Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Something to keep an eye on for tomorrow...

Debbie Waaserman Schultz

I don't usually post things about internet rumors, but this one might have a little teeth to it. I have been seeing quite a bit of chatter that there is supposed to be some major disclosure about criminal investigations regarding the Democrats tomorrow. Many people think that the disclosure is about the Awan brothers case.

That case is very real and has potential to bring down some very important people in the DNC, including the former head of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Beyond that there isn't much else to say other than  people suspect that the story will reveal actual collusion between the DNC and foreign governments during the 2016 election. At the very least there are some major questions to be answered about the case.

The rumors go quite beyond that, but the problem is the source. People are citing multiple anonymous posts on 4chan.org's political board /pol/. That is, quite frankly, not a source you can trust, to say the least. /pol/ is a far right conspiracy website that has been taken in by things like this before. So why even mention it? For one reason and one reason only. One of the posts correctly predicted the Awan arrest. That gives it at least the air of credibility and shows that the person who posted had enough connections to know the arrest was coming, though it isn't actual evidence of anything else. Either that or it was an extremely lucky guess.


It's extremely thin, I know, but if it is right, it could be a game changer. I'd give this about a 99% chance of being nothing but a troll, but if the 1% chance is correct then there is going to be huge repercussions. I figured it would be important to get it on the record if something huge does go down tomorrow but if it doesn't I give you permission to make fun of me for giving this rumor credence.

Heroism in Egypt as a tank crew crushes a suicide car bomb.

The moment of the blast. Screenshot via RT

A heroic tank crew crushed a suicide car bomb containing four armed militants saving many lives in a bombing in Egypt. RT. The incident happened at a checkpoint in the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, which has an ISIS insurgency. The car approached the checkpoint and the tank crew quickly acted and crushed the vehicle. This gave many of the civilians the opportunity to escape, though seven people are known to have died in the incident. Egypt's defense ministry says the action of the tank crew saved as many as 60 lives. 

The incident was captured on video and can be viewed below. WARNING! Graphic content. 


My Comment:
Very heroic action by these tank crewmen. Though they were protected by their tank's armor there was a real chance of death or injury when they crushed that vehicle. The blast looked large enough that if the tank was on top of the vehicle when it blew up, the crew probably would have died or at least been severely injured. They knew this and did it anyways, probably thinking if their was a bomb and it went off they heavy armor on their tank would help contain the blast. Thankfully, the tank was able to retreat after neutralizing the attackers, but that doesn't make this tank crew any less brave. 

The defense ministry said that this action probably saved 60 lives, and I can believe it. If the car had been able to pass the tank it could have reached the civilian vehicles and less armored APC's behind the tank. If that had happened dozens of civilians and soldiers could have been wounded or killed. And that's assuming that the gunmen inside didn't hop out and start shooting people as well. Thankfully, that didn't happen because of the quick thinking of this tank crew. 

I haven't heard much else about this incident. Outside of RT and the British tabloids, this incident hasn't gotten any coverage. You would think a news report where a tank crushes a car bomb that then blows up would be bigger news, but I guess the American media has more "important" things to cover. 

Though, as far as I can determine, nobody has taken credit for this attack, I would guess it was ISIS. They have a large presence in the Sinai and the affiliates there are one of the most brutal and effective ISIS cells left. This kind of joint attack with a car bomb and gunmen is right up their ally and it only failed because of this tank crew. There are other Islamist insurgencies in Egypt, but most of them are in other parts of the country. 

The attackers picked a good target but they didn't count on the quick action of the tank's driver. Their plan very well could have worked. A combined suicide bombing and mass shooting at a military checkpoint could have killed dozens. And even though this attack could have been worse, they still managed to kill several people. I don't know if the seven deaths in this incident include the four terrorists in the car, but even if it did they still killed three people. Expect more of these attacks in the future in Egypt. 

Donald Trump bans transgender Americans from serving in the military

President Donald Trump. 

