown less support for Biden than for past Democratic nominees, resistant to a campaign defining them as “people of color.” Some 98 percent of Latinos don’t want to be called “Latinx” even as the Democrats continue to do so pandering to the two percent. Ideology over reality, though it may not matter: 38 percent of Hispanic voters Dem imagine they control in battleground states are ambivalent about voting at all. A Telemundo poll shows 68.7 percent believe Trump won the first presidential debate.

    The Dems ignore other demographic bad news. In Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin net Democratic registrations are down by 38 percent from 2016. More to the point, registration among whites without college degrees is up 46 percent while registration by people of color is up only four percent. Turnout looks to be in trouble as well; in Wisconsin while 79 percent of black voters participated in the 2012 general election, in 2016 it was down to 47 percent. The risk of low turnout is even greater when one factors in age.  About 78 percent of blacks age 60+ are likely to vote, compared to only 29 percent for blacks age 18-29.

    Meanwhile, in this final stretch when they should be clawing for every vote, Dems are sending out scattered messages on in-person voting (“You might die of COVID but it’s so important you guys!!!! LOL”) and planning on relying on a 19th century mail in system run by local yokels that works poorly under the best of circumstances. Plan B is to claim the system they told everyone to use didn’t work and the president needs to be selected by Netflix users.

    If Democrats really wanted to win some swing states they should have found a way to fix the water in Flint. They might have persuaded Mike Bloomberg instead of buying felons’ votes in Florida to have created the equivalent in new jobs in Ohio. Dems never talked to the voters they needed the most. In fact, quite the opposite. They stomped their feet and held their breath in a four year tantrum and called them racists and haters when unmasked Midwesterners never got appropriately offended by Trump. These people worked hard for what they have only to hear that dismissed as privilege. Dems attack people as much for who they are as what they believe and still expect a vote for Biden.  The NYT calls them “the worst of us.” Call them the missing whites on election day.

    Democrats also believe their own self-illusion. Instead of understanding social media as a winnowed, mob-enforced minority of confirmational people, Dem strategists believe it all makes a difference. They came to think listening to podcasts, wearing cute #Resistance gear, retweeting and liking, holding Pink Hat marches and flash mobs, making $25 donations to GoFundMes, signing online petitions before going on Etsy to buy snarky t-shirts about vaginas, forwarding propaganda videos from the Lincoln Project, all while talking about NPR in line at Trader Joe’s, matter. All the devices don’t add up to a single vote. It isn’t a barometer, it’s a mirror.

    Voting Dem may just be too much of an ask for thinking people. Review the near-endless emotional hemophilia, hypocrisy, cognitive dissonance, and fake news kudzu a Dem voter is asked to ignore. For example, a Trump rally, or a wedding, is a deadly super-spreader event but a BLM rally is not. Schools and businesses are open or closed at the discretion of governors and mayors but Trump is to blame. Demonstrations which devolve into riots are acceptable but a couple of rednecks open carrying at a statehouse is a precursor to civil war. BLM when the killer is a cop, a lot less so when the killer is a black gang member. The new Supreme Court will limit our rights, except if they extend our 2A rights and then more rights are bad. Kids in cages means Nazism but Biden bringing back the Obama national security advisors who created millions of refugees flowing out of Syria and Libya is no matter. Choosing a Supreme “too close” to an election is the end of democracy but Dems promising revenge by adding states, deep-sixing the Electoral College, and packing the court to jam through their own one party eternal majority is not. A Muslim woman in Congress is revered for her adherence to sexist Islamic doctrine but a Catholic woman who honors her spouse is Handmaid’s Tale in Biblical proportions. #BelieveWomen applies to accusers of Republicans but not Democrats. We must have more women in government, except if they’re Republicans. Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, claims he will block any FDA-approved COVID vaccine from his state until his own scientists check it out, fearing a dangerous chemical will be released so that Trump can win the election. We must reawaken our democracy but if you vote for a third party you are working for Putin.

    More?

    When the stock market was soaring it didn’t matter because most people did not own stock yet when it fell during COVID it was the end of the economy but when it recovered it no longer mattered. None of the desperate warnings of war — Iran, China, North Korea, Venezuela, civil war in America — came to be. No one did anything bad after the embassy moved to Jerusalem or the Iranian agreement ended. All the things which were to disappear — the ACA, Roe, LGBT rights, same sex marriage — did not. Martial law was not declared, though the MSM signaled numerous times they would be OK with a military coup to depose Trump. Puerto Rico did not descend into genocide. Trump did not launch nuclear weapons in a fit of psychosis. The Democrats over and over made insta-heroes of miserable people who then had to be disowned like Michael Avenatti, Michael Cohen, Robert Mueller, James Comey, and every former general who was going to flip and tell all but didn’t. I honestly have no idea anymore if Dr. Fauci is seen as a good guy or a bad guy by Dems. The Democratic party claimed insubordination by government officials is to be honored if it is called #Resistance. We needed to see Trump’s taxes bad enough that it was OK someone stole them and even then the NYT won’t let anyone see the actual documents. Pee tape anyone? And in the final months before the election, the principle Democratic strategy is to claim if Trump wins it was all unfair. Update: the Reichstag is still standing.

    How can a thinking person look at all that and conclude “these are the people I want running the country.”

    Too many readers will see this article as pro-Trump. Where does it praise Trump? And that’s the last point here. Democrats and the MSM (let’s call it MSDNC) have divorced themselves from earth gravity. The rules of their home planet are any criticism of the party means you love Trump, are a hater, racist, Nazi, Russian or a bot. Inquiry is not allowed, so you must accept the Dossier, Russiagate, Ukraine, whatever crazy story is “reported” by “sources” and vote Biden or else.

    Maybe if a little introspection had been allowed amid demands for conformity of thought the Democrat party would not be imploring voters to believe the end justifies the means. Maybe they would not have cried wolf again and again until only the true crazies are still listening. Maybe they would have foregone the public humiliation of the Mueller report and the failed impeachment. Maybe they’d be running a candidate that represented, well, something to vote for. Maybe they would not be so worried their voters will stay home on November 3.

    If Trump wins again, it will be safe to say Dems lost this election in 2016 when they failed to see the change the nation wanted, pushed Bernie aside, and demanded we coronate Hillary. That gave Trump his first term. But rather than learn anything in the cold morning and seek redemption, the Dems basically did the same thing in 2020, albeit with the more likeable Joe Biden. But Biden carries most of the same old school baggage, inherits the same wounds of the Obama years, and has that lasting taint of corruption after 47 years in government.

    Yes, Joe’ll win the popular vote, the Electoral College are racist cheaters, Mrs. Jones’ ballot was lost in Raleigh, PutinPutinPutin, all a rich gumbo but whenever the end of the day comes, Trump will likely have his second term. More because the Democrats lost than because he won.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Afghanistan, Biden, Embassy/State, Military, Trump

    Flyover Voters More Tired Than Angry

    October 4, 2020 // 5 Comments »

    If the word for 2016 flyover voters was “angry,” in 2020 it’s “tired.” Anger four years ago put Trump in the White House, but it is unclear if tired will work for Biden. The Democrats’ strategy — our candidate isn’t Trump — may leave too many voters staying home.

    I spent a couple of days in Pennsylvania (before RBG’s death) talking to people, as it may be the keystone of the swing states, the one to decide the election. It’s a strange place politically, once described as “Philly in the East, Pittsburgh in the West, and Alabama in between.” I visited in between, the people I chatted with consisting of those who would talk with me. Sometimes a few words, sometimes a couple of Yuenglings. But before dismissing any conclusions as too random to matter, consider in the current climate just how inaccurate polling is. I found folks slow to discuss what they were thinking, testing to see if I was going to bite them for not wearing a mask, or rant off about America being great again. It took more than “Which candidate do you support?” to learn much, especially when I felt I’d learned there are a helluva lot of shades of purple out there, and not much enthusiasm.

    In the mostly small towns I visited in, there were three types of people. Those who’d left a long time ago, those thinking about leaving, and those stuck there. Where in 2016 there was anger and passion, this year America just seems tired. The endless stream of Trump atrocities talked about on Sunday morning TV is not what voters are talking about. What neither candidate seems to address, or even be more than vaguely aware of, is how much on-the-ground economics matters to the people left in these places.

    Each town is an archaeological site, old brick buildings that used to make… what? Sometimes there are clues, a mini mall with far more vape shops than one place needs in an broken industrial cavern with the words American Ribbon still visible on the facade. Other times it’s an unused smokestack filled with echoes of small manufacturing. Look around and you can find the old train depot near main street (it’s either abandoned or a too-cute coffee shop.) The tracks themselves are buried like some ancient river.

    Nobody really believes the blue collar middle class life they remember from their childhoods, or for the young, from Grandpa’s rambling tales, is coming back, but they are desperate for a bone. Trump promised in 2016 to do something about the local economy and never really tried. Biden says he will revive things, but leaves hanging the question of why he didn’t do that during his eight years in the White House. Running on Obama’s record means just that, and people here remember more about those eight years than some nice speeches. People cringe when they hear Biden defend Obamacare. Unlike journos who tweet about it from Brooklyn while on company sponsored Blue Cross, these people tried and failed to get good health care instead of just insurance out of the plan. Like Bernie, Trump didn’t fix it, but he isn’t Joe telling people it’s all they’re ever gonna get either.

    People remember it was the Democrats who voted for NAFTA and crushed out their last wind (Biden voted for NAFTA) and while Biden claimed in 2008 it should be renegotiated during the Obama years, it wasn’t. It was Trump who renegotiated the agreement, and while that didn’t really help much here it is seen as better than nothing. People like Trump’s trade battles with China. Nobody is naive enough to think they will change much, but they like to see the pain spread around. “F*ck the Chinese” was heard more than once.

    While it is unclear if Trump will be seen as failing on his promises or just having made a weak try, it is hard to overstate how deeply these Americans despise the Obama response to the 2008 financial crisis. Many saw the values of their homes, the largest investments they will ever make, dramatically decrease. They don’t own much stock outside of flaccid IRAs, and so they benefited little from a recovery that first bailed out Wall Street. Trump certainly did his own best economic work for Wall Street, but home prices have risen over the last few years for many of the people, with even an odd twist: much of the area is within an hour or two of New York City, and city people fleeing COVID to buy homes out here have driven up prices (asking about real estate is a great conversation starter.)

    There are truths here. Social Security SSI, Medicaid, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and housing assistance are a way of life now. One can accept food stamps but still think handouts are for the lazy. People can feel cheated working for minimum wage at a Walmart full of junk made overseas without being anti-immigrant. Legitimate anger doesn’t make you a racist. Trump understands all this better than the Democrats now speaking for their party, and that makes his voters ignore a lot of the things that drive progressives and the MSM into derangement. Biden meanwhile stumbles to gain relevance, frequently mentioning his roots in Scranton, Pennsylvania, making people smile Midwest-polite knowing he hasn’t lived there since age 11, 1953, when the place was thriving.

    The entire premise of the Democratic strategy misunderstood Trump’s election as a fluke if not an outright scam. Instead, Trump stumbled onto something hidden in plain sight. Large numbers of Americans, mostly white and formerly middle class, were angry (whites without bachelor’s degrees make up 55 percent of Pennsylvania’s population 25 or older). They were getting poorer, they could not find decent jobs, and they wanted someone if not to fix it, to tell them who to blame. The Democrats tell them to blame themselves for being racist and uneducated — learn to code! Trump tells them it is not their fault. It was because of Obama, it was the Chinese, it was the Democrats, NAFTA, immigrants. Neither narrative is fully true but which one will find residuals of that anger to drive turnout? Hint: The area went for Trump in 2016. Prior to his victory, Pennsylvania voted Democrat in six straight presidential elections. Based on new registrations, Democrats lost more Pennsylvania voters in the last four years than they have gained. More Democrats also abandoned their party to become Independents compared to Republicans.

    People worry Biden is a Trojan Horse; not a single person could name a Biden signature policy initiative. They worry Democrats who don’t understand them will really be in charge. To some it seems men, old people, straight people, entire regions of the country, are being excluded or deemed unworthy. It isn’t status anxiety but a sense that what used to be a difference of political opinion now makes someone illegitimate as a person. They hear people who may soon be running the government call them haters and racists just because they are poor and white. While Trump is a known element, Biden could mean Obama without the gravitas, or he could mean a Pelosi regency, or a progressive charge of night riders lead by Harris. Like Biden, Trump is old and sick, but if not Trump you get Pence, not the deluge.

    When people are excluded from the most important decisions affecting their lives they lose faith. That bitter lived experience fueled distrust and an ideological drift that manifested itself in electing Trump in 2016 (it could have just as likely elected Bernie over Trump then.) And that distrust hasn’t dissipated enough for many to vote Democrat, even if they won’t vote Trump. Many of the people of color I met felt the same way as their white neighbors. Having started at the same place in the factories and fallen together into poverty, they ended up in the same dismal state as whites. A big difference, however, is that black frustration often shows up as low voter turnout, while whites vote Republican.

    Who wins Pennsylvania in November seems a battle of enthusiasm. Little understood by the coastal MSM is the important role of conservative talk radio in these areas. People spend a fair amount of time in their vehicles, and they listen to regional and local talk radio sometimes for hours. Nobody in New York pays much attention to these very conservative hosts, many mixing religious and political themes. They are skillful in using listener call-ins to make it seem an agenda is organic when it is driven. The idiots who draw societal trends and conclusions from Twitter have no idea who powerful a force this may be in driving a turnout which will favor Trump.

    For example, a lot of talk radio focuses on sports. Sports are a big deal out here, high school, college, and the pros. Nobody is happy to see games canceled because of COVID, and few seemed happy about the massive political tumor growing on sports, even if they supported the general ideas of BLM. Save it for off the field was what most said. Extreme loyalty toward a team has replaced a lot other loyalties in these people’s lives and should not be messed with lightly. It looks like just an affinity for the Yankees or  the Nittany Lions, but there is deeper water underneath. Trump’s role in getting the Big Ten teams back on the field was not overlooked. If many of the issues the MSM cares about come up a wash between Trump and Biden, don’t underestimate this kind of small-but-it-matters-to-me thing.

