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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – July 22, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Grinnell Glacier Overlook, Glacier NP, Montana – 2019 photo by e_met

Americans don’t like geopolitics. Columns about the world situation have been Wrongo’s least-viewed since the start of The Wrongologist blog in 2010. Today may be time for Americans to wake up, and think about our evolving and dangerous situation with Iran.

You know the basics: The US pulled out of the Iran Nuclear Deal in 2018. We reinstituted sanctions, the most important of which came into effect in November 2018, covering sales of oil and petrochemical products from Iran.

Since then, Iran has found it difficult to sell its oil, since the payments would be cleared through a vehicle called SWIFT, which is the payments backstop of the international trading system. SWIFT provides a network that enables more than 11,000 financial institutions worldwide to send and receive information about financial transactions in a secure, standardized and reliable environment.

No one wants to buy oil, and settle the deal through SWIFT because the US will become aware of the deal, and penalize the bank(s) or companies that worked with Iran. Another payment system is emerging, INSTEX, which will circumvent US sanctions, but it may be too little, too late, given the precipitous impact sanctions have had on Iran’s oil sales.

Things have now heated up. First with the seizure of an Iranian-flagged oil tanker by the UK in Gibraltar two weeks ago. It was ostensibly on its way to deliver oil to Syria, and the US asked the UK to seize the ship. What followed was tit-for-tat: On Friday, Iran seized a UK flag oil tanker in the Straits of Hormuz.

The US media is calling Iran seizure an unprovoked “attack” on a British flagged ship. Britain justifies its Gibraltar action as just keeping the sanction regime in place.

Here’s where things become dangerous. The neocons in Washington and in the media are seeking immediate and tough action, portraying Iran as an imminent threat to free trade, and to the West’s oil supply. Trump regrettably, is ignorant of Iran and Middle East history, and may not have the ability to avoid employing military force.

There is a dangerous delusion within the Trump /Bolton/Pompeo National Security team: They believe we are so militarily dominant that Iran will not dare fight us.

That is a strategically dangerous place to land. Our best option is to resolve the current tanker seizures with diplomacy. The UK and Iran could agree to resolve the situation and release the respective ships. All other options involve shooting and possibly, a military escalation involving others, including China and Russia.

If key Iranian infrastructure is targeted, nobody really thinks Iran will sit passively, and let us attack critical targets.

Iran has a robust, if not totally modern, military that could engage in counter strikes on US/UK targets in the Middle East. That would certainly involve our naval assets in the Persian Gulf. Now, suppose US aircraft are downed inside Iran (Iran has Russia’s S-300 antiaircraft system, but not the newer S-400). Trump would come under intense pressure to escalate. Any US pilots that survived being shot down, would give Tehran a big bargaining chip. Would Trump bargain, or would he continue to fight?

Iran would be damaged, but it would survive. The religious leadership’s hold on Iran would be strengthened. Trump’s political fortunes could take a hit from that portion of his base that is against foreign entanglements, as well as the other 60% of America.

The DC neocons are certain we can bomb Iran into submission. That is a fantasy, just as it was in Vietnam and Iraq.

All indications are that the Iranians aren’t going to cave. They’ve proven for decades to be very pragmatic. They may choose to talk. If Trump is smart, he’ll take a sit-down with the Iranians before things get out of control, and before the DC neocons and their Israeli friends push things beyond a point of no return.

He might get a deal that looks suspiciously like the Obama Nuclear Deal. Then, he can come back and claim he got the best deal ever, a deal only The Donald could get!

If he sticks to his “I have to win, I have to be seen as beating the other guy” as his game plan, we are in for a long, dangerous summer.

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US Army Woefully Unprepared

The Daily Escape:

Double Arch, Arches NP, Utah – photo by Bryol. The size of the people in the foreground give an indication of the mass of these formations.

Are you aware that the US Army is transitioning away from the counter-insurgency mindset that we have used for nearly 20 years in Iraq and Afghanistan? Or that we are now focusing on fighting large-scale, conventional battles against foes of equal strength?

Who are we talking about when we say “foes of equal strength”? It means countries with large land-based traditional armies. One new objective is to train Army personnel to fight underground. That doesn’t mean in the claustrophobic Vietnamese tunnels our GIs fought in during the 1970s, it means urban warfare in subways, large tunnel structures, and sewers. These days, most big cities all have utilities, water, electricity, sewer, and communications underground.