As you probably know by now Donald Trump has announced on Twitter that transgender Americans can no longer serve in the United States military in any capacity. You can read the tweets below:



This has, predictably, caused a storm of criticism on social media from the usual suspects. They claim that banning transgender soldiers from serving is discriminatory, ignoring the fact that huge swaths of people are already banned from serving in the military even if they want to.

Got a bad knee (which is why I never served)? No service. Got ADHD? No service. Take medicine for depression? No service. Have an IQ under 85? No service. In short there are a whole list of medical reasons why you cannot serve in the United States military. Even things as seemingly irrelevant as height is enough to prevent service. Military.com has an extensive list of all the medical conditions that can keep you from serving.

This isn't discrimination. Being transgender is a medical condition and the military has long stopped people with medical conditions from serving. If they can drop a soldier for having bad allergies or being too short, then they can certainly drop soldiers for having gender dysphoria.

Though not allowing the transgender to serve may seem "mean" there are very valid reasons for the ban. The first one is that the transgender community has a much greater risk of other mental issues that are comorbid with the disorder, including depression and suicide attempts. Around 41% of transgender individuals have attempted suicide. When combined with the already high number of suicides in the military, the risk of suicide is completely unacceptable. Suicide obviously has a major negative impact, not only on the person that attempts or succeeds in committing it, but for everyone around that person as well.

Secondly, there are the obvious logistical nightmare that the transgender cause for military units. Transgender individuals need extensive medical care and treatment, which is a major issue while deployed. I won't go into all the gruesome details but transgender people need drugs and other things to keep healthy and stay as their preferred gender. If they lose access to those things in combat they might have a mental breakdown and in any case those drugs and supplies would take up critical space that would better be used for medicine or ammunition.

Third, there are medical concerns as well, unrelated to mental health. Someone that has transitioned to a different gender and has had surgery is at risk for infection and other things in combat. In short, while a vagina is self cleaning, a pseudo-vagina is not and is, therefore, prone to infection. When in combat conditions overseas the problem would be much worse. This means that transgender people at risk of getting sick or being down for treatment when their unit really needs them.

Fourth, there are the "bathroom" issues with having the transgender serve in the military. No matter how you solve the issue, people are either going to have to take a communal shower with someone of the opposite sex or the opposite gender. This isn't like a normal bathroom where you have a stall for privacy, it's in out in the open. That's going to be damaging to unit cohesion and the mental well being of other soldiers.

I should talk about the political reasons for this ban as well. Many people, myself included, considered the Obama administration's choice to lift the ban in the first place was nothing other than political theater. In short, he was more interested in forcing political correctness on the military than it's actual job of defending the country. It never should have been lifted in the first place.

It's also an easy political victory for Donald Trump. Not only did he just do something that is extremely popular among his base, who hated that Obama lifted the ban, he has completely distracted the media once again. Given that the health care bill seems to have failed in Congress, he needs a distraction right now.

There is a concern that this action will anger the LGBT community who has been slowly coming around to voting for Republicans. I have said in the past that Donald Trump is incredibly pro-LGBT as compared to other Republican candidates and even many democrats. He's in favor of gay marriage, thinks "bathroom laws" are a pointless distraction, and was extremely supportive of the LGBT community after the Pulse nightclub shooting.

So did Trump throw away the inroads he was making with the LGBT community? Well, the pundits are doing everything in their power to make it look like that. I am not so sure though. The more rational among the LGB portion of the community should realize that this ban has nothing to do with them. They can still serve in the military and are not effected by this at all.

I would hope that the LGB community would realize that this was a rational descion and one that won't actually effect anyone but the T's. And Trump is about as good as they are going to get when it comes to LGBT rights among the Republicans and is doing quite a bit to increase the tolerance in the party. The fact that Trump was able to support gay marriage, have a gay man, Peter Thiel, speak for him at the convention and say that bathroom bills are a waste of time should be a major victory for the LGBT community, even if he doesn't want them in the military under the advice of his generals.