    For an exhausted electorate, tired now of being tired, that might just be enough.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Afghanistan, Biden, Embassy/State, Military, Trump

    Anonymous Sources Tell Us How Democracy Ends

    September 27, 2020 // 1 Comment »

    Watch how this is done: Joe Biden plans to resign after only one year in the White House, according to someone with direct knowledge of the Bidens’ plans.
    A senior official at Northern Virginia Community College confirmed Jill Biden reached out recently to see if she could resume teaching if her husband was elected; Dr. Biden famously taught there while her husband served as Vice President and had befriended the official. The College immediately offered Dr. Biden a four year cycle of classes. She replied, however, she wanted to make only a one year commitment. “We won’t be in Washington for the full term,” Biden reportedly explained. “Joe’ll stay in office for a year and work on some signature issues like cancer research, but Kamala will be doing the heavy lifting from day one. Joe will quietly resign and give her plenty of time to make the job her own. It’s set in stone I’m afraid. I wouldn’t let him run any other way given his health.”
    I made that up. See how easy it is? Start with a known bias, that many people believe Joe Biden won’t serve his whole term. Play off the fear he is a Trojan Horse. Tell people what they already believe, Harris is selected, not elected. Use your own credibility to overcome the lack of it in your sourcing. Include some truth (Dr. Jill Biden did teach at Northern Virginia Community College during the Obama administration) and then take advantage of the magic of anonymous sources. Allow for faux confirmation — if another journalist contacted the college, they just might have indeed recently heard from Jill about teaching.
    This comes in the context of a recent article in The Atlantic by Jeff Goldberg, where anonymous sources claim the president disrespected America’s military. Goldberg’s piece was followed by former Russiagate FBI agent Peter Strzok telling another Atlantic writer, without evidence the equivalent of an no-name source, Trump is controlled by the Russians. Then came the return of Alexander Vindman (powered by an anonymous source, er, “whistleblower”) and excerpts from Bob Woodward’s Rage claiming without examination or details Dan Coates and Jim Mattis planned “collective action” against the president. Those are a few recent examples; in a four year tantrum the media has recklessly published anything anti-Trump without concern for truth, little better than the minor celebs who take to Twitter to announce #TrumpisaPedo who craves sex with his own children. Journalism has become propaganda, its purpose not to inform but to advocate. Influence operations. Propaganda.
    It’s worth poking a lot of holes in Goldberg’s article as an example because of its exclusive use of anonymous sources in pursuit of advocacy, in this case, trying to chip away at Trump’s pro-military base. Though Goldberg’s article talks about events from as long as four years ago, it was released alongside a current Military Times poll showing Biden gaining some support among service members, and dovetailed with fuzzy reporting Trump ignored Russian bounties on Americans in Afghanistan.
    The question of motive makes the validity of the sources ever more important. How do we know Goldberg didn’t make things up, or at least allow himself to be used for his partisan end as he did in advocating for the whole false narrative of WMDs and the Iraq War? Unless you are Goldberg’s mother or the town mayor from Jaws, credibility comes from the sources, not a writer’s inner soul. Goldberg comes up lacking. As a former diplomat, I staffed overseas presidential visits from Reagan to Obama. I sat in on planning meetings, and got a pretty close up view of the Secret Service. The president exists inside a series of bubbles, forgive me, like those nesting Russian dolls. The innermost bubble, the one where someone might hear his personal thoughts, is reserved for very, very few people. The universe of people who could have physically been close enough to Trump (or any president) to overhear sensitive remarks is tiny.
    So if we know the names of the sources it will be easy to place them in that special group, or not. If we know the names, it would be easy to check photos to see if they were where they would have needed to be to overhear. It would be easy to see who else was around to confirm or deny the story (11 Trump officials deny it by name, zero confirm.)
    A real reporter would also provide context, what was said before and after the damning remarks; it is not uncommon for civilians to respectfully ask what motivates men to run into fires, to sacrifice themselves for a buddy, to stand in harm’s way. Goldberg’s sources say Trump remarked to former White House chief of staff and retired Marine General John Kelly, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?” He said this at Arlington National Cemetery at the gravesite of Kelly’s son, a Marine who died in Afghanistan. This photo shows who was there — Kelly, two family members, Trump, and Pence. This would have been the moment when Trump would have made his remark, and those are the only five people on earth who would have heard it. Trump and Pence deny it; the Kelly family has been silent from which one cannot draw any conclusion. The same photo set shows Trump meeting later with other Gold Star families, none of whom claim he made any disparaging remarks.
    There is also a sniff test to be applied. The credibility of journalism should not depend on the reader’s biases. Trump mocking Kelly’s son’s sacrifice at graveside would be among the most horrible things anyone could do to a parent. Who would say such a thing? There is no record of the worst humans in history, men like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, saying such things. There is no record of people such as concentration camp guards, men capable of killing children, saying such things. And would Kelly, a blooded Marine, stand silently with his family, accomplices in their own humiliation, then release the information only years later hiding behind the skirt of some minor journalist to score a glancing political point?
    Knowing the names of the sources also allows us to judge the credibility of the so-called confirmations by other journalists. Do their confirmations consist of nothing more than the same people who spoke to Goldberg repeating the same things to a second writer? That’s just saying the same thing twice, not a confirmation. Are the confirmations from people who heard the information second hand? The potential for circular confirmations is great and risky. It would also be easy to see who harbors grudges and deserves to have their motive to lie reviewed. It would be easy to ask a named source why he waited several years to reveal this information, just as an election is heating up. Knowing the names resolves the risk. Trust but verify.
    There are other sniff tests. Much has been made of the presumptive sources being “military men” who would not criticize the president. They are also not stupid, and if they did serve as sources knew exactly that they were attacking the president for political purposes weeks before the election. In addition, Kelly (Mattis, McMaster, et al) all took civilian positions in the Trump administration, and served out of uniform, so their refusal to comment is unjustified. The idea Goldberg would never risk his reputation as a journalist by writing a lie is silly. Goldberg and The Atlantic wholeheartedly supported the lies of the WMD story in Iraq and the lies of the Russiagate story. You can lie all you want as long as you tell people what they want to hear.
    Though it got much less attention, The Atlantic followed up Goldberg with a piece that included a named source but allowed him to simply list out baseless accusations of treason. Former FBI agent Peter Strzok sees Grassy Knolls everywhere. The Atlantic helps him along, introducing the back and to the left theory by saying “Despite multiple investigations by the FBI, Congress, and Mueller’s team, Americans have still never learned the full story about the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russia or Trump’s own decades-long financial ties with Russia.” Oh. Like what?
    Well, Strzok says he doesn’t really know, but it must be hidden in Trump’s taxes (which the IRS has reviewed for decades.) The writer feels it in her ample gut, too, stating “Strzok was getting too close to the truth” without actually saying what that “truth” might be other than it would be bad. Ah, from Strzok: “I do think the president is compromised, that he is unable to put the interests of our nation first, that he acts from hidden motives, because there is leverage over him, held specifically by the Russians but potentially others as well.” That is a straight-up accusation of treason, a capital offense.
    And there both the writer and the source just leave it, no specifics, no follow-up questions, not even a pee tape. We’re left to fill in They Are All In On It, everyone who could have blown this wide open is dummied up — FBI, CIA, NSA, DOJ, Congress. Remember Mr. X, the character in JFK played by Donald Sutherland? Strzok wants to be him. Problem is he’s not good enough for an Oliver Stone film, so he’s just out there pimping his book.
    Same for some of the gotchas in Bob Woodward’s Rage. What reveals Woodward in this case as a propagandist, not a journalist, is his lack of curiosity. For example, he quotes Mattis and Coates as talking about the possibility of “collective action” against Trump. And then drops it. You’d think Woodward would have asked “Tell me more about that, what were you thinking?” A strongly worded Op-Ed or tanks on the White House lawn? Who else would have been involved? Was this the first time this was raised or almost the last? Woodward goes on to report Coates “felt in his gut” the Russians have something on Trump. Coates was of course the Director of National Intelligence, with the full reach of the global U.S. spying apparatus at his control. He was in a position to do much more than have a gut feeling on things, but Woodward leaves it at that. Woodward purposefully allows the audience to decide what Mattis and Coates were up to, filling in the silence in whatever their worst nightmare was.
    The Atlantic articles are sucked oranges. They are a rehashed muddle of Trump’s Worst Hits, accusations, and gossip people either have believed for several years because they will believe anything bad about Trump, or which people dismiss as a muddle of unsourced Trump’s Worst Hits, accusations, and gossip. It is what comes next that matters.
    The danger is in not snapping back. If Trump wins in November, does the media just pick up where they left off? Do they simply find a new cause to drive a new impeachment, demanding the 25th Amendment in published pieces while hinting at assassination in their ALL CAPS social media? Goldberg’s article got far too much attention for how little it had to say. But it has not gotten enough review as a marker, the place we had to end up when the media wholeheartedly advocated for the Iraq War based on lies. It is where we had to end up when the media buried things of concern with Hillary and helped create Russiagate out of anonymous sources. It is where we had to end up when the MSM uses its own freedom of speech to quash dissenting voices  (deplatforming is the 2020 term), dismissing them as unpatriotic in 2003 and as “useful idiots” and Russian bots in the current world.
    In defense of what they call advocacy, journalists often cite Walter Cronkite speaking out against the Vietnam War, or Ed Murrow publicly shaming Joe McCarthy. Not only are such  gold-standard examples rare enough that the list often ends there, they ignore negative examples, the most gleaming of which was the advocacy for the post-9/11 horrors. They also ignore how Cronkite’s and Murrow’s advocacy came at the end of dispassionate study, deep introspection, and clear sourcing. They did not seek to win the argument by literally rewriting history, as in the NYT’s 1619 Project. Cronkite and Murrow broke the objectivity wall not for a favored candidate, but over issues of deep national importance. And they knew the difference.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Afghanistan, Biden, Embassy/State, Military, Trump

    Fear Itself

    September 13, 2020 // 2 Comments »

    Barack Obama said at his convention you must vote Democrat even if you don’t care for the candidate as your president, out of fear for our democracy. Don, Jr. said pretty much the same a week later, just reversing the names and the politics. The messaging from all sides is one of fear. It sounds so 2020 but it as old as the modern era.
    America’s childhood fear was we were going to die at school when the Russians nuked America. We hid under our desks during drills, we huddled away from the windows with our coats over our heads (no one explained what we’d do on warm days) and waited to die. For an elementary student raised to believe what he was taught, it was a nightmare. My third grade teacher even identified Ground Zero, the cinder parking lot next to the school, and for some reason told us it would happen in the morning. Every day at lunch I could feel the tension drain away, at least until we had the first sex ed classes in fifth grade and I learned what venereal disease was gonna do to me.
    Americans were taught to be afraid even as we were the apex predator on the planet with the world’s only atomic bomb. We dutifully rewarded president after president for maintaining the most massive national security state ever known, but we never felt safe. We never saw it was all a trick, like conjuring a pandemic out of a virus which doesn’t even cause symptoms in many of its hosts and compared to most anything else, like cancer or heart attacks, has a fatality rate well below a single percent (so we count cases not fatalities to generate fear.) As with terrorism, diabetes and ladder falls harm more American lives than the Russians.
    With the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks looming like a hangover it is worth asking the price we pay for fear itself. For me, our first family plane trip after 9/11 started at a Japanese airport where security seemed about the same as before. But when we transferred to a U.S. domestic flight the world changed. The newly-empowered TSA (how did they get a new logo and uniforms so quickly?) torn into us. After shouting at my lack of preparedness to present various documents quickly enough, they pulled my pre-teen daughter away and impounded a nail clipper and some sort of medieval-looking eyebrow curling device. She started to cry, and when I tried to go to her I was held back. An incident was underway I was told. The TSA agent said harshly to her “I’m trying to keep you from dying on that airplane!” My little one started to say something, but I shouted to her to be quiet. I’d learned on an eastern European border long ago the only answer. Submit and board the plane. Submit and we can see grandma tonight at our destination.
    As the years unfolded post-9/11 we learned. Shoes off, no liquids, belts are bad. Even with a Diplomatic Passport was I screened into secondary inspection because I had flown internationally with only a carry on. Same again when I had a ticket purchased in cash, things I learned later were “profiles” of terrorists . A cabin attendant shouted me into my seat when I tried to use the toilet within a certain number of miles of Washington. Why was the person previously serving drinks now dressing me down me like a drill instructor? It seemed the wrong people were in charge. I wanted to obey but there were too many new rules. Even Winston Smith knew he had to find a way for 2+2 to equal 5 to make it all stop.
    Later, as a federal whistleblower, I was placed on some sort of list. I could fly, but my trips through the airport would be met with a firm “Sir, I need you to step over here, right now, sir!” Every time I was told I had been randomly selected, as Orwellian as things get. The protocols created to protect me from terrorists had been twisted to turn me into one. I of course could refuse to hand over my electronics, but TSA would just confiscate them so why resist? Of course I could speak to a supervisor, but I’d miss my flight. My old computer took minutes to cold boot and that angered the TSA agents and prolonged my searches. So I bought a fast Chromebook to make my surveillance more convenient.
    In a perfect melding of fears the 9/11 Memorial Museum showed us how much of this is farce. After being closed since March to protect us from COVID they will reopen to the general public on September 12. A symbolic day for sure but one with no science behind it. Why not September 3 or 24? Because it doesn’t matter, the danger was never very real. And the museum, with its cavernous interiors (it is built into the basements of the old Twin Towers) is allowed to host only 25 percent of its capacity. Same for every other museum in NYC, 25 percent whether they have state-of-the-art HVAC systems and thousands of square feet or are contained within early 19th century parlors. It doesn’t matter because it doesn’t matter; there’s no science behind it because there is no serious threat behind it.
    In New York we are told it will be the death of us to reopen restaurants for a quick meal, but from day one of the virus we have been welcome to sit in poorly ventilated subway cars. We can’t have more than a handful of customers inside a store, but we can spend six hours inside an airplane cabin. Ten people gathered for a party is a death trap but 300 massed for a BLM protest somehow isn’t. It makes no sense because it makes no sense. The less it makes sense the more it makes sense to just submit and go along, because thinking is hard.
    So it is no surprise I wear a mask outside. I alone seem to remember enough from biology class to question how a soggy piece of cloth, or a dust mask with an air escape valve on the side (i.e., your virus-laden exhaled breath goes out, dumbass) is unlikely to do much, like hanging garlic to ward off vampires. But I am allowed buy milk at the store with a mask. I am allowed to be part of society. I can avoid being scolded by the self-appointed mask Jugend. I can have a socially distanced conversation with my Democrat neighbor who believes she will literally risk her life to vote in-person, saving democracy itself after Trump gutted the post office. Like many, she has an Old Testament view of the virus; it is both punishment for electing Trump and the way of delivering us from him.
    Those irrational fears from the Cold War and post-9/11 are nothing compared to today; imagine the McCarthy Red Scare powered by social media and 24/7 news. Every week it has been something new that will destroy us — war with North Korea and Iran, Boogaloo Bois, Trump the Manchurian Candidate, not enough beds, and not enough ventilators. We’re worried a fascist government is taking away free speech and we’re worried the government isn’t doing enough to suppress free speech to stop hate. There are too many guns for us to be safe and not enough guns to protect us. After a decade of terrorists everywhere (when they were actually nowhere) we transition to live in terror of the virus. People not only support the restrictions and lockdown, they want more to feel safer, much like Americans demanded more nukes thinking they’d sleep better during the Cold War.
    It’s not to say people do not die from the virus or there aren’t reasons to take prudent action. It’s to say what we are doing in response does not keep many more alive for the price we are paying. Same story as with terrorism, the Cold War, whatever noise makes you jump in the dark. The bark outweighed the bite. The goal of conditioning through fear is always the same.
    Because submission scales. Decades-long nuclear arms race? OK. Support a war in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria and Libya and Yemen and Somalia? Patriot Act, torture, prison camps, drone assassinations? Yes is always the easiest way to imagine you can allay fear forever until the next scary thing is revealed. Yale welcomes students back to campus with all sorts of restrictions then warns them they will see death in their dorms. So in 2020, conditioned to accept being humiliated barefoot before every flight, it is easy to accept losing jobs, or to lock down whole cities, or close off state borders. It was easy for people to accept being denied saying goodbye to a terminally ill loved one, or to be blocked from attending church or their child’s birth, by the government.
    Fear is very powerful, and learned helplessness a dangerous thing. So forgive my dry heart when I am not sure I should fear for our democracy, or our safety, even as I fear for our sanity. And don’t be surprised at how quickly the virus clears away once the election is over. And don’t be surprised when it is replaced by a new thing to fear.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Afghanistan, Biden, Embassy/State, Military, Trump

    Don’t Be a Palooka, Joe

    September 5, 2020 // 4 Comments »

    Joe, I’m writing to ask a favor, a big one, for America. Don’t be a bum, a palooka. If you lose the election, lose it graciously. Don’t drag a damaged America through a long fight designed to cripple the next Trump term, the way Democrats did it in 2016. Those same voices are gonna want you to never concede, to “sue ’til it’s Blue” but you gotta resist them and do the right thing. Don’t be the guy to wreck America. You don’t appear much in public, so I hope this message in a bottle reaches you.