It also means fighting in subterranean facilities. Military.com estimates that there are about 10,000 large-scale underground military facilities around the world that are intended to serve as subterranean cities.

Some of these targets are in North Korea, where vast infiltration tunnel networks can move 30,000 NK soldiers an hour directly to the border with South Korea. China and Russia also have vast underground networks, so presumably, they might be targets as well.

In a way, this is old news. In addition to Vietnam, history reminds us that during the Battle of Stalingrad, the Russians used their sewer systems to spring surprise attacks behind the German lines. In Iraq, US troops conducted search missions in tunnels.

In late 2017, the Army launched an effort costing more than $500 million to train and equip most of its 31 active Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) to fight in subterranean structures that exist beneath dense urban areas around the world.

There are big problems, though. The US Army hopes to meet its goals for urban warfare by 2022, but Military.com says most young sergeants don’t know how to maneuver their squads:

“For example, sergeants in the majority of the Army’s active brigade combat teams (BCTs) don’t know the importance of gaining a foothold when leading squads on room-clearing operations, according to a series of report cards from the service’s Asymmetric Warfare Group, known as the AWG.”

It gets worse. They can’t do basic land navigation: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Additionally, the Army’s Non-commissioned Officer Academy is seeing sergeants routinely show up for courses unable to pass a basic land navigation course using a map and compass.”

And even worse. sergeants show up with:

“…poor physical fitness and body composition, and….not able to qualify as Marksman using backup iron sights.”

This means that many sergeants can’t shoot straight without either an optic lens, or laser pointer on their weapon!

This is surprising. Sergeants are the backbone of the Army. They are supposed to be the best-trained, best motivated members of their units. The basic unit in the Army is the squad, so when sergeant squad leaders can’t do basic land navigation, or shoot a gun without technology, we have a huge problem.

Remember that for the past 17.5 years in Afghanistan, we have been fighting an untrained enemy wearing flip-flops. Of course, they know how to shoot without optics. Maybe that’s why they won.

Wrongo was in the US Army in the late 1960s. At that time, a Corporal (E-4) or a Sgt. (E-5) had to know squad and fire team maneuvers, hand signals, placement of personnel in attack and defense, and fire direction (how to direct remote artillery or planes to a ground target).  All of that required map reading. So, Wrongo finds this disturbing, as should everyone else.

If using a map, protractor and compass is too difficult for today’s sergeants, then we need more/better training. Infantry soldiers must be proficient in these skills. Even though today’s soldiers rely on modern technology, those technologies sometimes fail, and sometimes tools like GPS aren’t available.

For example, we know that GPS won’t work reliably in a tunnel or sewer, so we need a continued emphasis on knowing how to use those non-technical solutions that worked back in the day. All Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) should be able to meet these basic infantry leadership requirements. All soldiers should be taught land navigation, regardless of whether they wind up in front-line combat units or support units.

We are being deluded by our military brass. We are no more ready to fight an urban war than we were ready to fight a counter-insurgency war in the Middle East. And why urban wars? What scenarios will get us into a fight in the big cities of Asia, or Europe? Or Russia?

Here’s a thought: How about the US doesn’t get involved in a foreign war where we have to “occupy” a city?

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Terror Delivered Via Joystick Is Here

The Daily Escape:

Winter sunrise, Mt Hood, OR – 2019 photo by dontyakno

The Russian company that gave the world the AK-47 assault rifle, the Kalashnikov Group, unveiled its KUB-BLA drone at the International Defense Exhibition and Conference (IDEX) in Abu Dhabi on Feb. 17.

This won’t be the first small-sized drone to be used in warfare. ISIS has already shown the ability to carry an explosive drone payload to a target. In January 2018, a swarm of 13 explosives-laden mini-drones attacked two Russian bases in western Syria. Each of those drones carried 10 one-pound bombs under its wings.

So, technology has again revolutionized warfare, this time by making sophisticated drone warfare technology widely and cheaply available to terrorists and under-resourced state militaries. Not a surprise that it is from the company that gave the world the AK-47, an automatic rifle that “democratized” infantry warfare.

The KUB drone is simple to operate, effective and cheap, according to Kalashnikov. Sergey Chemezov, chairman of Russia’s state-owned Rostec arms manufacturer, which owns Kalashnikov said:

“It will mark a step toward a completely new form of combat…”

The KUB is 4 ft wide, can fly for 30 minutes at a speed of 80 mph and carries six pounds of explosives, said Rostec’s news release. That makes it roughly the size of a coffee table that can be precision-guided to explode on a target 40 miles away, making it the equivalent of a “small, slow and presumably inexpensive cruise missile”, according to the National Interest website.

