Thursday, June 22, 2017

My thoughts on President Trump's suggested solar border wall with Mexico.

The end of the border fence near Tijuana, Mexico. James Reyes/Public Domain

I'm going to skip the normal format for this one and comment on a proposal that President Trump made. As a new way to pay for the wall, Trump has suggested that we line the wall with solar panels. The theory is that the energy produced by the solar panels would pay for the wall and, assuming Mexico buys our energy, it would fulfill Trump's campaign promise that Mexico would pay for the wall. 

I think it's an interesting idea to say the least. It has some very obvious upsides. The first advantage is political. If the Democrats try to shut this down or criticize it Trump can hit them on environmental grounds. He can basically say that if the Democrats are in support of the environment and combating global warming they have to support the wall. Given the absolute hysteria on the left after Trump left the Paris environmental accords, it would look incredibly hypocritical for them to oppose this proposal. 

This creates an obvious split between two Democratic party coalition members, environmentalists and immigration advocates. The idea is that the two groups will come to metaphorical blows over the plan. Obviously, the environmentalists will support clean energy and the immigration advocates will oppose any wall on the border.

Will it work out that way? I am not sure. Despite Trump trying to make an obvious gesture to environmentalists, I doubt they will go along with it. Most of them hate Trump and would oppose him even if he caved on every single environmental issue and oppose him on principal alone. Others will notice the same thing I did and will be opposed to it just because they don't want to fight the immigration block, which probably has some crossover as well. Plus, they have tried to block border walls/fences before due to environmental impact on endangered species.

Either way though it gives President Trump a good way to bludgeon the left. He can rightly claim that the Democratic Party both hates him and the wall so much that they won't even compromise on a plan that could help the environment. Even if it only pulls away a few Democratic voters it might still help. It also damages their claims that global warming is important if they won't even support a plan that could reduce our reliance on dirty energy. 

Economically the idea makes sense as well. Turning the wall into a money maker could reduce the costs of construction and maintenance. One of the major criticisms of the wall is the high initial cost of the project and the fact that it will require maintenance. So far efforts to get Mexico to pay for the wall have failed, largely because Trump hasn't decided to tax remittances, the money orders people send to Mexico. Doing this will help defray the costs and if we sell the energy to Mexico, they will "pay" for it... kinda. It also has the added benefit of not completely destroying the Mexican economy, which taxing remittances would do. 

There are obvious job benefits as well. Making the wall in general will create shovel ready jobs, but using solar power will also help US companies specializing in solar energy. It wouldn't be a huge increase, but it would add a few jobs to the US economy. And because the solar panels will need maintenance and someone to manage the power, some of those jobs won't go away after the wall is finished. 

It also gives the wall some insurance. The great fear among supporters of the wall is that as soon as a Democrat wins either the White House or Congress, they could tear it down. Getting rid of an energy source that provides jobs and perhaps even makes money creates a much higher cost in doing so than just a border wall. I am guessing that a solar wall would be popular as well, so getting rid of it would have a large political cost. The Democrats might do so anyways but it would cost them more support than it would with a normal wall.

So will the solar wall happen? Unfortunately it's not up to Donald Trump. Right now he has to convince Congress to pay for the initial construction of the wall and that has been like herding cats. Right now the Republicans in the House and Senate are more focused on health care and the Democrats in Congress... well the less said about their "muh Russia" witch hunt the better. 

Still, I think this is a great idea and a huge win for the Republican Party if they can pull it off. Doing so would greatly please the Republican base, who have wanted more effective borders for a very long time and have been infuriated by the lack of action on the issue. It would also greatly blunt Democratic criticism of the wall and make them look like hypocrites, either on the environment or on immigration. It's a win win for Republicans so I can't imagine that they aren't, at the very least, taking the proposal seriously. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Terror attack in Flint Michigan where a man stabbed a police officer and screamed Allah Akbar.

Police stand guard after the attack in Flint. Flint Journal/CBS/AP.

A Canadian man was detained in Flint Michigan after stabbing a police officer in the neck and screaming "Allah Akbar". CBS. The attacker has been identified as Amor Ftouhi and has been charged with violence in an international airport. He was in the country legally. During the attack Ftouhi allegedly screamed "Allah Akbar" and ranted about Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan before stabbing the victim with a 12 inch knife. The victim survived the attack and was in satisfactory condition. Flint police believe that the threat is over and that Ftouhi was a "lone wolf" attacker. 

My Comment:
I remember yesterday writing that America hadn't suffered any terror attacks during Ramadan so far. I guess I spoke too soon as this is fairly obviously a terror attack. It's a fairly minor one where only one person was hurt, but it was following the ISIS playbook. 