    I gotta tell you Joe, while two months in America can change a lot, it doesn’t look like November 3 is gonna be your night, kid. So far you got nothing to offer but you’re not Trump, and because I know you play some poker, that’s stretching a pair of twos too far. Pennsylvania new voter registrations added 150,000 more Republicans than Democrats. Trump is beating you on Latino outreach, Joe, and owns the Cuban vote (as well the formidable Jewish vote) in crucial Florida. One pollster my TAC colleagues spoke with on our podcast believes that the “shy Trump voter” effect is even stronger today than it was in 2016. You see the raw data, but I bet your pollsters are undercounting Trump support. You gotta admit, Trump’s line about you — he sent your jobs to China and your sons to war — cuts pretty deep.

    That matters  I know the way many Trader Joe Americans noodle around when they want to see if it’s OK to talk positively about Trump. They’re afraid even at my age I’m gonna blast them for admitting they are doing OK in the economy, their retirement savings rebounded since the March fall. Once they open up, they’re afraid of you, Joe, afraid you’ll lose control to the progressives nipping at the party’s heals and with that they see chaos. When Elizabeth Warren sneaks in a pro-BLM message during your convention, they don’t see the justice they titularly support, they see chaos. And the crap they roll their eyes over happening in New York is now in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Swing states, Joe, on literal fire under Democratic leadership. Trump as the safe candidate, crazy, huh?

    I know you are counting on left behind out of work Americans without 401ks as your people, but Joe, they aren’t. Those folks are in fact Trump’s base. They don’t blame him, they think he fights for them. You and I can have a lo-carb beer alongside a little Maalox, or maybe just some nice Jell-O, after you retire and try to make sense of that, but you can’t say it ain’t so, Joe.

    So whattaya got? You cried wolf more times than Mrs. Blitzer. The sky never fell. Russiagate was a lie built on falsified FISA documents, sleazy CIA-aligned operatives, and paid-for propaganda. Impeachment was so weak it collapsed. Large numbers of voters don’t blame Trump for COVID, and statistics show the worst economic damage to individual voter’s wallets has been done by Democratic governors willing to act against their own citizens to help politically damage Trump. A Democratic governor keeps kids from school and you want the parents to blame Trump? Your party Goebbels’ are down to whimpering about violations of the Hatch Act most non-Beltway American know nothing of and care less about, and the Post Office. The Post Office, Joe? That’s your big talking point two months out? You sounds like Marcia Brady trying to snitch on Greg.

    (Joe, seriously, enough with the post office. The USPS handles 472.1 million mailpieces a day. There are only 153 million registered voters in the U.S., and typically only about 60 percent of them even bother to vote. You still get your paper Lands End catalog; handling the ballots is nothing.)

    Worse yet, you aren’t the only candidate using the Not Trump strategy. Your real opponent is Stay Home; that’s where a lot of the Never Trumpers may end up. Some important number of voters are not going to vote for Trump, but they don’t see much in you. They will “vote” by staying home, again.  Last election about 42 percent of eligible voters stayed home and given they tended to be young and of color they likely cost Hillary the election; registered voters who didn’t vote were more Democratic-leaning than the registered voters who turned out. You’re strategy is based on people who think they can solve problems by changing the channel. Most of those younger “democrats” aren’t. They hate Trump a little more than they hate you, but they’re not part of your party. They’d really like a third party, for change, but until then they’ve made it pretty clear they won’t vote for crappy candidates like you just because Nancy Pelosi tells them to.

    More? You didn’t get any post-convention bounce, not even with five nights of free media and both Obamas. Nice try with Kamala, by the way, but the only people who vote based on the VP choice want you dead, Joe. And talk about a plan backfiring, research suggests the more Democrats message democracy is dead and Trump is going to win by cheating no matter what, the lower Democratic turnout will be. And that’s on top of recent polls suggesting voter enthusiasm (which drives turnout) for you lags Trump in key battleground states.

    So sorry Joe, it does not look good. I’m sure you see more sunlight than I do, and a lot can happen in the world around you and Trump in the next two months. It ain’t over, and the race doesn’t always go to the swift and the strong, but that is the way you place your bets.

    And that brings me to the favor I’m asking of you, Joe. If you really lose, concede. Thank everyone, promise Kamala will be back fighting in 2024, and affirm  democracy worked. Don’t gin up a Konstitutional Krisis. If you really really have unambiguous proof of fraud, lay it all out in one splash, no weeks of leaks and hearings, and make sure it is clear enough all but the most committed ideologues have to admit you are right and let the process continue. You will save America.

    Everybody sees instead what the people around you are planning. Even you warned Trump will steal the election. Rep. James Clyburn said he believes the president “plans to install himself in some kind of emergency way to continue to hold onto office.” The Atlantic and The Washington Post regularly run stories speculating that Trump will usurp the election or reject its results. Hillary dictated you “should not concede under any circumstances” because “eventually I do believe he will win.” Her strategy for you is “a lengthy legal battle after the election,” the Sue ‘Til Blue plan which envisions November 3 as only an opening act, followed by lengthy counts and recounts of mail-in ballots, followed by court challenges, all in hope of shifting public opinion toward not accepting the election. Hillary made a good run at that four years ago, convincing a fair number of people her popular vote win meant the Electoral College didn’t count. You’ve sat with her after a couple of glasses of white wine, Joe. She really believes she won, doesn’t she? But you and I know that’s some Third World trip, not paying attention to elections whose results you don’t like.

    The poster child for being a Good Loser, Al Gore, is teeing it up for you as well. Gore believes the military will eventually have to remove Trump from office. But pay attention to Gore’s whole statement, the part when he said “there’s no intermediate step between a Supreme Court decision and violent revolution. You can always explore the option of dragging something out, tearing the country apart, mobilizing partisans against one another in the streets and all of that, but it is not a wise course for our country.” Gore of course is talking about Trump doing all that, but I’m talking about you, Joe.

    America can’t handle it, Joe, so please don’t bring it on us. Don’t listen to the voices saying you have to save democracy by refusing to accept the election results. We are so divided as a nation that you refusing to go along with the vote, fanning the flames by claiming the popular vote is controlling, insisting racism lost you the election or otherwise playing to the divisions could set off something that will be hard to control. It could ruin whatever confidence Americans have in our system, flawed as it may be. You won’t inspire people, you will inflame them. You opponent is a predator and will fight a nasty campaign. Go ahead and fight hard back. But when it is over, don’t fake losing, own losing. The critical tool for ending of democracy is people’s conditioned readiness to believe it does not work anymore.

    Joe, we’re both old enough to love the movie On the Waterfront, starring Marlon Brando at his most perfect. You remember the key scene, in the car with his mobster brother. Brando, a prize fighter who could have gone all the way, got talked into taking a fall to make the mob money betting against him. Brando realizes giving in, doing what the dark forces wanted him to do even when he knew it was so wrong, ruined him. He made some money, and the mob guaranteed him an easy job for life in thanks. But he knew he was a bum, a palooka, when he maybe could’ve had class, could have been somebody.

    Brando’s brother failed to tell him the right thing to do. I’m here for you, Joe. Leave Hillary and Stacey Abrams in the history books as bitter losers. Fight your fight, Joe, and then do the right thing for yourself, your legacy, for America.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Afghanistan, Biden, Embassy/State, Military, Trump

    Democrats Unveil the Most Cynical Campaign in American History

    August 30, 2020 // 4 Comments »

     

    With the Democratic virtual convention history, excitement among voters ranges from lukewarm to sort of lukewarm while America deteriorates around them like a man being shaved by a drunk barber.

    The convention made it clear — the Democratic candidate is not Trump. And he is not our candidate. You can call our guy Biden if you remember his name. Either way just vote for the one not named “Trump.” It’s easy. In fact 60 percent of Biden voters say their support is more against Trump than for Joe.

    Everything else is uphill.

     

    The Not Trump candidate is an old white man, but don’t pay attention to age, gender, or race even though he’s the same as Trump. The Democratic vice presidential candidate is younger, blacker, and less male so in her case age, gender, and race are very important. Kamala Harris exists as a lure to get a few depressed prog voters to bite on Ole’ Man Biden. That voters rejected her in favor of Biden in the primaries illustrates the cynicism: it didn’t matter, any black woman without too much political baggage would do.

    About Kamala being a woman and all. Pink Hats, Hillary claiming misogyny helped defeat her. Yeah, we hit that pretty hard. Yet Democratic primary voters consistently rejected six decent women candidates to winnow the field down to two men. Harris herself was thumped badly, the high point of her failed run being humiliating Joe Biden as a racist in the first debate. We now need you to ignore all that.

    For four years Democrats chummed the water with talk about progressive issues like free healthcare, free college, college loan forgiveness, abolishing the Electoral College, you know, the Bernie stuff. Neither Biden nor Harris is into much of that and despite Bernie coming in second place twice his ideas are going to have as much influence on Biden as they are on Trump. Same for all the others hyped along the way to keep everyone’s attention, Beto, Pete, Stacey Adams, AOC, Warren, before featuring the lost John Kasich, the lonely Colin Powell, and the ghostly Cindy McCain at the convention to make it clear how little the party really cared about all that. Viewers might have expected the whole thing to shift into a commercial for reverse mortgages, or maybe adult diapers.

     

    A few more, sorry. You know how during COVID the post office delivered everything you needed? We now need you to believe the greatest election fraud conspiracy in the history of democracy is unfolding inside the same place. Yes, that post office, the one with the confusing signs about postal classes where grandpa buys those things he calls stamps. That place will likely end democracy because this election will have so many mail-in ballots and Democrats believe all those mail-in ballots will be for them and each requires its own blue corner mailbox. So Trump will win because Republicans will vote by magic laser beam or something.

    Before she woke up Kamala was a prosecutor, a person whose job it is to put young black men in jail. She liked the police. Harris specifically did not adopt what is known as a “Brady Policy” under which she would disclose past misconduct by law enforcement in order to help ensure defendants received a fair trial. She hid misconduct instead, at least until she received a judicial reprimand and had 1,000 criminals released as unfairly convicted by her. Joe Biden sort of helped, too, authoring a  law making it easier for prosecutors like Harris to put young black men in jail. We know it kind of sounds like they were on the wrong side of Black Lives Matter until they wanted black votes but trust us, we’re not going to talk about it ever again. We’re certainly not going to replay Tulsi Gabbard weaponizing Harris’ prosecutorial record against her in a later debate which ended one of their careers.

    On that same list of things not to talk about, we know everyone enjoyed saying President Bone Spurs. Yep, his pug faced rich daddy got a doctor to pretend little Donny had bone spurs and so was exempt from dying in Vietnam. Well, fuggedaboutit.

    See when Uncle Joey was younger he too did not go to Vietnam. Joey got five student draft deferments during the Vietnam War, same as Trump. And in 1968, when his Joe’s student status was wrapping up, he was medically reclassified as “not available” due to asthma. Asthma can be nasty stuff or it can be a bone spur. In Joe’s autobiography he described his active youth as a lifeguard and high school football player, and lied (note to fact-checkers doing their research: Biden lies are called gaffes) about being on the University of Delaware football team. His vice presidential physicals mention multiple aneurysms. Asthma, no. And Joe said “You have somebody who thinks it’s alright to have somebody go in his place into a deadly war and is willing to pretend to be disabled to do it. That is an assault on the honor of this country.” Almost vice president Senator Tammy Duckworth, who was wounded in Iraq because she did not have asthma, called Trump a “coward.” But not Joe, got it?

    Same thing with sexual harassment. Fun for awhile, but Biden’s treatment of women means it’s a no-touch zone from now on. Go Google “Anita Hill” and you’ll get it. Same for “Tara Reade.” Tara’s been telling people since the 1990‘s Biden stuck his fingers in her private place unwanted, which is the same as Trump “grabbing them by the pussy” but maybe not. This will all get a little harder to pretend away when we spend the autumn replaying Kamala pounding #BelieveWomen into Americans’ skulls and tearing into Brett Kavanaugh for being a rapey high school kid but we pulled it off with Bill Clinton in 2016 and we can do it again.

    Kamala, wasn’t she fierce and nasty in cross-examining Brett Kavanaugh! And she tore new ones when Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr had their confirmation hearings, too. A street fighter! Let’s say that and not focus on the fact that she failed and all three men were confirmed, sort of like in her old world criminals were released back on the street because the prosecutor sounded good on the teevee but actually failed to make a real case as if she was doing it more for her than you which we acknowledge sounds sorta bad when you say it that way.

    Corruption used to be a good one to use against Trump. Unfortunately, after leaving the Obama White House, Joe and his wife made more than $15 million, mostly via sweetheart book deals. In fact, Joe and his wife made nearly twice as much in 2017 as they did in the previous 19 years combined. The University of Pennsylvania gave Joe $775,000 to teach, and then was nice enough to offer him indefinite leave of absence from actually teaching. And sure, Biden charges the Secret Service $2,200 a month rent for a cottage on his property so they can protect him which sounds like Trump but well, isn’t. And there’s all that business with Joe and his son in Ukraine, and Joe and his son in China. But it’s not like Trump in any way. So talk about Beau, the dead soldier son, not the other one.

    And even though it was individual state governors, mostly Democrats, who closed your schools, threw you out of work, closed the bars, restaurants, bowling alleys, stores, beaches, gyms, and churches, and banned football, graduations, funerals, last visits with terminally ill loved ones, fathers at their child’s birth, and interstate travel while allowing BLM protests which did not in any way spread the virus, we need everyone to blame Trump. Simpler? OK, if Trump wins you are going to die.

     

    The Democratic vision is the most cynical of any in American history. It says “we have no vision” but you all need to square up and vote for a mediocre candidate with a AI-chosen running mate anyway. No real details of betterment through policy, no hope and change, no American dream, but a threat. As Michelle Obama said “If you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can.” In other words, vote for us or else.

    We’re about to really find out whether anyone would really be better than Trump. The Dems dangled Bernie and Warren and delivered a candidate from when Luke married Laura in the same voice a waitress uses when she says “Um, sorry, out of Coke. Diet Mr. Pibb OK?” Joe Biden is so old he’s lost the race for president twice already and comes off like grandpa putting himself out there for one last fling after Grandma Obama passed away. But think how hard this all was; the Democrats only had four years and couldn’t even get rid of Hillary in that time.

    But stay positive. Biden-Harris have four clean aces: 1) maybe Obama will come back for policy cameos; 2) Joe will probably die in office and Democrats will finally check the box with a backdoored first woman president; 3) Despite his drooling on his tie, Joe’s cognitive decline is no worse than Trump’s and 4) no matter what, he’s not Trump. The Democrats, who could have swung for the fence this time, are instead betting the house on that last one.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Afghanistan, Biden, Embassy/State, Military, Trump

    Did You Notice the Trump Doctrine?