Apparently, the target market is third-world militaries.

KUB is similar in design to Israel’s truck-launched Harpy drone, which has been on the market for at least 25 years. The Harpy is jet-propelled, and much heavier than KUB-BLA. It carries a 51-pound warhead, and is in the hands of militaries in Azerbaijan, Israel, Kazakhstan, Turkey and Uzbekistan.

The Harpy is designed to fly for long periods, “loitering” above enemy territory.  A single Harpy reportedly costs around $70,000. A KUB will be substantially cheaper, possibly around $7,000, so an operator could purchase hundreds of KUBs and deploy them by the dozen to swarm enemy defenses.

The US wants its own suicide drone. The Air Force is developing what, in a burst of bureaucratic naming creativity, they call “The Low Cost Attritable Aircraft”, (LCAA). In 2016, they awarded Kratos, a San Diego drone-maker, a $41-million contract to design and demonstrate what the government described as a “high-speed, long-range, low-cost, limited-life strike unmanned aerial system.”

The low cost part is estimated at $3 million each, making it clearly an American product designed to much less expendable that a Harpy, and far more costly than a KUB. So, think fewer swarms and less US suicide usage than the drones of our competitors.

This means we have now entered the age of terrorism by joystick. The Pentagon understands the risks, and is seeking $1 billion for counter-drone measures in its proposed 2019 budget.

While there are limits to the damage a cheap suicide drone can do, the psychological effects of a small, but successful attack could far outstrip the actual physical damage. Imagine three suicide drones diving into the crowd at the Super Bowl. America would probably never play football outdoors again.

This is an unwelcome development that was also inevitable. Military planners have wanted air-to-ground weapons that were cheap, and liberated from the need to protect a human pilot.

A fleet of low-cost micro-bombers could be decisive in intra-state warfare, civil wars, and the kind of popular unrest that we experience today. Weapons like the KUB will undoubtedly find a home in the arsenals of various countries, particularly as the technology continues to improve.

The point though isn’t what one of these could do, but rather, what thousands of them might do. Soon, Russia, China and the US will be producing a mass market, cheap and destructive drone.

What could go wrong?

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Should America Intervene in Venezuela?

The Daily Escape:

Bald Eagle on the Housatonic River, CT – February, 2019 photo by JH Clery

On Sunday’s Face the Nation, Trump was asked about Venezuela and whether he’d negotiate with President Maduro to convince him to exit. Trump put military intervention squarely on the table:

“MARGARET BRENNAN: What would make you use the U.S. military in Venezuela? What’s the national security interest?

DONALD TRUMP: Well I don’t want to say that. But certainly it’s something that’s on the- it’s an option.”

This seems to be part of a larger Latin American plan. The WSJ reports that the Trump administration’s plans include regime change in Venezuela, Nicaragua and eventually Cuba. This is a multiyear neocon project that has at least some bipartisan political support. It may require military force, as Trump indicated to CBS that he’s willing to consider. One thing that the WSJ reports is this:

“US law-enforcement officials say they have evidence Mr. Maduro directed state resources to create what they allege has become one of the most powerful international narco-trafficking operations in the world, and with links to Hezbollah, the Lebanese group designated by the US as a terror organization.”

So, there you have the first Western Hemisphere argument to “fight them over there, rather than fight them here”.

As we said on Saturday, nothing unites a country like a sovereign enemy on its borders. Venezuelans may hate Maduro, but they also hate the US. China and Russia may be worried about the $50 billion and $17 billion Venezuela owes each respectively. Turkey has also supported Maduro. Although they all are Maduro’s allies, it is unclear if they would be willing to help, should the US intervene.

The consequences of all of our former interventions should be screaming at us. But, John Bolton, Mike Pompeo and Donald Trump seem deaf to the messages. Bolton said:

“We think stability and democracy in Venezuela are in the direct national interests of the United States right now…The authoritarian regime of Chávez and Maduro has allowed the penetration by adversaries of the United States, not least of which is Cuba.

Some call the country ‘Cubazuela’, reflecting the grip that Cuba’s military and security forces have on the Maduro regime. We think that is a strategic significant threat to the United States and there are others as well, including Iran’s interest in Venezuela’s uranium deposits.”

