Monday Wake Up Call – Immigration Edition

Everyone knows by now that Trump signed an Executive Order (EO) on Friday barring people from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the US. But many people traveling to the US from those countries, including some who are legally permanent US residents, were in the air at the time of the ban, and couldn’t turn around.

By early Saturday evening, several federal judges in NY, MA, and including Leonie Brinkema of the Eastern District of Virginia, made rulings that would at least stall the implementation of portions of Trump’s anti-refugee executive order. The Daily Beast reported:

As a result, airports across the country turned into Lawfare zones, with cadres of volunteer lawyers squaring off against bureaucrats in the Customs and Border Protection agency. Late-night rulings from federal judges made a legally unprecedented situation even more dramatic, with all three branches of the federal government—congressional, executive, and judicial—warring with each other.

There are three things to consider in this fast-developing story. First, how unprepared the Trump administration was to actually carry out their own EO. From CNN: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) leadership saw the final details shortly before the order was finalized, government officials said. Friday night, DHS arrived at the legal interpretation that the executive order restrictions applying to seven countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen — did not apply to people who with lawful permanent residence, generally referred to as green card holders.

CNN further reports that the White House overruled that guidance, with the order coming from Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon. They decided that, on a case by case basis, DHS could allow green card holders to enter the US. It was decided by DHS that green card holders could fly to the US and would be considered for re-entry on a case-by-case basis after passing a secondary screening. But CNN reports that the guidance sent to airlines on Friday night said:

Lawful permanent residents are not included and may continue to travel to the USA.

It gets worse for Trump: Before he issued the EO, the White House did not seek the legal guidance of the Office of Legal Counsel, the Justice Department office that interprets the law for the executive branch.

CNN indicates that the EO did not follow the standard agency review process overseen by the National Security Council.  That inter-agency process would have asked the Justice Department and homeland security agencies to provide operational guidance, but it didn’t happen.

The second issue was that the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents, at least at Washington DC’s Dulles Airport apparently disregarded the stay orders from Judge Leonie Brinkema of the Eastern District of Virginia. More from the Daily Beast:

Brinkema…ruled that the travelers detained by Customs and Border Protection had a right to see lawyers.

After the judge’s ruling, lawyers standing by at Dulles expected they would be able to see the detainees and try to help them get into the US. But, the CBP would not let them see their would-be clients. The Daily Beast reports that it’s unheard of for government agencies like CBP to prevent people who have the legal right to live in the US from seeing their lawyers.

But, that’s what happened. In fact as the evening wore on, it became clear that CBP was defying, or at best slow-rolling Brinkema’s ruling. The lawyers at the airport believe that meant someone must be in contempt of court. The judge could theoretically have sent in federal officers to force CBP to let the lawyers meet with the detainees, but, that would have been unprecedented, and it didn’t happen.

The third issue is that Saudi Arabia was not on the banned country list. That’s right, the country most responsible for supporting and sustaining both ISIS and Al Qaeda skated. Our past few presidents found it convenient to cozy up to the Saudis, but should Trump be continuing that coziness?

If Trump’s intention was to punish sponsors of terrorism, the ban should have hit Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which is where the money and most of the actual 9/11 terrorists came from.

This is what the next 4 years are going to be like. But the question is, are the Trumpets going to become more competent as they go along, or is this what we should expect going forward?

Today’s wake up is for Donald Trump and his administration.They need to govern, not play pretend president.

To help them wake up, here is Xenia Rubinos performing “Mexican Chef“, from her album “Black Terry Cat”. It’s her ruthless critique of the undervalued labor that immigrants perform every day in America:

Sample Lyrics:

French bistro

Dominican chef

Italian restaurant

Boricua chef

Chinese takeout

Mexican chef

Nouveau America

Bachata in the back

 Brown walks your baby

Brown walks your dog

Brown raised America in place of its mom

 Brown cleans your house

Brown takes the trash

Brown even wipes your granddaddy’s ass

 

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Saturday Soother – January 21, 2017

Did Wrongo miss anything yesterday? We had multiple meetings, and thus, no chance to see the “You Bet Your Country” reality show that premiered in DC.

Look on the bright side, there are now only 1,459 days left in the reign of DT, so two things to focus on:

  • Work hard to save the ACA, and
  • Remember to toast to the health of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer every day.