    August 15, 2020 // 3 Comments »


     
    The Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democratic staff recently issued a report titled “Diplomacy in Crisis: The Trump Administration’s Decimation of the State Department.” Oh, it’s horrid! Under Trump 11 Assistant Secretary or Under Secretary posts are vacant or filled by acting officials. And career public servants, many of whom were actively involved in trying to impeach and “resist” the president, report “leadership exhibits a sense of disrespect and disdain for their work.”
     
    Leaving aside the question of what an “Under Secretary” does and why previous administrations needed so dang many of them, one is tempted to say if this is what the real-world effect of American diplomacy in crisis is, please don’t fix anything: for the first time in almost two decades America has not started a new war. Cut back on some existing ones, too.

    U.S. military fatalities during the Obama term were 1,912. Trump’s body count to date is only 123. Damn uncomfortable truth. You can make yourself feel better by giving Trump (and State) no credit. You can calm yourself by believing there’s no Trump Doctrine of winding back the dumbness of constant war, no thought out process that maybe America’s power is enhanced by not throwing a match into every bucket of gasoline in the Middle East, just Trump bumbling in the foreign policy darkness randomly added up to something. He’s the diplomatic equivalent of all those monkeys pecking away at a million typewriters and accidentally reproducing Hamlet. Whatever helps you sleep at night. But the tally, in trillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of human lives saved, is unambiguous and good.

     

    With Elderly Caucasian Joe Biden heading up the alumni association seeking the White House like the last founding member of Blue Oyster Cult taking the “band” out on the road one more time, it might be fun to indulge in some Obama-Biden foreign policy nostalgia as a vision of things to come.

    It’s easy to forget in the foreign policy debate between Trump and Hillary way back in 2016 one of the catch phrases was “boots on the ground” in reference to how (not if) Clinton was going to flat-out war in Syria. Trump wanted no part of it, but Obama-Biden had already intervened in Syria in multiple ways, teeing it up for the next POTUS.

    Clinton was being egged on to expand the war in Syria by the State Department. In June 2016 an internal State Department “dissent” memo leaked to major news outlets sharply criticizing the Obama-Biden policy of relative restraint, and demanding military strikes. The memo, signed by 51 diplomats whose identities somehow were not leaked, was almost certainly shepherded by former U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford. Ford had earlier helped promote the destruction of Iraq as Obama’s Deputy Chief of Mission in Baghdad, and went on to want open war in Syria. He was pulled out of the job in Syria for his own safety after undiplomatically promoting the overthrow of the government there.

    Obama’s expansion in Syria was minor compared to Iraq. After withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011 in time to get re-elected the next year, in 2014 Obama partnered with Iran to let start putting boots back on that same old ground. It didn’t take long for the United States to morph that conflict from a rescue mission (Save the Yazidis!) to a training mission to bombing to special forces and then regular forces in ongoing contact with the enemy for what became Iraq War 3.0. American ground forces grew to some 6,000 on regular deployment, with an additional, unknown, number of Marines on “temporary duty” and not counted against the total.

    Obama surged into Afghanistan, the same year he received the Nobel Peace Prize, sending 17,000  troops to raise the total in-country by 50 percent. Obama also had U.S. forces at war in Yemen, Pakistan, Mali, and Somalia. Goaded by Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice he attacked Libya, turning the country into a failed state and promoting one of the most tragic outflows of refugees into Europe in modern times, forever changing the demographics of the continent (Germany did not say thank you.) There was Benghazi. Luckily, time ran out before Obama-Biden could militarily intervene in Ukraine. The State Department’s Victoria Nuland, in a tapped call discussing manipulating political succession in Ukraine, said “F*ck the EU” showing how the administration valued its allies.

    And of course the Putin love shown by Obama’s Secretary of State John Kerry. Kerry who invited Russia back into Syria. Kerry who floundered as Russia made its incursions into Ukraine and Crimea. Kerry who sang Happy Birthday to Putin at an APEC conference.

     

    But in weighing Obama the Committed Warlord against Trump the Accidental Peacemaker, one cannot focus on policy alone. One needs to know the man.

    Obama killed four American citizens by drone. Trump zero. After Obama ordered the killing of American Anwar al-Awlaki and later his teenage American son, Obama’s White House press secretary Robert Gibbs commented the kill shot on the kid was justified as he “should have had a more responsible father.” Obama personally lead the Tuesday Oval Office reviews to choose who would die the coming week, telling senior aides in 2011: “Turns out I’m really good at killing people. Didn’t know that was gonna be a strong suit of mine.” Under Obama America wasn’t the world’s policeman. We were the world’s George Zimmerman.

    At a time when militarization and Trump’s use of Federal force in America cities is being questioned, remember Obama set the bar. Following the drone killings of Americans abroad Senator Rand Paul asked whether the president could authorize lethal force against an American citizen in the U.S. Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder answered yes. Holder said he could imagine “an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the president to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States.” Note to DJT: the legal justification is still on the books if you need it in Portland.

     

    That was the world in 2016. Donald Trump as president has started no new wars. Troop levels in Syria are down. Same for Iraq. Afghanistan remains about the same, with no surges. In 2017, the Department of Defense stopped providing specific military deployment figures for those areas. However, DOD’s annual budget requests fill in some of the blanks. The budget request from March 2019 showed the number of troops in Afghanistan at 12,000, with Iraq and Syria together at 5,800. In a recent move, Trump announced 12,000 American troops will be leaving Germany.

    The Global War on Terror, Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and regime change in Syria played important roles in the 2016 election. They’re no longer in the lexicon, artifacts now of another era. What happened? Did we win? Are they postponed because of COVID? Or was it mostly a pile of bullsh*t from the beginning and Trump called the bluff?

    It is a good thing a lot of nothing happened. John Bolton was the Bad Boy who was supposed to start wars with Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, maybe even China. He didn’t. The ending of the Iran nuclear agreement and the U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem caused not much to happen. In the end Bolton had no home in an administration which didn’t want to go to war. Mad Dog Jim Mattis as defense secretary, along with State Department special envoy to the coalition fighting ISIS Brett McGurk, resigned over Trump’s decision to draw down in Syria and Afghanistan. Mattis and McGurk too had no place in an administration which didn’t want more war.

    Whereas Obama had given up on diplomacy with North Korea in 2012, content to see them grow their nuclear arsenal, Trump understood you make peace by talking to your worst adversaries. His efforts were mocked, with the MSM declaring anything short of improbable full denuclearization meant Trump failed. But the door was left open, tensions cooled on the Korean Peninsula, and both sides got a peek at how they can move forward in the future. It’s easy to forget that before Trump’s diplomacy with Kim Jong Un, the Council on Foreign Relations assessed the chances of nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula at 50 percent.

     

    Of course Biden isn’t Obama. But neither is Trump, who spent the last four years disengaging from the policies Biden helped champion for eight. Biden’s foreign policy will be shaped by Obama alums. Only Satan knows the details of Susan Rice’s and Samantha Power’s pact with him, but they will both certainly have a role in a Biden administration promoting war as they did under Barack. We might even see the return of Hillary in some sort of elder statesman/special envoy role.

    There are many domestic Trump policies people don’t like, and this article isn’t meant to defend them. But it is worth noting how central warmaking has been to mucking up America, whether it is savaging our economy with debt, diverting funds from some social program to war, fueling terrorism either directly through CIA funding, or indirectly by blowing up wedding parties and creating new enemies. America’s warmaking has turned allies against us, burned too many times by American adventurism. And for those concerned about America’s image abroad, the most offensive Trump tweets have little to compare to the serial “accidental” bombings of schools and hospitals. So while the easy out is to rebut this with “But Trump…,” that ignores the centrality of war to American foreign policy and benefits in walking that back.

     

    Democrats and the MSM have spent four years declaring Trump is about to start some war or another, when in fact he has done quite the opposite. Meanwhile their candidate carries forward a bloody history of intervention and self-proclaimed Just War killing millions. While the Left will insist it won’t believe it’s eyes, it is possible the people know. Trump’s 2016 win was influenced by his outspoken denouncement of the waste of America’s wars. Evidence suggests pro-Trump sentiment in rural areas especially was driven in part by people who agreed with his anti-war critique, voters who’d either served in Obama’s wars or whose sons/daughters had served. We’ll see who notices in November.

     

     

    BONUS Content: Ah, Susan Rice. Only Satan knows the details of her pact with him, but she would certainly have a role in the Biden administration. Rice who supported bloodshed in Africa, created the policy of overlooking genocide in Rwanda, persuaded President Clinton against killing bin Laden, supported the invasion of Iraq as did Biden, who lied about what happened in Benghazi, and who wanted war in Libya. Rice combines the steamy crap foreign policy failures of Bill and Hillary with Obama to ensure it’ll all work out about the same for Biden. She is also all appetite, having spent a career promoting Susan Rice, so also expect her to go after the Oval Office if she can.

      

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Afghanistan, Biden, Embassy/State, Military, Trump

    Nothing is Fun Anymore (MAFA! Make America Fun Again)

    August 9, 2020 // 2 Comments »


     
    Nothing is fun anymore.
     
    And this isn’t nostalgia, some 1500 words which amount to get off my lawn. Lawns used to be fun. You’d sit on them, play lawn games on them. Now they’re part of the defensive perimeter around your home to help protect your family. But having a family is no fun; America ranked second to last among industrialized nations, behind even Bulgaria and Chile, as a place to raise children.

    Maybe it’s more fun where you are. I don’t know because like in the Middle Ages travel is no fun. America is the world’s largest leper colony. What’s open? Is the local custom masked or unmasked? Can a stranger find a place to eat inside if it’s raining? States restrict travel with quarantines which must violate the boring commerce clause parts of the Constitution somehow. We rely on the odd sojourner to bring us information from the outside. Check the news; is the Middle East still around?
     
    The news hasn’t been fun for a long time. Now even the old standards like the Washington Post produce what is basically tattle fodder for social media. I don’t know who Anonymous Source is, but he seems to be behind most of the articles. We’re treated to tales of what Trump says on the phone, inside the Oval Office, in private to his wife, as if the reporters are fused to the man’s back. Nobody seems to ask “how could they possibly know that?” Of course the reporter made it up, or they allowed themselves to quote the friend of an intern who made it up and call that “journalism.” Op-Eds opinion were fun before they all flopped into undergrad quality work announcing it’s Weimar, or Rome, or Hitler, or 1984 when at worst it’s closer to a bad Fellini movie.

    Journalism is no longer fun. Whatever bit of it was objective has been swept away by people who are so certain they alone understand the great Rights and Wrongs that reporting is now aspirational writing, using manipulated droplets of fact to drive events. “Journos” see their job as manufacturing reasons for Trump to resign, to fail, or to press Democrats to impeach, or trying to persuade slack-jawed yokel voters they otherwise hold in contempt that they don’t know what’s good for them. After four years of the sky not falling, it is exhausting to still have to wade through articles headlined with words like bonkers, meltdown, owned, trolled, canceled, boycotted, destroyed, shames, and sociopath which bark about defeats and collapses and failures. Everything is about fixing the blame on someone (Trump, usually) and little about fixing the problem. Apocalypse Now articles such as “We Do Not Have a Real Democracy,” which warns “Trump and his regime are engaged in a white supremacist counter revolution against the civil rights movement,” are repetitive resistance porn. There are only so many positions, so many scenarios, and they no longer impress, never mind shock.

    Where once the senior staff at the New York Times reminded reporters they were “not part of the f*cking resistance,” NYT editor Bari Weiss’ resignation letter confirms that today in fact the Times is indeed part of the resistance. “Truth isn’t a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else,” she writes of her former colleagues. On the slightly hopeful but not fun side, the editors of the Wall Street Journal announced to their whining staff via social media “We are not the NYT… our opinion pages offer an alternative to the uniform progressive views that dominate nearly all of today’s media.”
     
    Social media isn’t fun anymore. We used to complain it was too much of someone’s aunt posting cat pictures. Now it’s work for many; someone has to be staying up photoshopping Jeffrey Epstein into shots of politicians they don’t like. I guess that’s what “bots” do, make all the bad stuff for other bots to forward around until it bumps into a real person and, I don’t know, makes that person into a unfun Russkie zombie who must vote Trump. Everyone else on social media just spends their days seeking out contrary opinions so they can reply with what they think is wit. “You suck” is now an allowable thesis defense.

    Arguing used to be fun. We once enjoyed stayed up late drinking warm beer and arguing politics with actual living people (our ancestors referred to them as friends. Friends used to be fun, people even, not a scrolling list of unknown followers.) You could disagree with what someone said without having to destroy him as a human being. Once you could talk about ideas over a drink at a bar without having to swipe the smudge off your face of being called a fascist by a complete stranger. So we clam up. Some 62 percent of Americans say the political climate prevents them from saying what they believe. It’s especially true for conservatives, 34 percent of whom are worried their political views could get them fired. Which is why political polls aren’t fun anymore.

    Listening used to be fun because you heard new ideas. Listening now means waiting for the other person to pause and then you shouting “Mansplaining!” into the void between you two. Or typing “Whitesplaining!” We argue mostly online anyway and it sounds like third graders trying to prove which ice cream flavor is best. Like this: “56 percent of the government leans left.” “Source?” “Here’s a link.” “I don’t trust them.” “You suck.” And that’s from your mother. She’s now an Old White Person you’d like to see sent off for re-education.

    Education used to be fun. Who are we and how did we get here? Do old books have anything to say? What happened in China a couple of hundred years ago that might be handy to know before I read another “The East is Red and They’re Coming for You” article. Truth was arrived at via a complex process involving the naked search for facts. Now education seems mostly about pronouncing a conclusion — literature is a construct of patriarchal bastards who hate puppies — and filling in the justification with anecdotes of lived experience appropriated carefully among female, POC, and disabled scholars.
     
    The term POC is less fun because it really means black folks with a couple of “Hispanics” thrown in as statistical garnishes. The word Hispanic seems about as racist as they come but we can’t talk about the cultural goosestepping lumping people from Puerto Rico, Bolivia, Salvador, Cuba, and a dozen other places but not Spaniards (who were racist conquerors) together as if various Pantones of brown skin and a common enjoyment of spicy food negates everything unique. Never mind the “Asians” who are dipped in and out of the POC hopper as needed. Look at New York, where the best of the magnet public institutions, Ivy League procurer Stuyvesant High School, is seen as a racist demon because it is 73 percent “Asian” and only one percent black. Isn’t it good enough there’s only a few white kids? Not that the Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, and Thais who make up the bulk of the student body have much in common except they know the black kids call them all chinks.

    Even capitalism used to be more fun when they just lied to us through advertising about sneakers made by slave laborers in Asia instead of pretending to support social justice to sell sneakers made by slave laborers in Asia.

    Elections used to be a lot of fun. You had the 19th century spectacle of conventions with goofy hats, and rituals like rich WASPy candidates being forced to eat corn dogs at the Iowa State Fair and talk about hogs before spiking Purell right into their veins. Now it’s just a referendum on which candidate is further into cognitive decline. They used to at least try to distinguish themselves; now Biden’s entire campaign is based on him being one of several billion people who are Not Trump. No Morning in America, no Hope and Change, just Not Something, all the appeal of the smell of dead insects.

    Election Night itself also used to be fun, the Superbowl of politics, years of campaigning coming down to one big night. It was fun to stay up late. Now we know we won’t have results of days or weeks because we cling to an 18th century balloting system because in the 21st century we don’t trust computers. We’ve also been acclimated to one or both sides insisting the results are unfair because the Post Office is part of a vast conspiracy, so that actual voting is only overture, raw material for the propaganda fight that proceeds the court fight that ends with half of the country insisting the popular vote counts for something because they all failed 8th grade civics. The kids who didn’t pay attention in 8th grade civics weren’t any fun, even then.