Finally, this is much ado about nothing. Something between .03 and .3 percent of the population is transgender and the numbers I have seen is that there is between 2000 and 6000 transgender people in the military. That's a rounding error in a 2 million soldier military. The number of people that will actually be effected by this directive is statistically insignificant.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

What is going on with Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump?

Jeff Sessions official picture. 

As you may know there has been trouble brewing between President Donald Trump and his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions. Last week Trump publicly bashed Sessions in a New York Times article saying that he never would have hired him if he knew that he was going to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Trump has continued to sporadically criticize Sessions including a pair of new tweets this morning. 





This is a fairly shocking turn around for the president because Jeff Sessions had been one of his first and most loyal allies and was a huge help for him during his campaign. Before the inauguration, Sessions was largely seen as one of Trump's best political friends and huge asset.  But now rumors are flying and there is a chance that Sessions could resign or get fired. For right now Sessions seems like he wants to stay but who knows where this is heading?

So what is going on here? I think there are a couple of possibilities. The first is that this is some kind of 3-d chess move to mislead the media and get them to cover something other then the Russia conspiracy theory. I have noticed that Trump often does exactly that. Someone will leak that someone in his cabinet is unhappy and threatening to quit and then nothing comes of it. That could mean that Sessions is in on it and knows that his job is actually secure.

This public spat also would have an advantage for Trump. It gives cover for Sessions to act freely on issues such as the Russia investigation. If Trump and Sessions were getting along it would make it harder for him to act on Robert Muller, the special consul  investigating Russian links to the election. This gives Sessions cover in case he decides to fire Muller or other people accused of leaking in the Justice Department. It's very clear that Trump wants Muller gone and he can get rid of him for cause at any point, but he also knows that it would go much better for him if Sessions was the one to pull the plug on the phony Russia investigation.

At first I thought that was the more likely possibility, but as this spat goes on I think that the more likely explanation is that Trump really is upset with Sessions. The fact that this dispute is so public and headline news makes me think that it's a little too on the nose to be anything other than what it appears to be.

Plus, I do think that Trump has a reason to be upset. The recusal from the Russia investigation was a huge mistake by Sessions and one that gave some credibility to what would have otherwise been regarded as a conspiracy theory. I am guessing that the Russia story would have been completely dead if Sessions had simply drawn a line and said, "Hell no, I did nothing wrong". There would be no special prosecutor, no further leaks and no media headlines and the Democrats wouldn't be able to do a damn thing about it other than gnash their teeth and deal with it. But he did what so many Republicans do when under unfounded and unethical attacks by the Democrats. He backed down, despite the obvious downsides in doing so.

Even without that Sessions has been a bit of a disappointment as Attorney General. I know I thought that we were going to get a pit bull who would tear into the various political scandals that tarred the 2016 election, but instead we got a very quiet toy poodle who hasn't gone after any of the major players. I fully expected that Hillary Clinton, at the very least, would be under a microscope at this point. This is a sentiment that I have heard elsewhere, though Sessions always had his defenders that said "just wait, he will come through". But my desire to wait for results is growing thin, and apparently the same is true for our president.

In Sessions defense, it's possible that there is a lot going on behind the scenes and he could be working very hard to prosecute the criminals in the Democratic Party, the previous administration and so on. But he isn't making his case to the public and, apparently, the President himself.

This is not a good thing for his job security. As many pundits and experts noted after Trump was elected, there was likely to be a high turnover rate in the Trump administration. Trump is running his presidency like he ran his business and people that don't measure up, like James Comey and Sean Spicer, end up by the wayside. If Sessions can't prove to Trump that he's an asset he's as good as gone.