Maduro is no prize. The Economist reports: (brackets by Wrongo)

In the past five years GDP has fallen by half. Annual inflation is reckoned to be 1.7m%…which means that Bolívar savings worth $10,000 at the start of the year [will] dwindle to 59 cents by the end….People are malnourished and lack simple medicines, including antibiotics. Hospitals have become death traps for want of power and equipment. Blaming his troubles on foreign conspiracies, Mr. Maduro has rejected most offers of humanitarian aid.

Juan Guaidó, head of the Maduro opposition, and President of the National Assembly, has support from the EU, and the Lima Group of 12 Western Hemisphere countries (including Argentina, Brazil and Canada). The US recognized Guaidó early.

The question is, should we intervene at all? And if the answer is yes, how should we intervene?

The US is still Venezuela’s main trading partner. Last week, we imposed curbs on purchases of the country’s crude oil, and a ban on imports from the US of the diluents that must be blended with the extra-heavy oil from the Orinoco Belt to allow it to flow through domestic pipelines. The first hits Venezuela’s oil exports, while the second curbs their production. This will reduce revenue from oil exports by more than $11 billion.

By ordering that payments for Venezuelan oil be put in bank accounts reserved for Guaidó’s government, the US hopes to asphyxiate the regime, expecting that the armed forces will then switch sides to Guaidó.

Venezuelans face the dreadful task of having to topple their own government. This primarily means persuading their army to change sides. Other nations can pledge moral support to Juan Guaidó. But sanctions and US threats may prove counterproductive.

Venezuela poses no threat to US security. Since GW Bush, we’ve found excuses to attack Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. We’ve imposed economic sanctions on Russia, Iran and Myanmar. The gain for our security has been negligible.

Military intervention has become an occupational disease of America’s leaders.

The urge to help Venezuelans in need is natural. Doing nothing is painful and seems callous. But will intervening really help? Even states with despotic leaders are sovereign. They must make and correct their own mistakes, and ultimately, be strengthened by doing so.

Regime change in Caracas is one possible outcome of our intervention. Civil war is another.

It is a certainty is that American lives and money will be lost.

Trump must choose wisely if intervention is on the table.

Any bets on that?

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Nothing Happened

The Daily Escape:

Snow in Sonoran Desert near Tucson – 2019 photo by Back o’ Beyond

Nothing happened during Trump’s dog and pony show last night. He tried reframing his demand for a wall as a need for better security from drugs, terrorists and criminals. Today, he’s again brought up the national emergency trope. This should be America’s reaction:

Much of his talk was a return to his campaign message that brown people from south of the border must be stopped before they pollute our glorious and exceptional culture. The biggest whopper was that:

Law enforcement professionals have asked for $5.6 billion.

We know who did the asking. We also know that most drugs enter via existing ports of entry that cannot be walled off. We know that the vast majority of terrorists enter via airports, and the paltry number stopped at the border came in from our wall-less neighbor to the north, Canada. Simply put, he couldn’t put together a coherent argument for why this funding dispute about fence construction justifies a government shutdown.

At the end of the day, there is nothing more banal in American politics than a president having a proposal he can’t get the opposition party to agree with. If every policy standoff ended in a government shutdown, we couldn’t have a country at all.

This raises the frightening question of how a president who can’t successfully manage peace and prosperity would deal with an actual crisis.

And one may be in the wings. On Sunday, National Security Advisor John Bolton tried to set conditions for a US retreat from Syria, changing what Trump has said about leaving as soon as possible. Bolton, on a trip to Israel and Turkey, said he would stress with Turkish officials, including President Erdogan, that Kurdish forces must be protected:

We don’t think the Turks ought to undertake military action that’s not fully coordinated with and agreed to by the United States at a minimum…so they don’t endanger our troops, but also so that they meet the president’s requirement that the Syrian opposition forces that have fought with us are not endangered.”

Turkey was not amused. The YPG Kurds, our allies in Syria, are affiliated with the PKK which is viewed as a terrorist group in Turkey. Turkey has said they won’t allow that group to exist on its border as an organized military force.

When Bolton, accompanied by Joint Chiefs head Joe Dunford and Syria envoy James Jeffrey, landed in Turkey, they received a cold shoulder. The planned meeting with President Erdogan didn’t happen. The meeting was held instead with the Turkish National Security Advisor Ibrahim Kalin and took less than two hours. A planned joint press conference was canceled.