    Years ago it was fun when my wife said she wished I looked like Billy Joel and, fat and bald, now I do. Robert De Niro and Johnny Depp used to be fun. Working from home used to be fun, like a snow day from school. Human Resources used to be fun, calculating your vacation days, before they became the Diversity Daleks waiting to get you fired for mispronouning. Thanksgiving used to be fun, a holiday without expectations that devolved into a yearly political Thunderdome. Groundhog Day used to be fun before it became real summerbating away months. I used to be fun until I was morphed by virtue seekers into a supervillain, Caucasian Man. My evil superpower is a conformity ray I blast at POC and women. Everything was more fun before community organizer, activist, social influencer, and YouTuber became actual jobs. Sports was fun when it was about sports. America was more fun when the national pastime was not “raising awareness.” Tequila used to be fun before it became an obligation.
     
    I accept America has suffered from a four year episode of PTSD and we all need to weather out another couple of months. But we’re the only nation who wrote pursuing happiness right into our foundational documents. You don’t see that from, meh, Canada or Sweden, so how come they’re happy and we’re not? So if Biden wins in November, can we agree to just forget this whole ugly era like a drunken makeout session? Or if Trump wins, will it be another four years of being told democracy is dying, every day day-to-day in Code Red until you just give up and have to laugh at it all. And that would be no fun at all.

      

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Afghanistan, Biden, Embassy/State, Military, Trump

    New York Dies for Your Sins

    July 25, 2020 // 5 Comments »


    With Elderly Caucasian Joe Biden as the Democratic candidate, November 3 will be less about the Rise of Progressive politics than the noise of the last four years would have you believe. But while the media shine of AOC and her kind winds down, progressive thought will find at least a petri dish to fester in in a Biden administration, and perhaps even a second media wind if Trump wins.

    Since it’s not going away, seeing what would happen if progressives escape the lab and go really viral is important. For that case study, welcome to COVID-laced New York, baby.

     

    COVID is supposed to be, finally, Trump’s white whale, the thing that will bring him down after he wriggled out from under the Russians and the Ukrainians and Stormy. Unlike the made-up thousands not killed by the hurricane in Puerto Rico, these were going to be real. Not enough ventilators! Not enough tests! Mass graves in Central Park! And it is all Trump’s fault. (see “Donald Trump is the Most Successful Bio-Terrorist in Human History.”) That set the stage for Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio to craft a response far more political than medical. New York today is a laboratory for what happens when progressive ideology combined with political opportunism displaces reality.

    But first a quick reality check: For every death in this global epidemic, it is critical to remember the virus did not strike masses down in the streets like the Black Plague, and did not create hideous sores like the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s that tore through this city to the point where one hospital was informally called Fort Apache. It is unlikely to infect a third of the world’s population like the Spanish Flu. In fact, it looks like an overwhelming number of those infected never even know they have it, surprised by an antibody test months later. Most infected people do not pass on the virus. The hospitals never overflowed and the military was never needed. As of July 12 New York had zero virus deaths for the first time since the pandemic started even as the lockdown continued. But keeping the emphasis on “cases” and not conclusions keeps the fear alive.

     

    But enough of reality, we’re talking progressivism here. That lockdown has left New York economically devastated, mired in “the worst economic calamity since the 1970s, when it nearly went bankrupt.” The unemployment rate nears 20 percent, a figure not seen since the Great Depression (nationwide unemployment averages 11 percent; in NYC during the 2008 recession it was about 10 percent.) By decree, policy described as a “pause” in March to allow medical facilities to ramp up morphed into a semi-permanent state to keep things bad ahead of the election. While de Blasio authorized nail salons to reopen, he’s kept the city’s core sectors, the stuff that symbolizes New York to the world — Broadway, tourism, conventions, restaurants, hotels, and museums — shut, sacrifices to The Cause. The newly unemployed then strain food banks and soup kitchens. Look what Trump wrought!

    So people are leaving. More than 10,000 Manhattan apartments were listed for rent in June, an 85 percent increase over last year. The super wealthy neighborhoods have seen 40 percent migration out. The biggest outward migration is from the once economically strongest neighbors of midtown and the Upper East Side. Enough rich New Yorkers have left that it is affecting the census. That mirrors the outflow of population in the 1970s which decimated the city’s tax base and lead to landlords torching buildings to collect the insurance because they could not collect rent.

    So in 2020 it matters that 25 percent of New York tenants have not paid their rent since March. These overdue payments have left 39 percent of landlords unable to pay property taxes. A new NY law prohibiting landlords from evicting tenants facing pandemic-related financial hardships will help on the micro level while contributing to the destruction of the greater economy which of course will eventually devastate everyone. Progressive zeal will create an economic tide to sink all boats.

    The mayor, who by decree threw his city out of work, also banned large gatherings through September. He did however say Black Lives Matter protests would be allowed, claiming “the demonstrators’ calls for social justice were too important to stop.” The mayor himself, maskless, took time off to help paint “Black Lives Matter” on Fifth Avenue in front of Trump Tower. The central thoroughfare in Manhattan was then closed to traffic to let the paint dry. De Blasio stated (inaccurately) “black people built Fifth Avenue” so it was all quite appropriate. Some are more equal than others; the mayor criticized Trump for putting politics first in coronavirus response.

    De Blasio is also allowing an “occupation” to continue at City Hall, where several dozens of people, a mix of activists and the homeless (attracted by donated food) live in makeshift tents. It stinks, a throbbing health hazard island of human feces and drugs and food scraps even before you get to the COVID part but the city allows them even as, until recently, it sent goons to chase unwoke citizens in twos and threes from playgrounds. About half the occupying people had no masks. A woman asked my preferred pronouns while behind her a half-naked homeless man screamed. A reporter was assaulted. A few cops stood in front of a graffitied courthouse and laughed, at some part of all of it, I did not ask which. Maybe they just like graffiti; it is back across New York to add color to the chaos.

    So what are cops doing? The former police commissioner criticized city and state leaders for abandoning cops (de Blasio pushed through a $1.5 billion cut to the NYPD on BLM demand) and for helping create a “crime virus” to go along with the coronavirus. Amid defunding elite NYPD units in spite of a 205 percent rise in shootings this year, so many NYPD officers are applying for retirement the department has been forced to slow-walk and otherwise limit applications to get out. One of the most recent shootings was a one-year-old caught in gang crossfire; a 12-year-old was shot separately the same night. Meanwhile, the state legislature is proposing a new law to hold cops personally responsible for any liability occurred on duty. New York City made the use of certain restraints by cops a criminal act. Here’s video of a thug who was not arrested using one of the same illegal restraints on a cop.

    De Blasio and Cuomo found other ways to have both fewer cops and more criminals. New York state recently eliminated bail for many misdemeanors and minor felonies, claiming alongside BLM it was unfair to POC without resources to pay. Adding to the criminal population, Mayor de Blasio supported the release of some 2,500 prisoners from Rikers Island due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus there. At least 250 of those released have been re-arrested 450 times, meaning some have been re-arrested more than once. Since they cannot be held for bail, most of those re-arrested are returned to the street almost immediately under Governor Cuomo’s fairness policy.

    The next battleground will be the schools. With only weeks to go in summer, the mayor announced the nation’s largest public school system will reopen with an unspecified mix of in-person and online classes. Teachers say crucial questions about how schools will stay clean, keep students healthy, and run active shooter drills while maintaining social distancing have not been answered. There have been no directives on how to handle online classes, no published best practices, not much of anything. Quality of education, like quality of life, is not on the agenda.

    One certainty is that New Yorkers will have fewer options — 26 Catholic schools will not reopen due to low enrollment and financial issues. That affects more than religion. Many of those schools represent the only neighborhood alternative to the failing public system. Closures will drive middle class flight.

    And there’s always something more. With indoor restaurant dining prohibited, many places are setting up ad hoc tables and sidewalk tents outside. In addition to adding to the third world Hooverville atmosphere, all that food has brought out the rats, who are attacking patrons.

     

    There is no sense we will ever end this. It’s easy to criticize places that have moved too fast but they had the right underlying idea: we can’t live like this forever. People need to work, not just for money (but they need the money) but to have purpose. So much of what has been done in the name of justice feels more like punishment, suck on this bigots! racial score settling under the guise of social justice.

    A lot of people are just sitting around like the Joad family waiting for something to happen. Thing is, we’re not sure what we are waiting for. The lockdown in March was, we were told, to flatten the virus curve. We did that. COVID hospitalizations and actual deaths in NYC are at their lowest levels since March. But the lockdown is still here and nobody seems to know when to declare victory — is the end point zero new cases before we can re-open Broadway? A vaccine? We just wait, the days hot, thick, and liquid. De Blasio and Cuomo are waiting, too, but for November 3 to free us. No need for a continuing crisis after Biden wins.

    But maybe the New York case study will serve as a different turning point in the election. Imagine enough purple voters who look at New York and become frightened of what the Left will do with unrestricted power in Washington. They want to work. They want their kids in school. They might just hold their nose and vote Trump.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Afghanistan, Biden, Embassy/State, Military, Trump

    Notes from the American Cultural Revolution

    July 11, 2020 // 1 Comment »


     
    Is America on the edge of a cultural revolution? After the failure to change so many times (say their names for a complete list) is society ready to take action against racism? Or is it just about statues again?

     

    I’m ambivalent about statues being torn down per se, but terrified of the thought process behind the destruction. Decisions should never be made by mobs. That happens alongside the rewriting of history to fit a narrative (see The 1619 Project) and the banning of books which challenge the conformist view of Blue Check Twitter. To hell with the statues of J.K. Rowling, but fear the thought which destroys them.

    The historical namesake and obvious parallel for all this is the Cultural Revolution in China, 1966-1976. Its stated goal was to purge capitalist and revisionist/traditional elements from society, and to substitute a new way of thinking based on Mao’s own thoughts. The epic struggle for control and power used the currency of the way people thought, seeking to emulsify meaning by waging war against anybody on the wrong side of an idea.

    To set the mobs on someone one would only have to tie him to an official blacklist like the Four Olds (old customs, culture, habits, and ideas.) China’s young people and urban workers formed Red Guard units to go after whomever was outed. Violence? Yes, please. When Mao launched the movement in May 1966 he told his mobs to “bombard the headquarters” and made clear “to rebel is justified.” He said “revisionists should be removed through violent class struggle.” The old thinkers were everywhere and were systematically trying to preserve the elements of their power, subjugation of the people through culture being one of them.

    Whetted, the mobs took the task to heart: Red Guards destroyed historical relics, statues, and artifacts, and ransacked cultural and religious sites. Libraries were burned. Religion was considered a tool of capitalists so churches were destroyed, and even the Temple of Confucius was wrecked. Eventually the Red Guards moved on to openly killing people who did not think as they determined. Where were the police? The cops were told not to intervene in Red Guard activities. Enforcement hardly mattered; the national police chief pardoned Red Guards for their crimes anyway.

    Education was singled out, as it was the way the old values were preserved and transmitted. Teachers, particularly those at universities, were considered the “Stinking Old Ninth” and were widely persecuted. The lucky ones just suffered the public humiliation of shaved heads while others were tortured. Many were slaughtered or harassed into suicide. Schools and universities were eventually just closed down and over 10 million former students were sent to the countryside to perform hard labor in the Down to the Countryside Movement. A lost generation was left to fester, uneducated.

    The Red Guard pogroms eventually included cannibalization of revisionists in Guangxi. After all, as Mao said, a revolution is not a dinner party.

     

    The Cultural Revolution destroyed China’s economy and traditional culture, leaving behind a death toll ranging from one to 20 million. Nobody really knows. The Revolution was a war on the way people could think, and the Red Guard a mob set loose as its warriors. It failed. One immediate consequence of the Revolution’s failure was the rise in power of the military when regular people had had enough and wanted order restored. And oh yeah, China became even more of a capitalist society than it ever imagined in pre-Revolution days. Oh well.

    That’s probably a longer version of events than a column like this would usually feature. A tragedy on the scale of the Holocaust in terms of human lives, an attempt to destroy culture on a level that would embarrass the Taliban and titillate BLM, this topic is not widely taught in American colleges. I had the honor of speaking to an elderly Chinese academic who had been forced out of her classroom to the countryside and made to sleep outside with the animals during the Revolution. She recalled long forced self-criticism sessions which required her to guess at her crimes, as she had done nothing more than teach literature, a kind of systematic revisionism in that it espoused beliefs her tormentors thought contributed to the rotten society. She also had to write out long apologies for being who she was. She personally was held responsible for four thousand years of oppression of the masses. Our meeting was last year, before white guilt became a whole category on Netflix, but I wonder if she’d see how similar it all is.

    And small world — students in China are again outing teachers, sometimes via cellphone video, for “improper speech,”  teaching hurtful things from the past using the wrong vocabulary. Other Chinese intellectuals are harassed online for holding outlier positions, or lose jobs for teaching novels with the wrong values. Once shunned as anti-free speech, most UC Berkeley students would likely now agree such steps are proper. And in Minnesota To Kill A Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn are banned because in historical settings fictional characters use a racial slur sadly common then.

    There are no statues to the Cultural Revolution here or in China to trigger a discussion. Nobody builds monuments to chaos. But it’s never really about the statues anyway. In America we moved quickly from demands to tear down the statues of Robert E. Lee to Thomas Jefferson to basically any Caucasian, including “White Jesus.” It was never going to stop with confederate generals because it was not really about racism, any more than the Cultural Revolution was really about capitalism. This is about rewriting history for political ends, both short-term power grabs (Not Trump for 2020!) and longer term societal changes one critic calls the “successor ideology,” the melange of academic radicalism now seeking hegemony throughout American institutions. Author Douglas Murray is more succinct. The purpose “is to embed a new metaphysics into our societies: a new religion.” The ideas — centered on there being only one accepted way of thought — are not noble. They are a cynical tool of control.

     

    It remains to be seen where America goes next in its own nascent cultural revolution. Like slow dancing in 8th grade, maybe nothing is going to come of it. These early stages, where the victims are Uncle Ben, Aunt Jemima, someone losing her temper while walking a dog in Central Park, and canceled celebrities, are a far cry from the millions murdered for the same goals in China. Much of what appears revolutionary today is just Internet pranking and common looting amplified by an agendaized media. One writer sees “cancel culture as a game, the point of which is to impose unemployment on people as a form of recreation.” B-list celebs and Karens in the parking lot are easy enough targets. Ask the Red Guards; it’s fun to break things.

    Still, the intellectual roots of our revolution and China’s seem similar: the hate of the old, the need for unacceptable ideas to be disappeared in the name of social progress, intolerance toward dissent, violence to enforce conformity. In America these are well-set in our universities, and spreading outward so that everywhere today — movies, TV, publishing, news, ads, sports — is an Oberlin where in the name of free speech “hate speech” is banned, and in the name of creating safety dangerous ideas and the people who hold them are not only not discussed, they are canceled, shot down via the projectile of the heckler’s veto, unfriended, demonetized, deleted, deplatformed, demeaned, chased after by mobs real and online in a horrible blend of self-righteousness and cyber bullying. They don’t believe in a marketplace of ideas. Ideas to the mob are right or wrong and the “wrong” ones must be banished. The choices to survive the mobs are conformity or silence. In China you showed conformity by carrying around Mao’s Little Red Book. In America you wear a soiled surgical mask.