The problem Trump has is that firing Sessions has consequences. A lot of people still like and admire Jeff Sessions, myself included. He was an amazing senator and still commands the loyalty of a lot of people on the right. Indeed, the conservative places I hang out online are more divided on this issue then I have ever seen, baring the Trump administration's bombing of the Syrian airbase in response to the chemical attack. If Trump does fire Sessions, he's going to make a lot of his fans upset.

Trump also has to worry about finding a replacement. The short list I have heard is Rudy Guiliani and Ted Cruz, both of which have problems. Guiliani is very qualified for the role, but would never pass confirmation. Cruz is qualified as well and the Senate would confirm him just to get rid of him, but he's a political enemy of Trump. Neither of those are good choices and after that there aren't many other good options.

I am hoping that this whole situation is a minor bump that will be smoothed over in time. Sessions may end up moving in the direction Trump wants him too and I hope that everything works out. If it doesn't though, I have to say that I am disappointed in the whole situation. I like Jeff Sessions but I also understand that he hasn't lived up to his promise and has been a disappointment. If he has to go then so be it.

Monday, July 24, 2017

China warns India in ongoing border dispute.

A conference room used by China and India. Reuters. 

China had warned India to not hold any illusions about China's ability to defend it's territory. Reuters. The two countries are in a dispute over the mountainous region in the Indian state of Sikkim. The Chinese claim that Indian troops crossed the border and interfered with a construction crew who was building a road. India claims that the road is a strategic threat to them. The two countries troops have since been in a standoff in the strategic "Chicken's Neck" area where a strip of land controlled by China separates India from their close ally Bhutan. Approximately 300 soldiers total from both sides are facing each other in the plateau region. 

My Comment:
A fairly dangerous situation on the top of the world. China and India have faced off before including a border war in the 1960's. China won that war but things have changed quite a bit since then. A war now between China and India could be horrific given the fact that both of the countries are nuclear powers and have a web of allies in the region. If the situation spirals out of control, it could be a global disaster. 

Is war likely though? I kinda doubt it. Though China has been saber rattling for quite some time with practically all of their neighbors, there really hasn't been even a skirmish. China is probably just trying to make an impression and save face by issuing these threats. I doubt they want war. 

China would have very little to gain from a war with India. Such a war would be hugely disruptive to China's economy and would also probably loosen the Communist Party's grip on the country. Plus there is the possibility that they would lose the war, which would be a huge embarrassment. And they risk a nuclear exchange with India which would kill hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people. A tiny strip if land in the mountains isn't worth it. 

India does have a point though. A road in the plateau is a strategic threat to them.China's main problem with any war in the region is logistics. Right now they would have real problems with sending troops to the area. They would largely be limited to sending troops on foot or by helicopter, the 2nd method which could be cut off if they lose air superiority at any time. India wants to keep that advantage so if they did harass the road workers it makes sense. 

I am guessing that this conflict will remain a war of words and not an actual war. Neither side has much to gain from a conflict and a hell of a lot to lose. That being said I also don't see either side giving up on their ambitions on this area. 

So what would a border war with China and India look like? Very strange. The border between China and India is mostly the Himalayas, also known as the largest and highest mountain range in the world. There are limited places on the border that are even acceptable for warfare, with neither side likely being able to deploy troops.    

Most of the fighting than would be in the limited areas where troops are actually deployable, like the plateau in Sikkim. Expect artillery duels and skirmishes but not much in the way of major troop movements. 

The air war would be a larger factor and I think that India probably has the advantage. China has advanced fighters and a large number of jets, but they would have quite a bit of difficulty deploying them to the region. There aren't many airbases in Tibet while India has bases in the area. China has more aircraft but that matters little if they can't deploy them. 

I don't think a nuclear exchange is likely in such a war. In a border war there is no real reason to deploy nuclear weapons, especially when it's only over a thin sliver of land in the mountains and that there will be nuclear retribution. No matter how badly the war goes, it's not like the governments are going to be overthrown or large scale invasions are going to happen. If a war happens it's going to be a minor skirmish and air duel, not a full scale war...