After Bolton’s meeting, Raqip Solyu, Turkey Correspondent for MiddleEastEye reported on an Erdogan speech to his parliament group. It was a slap in Bolton’s face:

YPG/PKK are terrorists. Some say ‘don’t touch them because they are Kurds’. This is unacceptable. Everyone can be a terrorist. They could be Turkmans. Their ethnicity doesn’t matter. Bolton made a big mistake by his statements…

Solyu also reported that Erdogan said:

As it happened in the past, despite our clear agreement with Trump on US withdrawal from Syria, different voices started to come out from different levels of the American administration.

An editorial in an Erdogan aligned newspaper called Bolton’s position a soft coup against Trump.

We have to ask: Is Trump really in charge?

We know he got tough on having a wall once Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter said he was a weakling if he kept the government open without getting his wall.

The NYT reported that in a lunch with television anchors before last night’s Oval Office address, Trump said he was not inclined to give the speech, but was talked into it by his advisers. Trump said:

It’s not going to change a damn thing, but I’m still doing it….

Erdogan likewise had a deal with Trump about the US leaving Syria. Bolton has changed the deal, to add conditions and to prolong the timeline for exit.

So, where is Trump on these issues? If he sticks with what Bolton said, Erdogan is likely to escalate to test who is in charge. His army will probably fire artillery on one or more Kurdish positions near the Turkish border. It may even invade a few towns. This will put serious pressure on the US occupation force, which at least right now, isn’t leaving any time soon.

So, is Trump in charge? Who’s gonna negotiate to reopen the government? Anybody?

Next we’ll hear Trump say:

Government shutdowns are good and easy to win.

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Letter From Russia, Part III

The Daily Escape:

The Assumption Cathedral, Yaroslavl, RU. Originally built in 1210, it was  blown up by the Soviets in 1937 as part of their anti-religion policy. This new cathedral was constructed in 2010 on the same spot. In front is an eternal flame memorializing the soldiers and the workers of WWII.

Wrongo and Ms. Right spent the day in Yaroslavl, Russia. It’s a mid-sized town of about 600k residents, and an important port on the Volga River. The Volga is more than 2,000 miles long, tying the western Russian cities together. Yaroslavl is an ancient city, founded in 1010.

In Yaroslavl, we learned two interesting facts about Russian towns. Any town of size has a fortress that includes a church. In Russia, that space is called a “Kremlin”. Second, despite the collapse of the the Soviet Union, statues of the heroes of the revolution were not taken down. The idea is that young people should understand their history, both the good and the bad. Major streets have kept their revolutionary names as well.

Maybe there is a lesson in that for America.

In visiting both tiny towns and large cities, it quickly becomes evident that the peoples of Russia have suffered immensely over the centuries. They endured long periods of starvation, and their losses in blood and treasure at the hands of both their enemies and their rulers were truly extraordinary:

  • As many as 17 million died under Stalin in the Gulags. At their high point, there were thousands of Gulags across the Soviet Union.
  • In WWII, during the war with Germany, Russia lost 27 million people.
  • During the 400 years of serfdom, millions of serfs died during forced labor. They built the palaces, roads and waterways that remain in use today between Moscow and St. Petersburg.

If history teaches us just one thing about Russia, it is that its people know suffering. They have survived, and in Wrongo’s brief visit, appear to have thrived. Stores are full of product, markets are busy with the purchase of fresh vegetables, meats and fish. New cars are on the streets, theaters are open, and everything looks very clean.

How have a people who have endured so much suffering, succeeded in the modern world? How were they not irretrievably damaged by their multiple tragedies?

How are they so resilient?

Perhaps their legendary winters forge a determination to do whatever is necessary to survive a long, hard fight with limited resources. Perhaps Russia’s long history of invasion and occupation by hostile powers has played a role: Russians have been invaded by the Mongols, the Turks, the Poles, the Swedes, the Germans and the French. Their story is ultimately one of resilience despite tremendous loss of life, repeated destruction of infrastructure, and against long odds.

Another thing is that the people seem to have a profound and deep feeling for their homeland, Mother Russia. That seems to be true, regardless of who is in control in the Kremlin, or which Tsar was in charge at the time.

So they fought and died for the motherland, regardless of who was leading them.

Compare that with America’s resilience. How resilient are we, in the 21st Century? We have never faced invasion, but we have faced attack. On our homeland, we fought a seven-year revolution, and a bloody civil war. We’ve faced natural disasters.

After 9/11, we overreacted to the threat of Islamic extremists by weakening our First Amendment rights with the Patriot Act. We launched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But, we didn’t come together as a nation. In fact, 9/11 threw gasoline on the fire of America’s already factionalized politics.