Today is the Women’s March in Washington DC. Two days in a row of firsts for our Orange Overlord. Yesterday, he was sworn in as the 45th president. Today, he sees his first mass protest in the form of the Women’s March, and companion marches (600 at last count) around the country and the world.

New York Magazine tweaks the main stream media’s coverage thusly: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

…the media’s treatment of the [women’s] march has been so fretful that you’d be forgiven for thinking that this grass-roots demonstration of hundreds of thousands on behalf of women’s rights is an example of feminism in crisis and disarray.

Whenever there are protests from the left, we’re always adjured that we’re doing it wrong and/or that our “message” is defocused or unclear. Leftwing protests get little coverage in the MSM. Wrongo has observed that when there are rightwing protests, they are typically universally covered by the MSM. Plus their “message” is always described as clear, and unequivocal.

There have been protests at most recent inaugurals, but they have been generally along the parade route, as there were in DC today. The car and trash can burnings made today’s DC protests look more like what we see in European capitals.

What the Women’s March envisions is a protest that creates as much buzz as the inauguration itself. That means the organizers are attempting to create a widespread, and diverse coalition for this event. The hope is: (1) a huge crowd shows up to protest; (2) the protest is marked by its size and the quality of its direct action (without violence); (3) the obvious fissures in the coalition remain unclear to the public until long after the march.

The March on Washington in August, 1963 was one of the largest political demonstrations in American history. The organizing idea was a protest for “jobs and freedom”. You may not remember that John Lewis’s original speech at the March on Washington was highly controversial. Now, 54 years down the road, no one cares, because of the power of Lewis’s personal history, and the fact that the march ultimately led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The March on Washington was broadcast on TV, because we had not yet become jaded about protests, and the White House was vulnerable from both sides of the racial divide. The Women’s March is only expected to be live-streamed via cell phone. The networks will give us highly edited snippets on the evening news.

The value of these large public protests are in building a more unified opposition movement. Perhaps it will happen this time, although there is a risk that it fizzles like the Occupy Movement did.

The Tea Party began building their national presence with a rally of maybe 7000 people in tri-corner hats, enabled by a few Congress Critters. That was enough for the media to legitimize their birth. Perhaps it will work for the Women’s March: it will become a viable movement only if the commitment to messaging and building a national presence in Congressional districts and statehouses is carried through.

What will be more significant for the future are the state capitol and major city rallies once the protesters leave Washington. Resistance IS the message: The voters did not deliver Trump an overwhelming mandate to do the things his juggernaut is planning to shower on America.

Handled correctly that could make Trump and the GOP vulnerable. The Wrongologist will post a first-person report from an attendee at the Women’s March, on Tuesday.

But today is Saturday, and you need to mellow out a little. Here is something radically different, yet completely familiar. This is the Austrian brass ensemble Mnozil Brass performing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. What better tribute to Freddie Mercury? These guys are demonstrably horny and have lots of brass. High energy, and completely entertaining:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJTIJRoEWPE

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Trump’s Nuclear and Israel Policies

2016 is ending on a somber note: We elected Donald Trump. We have confirmed his modus operandi, his lack of tweeting impulse control. We’ve seen his appointments to senior positions.

2017 will be an abrupt shift from the policies and guiding principles of the post-Reagan era. This will be true for the social safety net, tax policy, and several other primarily domestic policies, some which had their genesis in FDR’s New Deal. Then there is the Supreme Court.

It is doubtful that Trump can undo the Iran nuclear deal, but two other international policies will change.

First, America’s nuclear weapons policy: Donald Trump has recently tweeted that the US needs to “greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability.” We have had a 50-year period of nuclear arms control with Russia, mostly delivered by Republican presidents. It tamed and then downsized the nuclear arms race. But Trump’s national security appointees and Republicans in Congress now want to throw away their inheritance. They will try their best to bankrupt Moscow again. They will seek to chip away, if not walk away, from the New START and INF treaties. They will try to remove the CTBT from the Senate’s calendar and reduce funding for that Treaty’s global monitoring system.