    The philosophical spadework for an American Cultural Revolution is done. Switch the terms capitalism and revisionism with racism and white supremacy in some of Mao’s speeches and you have a decent stump speech text for a Black Lives Matter rally. Actually, you can actually keep Mao’s references to destroying capitalism, they track pretty closely with progressive thought in 2020 America.

    History is not there to make anyone feel safe or justify current theories about policing. History exists so we can learn from it, and for us to learn from it it has to exist for us to study it, to be offended and uncomfortable with it, to bathe in it, to taste it bitter or sweet. When you wash your hands of an idea you also lose all the ideas which grew to challenge it. Think of those as antibodies fighting a disease. What happens when they are no longer at the ready? What happens when a body forgets how to fight an illness? What happens when a society forgets how to challenge a bad idea with a better one? Ask the dead in China.

      

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Afghanistan, Biden, Embassy/State, Military, Trump

    Will Trump EVER Leave?

    July 3, 2020 // 3 Comments »

    I’ve got a list of bookmarks as long as my fave drug store receipts declaring threats to the republic, end of democracy, and the arrival of dictatorship. When I turn on cable news, the end of America as we know it — the literal end, as in North Korean-style lives for us — is nearly a regular feature alongside weather and sports when we had sports. I’ve tried to make a little career out of debunking that fear mongering. But now I’m scared.

    Joe Biden announced his plans: Biden (who despite appearances is the Democratic candidate for president) said he is “absolutely convinced” the military may have to remove President Trump from the White House if he refuses to leave after losing November’s election. Joe warned “This president is going to try to steal this election… It’s my greatest concern.” Asked whether he’s thought about what would happen if he wins but Trump decides not to leave the White House, Biden responded: “Yes I have.” After mentioning the high-ranking former military officers who spoke out about Trump’s response to BLM protests, he went on: “I’m absolutely convinced they will escort him from the White House.” Biden has been saying this now for months.

    It’s one thing when for clicks goofy Michael Moore, Donny Deutsch or Bill Maher muse Trump will not leave if he loses, or an Op-Ed worries Trump will unleash nuclear apocalypse in some Strangelovian bid to stay in office. Nearly everyone on Autonomous Free Twitter knows the voting will be rigged. Some knucklehead wrote a book about it based on a fan fiction reading of the 12th Amendment. TDS poster child Lawrence Tribe even said it about the midterm elections two years ago. Democrats have voiced “concerns” Trump would use the coronavirus crisis to delay or delegitimize the election.

    But this is Joe Biden saying it: Trump will attempt some sort of unconstitutional coup. Joe Biden who was vice president twice. Joe Biden, Lion of the Senate, and for several centuries the gray representative of the credit card industry. Joe Biden who is not stupid, naive or dramatic.

     

    Biden is, however, just a pawn in the game. They’re setting it up, aren’t they?

    The NYT, as is its role, already fired several signal flares. They characterize Trump as a cornered despot, capable of anything to avoid losing. In another one article the Times announced “Trump Sows Doubt on Voting. It Keeps Some People Up at Night,” quoting a Georgetown University law professor “reactions have gone from, ‘Don’t be silly, that won’t happen,’ to an increasing sense of, ‘You know, that could happen.’” The professor even convened a group to brainstorm how Trump could disrupt the election and to think about ways to prevent it. They speculate Trump could declare a state of emergency, maybe COVID-related, in battleground states, banning polling places from opening. Or Attorney General Barr could Comey-like announce a criminal investigation into Biden.

    The online comment responses to the NYT articles were amazing. People are ready for this. They are convinced Trump is defunding the post office so no one can mail-in absentee ballots (which the left somehow imagines will all be for Biden), and that Trump is sending out coded signals to his militias to take to the streets if it looks like he is losing. One reader is more confident: “We have a National Guard to deal with Trump’s 2nd amendment people” though more than a few claim what happens in November “will depend on where the military’s loyalty lies.” Many think the Supreme Court is a tool in all this, with Kavanaugh a grateful lickspittle linchpin to enable a November coup through some sort of judicial invalidation of the election. Many seem certain Trump will face jail if he leaves office and thus will illegally stay in office to stay out of jail; one says “DJT knows that once voted out he will still have to answer to Putin.”

    That Americans think this way is scary enough. But here’s my nightmare.

    After a long October of rumors from sources about some Surprise (war with Iran, martial law in Seattle) fails to produce a surge in Never Trump voters, the media pivots to the cheating narrative. Trump is doing something with mail in ballots, black people can’t get to the polls in Georgia, the Attorney General in Kentucky will undercount urban areas. The media will explode like a ripe zit, splattering fake news, exaggerations, and experts, all with a single point to make: the results on election day will not be valid if Trump wins. Academics will fan the flames, bleating on about the importance of the popular vote and rehashing old arguments from 2016 about the invalidity of the Electoral College.

    All will be forgotten faster than Robert-What’s-His-Name-Mueller if Biden wins. But if by pre-2016 standards Trump is the winner, boom! The media will refuse to concede. The Dems will put a little lipstick on it with strident local court challenges, demands for recounts, emergency hearings in the House, but keep it out of the Supreme Court. Democrats don’t want a conclusion, they want a crisis. Trump will fulfill his standard role as his own worst enemy and hold rallies to re-declare victory over and over. But the story everywhere else will be Trump is not the president-elect, the election was not legitimate, and that orange bastard’s presence in the White House after January 20 will be a Konstitutional Krisis. Privately the Democratic power brokers will whisper something remarkably undemocratic other than accepting the results of the election has to be done to save our democracy.

    What happens after that is beyond guessing. A best case scenario is some party graybeards get through to an exhausted and befuddled Biden and talk him out of it. A bad scenario has Obama emerge under the guise of being a neutral party to negotiate a (Democratic Party) conclusion. A very bad scenario has the same third party actors who whipped Black Lives Matter protesters into a looting mob repeat the performance. By that point nearly everyone will demand the military step in for different reasons. A very, very bad scenario will have a real-world event intervene, like an enemy abroad taking advantage of the chaos. The need to act expeditiously will slip a “temporary” military government into place faster than CNN can play the Breaking News music.

     

    You believed Trump was a Russian sleeper agent but you’re calling me paranoid? In 2016 learned scholars tested legal theories the Electoral College was invalid, and created a Constitutional Frankenstein where the electors voted for Hillary based on the popular vote. The idea the election was invalid due to foreign influence sullies discussion still today, and one political writer continues to place an asterisk next to the term “President Trump*” to denote questionable claim to the title.

    For nearly four years the same forces that may declare 2020 invalid tried very hard to convince us 2016 already was. There are plenty of Hillary people (including Hillary) who have not accepted 2016. Has Stacey Adams really accepted her defeat yet? Think back to everything that happened during the last election, the gaming done by Comey and the FBI to influence results. Remember how the intelligence community manipulated Russiagate. Why wait for November 2020 to have a coup? We’re been in what Matt Taibbi calls a permanent coup for years. They’ve been practicing to declare 2020 illegitimate, trying out the arguments, teeing them up, trial balloons.

    Any of the those things would have been considered crazy talk only a few years ago. None would have ever passed into the mainstream. Compare Russiagate to the Great Obama Birth Certificate kerfuffle. The idea Obama was ineligible for office festered in right wing talk radio. It was dismissed as factless by just about everyone else. Fast forward to 2016+ and America’s paper of record is happy to front a story the president is subject to blackmail over a pee tape based on nothing but desperate hope it might be true.

     

    The critical tool for a potential end of democracy is peoples’ new conditioned readiness to believe almost anything. The media tells the world what’s important using a very narrow range of truth if available, or just makes things up if truth is not around to be manipulated. When outed, the MSM switches to something else, and though the specific previous topic no longer exists as fact, it devolves into as one part of a broad idea — Trump is bad. Like summing up a range of experiences to say “Yeah, good vacation to Italy.” The people remain on call to be upset about whatever the news says to be upset about next, such as “Trump stole the election.” It’s really very easy. Remember literally overnight the media had people convinced  protesting during lockdown was deadly and then (whoosh, silence=violence) not protesting during lockdown was deadly.

    We end up living exhausted, on knife’s edge, neck deep in cynicism, decline, and distrust. And scared. There are no facts anymore, only what people can be made to believe. That power was not well understood in 2016 and clumsily applied. Today it is ripe for exploitation far beyond generating clicks and ad revenue. I don’t think Trump will try to stay in office if he loses. But there are people who will tell us that to try and play on our fears to steal this election. That’s why I am finally scared.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Afghanistan, Biden, Embassy/State, Military, Trump

    The Search for Heroes

    June 13, 2020 // 9 Comments »

     

    These are your new heroes: people who invoke the grace of Dr. King to label riots as lawful protests, looting as reparations. To be fair, most of that labeling is not by the thugs themselves, but by the media who elevate them to hero status hoping once again this will bring Trump down. Citing the freedom fighters in the streets, former labor secretary Robert Reich proclaimed “Trump’s presidency is over.”

    Not quite yet. So the MSM report on fires outside the White House with a wink; maybe they’ll burn the place down. The Trump family taking shelter in their bunker was met with articles calling the president a coward for not facing down the mob shouting “Get off my lawn!” The implied hope was there — if we can’t impeach him, maybe we can just have someone kill him. They will deny it, but the media encouraged violence. They hoped for it, they egged it on. “Destroying property which can be replaced is not violence,” NYT’s Nikole Hannah-Jones said. “I think any reasonable person would say we shouldn’t be destroying other people’s property. But these are not reasonable times.”

     

    Meanwhile the media met the prospect of the military’s arrival on mixed ground. The big story was not the standard “order will be restored but my God at what price?!?” but that Trump had “declared war on the American people.” Though 58 percent of voters support the deployment of the military to respond to protests, with only 30 percent opposing, the web is awash in uninformed fear mongering over martial law, posse comitatus, the Insurrection Act, and whatever else a Wikipedia search churns up.

    But underlying was a subtext: you know, maybe a military coup, maybe via martial law, would be OK. We’ve heard that actually for four years, with hopes expressed one of the ex-military men in the White House, maybe Mad Dog, John Kelly, or H.R. McMaster would hero up and assume control. If not directly, then maybe by running the country as the patriot behind the throne. Upon General Mattis’ departure, the The New York Times asked “Who will protect America now?” juxtaposing the warrior-monk with the Commander-in-Cheeto.

    The search for Trump-smiting heroes has strayed far from anyone deserving the title even as the qualification for the job remained hilariously low. Felon Michael Avenatti was a contender, anal porn star Stormy Daniels, and felon Michael Cohen, too. Along the way James Comey, John Brennan, Michael Hayden, Christopher Steele, and James Clapper were all given some hero time, and of course the run by Robert Mueller as Savior-in-Chief. There was the anonymous whistleblower and a handful of State Department drones at the impeachment hearings whose names are so long forgotten they might as well have been anonymous. Even the virus was given the chance at hero status if it would have been horrible enough to end this presidency.

    There were also the mini-heroes like Colin Kaepernick or the women’s soccer team, whose minor protests were turned into national moments by the MSM. They do keep trying for relevancy; pink haired soccer starlet Megan Rapinoe is threatening to run for some office, and joined other minor celebs in signing a petition to defund police forces. Kaepernick started a defense fund for protesters, quoting Malcolm X to warn “Concerning nonviolence, it is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks.”

     

    The hero-seeking media partnered them with every Democratic black candidate of any type or plain white woman who could check boxes (single mom, lesbian, HIV+, veteran, etc.) The high point of this low point was reached with AOC and her Squad, whose only real accomplishments have been relentless self-promotion and helping push Nancy Pelosi into an impeachment process that squandered the Blue Wave.

    But rioters as the new heroes? That’s who is left? No one wants bad cops, and every day America suffers for its original sin of slavery and 200 year failure to find repentance. The only answer the country seems to have come up with is to allow rioters to run amuck every few years to let the pressure reset. Pick your favorite — the TV version following Rodney King, the blast from Ferguson, or something old school from the 1970s out of Watts or the Bronx.

    In New York City we face an 8 pm everyone-off-the streets curfew, the first in 75 years (the COVID lockdown is also concurrently still in effect.) But the protests continue, with several hundred people last night closing down streets adjacent to my apartment building. Many stores in this part of America’s richest city had already been boarded up; the men putting up the plywood coming in from white working class neighborhoods in nearby Queens said to me they’re grateful for the work post-COVID, “but if I ever have to do this for my own neighborhood some mf is gonna suffer.”

     

    The protesters themselves were about two-thirds white, uniformly in their mid-to-late twenties. People wearing Bernie t-shirts outnumbered those still practicing social distancing by about 6:1. Everyone who would tell me where they lived said Brooklyn but if you live here you would have already guessed that. The blacks in the group appeared to be joining spontaneously from the surrounding public housing blocks and not mingling. Their chants weren’t the organized ones of the white kids, mostly “f*ck the police” accompanied by gang signs or middle fingers, just rage cleansed of politics.

    None of the black protesters would speak to me, but the white protesters wouldn’t stop. They knew media and my notebook drew them like shadows to a lamp. Asked what they wanted, everyone had their lines down — it was justice and peace — but no one really had an answer to how this demonstration would help create those things. What law could Congress pass to fix any of this? Raising awareness seemed to be the closest anyone could get.

     

    Some apartments in the area have hired private security, those beefy guys you usually see checking IDs at night clubs. One hotel employee said his five-star place had former SEALS at the door. Two NYPD helicopters were overhead for almost two hours, top cover Baghdad-style, watching the rooftops. People living nearby are angry and afraid, and such people will defend themselves, and that will be a terrible, terrible thing. It seems leaders on all sides are setting us against each other and we are embracing that as a new way of life. When was your last pleasant but intense political discussion with friends?

    It was hard to connect the odd collection of images and impressions from the street with a new theme among the righteous but uneducated on social media. They seem to think burning a Target is the modern equivalent of the American Revolution against the British. I listened to the Hamilton score twice now, and even read the Klassic Komics version of Federalist Papers, and can’t find anywhere the American side whined about the British being too rough. Instead, they understood a revolution meant risking their lives, their honor, and their sacred fortunes. Denied representation under an undemocratic system, they fought.

    The Founders took to the streets with none of the protections of the Bill of Rights. It was only after they won those early heroes created a Bill of Rights. It came as a package deal, because the Founders wanted to create a society where peaceful change was written into the law and so another bloody revolution was something their children would not have to undertake.

    That fundamental message was missed by the Democratic Party of Fairfax, Virginia. They tweeted (now deleted but the sentiment is widely shared) “Riots are an integral part of this country’s march towards progress.” No. Riots are not a vehicle for political change in a democracy. They are the antithesis of democratic change, change by force with no desire for compromise.

    It was only a week ago people said protests against government (specifically COVID restrictions) were wrong and dangerous, we should listen to the authorities, and were glad the cops were out there enforcing social distancing and masking. The people I saw at yesterday’s protest looked a lot like the people hissing at me in Whole Foods for not wearing a mask. They likely believe the 1A protects their protests but not those of the rednecks at the statehouse. To them every offense is a lynching, every day the apocalypse, every Tweet another final blow to democracy, every misunderstanding another example of systematic racism if not sexism, every non-white non-male non-straight American another victim.

    Once you understand how shallow and and tiresome and hypocritical such views are you will understand the 2016 election, and in about 150 very long days from now, the 2020 election. No heroes, or Russians for that matter, necessary.
      