When Japan attacked us at Pearl Harbor in 1941, we came together as a people. There were a few who said we shouldn’t go to war, but the vast majority of our people got behind a global war against fascism. We sent our fathers, brothers and husbands off to war. Women worked in the factories for the war effort. Some were on the front lines with the troops. We rationed butter and sugar.

Our people knew hardship, and pulled together in common cause.

The question is: Will today’s America still pull together in common cause? Do we have the strength of character, the grit, to fight for something larger than ourselves? Could we again sacrifice for what we believe to be the right thing?

Our response to the Great Recession of 2008 showed us that in an American financial crisis, it’s every person for themselves, unless that citizen happens to be a financial institution.

When you think about it, do you still love Lady Liberty enough to fight for her?

To send your kids to fight for her?

And, do you think that we love her as much as Russians seem to love Mother Russia?

 

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September 11, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Has it been 17 years already?

A quote from Edward R. Murrow: “No one can terrorize a whole nation, unless we are all his accomplices”, describes where America is today.

As we remember the 17th anniversary of the al-Qaeda attack on the US, we should realize that most of the geo-political problems we face today can trace their root causes to the attacks on 9/11.

And 17 years later, it appears that we have become the accomplices of terror. We can’t let the Muslim world alone. We’ve continued to keep troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. We’ve beefed up our presence in Africa. The enemy has morphed from al-Qaeda only, to ISIS and al-Qaeda, with branches all across the world.

Just yesterday, Wrongo wrote about our current misadventures in Syria, where we have several thousand troops who were not invited in by the Syrian government. We said that US Syrian policy seems to be teetering on conflict with the other regional powers, Iran and Russia, because we are insisting that Iran exit Syria.

We continue to spend blood and treasure in the Middle East because of 9/11. We were meddling in the ME before 2001, and those efforts helped make bin Laden’s point that the US was responsible both for the suffering the US was causing directly through its sanctions, and the suffering we caused indirectly, by keeping Middle Eastern dictators in power.

To that, bin Laden added a decisive idea: Attack the US to end its power over the Middle East.

Seventeen years later, we are stuck in a Middle East quagmire. We cannot win militarily, but we never lose decisively. On this 17th anniversary, let’s address a few questions to our political and military leaders:

  • Isn’t it improbable that the US military has been unable to extricate itself from Iraq and Afghanistan, its two major wars of this century?
  • Was it improbable that Washington’s post-9/11 policies in the Middle East helped lead to the establishment of the Islamic State’s “Caliphate” in parts of Iraq and Syria and to a movement of almost unparalleled extremism that has successfully “franchised” itself from Libya to Mali, from Nigeria to Afghanistan?

If, on September 12, 2001, you had predicted where we are today, no one would have thought you were credible.

Since 9/11 our presidents have all tried hard to act tough on terror, as have our Senators and Congresspersons. They have all said that our young soldiers are available to go wherever the next Islamist problem arises. So, in the past 17 years, we’ve spent over a trillion dollars to protect the homeland, and while to some degree, we are undoubtedly safer, we haven’t defeated the Islamists.

The current crop of Republicans in the White House are trying more of the same: To convince us that the challenges we face in the world are simple, that we must be realists, aggressively going after what we want. They say it all comes down to “good vs evil.”

Sadly, we really live in an extremely complex world, and ignorance of its complexity is dangerous. Remember in 2006, there were reports that George W. Bush was unaware of the difference between Shia and Sunni as late as two months before the Iraq invasion. Combine that with the ongoing support for the neo-con’s Exceptionalist ideology, and we’ve all paid, and continue to pay, a huge price for their simplistic worldview.

The reality is that when tough talk is divorced from knowledge, you do dumb things, like start wars that diminish our standing in the world, that cost us terribly in lives and money, and that produce zero in the way of political results.

Trump seems ready to place a bet that his tough guy stance on Syria will cause Iran and Russia to back down. Those of us who pay taxes and send our kids off to war, should make it very clear that the American presidency is no place for bullies.

And rather than signifying weakness, traits like thoughtfulness and collaboration are exactly what we want from the Leader of the Free World.

Anyone can say “lock and load, we’re gonna fight!

We need to re-learn how not to fight, and how to exist in an ambiguous world without withdrawing, or being ineffectual. Since 9/11, when things get tough, our politicians strut around with chins out. They prefer form over substance and in the end, they’re just praying that it all works out, but it hasn’t.