Trump has shown little interest in intelligence briefings. This is reminiscent of Ronald Reagan’s first term. Recently declassified documents from the Reagan presidency show how slowly Reagan was brought up to speed on national security issues. Reagan took office in 1981, and was not fully up to speed by 1983, preferring to let his national security team handle those details. This is from the National Security Archive: (Emphasis by the Wrongologist)

Sharper understanding at high levels of the grave danger of nuclear war was one consequence of a Defense Department nuclear war game that occurred in mid-1983. In the “Proud Prophet” game…the lead players were JCS Chairman John W. Vessey and Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger… during the game Vessey and Weinberger followed standard policies constructed for crises; as a U.S.-Soviet conflict escalated, their actions initiated a major nuclear war. “The result was a catastrophe” in which “a half billion human beings were killed in the initial exchanges and at least that many more would have died from radiation and starvation.”…Proud Prophet had a chastening and moderating impact on the Reagan administration’s rhetoric and thinking about nuclear war….but…The Proud Prophet report remains massively excised and it is unknown even if or when Weinberger briefed Reagan on it.

(h/t Booman)

This history shows that the (unelected) national security apparatus thinks it prudent to keep newly elected presidents in the dark for a long time after they are elected. In the case of Harry Truman, he didn’t even know we had nuclear weapons until he was asked for permission to use them!

Our only hope with nuclear is that Trump seems to want to forge a working alliance with Russia. We know that a renewed nuclear arms race is not in either country’s interest. It’s possible that Trump will surprise us by doing deals with Vladimir Putin, who cannot afford an arms race.

Second, is Israel’s out-of-proportion reaction to the UN Security Council’s Resolution 2334, which passed with the US abstaining, rather than exercising its veto. The resolution condemns Israel’s construction of settlements within the occupied Palestinian territories. Benjamin Netanyahu didn’t take the Resolution well. He vowed revenge on everyone, except Trump. Netanyahu said that Israel will “re-evaluate diplomatic relations” with all 14 countries who voted yes, including permanent Security Council members Russia, the UK, China and France. “Re-evaluation” will have no meaning to them, but for the other nine, who knows? Bibi singled out Senegal and halted Israeli aid. He recalled Israeli ambassadors from some of the countries that voted for the resolution, called for re-evaluation of Israel’s relationship with the UN, including its funding commitment.

Republicans, emboldened by their love of Israel, have made threats to defund the UN, something we haven’t heard since John Bolton was relevant.

Almost certainly, Netanyahu’s strategy is to exploit the UN vote to convince Trump and his team that Israel needs to be compensated in some way for what the UN, and especially the US, has done.

More compensation. How Republican of them. America has given Israel $124 billion in aid, and Obama just authorized another $38 billion over the next ten years.

It’s time to cut Netanyahu adrift. What we have here is a US client state that thinks it’s in charge. The question is how bad do Israel’s policies have to be before it provokes some sort of reassessment by Congress? Or is everything to be swept under the rug of “existential necessity”?

The Trump and the I-love-Israel-more than-life-itself crowd in Congress are on track to do severe damage to the UN and to our ME strategy during the next four years.

Trump’s foreign policy is giving Wrongo the year-end blues.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – December 11, 2016

We are seeing the shape of Trump’s cabinet, and it’s clear that we will soon be working for idiots who used to be in sales. So, it’s time for some definitions: What are Kleptocracy and Kakistocracy?

Kleptocracy is a government where the rulers (kleptocrats) use their power to exploit the people and natural resources of their country in order to extend their personal wealth and power.

Kakistocracy means a state or country run by the worst, least qualified, or most unscrupulous citizens. The word comes from the Greek words kakistos (worst) and kratos (rule), with a literal meaning of government by the worst people.

Posted for your reference, in case something happens after January 20th that requires you to know about either term.

Trump’s commitment to renewable energy was on display in his Boeing tweet:

cow-hot-air-force-1

His cabinet, er, his junta:

cow-general-election

We’ve had high-ranking military men serve in high positions in our government since the beginning of the country, starting with George Washington through Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, Dwight D. Eisenhower, through Colin Powell.  But Trump is surrounding himself with an awful lot of them, and some of them have had issues with both their temperament and civil liberties. Just like the man hiring them.