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Afghanistan, Biden, Embassy/State, Military, Trump

    Requiem for the U.S. Department of State, Part I of II

    May 20, 2020 // 1 Comment »


     
    Saying “Mike Pompeo” out loud feels odd, like mouthing the name of an old girlfriend, or shouting out your GMail password. It just feels wrong in your mouth, because what’s Mike or the State Department done lately? As the Trump administration wraps up its first term focused on domestic issues, it occurs the United States has passed almost four years without a foreign policy, and without the need for a Secretary of State or a department of diplomats behind him.
     
    On his first anniversary in the job Pompeo told assembled diplomats “We needed everyone in their place, working on the mission, if we were going to achieve this mission on behalf of the president” but never actually said what that mission was. A Google query shows “Searches related to Mike Pompeo Achievements” include “mike pompeo weight – mike pompeo net worth.” One can easily imagine Pompeo, even pre-COVID, slipping out the side door at Foggy Bottom shouting “I’ll be working from home, check with my deputy if anything comes up” while his wife is waiting in the car for him, Ferris Bueller-style.

    We had high hopes for Mike. He and John Bolton (as National Security Advisor) were the Bad Boys who were supposed to start wars with Iran and North Korea, outdo Cheney and even challenge the legend himself, Henry “Bloody Hands” Kissinger. Pompeo watched as not much happened between the U.S. and North Korea. He watched as the ending of the Iran nuclear treaty caused not much to happen. John Bolton, who liberals expected to see on a throne in Tehran rolling a mullah’s bloody head around his lap, instead sits by the phone hoping a think tank will offer him an intern to listen to his stories, or maybe Dancing with the Stars will ring needing a last-minute. That show on Fox?

    Prior to Pompeo, the Secretary of State was Rex Tillerson. Tillerson couldn’t even come up with an elevator speech of his accomplishments when asked, listing as he left office North Korean sanctions which achieved nothing, alongside his own mea culpas for failing to make progress in Afghanistan and Syria and Iraq, where with a straight face he noted there was “more to be done.” A bit hard to blame him, as Trump chose a policy of stasis, not wanting to withdraw the last trooper and forever be the man who lost Afghanistan. Imagine if the U.S. had followed similar political caution and still garrisoned Vietnam?

    Commentators wrote Tillerson would be remembered as the worst secretary of state in history. Wrong. He made no significant blunders, gave away nothing. He just didn’t do much at all. His actual only real accomplishment was a humiliating apology tour of Africa meeting with leaders on the periphery of U.S. foreign affairs grouchy over the president calling their nations sh*tholes.

     

    It would be easy to blame Trump, his open mic night style of making decisions, his decrees by Twitter, sucking all of the diplomatic air out of the room and suffocating up-and-coming diplomats like Mike and Rex before they even had a chance to try on their plumed hats. Unlike his predecessors, Trump never took advantage of his get-one-free foreign incursion along the lines of invading Grenada, occupying Lebanon, or an adventure in Somalia, never mind the big ticket items like Iraq Wars I-III. Sure, Trump did bomb Syria (who hasn’t?) and nipped at Iran, but the tumescence was over before the media could even declare the end of the world again.

    One can imagine meetings with friendly foreign nations in the Age of Trump: “Anything new from your side? No, you? Nah, something on Twitter from POTUS about armageddon, misspelled. Say, Crimea still giving you trouble? A little, whatever, you watching Tiger King? Pretty funny. Quite.”

     

    So turn the page backwards to John Kerry, Obama’s second term Secretary of State. Kerry imagined himself a Kennedy-esque man of action, Flashman at the ready, and had the State Department keep an online tally of how many miles he had traveled doing diplomatic stuff. The Nation called him “One of the Most Significant Secretaries of State in the Last 50 Years,” heady company when you realize the list includes Acheson, Dulles, Rusk, and Kissinger.

    OK, but… Kerry’s signature accomplishment, the Iran Nuclear Agreement, faded quickly. As negotiated the thing was only for ten years anyway, and would be about half over even if Trump had not walked away. And that’s giving Kerry full marks for getting an agreement where the National Security Council did much of the heavy lifting, and one which the Iranians wanted badly enough to help their economy they were willing to trade away a lot of Wonka tickets. Kerry’s work with the TPP and Paris Agreement also showed good effort. We’ll put them up on the fridge next to the one song Ringo got onto each Beatles album. Kerry’s muscular efforts came to little substance (albeit through little fault of his own) but the legacy business is harsh.

    After that, you have John Kerry helping muck up Syria. Kerry floundering in the Ukraine and Crimea. Kerry failing to move the ball forward in Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, Palestine, or blunting China as it assumed a pivotal role in Asia in every way except militarily (they’re working on it.)

    That Nation article praising Kerry also cites as achievements “the military retaking of Mosul, the sponsorship of an Oceans Conference, the strengthening of the Gulf Cooperation Council…” all of which mean what in 2020? Kerry did sing Happy Birthday to Vladimir Putin at the APEC conference in the midst of a U.S. government shutdown. Kerry’s most significant achievement was leaving many Democratic voters secretly wondering whether the country dodged a bullet in 2004 when George W. Bush beat Kerry to take on a dismal second term.

     

    But Hillary! Never mind “one of,” Google chair Eric Schmidt called her “the most significant Secretary of State since Dean Acheson” (suck it, Kerry.) Secretary of State was only the first half of the prize Hillary got for clearing the way for Obama in 2008 (Barack shooing Joe Biden aside for her in 2016 was the second) and Clinton made the most of it. For herself. Ignoring America’s real foreign policy needs (or was she being ignored?) she turned the State Department into an arm of her Foundation, projecting “soft power” on things like women’s issues and AIDS to match her eventual platform, all the while generating B-roll for the campaign like a chunky Angelina Jolie. She also had the Department obsessively document her constant travels, with formal photos of Secretary Clinton alongside world leaders as well as selfies of Hil letting her hair down among her own diplomats. “Texts from Hillary” predated Instagram. Not a pair of dry panties to be found over at the Council on Foreign Relations.

    But in the tally of history, Hillary Clinton accomplished… not much. Time Magazine listed her key accomplishments as “the liberation of Libya, establishment of diplomatic ties with Burma and the assembly of a coalition against Iran.” In a summary piece, USA Today singled out “Clinton convinced Chinese leaders to free blind dissident Chen Guang Cheng,” who returned the favor by joining an American think tank opposing abortion and gay marriage.

    From the horse’s mouth, quoting Hillary Herself, key accomplishments were “hosting town halls with global youth, raising awareness for religious minorities, protecting Internet freedom and advancing rights for women and the LGBT community around the world.” Not resume items as momentous as forever changing the Cold War balance of power by opening China like Henry Kissinger or assembling the first Gulf War coalition like James Baker. Meanwhile, the world owes Hillary for her significant contributions to the failed state of Libya and the subsequent refugee flow, the human misery of Syria, the missed chances of the Arab Spring, and failing to end other wars she helped start or voted for.

    A generation before Hillary we have Colin Powell and Condi Rice, whose only accomplishments as Secretary were to march America into the desert and abandon her there (Colin) and march the State Department into the desert with the guaranteed-to-fail mission to create democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan and abandon her there (Condi.)

     

    The good news is the U.S. is experiencing a peace of a sorts not by sweating out the sins of diplomacy, but just by not going around the world throwing matches into buckets of gasoline. Trump has made little use of his Secretaries of State and their Department. No recent president made much use of those diplomats either, so they are unlikely to be missed.

    The next Secretary, whether working for Trump or Biden, will find themself in charge of a Cabinet agency is search of a mission. They may very well end up somewhere between the traditional ceremonial role of the Vice President, attending conferences and funerals, or perhaps simply overseeing a network of embassies to serve as America’s concierge abroad, arranging official visits for fact-finding Members of Congress, and hosting senior Washington policy makers in town to do the heavy lifting of international relations.

    If the U.S. government had to downsize into a smaller capital, the State Department would likely end up on the curb, alongside those boxes of the kids’ elementary school drawings. Cute, sentimental, good times, but why did we keep them all these years?

    How did this happen? In Part II of this article, we’ll look at the factors internal to State and the United States, and those external, global changes, that left the Department adrift.

      

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Afghanistan, Biden, Embassy/State, Military, Trump

    Fear and the Virus: We’re All Momo Now

    May 2, 2020 // 3 Comments »


     
    The COVID-19 virus turned us into a nation of Momo’s.
     

    Momo is my old rescue dog. She has BB-like pellets embedded under her skin. She jumps at noises and shivers uncontrollably when I pull my belt from my pants at night. She didn’t have to tell me that story but she did. She invents new fears all the time; like out of nowhere today it was a spray can rattle, last week it was the the coffee machine beep. Momo never gets back to normal.

    I don’t think most dogs are self-aware enough for suicide, but Momo might be. Before we got the right kind of leash she would slip off and dart into traffic. There were some close calls. For a dog afraid of everything she has no fear of being run over, so you tell me, because one definition of suicide seems to fit: fearing the consequences of living above those of dying.

    Momo knows there are bears in the woods. But her fears have gotten the better of her and she can’t separate real dangers from the rustle of leaves in the wind. Soon enough the grass near the woods has gotten too close and before you know it better to just stay on the couch, alongside the rest of America.
     
    We have been practicing to be Momo. With 9/11 we took one terrible day and turned it into a terrible decade. There were real threats, we all saw the Twin Towers fall. But that was… it? We faced a collection of bumbling terrorists with underwear bombs that didn’t work and shoe bombs that didn’t work and dirty bombs that never existed, plus of course the handful of successful homegrowns closer to disgruntled and mentally ill than Islamic and jihadi. If things to be afraid of didn’t exist we’d be forced to invent them. That might help explain how fast all that terror stuff just kinda faded away when it wasn’t needed anymore. ISIS who?

    But before that we convinced ourselves of threats abroad that needed lashing out at (Momo has never snapped at anyone. It’s a flaw in this analogy.) That is handy, the lashing out justified by fear, because it means we don’t have any obligation toward self-examination for killing millions of civilians, torturing people to madness, upending nation after nation, yadda yadda. We were scared, you guys! Sure, maybe we’re a little embarrassed for jumping under the table mid-Iraq War when Mom dropped the plate in the kitchen but nobody is going to tell the U.S. of A. it wasn’t justified at the time.

    We entered the Age of Trump in the worst of circumstances. Not only were we Momo-ized by 15 years of color-coded smoking guns being a mushroom cloud (and kudos to the author of that Bush-era catch phrase for the retro invocation of the Cold War) but we had honed social media to allow Momo’s across the country to encourage each others’ fears – “Hey, you guys afraid of the smell of pencils? I’ll just leave that here.”

    We reprogrammed into one big Crisis News Network, every story reported with a flashlight held under the announcer’s chin. Throw in Americans’ seeming need to be the victim, a nation of special needs people who all have to board first. If you live every day certain you’ll die if they serve one gluten it is easy to get spooked about something actually real. And don’t forget how over-protected we want to be, wiping down the gym like prepping for surgery and reading trigger warnings and dressing like cosplayers with ineffectual soggy cloth masks — this fetish of imagined fears doesn’t stop reality as much as it leaves us poorly prepared to deal with it.

    Then we get this Trump guy as a Bond-level super villain who was going to end democracy, make us speak Soviet, send the economy into a tailspin, trigger wars with China, Iran, and North Korea when he wasn’t trying to make peace with them which was somehow just as dangerous. Anyone who wasn’t a Nazi was a Russian ‘bot. Clearly a guy like this is to blame for not stopping cold a global pandemic at our shores. Social media allowed us to micro-personalize fear. Trump was going to end my rights (LGBT, abortion, something about toilets, guns, religion, concentration camps, fill-in-the-blank based on what is hiding under your bed.) We could have signature fears.

    You can actually watch it happen in real time. Over on Twitter people noticed Trump retweeted something about liberating Michigan, and using their online law degrees, determined that was the commission of an actual crime of “inciting violence.” A dozen others then tattled to Twitternannyman @jack saying Trump should be banned to save us all. That brought out the historians who decided Trump was trying to start a civil war, which was the trigger for the Constitutional experts to demand the 25th Amendment be used to remove Trump from office that afternoon before the war began. From a retweet to the apocalypse in under three minutes. UPDATE: Nothing happened. All the fears were pointless.
     
    But anyway Nothing Would Ever Be the Same Again and that was just for mostly made up stuff. Now we have enough of a real thing. Will we recruit Rosie the Riveter to beat the Nazis? No, we’ll just quarantine until our skin will become translucent for lack of sunlight. The face of this is Karen telling someone self-righteously they need to wear a yellow HAZMAT suit to Safeway or they’ll have her kid’s blood on their hands. People always find a new way to fear not enough — not enough tests, not enough ventilators, not enough beds, not enough food, whatever’s next. It doesn’t matter the fatal shortages did not materialize yet. The virus could mutate! There’s a second wave coming! Best to stay tense, dog, you will never get back to normal.

    C’mon, just between us, forget about Trump for a minute. Does a virus falling well behind super killers like car crashes and cancer really really really demand upending literally everything in our life? Shutting down schools? Throwing 22 million people out of work? Stopping down our most basic rights? And if anyone says yes, explain why we didn’t do it for past pandemics like H1N1. Imagine George W. Bush deciding post-9/11 no one could go to work or school for “national security reasons,” that we could not protect all those locations from the terrorists or something. It seems silly in retrospect but we’re doing it today. We’re so afraid we no longer can distinguish between prudence and over-reaction. It just seems easier to stay at home than to see if the woods really have bears in them.

    We are somewhat lucky. The most powerful people in our nation just want money. Jeff Bezos has no inherent desire to harm us directly. We still have some value to him, as temporary workers until the robots come and of course to order things. A mild uptick in the market saw Jeff’s net worth leap $24 billion dollars in one day. Fear is currency, and profiting off the pandemic the new status symbol.

    Politically, more luck. The next president has limited ambitions. Trump seems content thinking he’s in charge and busting chops, and Joe Biden’s ambition is to um, something. They’re not the kind of people who would really run with this fear thing. They seem content with the status quo of fear, enough to make people compliant, but not so much that they end up chasing each other with pitchforks. But imagine a bad boy in charge like Dick Cheney, Richard Nixon or John Brennan, a strong man to protect us, an evil man who understands the power of fear.
     
    I’ve been fortunate enough to live in a number of different countries. They have problems, sometimes serious ones similar to ours. But they don’t seem to have Momo-ized, where they can no longer tell the real dangers from the shadows, or judge the right amount of caution from the panic that shuts down the point of living.

    Maybe this is because less is uncertain for them. Most have health care, social nets, pensions, day care, stuff like that. Their people start the day worrying less in general than most Americans. Maybe that has something to do with this. For now, it’s hard to feel excited living in a nation of paranoid agoraphobics passing their remaining time slathered in Purell scolding their neighbor for forgetting his mask when out walking Momo. It’s not a healthy way to live.

      

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Afghanistan, Biden, Embassy/State, Military, Trump

    It’s Trump vs. The Virus in November

    April 14, 2020 // 1 Comment »

     

    There’s a new variant on an old joke. Trump and Biden are in the woods and see a bear racing toward them. Trump starts to run. Biden says “You can’t outrun a bear!” Trump replies “I only have to outrun you.” The election is between Trump and the Virus. If by November the public concludes he did a good enough job however that ends up being understood he’ll be reelected. Approval ratings only measure how fast one guy runs, and miss that’s it is a two-man race. Election day will be about adding up the smiles and cries from the coronavirus to see who the virus, er, bear gets.