Remember the 9/11 heroes and its victims.

But let’s stop listening to those who pander to our fears, and vote them out of office.

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Our Small President

The Daily Escape:

Bryce Canyon NP at sunrise – 2018 photo by ThePeachster

McCain will lie in state in Arizona’s capitol. Then, he will lie in state in the Capitol Building rotunda in Washington. Two former presidents will give eulogies at his funeral. Wrongo mused with a relative about why John McCain is being treated so differently from most other politicians who die in office.

She said: “America has no heroes.”

John McCain was a senator. His own party never fully trusted him. Democrats never knew what to make of him. He was occasionally with them, but he was against them on everything else. He called himself a maverick; he was certainly a pain. Why are we celebrating McCain as an American hero?

We are at the confluence of two tides in our history. First, we lionize our soldiers. We thank them for their service, we call them warriors. McCain spent 5+ years in a POW prison. He was tortured, and survived. So he is a heroic face for a war that we lost, a war we are still conflicted about, 40 years later.

In our intervening wars, there are individual soldier-heroes, but few stand out to us. The wars grind on, and the stories of the war heroes of our current time are fuzzy. The soldiers serve multiple tours, or we hear that they are coping with terrible post-traumatic stress. We have few contemporary genuine military heroes.

Second, our politicians have long since ceased to be heroic. McCain served six terms in the US Senate. He was old school, and some this week are calling him the “last lion” of the Senate. That tells us that despite the longevity of several other politicians of McCain’s (and Wrongo’s) generation, those who remain are merely ordinary.

The media wants us to believe that every American politician who dies is a great American. They seem to think that if that ever breaks down, America may stop being Great. This quasi-religious veneration of politicians is unbecoming of us as a people. It has transformed the majority of public offices into ones that are attractive mostly to people who are unfit to hold them.

In today’s politics, we’re usually trying hard to avoid electing the greater fool among the terrible options available to us. Most of the time, we have done that. But here we are: Donald Trump can’t carry John McCain’s jock, but he’s our president. This is from John Pavlovitz:

As the funeral for Senator John McCain approaches, we find ourselves in yet another occasion of national consequence; one our supposed Commander-In-Chief is intentionally excluded from because he is beneath the dignity and capability the moment requires.

More:

This moment plays itself out whenever there is a national tragedy, whenever compassion or decency or strength or goodness are required; whenever an adult leader would be called upon to actually lead us.

In those moments, he does not lead—he tweets.

It would have required very little energy, or thought, to issue a statement recognizing and honoring Sen. McCain. It would have taken almost nothing to keep the flags over the White House and other federal building flying at half-mast, but he couldn’t do even that.

Unsurprisingly, these minimal efforts are a bridge too far for Donald Trump.

There’s something to be said for being able to display grace and compassion upon the untimely passing of your adversary. After all, you’ve outlived him.

Where will we find our heroes in the next few years? It seems almost certain they will not come from Congress or the White House.

McCain was far from the hero that we are portraying him to be, now that he’s gone. But it shouldn’t require something heroic from Trump or his advisors to do the right thing.

Our culture is on the skids, led by our small president and his party.

Let’s give the last words to Pavlovitz:

In the meantime, just as today, we’ll all have to work together to fill in the spectacular gaps in leadership and compassion and intelligence and dignity that used to be filled by our Presidents.

We simply don’t have one right now.

UPDATE:  After the column above was written, the White House, facing a national outpouring of scorn, relented, and once again lowered flags on the WH grounds to half staff in honor of John McCain. Politicians on both sides, along with veterans’ groups, slammed President Trump as vindictive and petty.

The message was sent, and received by our small president.

Despite re-lowering the flag, and providing a military escort for McCain’s coffin, the point remains that Trump isn’t capable of compassion, or dignity. He’s not a leader.

 

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – August 26, 2018

The majority of Americans under 18 live in households that receive “means-tested assistance” from the US government. In 2016, according to the most recent data from the Census Bureau, there were approximately 73,586,000 people under 18 in the United States, and 38,365,000 of them, 52.1%, resided in households in which one or more persons received benefits from a means-tested government program.

Those programs include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), Medicaid, public housing, Supplemental Security Income, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and the National School Lunch Program.

And when the Census Bureau excluded school lunch programs from its calculations, the percentage of those under 18 who lived in a household receiving means-tested assistance (44.8%), still exceeded the percentage in any other age bracket.