Any issue with so many generals? The NYT offers this:

cow-7-days-in-may

Man of the Year is questioned, but it is real my friends:

cow-time

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trump’s EPA will be his undoing in the next election:

cow-mistletoe

Pearl Harbor is hardly remembered:

cow-pearl-harbor

It’s another Family of Trump voters having quality time at home. Never have so many known so little about so much.

I’m stepping through the door, and I’m floating in a most peculiar way…and the stars look very different today:

cow-john-glenn

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Monday Wake Up Call – December 5, 2016

We’ve entered uncharted territory. Trump had a phone call with the president of Taiwan. Why is that such an issue? Presidents speak to other world leaders all the time, but American presidents have not spoken to the president of Taiwan since 1979. This studied form of non-recognition is at the core of the One-China Policy.

That policy states that there is only one state called “China”, despite the existence of two governments claiming to be China. This diplomatic dance works precisely because everybody agrees to abide by rules that don’t make complete sense.

We learned from experience in Korea and Vietnam, where we acted with hostility to both “two country” standoffs between a communist and a non-communist government. We learned, and then changed the game when it came to the two Chinas. That is, until President-Elect Trump was lured into the Taiwan call by his advisors, John Bolton and Stephen Yates. This from the Guardian: (strike out and brackets by the Wrongologist)

Bolton wrote in the Wall Street Journal in January: “The new US administration could start with receiving Taiwanese diplomats officially at the State Department; upgrading the status of US representation in Taipei from a private ‘institute’ to an official diplomatic mission; inviting Taiwan’s president to travel officially to America; allowing the most senior US officials to visit Taiwan to transact government business; and ultimately restoring full diplomatic recognition.”

Stephen Yates, a former White House aide to Dick Cheney now advising the Trump transition was in Taiwan at the time of [Trump’s] the call. “It’s great to have a leader willing to ignore those who say he cannot take a simple call from another democratically elected leader,” Yates tweeted.

China reacted by saying Trump needs to be educated about the world. Scott Adams, Trump butt-boy, puts it in about the most favorable light possible:

Trump is “setting the table” for future negotiations with China. He just subtracted something from China’s brand that they value, and later he will negotiate with them to maybe give it back in some fashion. Probably in return for some trade concessions.

It didn’t end there. Trump apparently has invited Philippine President Duterte to the White House. Figuring out how to resolve Duterte’s issues with the US, his embrace of China, and his demonstrated abuse of human rights in the Philippines should be high on the new administration’s list of issues. It would have been smart to have the outline of an agreed joint solution in place before rewarding Duterte with a state visit.

And there was Trump’s phone call with the Prime Minister of Pakistan. According to the Pakistani account of the conversation, Trump told Nawaz Sharif that Pakistan is a “fantastic” country full of “fantastic” people that he “would love” to visit as president.

Just awesome, except for Trump ignoring that India, our real partner in that part of Asia, is Pakistan’s enemy. Trump risks appearing to reward Pakistan at the expense of our relationship with India. Again, the US has maintained a balancing act between these two countries, who have a history of war and skirmishes over their disputed border.

The jury is out on what Trump is trying to do, and whether it is based on strategy, or ideology. Speaking with Taiwan’s and Pakistan’s leaders are potentially dangerous moves, as is his engagement with Duterte.

They are also potentially revolutionary. Every out-of-the-box move by Trump challenges norms and potentially blows up longstanding ways of doing things. If you are gonna shake things up, it’s all-important that you understand exactly why we have done things the way we have, and what the implications are of change. We know Trump is an instinctive guy, and not a willing student. The danger is his willingness to overturn complex situations where governmental institutions have had very good reasons for the policy they support.

This is the dark underbelly of Trump’s populism. He was elected to shake things up by voters who dismiss facts, if presented by journalists.

You start by discrediting what came before. You call it elite failure. You shake things up because you can.

Time to wake up, America! Think about Michael Moore’s calling Trump a human Molotov cocktail on NBC’s “Meet the Press”:

Across the Midwest, across the Rustbelt, I understand why a lot of people are angry. And they see Donald Trump as their human Molotov cocktail…I think they love the idea of blowing up the system.