This was probably a lone wolf attack. It wasn't sophisticated at all and it was the kind of attack that almost anyone could attempt. I am not sure what the exact plan here was. It is possible that Ftouhi was trying to imitate ISIS inspired attackers in Europe. There have been several attacks where an attacker tried to overpower a cop or soldier and steal their weapon. If so, this attack failed just as those attacks failed. Ftouhi wasn't able to steal a weapon and was detained right away. 

It's also possible that he wasn't trying to go for a weapon at all and was just interested in stabbing a cop. I've said before that even though ISIS encourages that kind of attack, it's just about the stupidest way to go about things. Not only are all cops in the United States armed, they are trained to fight and do not represent a "soft target". It's a minor miracle that Ftouhi wasn't shot and killed immediately. 

Some will likely ask why Ftouhi didn't purchase a gun. As a foreign citizen, Ftouhi was not eligible to purchase a firearm. He would have failed a background check and I doubt any but the most scuzzy of private citizens would have sold him a gun. Unlike the popular media description, it's not actually that easy to get a gun in the United States if you aren't a citizen. 

I do wonder why Ftouhi attacked the United States instead of his home in Canada. Ftouhi was from Quebec and had multiple targets he could have struck in Canada. And he probably would have been able to acquire better weapons in Canada than he was able to get here. My guess is that he correctly surmised that a terror attack in Flint Michigan would have a bigger impact than any attack in Canada. 

I do have to say that the police response to this attack was fairly impressive. Though part of that is that there are always cops at airports, they were able to quickly able to stop this attacker before he killed someone. And they managed to capture him alive to interrogate him. Good work all around. 

I doubt that Ftouhi had any connections to larger terrorist groups. I suspect he probably read ISIS propaganda and followed their instructions but he had no direct link. If he had I think there would have been a better plan and some kind of weapon or explosive used other than a knife. I think that the threat is probably over... 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Soldiers in Brussels kill a terrorist before he could carry out his attack.

Soldiers stand guard in Brussels after the attack. CBS/Getty. 

Soldiers in Brussels shot and killed a terrorist after he set off a small explosion at the main train station. CBS. The suspect was ranting and raving about Islamic extremism and screamed "Allahu Akbar" before setting of a device in a baggage cart. Soldier shot the suspect soon after and were not able to provide medical treatment because they suspected he had a bomb. Police confirmed that the suspect had an explosive belt and a backpack. The government of Belgium said that the soldiers involved in the situation stopped a terror attack. 

My Comment:
Good on these soldiers for stopping this terror attack. It just goes to show that having people with weapons can help prevent a terrorist attack. They reacted quickly and correctly to the threat and their actions probably saved quite a few lives. If this guy had managed to get onto a train or a crowded area he could have killed dozens. Instead, he was the only one that died. 

That being said, this seems like another example of an incredibly stupid terrorist. I think this guy was watching too many action movies. Instead of being stealthy and making sure to get himself into a place with a large amount of civilians he went on a rant and set off a minor explosion. None of that makes sense. It seems like something the bad guy in a movie would do and like a movie it gave the heroes a chance to stop the villain. Why draw attention to yourself when your goal is to kill as many people as possible? Especially when attacking a defended target like a train station? Not a smart way to go. 

This failed terror attack comes right after another failed one in Paris. In that attack someone rammed a police van despite being armed with a rifle and some handguns. Just like the Brussels attack, the suspect in France would been able to kill a whole lot of people if he had just used some common sense. Part of that is because the security forces in both cases were on the ball, but still, a better plan could have been effective. Once again, thank God for stupid terrorists. 

Another point is that these terrorists are acting like lone wolf attackers but have the weapons of someone with terrorist connections. The suspect in the Paris attack had multiple firearms and the suspect in the Brussels attack had explosives. I guess it is possible that a lone wolf attacker could get his hands on those kinds of weapons, but I doubt it. There have been lone wolf attacks in the past where one guy got a hold of firearms and explosive, but they are fairly rare and I don't think it is likely in this case. 

Still, the level of planning with both of these attacks seem to indicate a less sophisticated style of attack. Instead of actually trying to inflict as many casualties as possible they tried to pull off a terrorist attack in a flashy cinematic kind of way. They seemed to be more focused on style points instead of inflicting casualties. That tells me that both of these attacks were lone wolf attackers, probably inspired by ISIS instead of being directed by them. 