We have now had four straight years: 2013 – 2016, during which a majority of those under 18 lived in a household taking means-tested benefits.

The primary reason for this is that most in this category are single parent households headed by a woman. Many can’t find employment paying a decent wage with some benefits. Many have to choose between full-time work and childcare. Some are working 2-3 part time jobs but still can’t cover their expenses.

But, the economy is good, the stock market is great, so why worry about these banana republic statistics, America? On to cartoons.

Trump sings the Lynyrd Skynyrd song, “What’s That Smell?”

Speak to a Trumpist, and you’ll find a reasonable, fact-driven human being:

Trump tweets about “widespread” killings of white farmers in South Africa. Here’s the truth:

Immigration unmasks the hate:

DeVos shows that she’s a helper:

Mitch reserves his looks of disgust only for Democrats:

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The US Also Has Immigration Issues

The Daily Escape:

One World Trade Center viewed from Brooklyn, NY – 2018 photo by nyclovesnyc

Yesterday, we talked about immigration-skepticism in Europe. As if to underline that toxic atmosphere, the Hungarian government just announced it has drafted new laws to criminalize acts that help illegal migrants in Hungary. From the BBC:

If passed in its current form, the legislation could make printing leaflets with information for asylum-seekers and offering them food or legal advice a criminal offence.

Reuters quotes Hungary’s Magyar Hirlap newspaper saying that prison sentences ranging from a few days to a year, are part of the new legislation. Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia all oppose an EU plan to relocate 160,000 refugees from Italy and Greece, where migrant camps are overcrowded.

While the US is now wrestling with its own immigration issues, it has more immigrants than any other country in the world. Today, more than 40 million people living in the US were born in another country, about one-fifth of the world’s total migrants in 2015.

The US granted nearly 1.2 million individuals legal permanent residency in 2016, more than two-thirds of whom were admitted based on family reunification, a policy that Trump wants to end. Other categories included: employment-based preferences (12%), refugees (10%), diversity (4%), and asylum seekers (3%). At the end of 2017 there were more than four million applicants on the State Department’s waiting list for immigrant visas.

Donald Trump and his Attorney General Jeff Sessions, have many anti-immigrant views. Trump has tried to ban immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries, but it’s clear that his main issue is with migrants from Mexico and Central America, not Muslims. From the Council on Foreign Relations:

Trump more than halved the annual cap of refugees admitted to the US to fifty thousand, and his orders could make it more difficult for individuals to seek asylum; more than 180,000 applied for asylum in 2016. In 2017, the administration ended temporary protected status (TPS) for thousands of Nicaraguans and Haitians who were allowed into the US after environmental disasters in their home countries in 1999 and 2010, respectively….In 2018, Trump ended the same relief program for nearly two hundred thousand Salvadorans who came after a 2001 earthquake.

Trump signed several executive orders (EO) affecting immigration policy. The first, focused on border security, ordered the construction of a physical border wall across the US border with Mexico.

The second EO restricted federal funds to so-called sanctuary cities. That isn’t as bad as Hungary prosecuting anyone who assists migrants, but it’s getting close.

The third banned nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen from entering the US for at least 90 days, and blocked nationals from Syria indefinitely.

Trump also cancelled the DACA rules.

But the new policy of separating immigrant kids from their parents should earn the Trump administration a special place in hell. Families crossing the border are being separated, with kids going to a separate place of detention, while their parents go to a different holding facility. To help facilitate the process, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, (ICE), developed a bus fitted with child seats for the small children who still need them, and who were separated from their parents when ICE arrested the parents. Here is a screen grab from website of the ICE contractor, the GEO Group:

Of course putting children on buses can be innocuous. Most of us have ridden on school buses. But the picture is disturbing even if you didn’t know that it was used as part of an immigrant round-up, because every seat is a car seat.

It implies that there are going to be a bunch of infants and toddlers in the bus with few, or no parents. The damage being done by the Trump administration by separating these kids can’t be undone.

It’s like those kids in Detroit drinking lead-laced water. This will damage all of them.

Just when we think humanity’s capacity for vileness can’t be exceeded, we are again proven wrong. It’s not just that the Trump administration had the idea for a prison bus for children to begin with. It’s not just that the contractor is proud enough to advertise the bus on their website. What are they both telling us?

Why do they bother with the child seats?

The implication is: “Sure, we rip these small children away from their mothers, but we care a lot about their safety in traffic.”

Trump and Sessions should live in a pit of fire in their special place in hell.

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