So, let’s wake up today with the Billy Joel song, “We Didn’t Start the Fire”. The lyrics to this song catalog both personalities and historic events from 1949 until 1989:

We didn’t start Trump’s fire, but get ready, we may very well have to put it out.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Sample lyrics:
Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnnie Ray
South Pacific, Walter Winchell, Joe DiMaggio
Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker, Television
North Korea, South Korea, Marilyn Monroe

Rosenbergs, H-Bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom
Brando, The King And I, and The Catcher In The Rye
Eisenhower, Vaccine, England’s got a new queen
Marciano, Liberace, Santayana goodbye

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

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The Pant Suit’s Scary Foreign Policy

There may be reasons not to vote for Hillary Clinton, but there are no reasons at all to vote for Donald Trump — except for pure nihilism. For the Trumpets, there is little coherence about why he is their choice. Two threads emerge: First, that Trump will shake things up, that DC is its own bubble that must be burst. The current two party system is fraudulent and corrupt. Second, that rage against Hillary is sufficient reason to vote for the Donald. Neither idea, nor are both ideas, sufficient reason to elect the Pant Load.

So, Hillary has to be the choice for this election. She has a track record, and the only things you have to go by with respect to Trump are his mostly appalling business practices, and his appalling character, neither of which should inspire voter confidence.

However, Clinton’s track record and policies are not without concern. In particular, her foreign policy positions are frightening. It is clear that Clinton proposes to pursue a more militaristic version of the policies that have brought us where we are in the world. She would:

  • Enforce a “no-fly” zone inside Syria, with or without Syrian and Russian agreement
  • Issue an even larger blank check to Israel
  • Treat Russia as a military problem rather than a factor in the European balance to be managed
  • Try to tie China down in East Asia

We have little idea about what would she would do differently in Afghanistan or Iraq. What would she do differently about North Korea, Iran, or Turkey? We don’t know, but this should be frightening:

In the rarefied world of the Washington foreign policy establishment, President Obama’s departure from the White House — and the possible return of a more conventional and hawkish Hillary Clinton — is being met with quiet relief. The Republicans and Democrats who make up the foreign policy elite are laying the groundwork for a more assertive American foreign policy…

And there is more: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

The studies, which reflect Clinton’s stated views, break most forcefully with Obama on Syria. Virtually all these efforts…call for stepped-up military action to deter President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and Russian forces in Syria.

The proposed military measures include…safe zones to protect moderate rebels from Syrian and Russian forces. Most of the studies propose limited American airstrikes with cruise missiles to punish Assad if he continues to attack civilians with barrel bombs…

Obama has staunchly resisted any military action against the Assad regime.

Apparently, the Iraq war was such a success that these policy experts want to repeat it in Syria. But, we are not as popular as we used to be, what with our drones droning all over the Middle East.

It is important to remember that when the Arab Spring erupted in 2010, the total Arab ME population was 348 million (World Bank data); today, it is 400 million. In the past six years, 52 million new Arab citizens were born in the ME, few of whom know a world without war, many who have limited education, schooling and economic prospects.

Should our next president be making new enemies in the ME?

We have a yuuge problem if our so-called foreign policy “elites” think the most “dovish” policy available is Obama’s current foreign policy. If this is the best that our serious policy thinkers can come up with, maybe we should just burn down the Kennedy School and Georgetown.

Wrongo thinks that 2016 is reminiscent of 1964, when LBJ ran against Goldwater. We had an anti-communist foreign policy elite looking for a fight with the USSR, and Goldwater was their man. America chose LBJ, because it was impossible to conceive of Goldwater having his finger on the nuclear button. LBJ was solid on domestic policy, but he listened to the elites, and launched us into Vietnam for no good reason, and with little public enthusiasm.

Today our anti-Russian foreign policy elites have Hillary’s ear, and there is a potential that she will mirror LBJ, getting us into another calamitous foreign policy adventure.

Wrongo will vote for her despite these concerns, as there is no alternative.

Bush’s policy should not be the starting point, with Obama’s foreign policy being the end point in terms of Hillary Clinton’s possible foreign policy options. If Bush’s policy was a complete failure, why on earth would she rely on a variant of it as the basis for our foreign policy?

Sadly, we are having this discussion less than two weeks before the election.

We have to hope that Hillary Clinton can be a good listener to options other than what the Neo-Cons are proposing.

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What’s JOE – 2035?