I do think there is a different possibility explaining the Brussels failure though. It's possible that the bomber tried to set off his explosives belt... and it failed miserably. That would explain his actions quite a bit better. If his belt failed he might have tried to set off his secondary explosive and then, when that didn't do anything, he just got shot. That would mean that his bombmakers screwed him over in which case the bombmaker is the one that's an idiot. 

After a hot start, Ramadan hasn't been so bad. This is due in a large part to the failed attacks in Paris and Brussels. There have been attacks outside of Europe, most notably in Mali, Somalia and Afghanistan, but the European attacks have largely failed outside of the London Bridge attack. Still, we have some time before Ramadan is done and we should remain vigilant. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Close call in France as a terror attack fails in Champs-Elysees

A member of the bomb squad checks the car. BBC/EPA

A terror attack targeting a police vehicle at Champs-Elysees has failed as a man with a car crashed into a police van. BBC. The suspect was armed with a Kalashnikov rifle, handguns and gas bottles, but was killed in the crash and ensuing fire. No one else was hurt in the incident. Though the attack failed, officials say that the amount of gas in the vehicle could have caused an explosion. No one has taken credit for the attack but the suspect was reportedly on a terror watchlist since 2015 for membership in an unnamed "radical Islamist movement". 

My Comment:
This was a very strange terror attack attempt. I'm forced to conclude that the attacker was probably pretty stupid. If the suspect was armed with a rifle and multiple handguns, why use the car for anything? Wouldn't it have been smarter to just shoot people? 

It's also unclear how the suspect died. I don't know if he just died in the crash, the ensuing fire, or if the cops put him down. If he just died because of his own actions then his plan was really terrible. It's possible that he was trying to set his car on fire to cause chaos and distract cops while he was shooting people, but maybe he rammed the car to hard and stopped his own attack? 

I also don't understand why he would use the ramming tactics ISIS has used so frequently this way. If he wanted to conduct a ramming attack, why target a police van? Why not run over a bunch of civilians? And why resort to ramming at all when you have a bunch of guns? It doesn't make any sense.

If this was a failed car bombing, it seems like an even stupider plan. Though the weapons and fuel in the car could have exploded, it seems like he didn't have a way to activate the bomb or died before he could do so. Either way, this plan didn't work. 

I'm not sure if this is a lone wolf attack or not. The very stupid plan of the suspect kind of makes me think that he was acting alone. If he had help they would presumably have told him to get a better plan. But on the other hand the presence of a Kalashnikov makes me think he had help. AK's aren't exactly hard to get in Europe but you do need connections to the black market gun dealers and that usually implies some connections with terrorism. Plus the BBC said he made Frances terror radar due to membership in an extremist movement, so at the very least he probably did have some connections. 

Even though this terrorist attack failed, it did help ISIS. Even failed terror attacks can frighten people and disrupt the country. This attack didn't kill anyone but it still grabbed headlines and shut down one of the most important tourist areas in the country. Despite the obvious failure of the attack, it still has an effect. 

All that being said though, I have to repeat something I have said many times in the past. Thank God for stupid terrorists. The more attacks that kill or wound nobody but the attacker we have the better... 

Copycat terror attack in London as a man rams into Muslims.

A victim is taken away on a stretcher after the attack. NBC/AP. 

A copycat terrorist has used the ramming tactics so common in recent attacks and adapted them to attack a group of Muslims, wounding 10 people in London. NBC News. The attacker drove his rented van into a group of people who were attending to a man who had collapsed. The man later died though it is unclear if he died due to the ramming attack or to his unrelated collapse. The community then captured and detained the man until authorities could arrive and arrest him. The attack comes on the heels of several Islamist terror attacks in the UK, including two similar ramming attacks and the Manchester suicide bombing. Witnesses claim that the suspect was specifically targeting Muslims. 

My Comment:
Before I get into the meat of this post I do have to say that I obviously condemn this attack. Whatever the issues the UK is having with it's Muslim population, getting into a van and running over a bunch of people isn't going to solve anything. Indeed, it seems like it would be massively counterproductive and may serve to further radicalize Muslims and push some of the moderates out of the fold. It also feeds into the worst tendencies of the political left, who will use this attack as a counterpoint to any criticism of terrorism or the governments response to it.

I also have to commend the heroism of the people on the scene. Not only did they capture the suspect they managed to capture them alive. Considering the circumstances, that was no small feat and it is impressive that they were able to resist the urge to dispense street justice to the suspect. I am not sure if I would have been so restrained. Either way though, I always respect people that put their lives on the line to defend others.