     

    The Virus (capitalized to include the actual virus and the political panic and opportunism surrounding it) drove the progressive movement off the campaign battlefield. No more Parkland Kids, no more Pink Pussy Hats, Beto who? Mayor Pete who? Got a Plan for That who? Articles in HuffPo about how the publishing industry is especially unfair to left handed LGBT disabled Muslim people with eczema seem like Olde English. AOC is an artifact reduced to demanding free stuff from the government not from her ravaged district in the Bronx, but broadcasting from her DC luxe condo. When Bernie finally quits he’ll be lucky to make the “And in other news today…” part of the broadcast.

    Biden is a dishrag, through no fault or promise of his own the guy in the right or wrong place come autumn (that’s also how he got to be VP.) By choosing Biden Dems took healthcare reform off the table at a time when it might have had a real audience. If the Virus exposed anything, it laid bare our system’s shortcomings. Well, nobody plans to do anything about that. If voters’ big takeaway in November is the healthcare system kinda sucks, you know, the system last tinkered with by Obama-Biden ten years ago and which Biden sees no need to overhaul, well, so much for Biden.

    With Trump dominating the media, big footing his way into prime news time with daily press briefings (remember when the MSM chastized Trump for not holding briefings?) Biden is smart to not be saying much now. Whether he has anything worth saying in the autumn is a good question, when it all may be too late.

    The key flaw since Inauguration Day 2017 has been the Dems telling Americans they need a savior, a hero, a bear daddy, a rescuer and then serving up… Joe Biden. They have put few ideas forward on the road to making this a one issue election. They remain cemented at the buttocks with the MSM to auto-criticize everything Trump does, while the public remains unmoved as they generally have through the sagas of Russiagate, Ukraine, Emoluments, taxes, wars that never happened, trade crisis that never happened, ending of democracy that never happened, ending of abortion rights that never happened, ending of LGBT rights that never happened, etc. Democrats presented no alternatives during the stimulus process, just taking their share of the pork to include appropriating an additional $25 million in salaries and expenses for the Dem-controlled House. In a gesture as limpingly sad as it was predictable, Nancy Pelosi did announce an investigation into the coronavirus response. The problem is by November there won’t be much to investigate.

     

    Long before anyone votes this is all going to be some version of “over.” One can always play (as we did with Russiagate) the “but just wait” game of blunting every rational argument with an irrational one hoping for a turn for the worse, but as this is written New York City is reaching its Virus apex. Estimates of millions of Americans dead seem silly in the rear view mirror, and scientists are backing off even milder doomsday modeling. Governor Cuomo’s threat that Trump would have blood on his hands if New York did not get 30,000 ventilators (it got about 7,000) should embarrass him; a few days later he admitted the state had adequate supplies.

    As time passes the many mini-crises of not enough tests then tests caught up, not enough masks then the masks caught up, then not enough ventilators then ventilators caught up, etc. will demand perspective. Hydroxychloroquine, the MSM’s current stalking horse, will either have been shown to help or not and half of us can tell the others “I told you so.” Disaster management is a process not an event. Logistics take time. Mistakes get made. A response starts at zero with the disaster at something more than zero. The two curves compete while the media assigns blame until mitigation catches hold. Don’t forget the Dems failed with this gambit once before, Trump the lousy crisis manager who will kill us all after the hurricane in Puerto Rico, and even had the female mayor of San Juan in the current Andrew Cuomo role. George W. Bush was reelected despite Katrina.

    So it will be a tough sell in November for Dems to get people to vote Biden when they mostly have to offer a mistelling of Trump calling the virus a hoax nine months earlier. Few will remember and even fewer will care because the response over those nine months will be judged in full, not based on the daily name calling the media passes off as journalism. Cuomo, Fauci, Birx, Cuomox2, and whatever still-to-come good guys and bad guys the media will have created won’t be on the ballot. Might as well recycle those pleas for Michael Avenatti to run for president.

    All the faux controversy as the media tries desperately to create gossip (Are Trump and Fauci fighting?), what did or did not happen “fast enough” in January, like the impeachment hearings that took place alongside that, will be forgotten as something that hardly mattered then and certainly does not weigh heavy months later, a whole pandemic having passed specter-like through America. At what point might the numbers matter? For comparison, here are causes of death in America (2019) not being blamed on Trump as corona reaches 12k: cancer 606k, car accidents 39k, regular flu 34k, and in 2009 due to H1N1, 12k. Some states still have corona deaths in single digits. Now imagine Trump thanking and congratulating all those spared for their sacrifices and efforts at successful social distancing. USA! USA! We did it, together!

     

    This measuring of events in full will be exacerbated if the trend we are seeing plays out. There are actually two pandemics in America, one tearing into the New York-New Jersey area, and the other scraping past most of the country. Some half of the cases and deaths for all of the United States are in the New York City area. Hot pockets exist across the nation but there are only relative handfuls of cases in many states. The draconian quarantine measures won’t last long in places like Ohio and Iowa if that stays steady. This could be a NYCish problem, like Super Storm Sandy, devastating but isolated. By September rock stars may be again holding benefit concerts for The People of New York. Think Springsteen revising The Rising (“Come on up for the nurses, come on up wash your hands with mine.”)

    The thing is that even that image of the pandemic may be too generous, scrapping what one writer called post-9/11 “the ferocious tenderness of how desperately America loves New York.” Because at present the Virus is not a pan-New York City phenomena per se. It is highly concentrated in the poorest ethnic and black neighborhoods of Queens and the Bronx, along with mini hot spots in Hasidic Jewish enclaves of Brooklyn. NYC is fighting like hell to hide the demographic data, but studies suggest a Virus patient in the Bronx is twice as likely to die as one in a “nice” neighborhood. What if pandemic ends being mostly a passing inconvenience for most of America, and largely not only just a NYC-centric tragedy, but a poor-centric tragedy? Throw in California and Detroit if you’re a fatalist, it doesn’t change the basic equation.

    When nobody in the Heartland cares about all that in November pundits will blame it on racism, the convenient tar baby of all bad things (that will help blame Trump for a mostly localized disaster without smearing Democratic pin-up Andrew Cuomo.) But the explanation which will elude strategists is that people vote for themselves.
     
    Looking back to the Vietnam era, much of Middle America was agnostic toward the war until the draft started sending bodies home to Bloomington, Dayton, and South Bend. Even then many held to their patriotism and sucked up the sacrifice. As long as most people in Iowa think of the Virus as an Other problem, Trump is secure. If they start to realize they all know someone who died of the virus, things get a little more competitive. So don’t be surprised to see liberal pundits rooting for an autumn viral wave as this year’s October Surprise.

    All elections are in the end local. Votes are personal things, big picture issues rendered small. People vote their own experiences, and judge what a vote means for their future. For every game changer you think you see happening now in April, remember it will be judged by what happened after that on the road to Election Day.

      

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Afghanistan, Biden, Embassy/State, Military, Trump

    The Monsters Are Due on Pennsylvania Avenue

    April 11, 2020 // 3 Comments »


     

    “There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own…”
     

    That’s the closing narration to a classic Twilight Zone episode, The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street. A summer’s day turns darkly paranoid as a group of neighbors convinces themselves strange doings are part of an alien invasion. Worse yet, one family among them may be aliens in disguise. Their fears escalate until a neighbor is shot and the former friends descend into a mob. The episode ends on a nearby hilltop where real aliens are watching the riot on Maple Street while manipulating the neighborhood’s electricity to encourage the violence. They comment on how simply fiddling with consistency leads people to descend into paranoia, and that this can be exploited to conquer Earth. The message is clear: while there is a real threat, the worst damage is done by ourselves, driven by the search for someone to blame.
     

     
    And oh yes in 2020, in what the NYT calls this “land of denial and death,” we search for someone to blame. Paranoia does not require much grounding in real life. So while a global pandemic unfolds, affecting over 150 countries, the blame for what is happening rests with one man. China, Spain, Canada, wherever, have no Trump. They don’t have America’s grossly commercialized medical system, or the economic inequality, or the the presence/lack of border controls, to exacerbate the virus. Yet they have the virus, statistically flexible enough to be worse than the U.S. where needed (China and Iran, they lie) or better than the U.S. to prove some point (South Korea tests more, Denmark has socialized medicine.)

    The Boston Globe has it clear: Donald Trump “Has Blood On His Hands” over coronavirus. The idea that a global pandemic is not “anyone’s” fault is unthinkable and Trump is a ready foil. The MSM has spent three years seeding our thoughts Trump is deadly. He was a Russian spy selling our secrets even as the #Resistance lead by Alec Baldwin practiced shouting “Wolverines!” He brought us to the brink of civil war, or nuclear war with North Korea, Iran, and China, enroute to climate change death. So what if the MSM got the details wrong — it wasn’t Russiagate or white nationalism or Ukraine — it was, we found it, this.
     
    Look, Trump did away with the “Pandemic Response Team” in 2018. If we had had that Team they would have swatted the virus away. Except there was no Team. What was fired was one man, Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer, who was actually only a bureaucratic coordinator on the NSC. Ziemer was originally a George Bush anti-malaria appointee after his naval aviation career, an evangelical Christian, with little real-world experience with a pandemic. Not a doctor, not a specialist. No matter his team and its duties were reassigned inside the NSC to a new biodefense directorate. And no matter Ziemer still works for the government, at USAID, in case anyone needs his expertise. And no matter he and his position did not exist in 2009, when by most MSM accounts the U.S. successfully handled the swine flu virus.
     
    Well, maybe it is because Trump cut funding to the CDC and NIH! Except that did not happen. The president’s budget proposals called for reducing funding even as Congress said no every time. Joe Biden claimed Trump “tried to defund the NIH” even as lawmakers enacted increases. Not that it matters much, but Trump never called the virus a hoax, though he did call Democratic efforts to tar him with inaction a hoax. And a Johns Hopkins study in 2019 ranked the U.S.  the best-prepared country in the world to handle a pandemic.
     
    But Trump didn’t test! Of course testing has ramped up quickly to the point where the U.S. has tested more people than other countries and is leading the world in deploying the new, faster, antibody test. But blame requires focus on an initial couple of weeks, mid-impeachment proceedings, when testing was not available in large quantities. One typical headline claimed, “The U.S. Badly Bungled Coronavirus Testing.” But the problems were old news almost as soon as the stories were written. Within a week, nearly a million tests would be available. The initial testing rollout of a CDC-designed test kit to state and local labs was unsuccessful because it contained a faulty reagent. CDC quickly backed away from a policy position limiting full testing to its own labs for statistical and quality control purposes, and commercial, university, and state labs gained approval to use their own tests.
     
    The CDC’s actions were standard procedure, and for good reason. When a new disease emerges CDC normally gets the ball rolling because it has the expertise and the biosafety laboratories to handle dangerous novel pathogens. Typically there are few confirmed viral samples at the outset, which researchers need to validate their tests, and CDC has the capability to grow the virus for this critical quality assurance step. You lose that if you allow everyone to test simultaneously. It’s not a “blame,” it is science.

    As for the technical problem with the original CDC kits, here it is: “The key problem with the kits is what’s known as a negative control. CDC’s test uses the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay to find tiny amounts of the SARS-CoV-2 genome in, say, a nose swab. To make sure a test is working properly, kits also include DNA unrelated to SARS-CoV-2. The assay should not react to this negative control, but the CDC reagents did at many, but not all, state labs. The labs where the negative control failed were not allowed to use the test; they have to continue to send their samples to Atlanta.” The CDC has been supplying reagents through the same place for a decade. So if you want to blame Trump for stirring in the wrong DNA in the kits, whatever, go ahead.
     
    Oh, you want someone to really blame? Well, there’s two pandemics’ worth of it to go around.

    But what about the ventilators? The U.S. tried to build a new fleet of ventilators, but the mission failed, leaving us in the present situation. Left out of the discussion was that the failure took place under the Obama administration, following the H1N1 pandemic. It was understood then some 70,000 ventilators should be stockpiled. Yet through a failure of oversight by the Obama administration the project ultimately produced zero ventilators. Last year the Trump administration approved a new design to kickstart the project, with deliveries to start in the summer.

    But didn’t we once have more ventilators? Yes, in California, but Governor Jerry Brown sold them. In 2006, citing the threat of avian flu, then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had the state invest $200 million in a powerful set of medical weapons. He created a truck-borne system of some 50 million N95 respirators, 2,400 portable ventilators, and 21,000 patient beds. Then in 2011 the new Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, cut off the money to maintain the stockpile. The ventilators were given to local hospitals and health agencies without any funding to maintain them. Many were resold to dealers who shipped them abroad. The N95 respirators were allowed to expire without being replaced.
     
    New York, once again Ground Zero for a national tragedy, may not have enough ventilators. After learning in 2015 the state’s stockpile of medical equipment had 16,000 fewer ventilators than New Yorkers would need in a severe pandemic, Governor Andrew Cuomo could have chosen to buy more ventilators. Instead, he asked his health commissioner to draft rules for rationing the ventilators they already had.

    Governor Cuomo also recognized, but failed to do anything about, a shortage of masks and other protective gear. On March 6, weeks before Trump raised the issue, Cuomo stated people were stealing the equipment out of hospitals in New York. “Not just people taking a couple or three, I mean just actual thefts of those products,” Cuomo said. “I’ve asked the state police to do an investigation, look at places that are selling masks, medical equipment, protective wear.” There is no evidence he or the police ever followed up, directly resulting in a shortage today. Cuomo did not restate his order to investigate even after a warehouse with pallets of black market masks was reported.

    Despite the crisis, Cuomo continues to pursue $2.5 billion in Medicaid cuts to NY’s hospitals alongside limiting their expansion to save more money. That will end up being a lot of ICU beds missing if needed.

    Elsewhere in New York, city mayor Bill De Blasio’s decision to keep public school open through mid-March, well into the pandemic, is seeing its gruesome legacy play out in Queens, the Bronx, and Brooklyn, where multi-generational households are among the hardest visited by death.
     
    What about Congress? Public health experts testified on in 2018 and 2019 asking for over a billion additional dollars as part of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, explaining programs created after 9/11 to ready the nation’s health system for any kind of disaster had since been stripped down to dangerously low levels. Congress cut the funding. That decision is “among several key moments over the last few years where experts warned of the likelihood of something like current pandemic and government leaders did not do enough to prepare.”

    The point is not to absolve Trump. The point is not to blame others. There exists among too many an ugly need for things to fail, so we can blame someone. That glee cruel because the desire for a scapegoat coincides with much suffering.
     
    You never defeat a disaster, whether a hurricane in Puerto Rico or a virus. You mitigate it. Success is measured by how well those natural processes are pushed back beyond civilization’s walls and by how much suffering is relieved along the way. The process almost always follows the same path: recognize the disaster (easier with earthquakes, harder with a virus), determine what is needed (time consuming and ever-evolving with the goal being the right help to the right places in order of priority), procure and transport (can take time), and allow the mitigation efforts to go to work. Disaster management specialists know it will never be fast enough, as the response starts in deficit. But a tipping point will take place, and people will start to receive the help they need.
     
    The press conferences, clogged with ritual passive aggressiveness, grow wearisome, do not inform and entertain only in the way slowing down at a car wreck does. It’s not Weimar, it’s not Rome, but it is time to grow up; we’re all on the Diamond Princess now. We’ll have an election soon enough, and the people can decide for themselves what the MSM and Democrats have been trying to force on them for more than three years. Until then, focus on fixing the problems for our neighbors, not the blame.
     
     

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