Haven’t heard of JOE- 35? Not surprising, since it is very difficult to find any mention of it in any major media news outlet. Google JOE- 35, and you get a series of links for a cast stone fire pit that is 35” in diameter.

Wrong. It refers to the “Joint Operating Environment 2035” [pdf] (JOE – 35), issued in July by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It lays out the environment that the military and the nation will be facing 20 years from now. It is written as a guide to how the Defense Department should be spending resources today in order to protect against tomorrow’s threats. They identify six broad geopolitical challenges the US Military will have to deal with in 20 years:

  • Violent Ideological Competition: irreconcilable ideas communicated and promoted by identity networks through violence. That is, states and non-state actors alike will pursue their goals by spreading ideologies hostile to US interests and encouraging violent acts to promote those ideologies.
  • Threatened US Territory and Sovereignty: encroachment, erosion, or disregard of US sovereignty and the freedom of its citizens.
  • Antagonistic Geopolitical Balancing: increasingly ambitious adversaries maximizing their own influence while actively limiting US influence. That is, rival powers will pursue their own interests in conflict with those of the United States. Think China in the Philippines.
  • Disrupted Global Commons: denial or compulsion in spaces and places available to all but owned by none. Think that the US will no longer be able to count on unimpeded access to the oceans, the air, space, or the electromagnetic spectrum in the pursuit of its interests.
  • A Contest for Cyberspace: a struggle to define and credibly protect sovereignty in cyberspace. That is, US cyberwarfare measures will increasingly face effective defenses and US cyberspace assets will increasingly face effective hostile incursions.
  • Shattered and Reordered Regions: states increasingly unable to cope with internal political fractures, environmental stress, or deliberate external interference. That means states will continue to be threatened by increasingly harsh pressures on national survival, and the failed states and stateless zones will continue to spawn insurgencies and non-state actors hostile to the US.

The report also warns that the rise of non-state actors such as ISIS, described in the report as “privatized violence“, will continue, as will the rapidity by which those groups form and adapt. The spread of 3D-printing technologies and readily available commercial technology such as drones, means those groups can be increasingly effective against a fully equipped and highly technological US military.

The study says:

Transnational criminal organizations, terrorist groups, and other irregular threats are likely to exploit the rapid spread of advanced technologies to design, resource, and execute complex attacks and combine many complex attacks into larger, more sustained campaigns…

John Michael Greer has a review of JOE-35 that is worth reading in its entirety. His criticism of the report is that:

Apparently nobody at the Pentagon noticed one distinctly odd thing about this outline of the future context of American military operations: it’s not an outline of the future at all. It’s an outline of the present. Every one of these trends is a major factor shaping political and military action around the world right now.

Like so many things in our current politics, the JOE projections are mostly about justifying current procurement/pork barreling by a linear extrapolation of today’s threats. That, and the institutional blindness that sets in when there have been no real challenges to the established groupthink, and the professional consequences of failure in the military are near-zero.

The JOE list may not be imaginative or fully predictive, but that doesn’t make it wrong. None of the problems they forecast are going away. For instance, the use of ideology to win and shore up support from potential fighters and allies is as old as ancient times, so why would ideological conflict NOT be an issue in 2035?

Threats to US sovereignty and territory go along with the Joint Chiefs’ recognition that the US is an empire most likely on a downward curve, unless there is great change in our policies, domestic and foreign.

In this sense, the report is quietly critical of our politicians.

The admission in the JOE report that we will be actively required to defend our home ground by 2035 is a mark of just how much our geopolitical environment has changed since 9/11.

It is indeed worth your time to read both the JOE report, and that of John Michael Greer very carefully.

Both will make you smarter than reading about the latest Trump outrage.

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Monday Cartoon Blogging – September 12, 2016

Another action-packed week. There was no limit to the craziness, from Gary Johnson on Aleppo to Matt Lauer’s interviewing performance, to North Korea’s Kim dropping another bomb.