That being said, this was a sad but predictable outcome of the UK's recent problems with terrorism and Islam in general. The attacks that have rocked the UK have been terrible and I was frankly expecting some kind of blowback against Islam after the Westminster, Manchester and London Bridge attacks. Not to mention the non-terror related issues that the Muslim community have been involved in in the UK, like the Rotherham scandal. Indeed, I am amazed that it took this long for something like this to happen.

Why? Because, to the average person on the street, the UK government isn't doing a thing to prevent those problems. The message that the UK government has been sending is that these incidents are just part and parcel of living in the modern world and that Islam has nothing to do with terrorism. Their main public response seems to have been to crack down on critics of Islam instead of bringing radicals to justice. They preach unity and togetherness but never responsibility and vigilance and have gone so far as to charge people with crimes for expressing their anger with the situation. I am sure that the UK is actually working hard to find and arrest the threats, but the public message seems to be that "Muslims are fine no matter what and anyone that objects to the murder of children is racist and is also going to be arrested".

When the government message is that is it any surprise that someone decided to take things into their own hands? We don't know the background of the attacker but I am guessing that he felt that nothing was being done to prevent these terror attacks and all the other problems caused by the lack of integration of Muslims in the UK and that somebody had to do something. He obviously chose the wrong thing to do by targeting people that are almost certainly completely innocent, but when the government doesn't seem to care that the people they are required to protect are getting murdered, is it even a surprise?

And this is what I am so afraid of. The UK and Europe might be heading into a death spiral of terror attacks. A cycle of revenge could be forming that could destroy the whole continent. Until now the people of Europe have had a tremendous amount of restraint but if the pace of terror attacks continues, there will be more reprisal attacks like this one. You can only push people so far before they start to push back. Remember, the Manchester bombing targeted children and so did the Rotherham rape/human trafficking gang. Once kids are being killed, all bets are off the table. Reprisal attacks were almost a given. Those reprisal attacks will further enrage radical Muslims and may push the moderates into the arms of the radicals. Actions like the terror attack today in London could actually radicalize peopl. If this tit for tat cycle goes on for long enough then it will be civil war. This is, of course, what groups like ISIS want.

Can that be avoided at this point? I am not sure it is even possible anymore. Even if the UK changed course and somehow came up with the perfect plan, it would still take a lot of time and effort to implement it. And in the meantime there will be more attacks and counter attacks. And I have seen no indication that the UK will take the steps I think that they need to take.

What are those steps? Here's a short list:

-Acknowledge that though there are many hundreds of millions and even perhaps billions of normal to good Muslims in the world, there is a major portion of the religion that is violent and dangerous. Not all Muslims are bad, but it's completely stupid to think all of them are good as well. This should be so obvious that it shouldn't be uncontroversial but to say it out loud makes you a "racist" in the United States and a criminal in Europe.

-Make it very clear to the public that the government cares about what happens to all of their people. All so often the press and the government goes on and on about the backlash against Muslims, which in this case was finally justified. In the vast majority of cases though, the backlash against a terror attack isn't anywhere near as bad as the actual terrorist attack. Yes it is terrible when an innocent Muslim gets yelled at for something they had nothing to do with, but it is way worse to be killed or injured in a terror attack. We should condemn the people that actually kill and not the people that are just angry and need reassurance that their lives matter. (This obviously also counts in reverse. The UK government should and probably will offer that reassurance to the Muslim community. The fact that they won't do so for everyone else is the problem)

-Don't crack down on free speech for anyone. Trying to make an idea forbidden is a great way to grow that idea. You can't stop people from thinking things that are inconvenient to you, no matter how much you try. Doing so will just increase the appeal of the idea, especially when the idea is that different people are being treated differently by the government. Let people express their anger so they can deal with it in a healthier way. Anything short of actual incitement to violence should be allowed.

-Provide a counterargument that isn't just faux unity drivel. "We are better than the terrorists" is way better than "we are all united against terrorism, but by the way white people suck and there is nothing we can do about terrorism anyways".

-Make sure to both parties understand that the cycle of revenge is a fools game and one that can destroy everything.

Will any of that happen? I sincerely doubt it. And as more terror attacks happen I am guessing that more people will be fed up with the perceived lack of action and even basic acknowledgement of the problem and there will be more reprisal attacks. Sooner or later the cycle of revenge will turn into actual war. I have thought for years that his would happen in Europe after the massive migration waves and it seems that it may be coming to pass if the trend started by this attack continues. The reaction to this attack and the attacks that I am sure will come will likely be the new status quo. Let's just hope that somehow the United States doesn't fall into the same trap...