When presidential candidates answer questions with another question:

cow-stump-the-candidates

Matt Lauer tried to rebound from his poor interview performance:

cow-matt-lauer

Lil’ Kim is pissed off again:

cow-kims-bomb

Trump reveals his secret plan to defeat ISIS:

cow-trumps-plan

Both Parties tried to keep their campaigns afloat:

cow-parties-bail

He’s a bull shitter, and a bull in china shop:

cow-bull-in-china-shop

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September 11, 2016

(There will be no cartoons today. Instead, Sunday cartoon blogging will be tomorrow, Monday 9/12.)

wtc-idealized

After 15 years, some of the sharp pain of the events of 9/11 have faded, and an idealized view of the towers like this one, is all we need to take us back to that point in time when American invincibility ended. We remember the tragedy, but perhaps we now have enough distance from it to begin to put 9/11/2001 in a context for today.

Tom Englehardt makes the point that on 9/11, al-Qaeda launched a four-plane air force against the US, and now, 15 years later, the air war still has not ended. Englehardt states that the costs have been staggering. Pentagon figures show that just since 2014, the cost of the air war to the taxpayers has been $8.4 billion.

The point behind these numbers is that America’s air war in the Greater Middle East and Africa has become institutionalized, and is now a part of our politics. No future president will end our drone programs. In fact, both The Pant Suit and The Pant Load are essentially committed to continuing the US air war for at least their first term in office.

Mohammad Atta, the kingpin hijacker, pursued a master’s degree in city planning at the Hamburg University of Technology, where he wrote his thesis on urban planning in Aleppo, Syria. Slate’s Daniel Brooks traveled to Hamburg in 2009 to read the thesis and try to get a sense for how Atta saw the world:

The subject of the thesis is a section of Aleppo…Atta describes decades of meddling by Western urban planners, who rammed highways through the neighborhood’s historic urban fabric and replaced many of its once ubiquitous courtyard houses with modernist high-rises. Atta calls for rebuilding the area along traditional lines, all tiny shops and odd-angled cul-de-sacs. The highways and high-rises are to be removed —in [Atta’s] meticulous color-coded maps, they are all slated for demolition. Traditional courtyard homes and market stalls are to be rebuilt.

We see Atta’s commitment to the culture of Islam:

For Atta, the rebuilding of Aleppo’s traditional cityscape was part of a larger project to restore the Islamic culture of the neighborhood, a culture he sees as threatened by the West…In Atta’s Aleppo, women wouldn’t leave the house, and policies would be carefully crafted so as not to “engender emancipatory thoughts of any kind,” which he sees as “out of place in Islamic society.”

As a student, Atta called for demolishing the western-style high rise buildings in Aleppo. He then got the assignment to crash a plane into America’s tallest and most famous high-rise.

The circularity is striking. The decision to attack America led to the US decision to invade Iraq. That led to the Shia takeover of Iraq, which led to a Sunni exodus into Syria. The Sunni exodus, along with the Arab Spring, led to the on-going anti-Assad revolution in Syria, which led in time to the destruction of the rebel-held parts of today’s Aleppo.

Atta’s demolition plans have been wildly successful.

Finally, we have spent $1 trillion since 9/11 to protect the homeland from terrorists. Are we safer? On the positive side of the ledger, the 9/11 attack killed almost 3,000 people, while the total deaths by jihadists on US soil since 9/11 is 94 people. On the negative side, it remains questionable if we are safe from future terrorist attacks.

We are safer from the 9/11-style orchestrated attack. It’s harder for terrorists to get into the country, and harder for them to pull off something spectacular. But, as the Orlando massacre reminds us, the world is populated by lone wolves, and those living among us can easily obtain military-grade weapons. This makes their attacks much more lethal, and harder to detect in advance.

Our defenses are stronger, but we are trying to defend against more and different threats.

Again, focus on the political: We live in an America where one terrorist slipping through the armor is deemed to be total failure politically. Sooner or later, we must accept that we can’t continue a “zero terrorist events” policy, and Congress can’t use “zero events” as an excuse to make everything a top priority.

Politicians won’t prioritize among the programs for anti-terrorist funding, because they fear looking weak on terror. They also want to keep getting PAC funds from defense contractors. That means our political leaders will declare everything a top priority. In fact, 119 Congressional committees or subcommittees assert some kind of jurisdiction over the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Everybody has a finger in the pie.

We need to start making better decisions and fewer enemies. Let’s start by asking the presidential candidates:

  • What have you learned from our 15 years of unsuccessful wars in the Middle East, and how would you apply those lessons in your administration?
  • Do you agree with the Obama administration’s plan to spend a trillion dollars modernizing our nuclear weapons?
  • What is your strategy to protect against cyber warfare?
  • How will you address the on-the-ground complexities of the Syrian civil war and of the Greater Middle East?
  • Is China, Russia, or ISIS our greatest threat?

At 15 years post-9/11, these questions should be answerable by ANY prospective US Commander-in-Chief. (Sorry, Gary Johnson)

Insist on better answers.

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What Can Vietnam’s Success Teach Us?

Wrongo was against the Vietnam War. He was drafted right after college into the US Army while America was fighting the Viet Cong. Once in the military, he was twice on orders to go to Vietnam, but luckily, ended up serving his time in Germany, running a nuclear missile unit.

He has several army buddies whose names are inscribed on the Wall in Washington, but that was 50 years ago, and he holds no grudge against Vietnam, or its people. So, the remarkable recovery that Vietnam has made from the war, their now friendly ties with the US, and their success in becoming a middle income country ought to be instructive to our foreign policy establishment.

From the Economist:

Foreign direct investment in Vietnam hit a record in 2015 and has surged again this year. Deals reached $11.3 billion in the first half of 2016, up by 105% from the same period last year, despite a sluggish global economy. Big free-trade agreements explain some of the appeal. But something deeper is happening. Like South Korea, Taiwan and China before it, Vietnam is piecing together the right mix of ingredients for rapid, sustained growth.

Since 1990, Vietnam has averaged GDP growth of nearly 6% a year per person, lifting it from among the world’s poorest countries to middle-income status. This is similar to India’s or China’s growth, but China then went on to average double-digit growth for years. Check out this photo of today’s Ho Chi Minh City, what GI’s once called Saigon:

Stark Tower 2

The tall building is 68 floors high. It is the Bitexco Financial Tower, but locals call it “Stark Tower” because it looks like Tony Stark’s headquarters in the Iron Man films. While it is the city’s tallest building now, next year it’ll only be the fourth tallest.

So, how did this communist country do it? By moving from state ownership of the means of production to a mixed model. Vietnam’s Doi Moi policy opened up Vietnam to the rest of the world. They revamped much of the legal system to create a transparent and attractive place for foreign investment. This has given foreign companies the confidence to build factories. Foreign investors are now responsible for a quarter of annual capital spending. Trade accounts for about 150% of national output, more than any other country at its level of per-person GDP.

They established the Ho Chi Minh Stock Exchange in 2000, and de-nationalized many state-owned companies, opening doors for foreign investment. Equity was sold to both foreign and domestic investors, and in some cases, foreign ownership can now be 100%. In 2015, total Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) was $13 billion.

Vietnam shares a border with China. As Chinese wages rise, some firms can easily move to Vietnam for lower-cost production, while maintaining their links to China’s supply chain for parts.

Vietnam has a relatively young population. China’s median age is 36, while Vietnam’s is 30.7. Seven in ten Vietnamese still live in the countryside, about the same as in India, compared with only 44% in China. This reservoir of rural workers should help hold down wage pressure, allowing Vietnam to build up labor-intensive industries, a necessity for a nation of nearly 100 million people.

Public spending on education is about 6.3% of GDP, two percentage points more than the average for low- and middle-income countries. In global rankings, 15-year-olds in Vietnam beat those in America and Britain in math and science.

Although Vietnam has benefited from foreign investment, only 36% of its firms are integrated into its export industries, compared with nearly 60% in Malaysia and Thailand. While Samsung plans to invest $3 billion in consumer electronics production in Vietnam, there will be very little domestic content, except for packaging. More local value-added must be found to keep GDP growth high.

There are big problems: The fiscal deficit in 2016 will be more than 6% of GDP for the fifth straight year. As mentioned, domestic content in exports is low, and imports of consumer goods purchased by newly prosperous workers fuels a trade deficit.

Vietnam is now classified as a middle-income country; so it is about to lose access to preferential financing from the multilateral development banks. In 2017, the World Bank will start to phase out concessional lending.

Vietnam is successful, despite our dropping 3.5 times the number of bombs on it that we dropped in WWII, while killing more than a million Vietnamese.

For America, Vietnam’s success, despite our past efforts to devastate it, should cause us to reflect on how and why we are a guns-first country when we deal with the third world.

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