Sunday, May 31, 2015

Weekend Movie Night: The Mist

MGM/Dimension Films.

It's time for yet another movie review. This time it's The Mist, based on the Stephen King novella of the same name. I've watched quite a few adaptations of King's works and to date all but one of them, The Shinning, has sucked. That rule doesn't apply to adaptions to his non-horror stories, like the Green Mile and the Shawshank Redemption, but every other movie or miniseries has been pretty bad to terrible. I still say one of the worst movies I have ever seen was Dreamcatcher, but that's a story for another post... which I will never write because I would have to watch the movie again. Fortunately, The Mist is at a slightly higher level then most other adaptions. I won't say it's a great movie, but it did make me think quite a lot. 


Roger Ebert coined the term "Idiot Plot" back in the 1990's to describe a movie where nothing would have happened if everyone in the story wasn't an idiot. And that is certainly the case for The Mist. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, except the one woman that ran off right away to find her kids, was a complete moron in this movie. Of course that is the point. The Mist isn't just a horror movie. It's a horror movie with a point. And that point is that people in a crisis make terrible, terrible, decisions. 

Let's talk about the monsters in this movie. I thought they were pretty impressive and the CGI still holds up to this day. It's clear that, though immensely lethal, they are pretty much just wild animals. They are dangerous, sure, but they are not intelligent and if the people in the movie had hunkered down and stayed safe, most of them would have survived. Indeed, at the end of the movie we see an entire convoy of people that made it through and the military casually killing all the monsters.

 Their main advantage is the mist and the fact that nobody has any experience with them. There are plenty of animals on earth that are incredibly lethal as well, but if you know what you are doing you would be fine. Grizzly bears? Carry a heavy caliber gun and don't get between a mother and her cubs. Scorpions? Don't walk barefoot and check your shoes and socks before you put them on? Sharks and Jellyfish? Stay out of the water. But nobody involved knows how to deal with the monsters, other then the military. "Kill it with fire" is always good advice and it seems to work for them. 

Of course the first main group of people to get killed are people that don't believe that there are any monsters. Given the fact that if I were in that situation myself, I probably wouldn't believe in them either, I don't really blame them. Now, I'm willing to forgive the death of the first guy, the grocery bagger, because he really had no idea what he was going into. Yeah, David said that he heard something outside and Dan Miller (the cool old guy) ranted about someone getting taken, but it would be hard to believe that anything too crazy was going on. 

But after the bagboy died, people really should have realized what was going on. The leader of the "rational" people, Brent, wouldn't believe what a bunch of people told him just because he had a conflict with David. Sure, it's rational to be suspicious of monsters, but in the middle of a disaster, why not play it safe? And if I was in a disaster with my worst enemy and he said, "Hey, don't go outside I just saw a guy get killed", I'd at least listen to him. Of course people will always try to rationalize unlikely events. It's the downside of Occam's Razor. People assume that just because something is very unlikely that it's impossible. And monsters are very unlikely.

So was Brent realistic? Sure. This kind of thing hast happened before. See a bunch of dots on your radar on December 7th 1941? It's not an invasion, it's just that flight of B-17's that you were expecting. Some crazy guy and a person you hate tells you about monsters that are out to kill you? Why believe them? 

Of course the biggest problem in the movie is the fact that they waited a couple of days to shoot the crazy religious woman, Mrs. Carmody. In a disaster situation the last thing you need is some crazy person ranting and raving about the end times. She should have been talked down, and failing that sedated, tied up, or even kicked out. But they didn't and a bunch of peopled died because of it. 

And here is my biggest criticism of The Mist. I just don't buy that people would go that far off their rocker that quickly. Sure, people do crazy things in the name of religion all the time, just look at the Middle East. But it takes time. Much more time then three days. Do people kill each other in disasters? Sure, but that usually only happens after the food and water runs out. They don't start sacrificing people to appease the gods after just a couple of days. And I don't think all that many Christians would be so keen on human sacrifice. After all in the Bible God spared Isaac. 

2nd warning, I'm going to spoil the ending. Seriously, don't read any further if you haven't seen it!

So lets talk about the ending. It's a real gutpunch. David, his kid and his new love interest, along with cool old guy and cool old lady, manage to escape the store in his truck and drive and drive. Eventually they run out of gas, and David, being the smart person he is, shoots everyone but himself to spare them. They all wanted it to happen, so after the deed is done David is alone and screaming. Then the military shows up, with all the people rescued from the town. He killed four people for no reason. 

I think it's a great ending and a good message for anyone in any kind of survival situation. Don't give up. Don't ever give up. There is almost always a chance that you would survive so it's incredibly stupid to just end your life. If you blow your brains out, there is always a chance that you were minutes away from being rescued. 

And it's clear that the situation that David and the others were in didn't warrant giving up. Sure they had ran out of gas and supplies, but nobody was starving yet. They might have run out of water soon, but that still gave them some time. And they could have always tried to escape. It's not like the monsters were trying to get in or anything, they could have found another shelter or some supplies. They might not have all survived, but there's a good chance that some of them would have. 

As for me, if I was in that situation, I would have fought. For me, four rounds left in your gun means you shoot your enemy four more times, even if your enemies are crazy monsters from another dimension. Then use every other weapon you have, down to your own fists, feet and teeth, to try and survive. Even if I was being attacked by ISIS, a group that most people would want to take the easy way out, I'd fight. And if there is anything to be taken away from The Mist, it's that message. Always fight.  

Saturday, May 30, 2015

ISIS has better inteligence capabilities then the United States. Voice of America

Iraqi security forces getting ready to attack ISIS. VOA/AP.

ISIS has better intelligence capabilities then the United States. Voice of America. The United States relies on signals intelligence, such as intercepted cell phone calls. ISIS has sources and informants on the ground. The reliance on signals intelligence means that the United States is 60 to 90 days behind events on the ground. ISIS also has many sleeper cells in various Sunni communities. Not all of them are members of the organization, but they are willing to pass information on to ISIS. ISIS fighters are also skilled at capturing and interrogating Iraqi soldiers. ISIS has also become skilled at misdirection and tactical adaptability. Iraq has largely failed at gathering intelligence as well since most of their troops are Shiite who are unlikely to gather intelligence from Sunni sources. 

My Comment:
It's good to see another source for something I have been saying for months. Our efforts at intelligence gathering in Iraq against ISIS has been lacking. Since withdrawing our forces we have almost completely been reliant on signals intelligence and what little the Iraqis manage to gather and pass on themselves. We have little to no sources on the ground and are unlikely to get any soon. We do occasionally get information from raids, but those are so rare that they don't contribute much. 

ISIS has a huge advantage on the ground. They have agents everywhere and a sympathetic population to recruit people from. These agents can gather intelligence and show them where their enemy is weak. They also help ISIS to find out who is a threat and who needs to be killed or kidnapped. 

Why would anyone work with ISIS? Other then the classic motives like greed, the Sunni residents of Iraq have many reasons to work with ISIS. For one, they feel oppressed by the Shiite leaders of Iraq. They would rather be ruled by ISIS then by Shia Muslims. It's simple self preservation at this point. Of course, some people will be attracted to ISIS ideology as well. 

With such a reliance on signals intelligence, it makes it hard for the United States to choose targets. It takes awhile to analyze the information and by the time it is done the facts on the ground usually have changed. Not only does this make it much more difficult to strike targets, it also increases the chance of friendly casualties. 

As a critic of the NSA's data collection programs, this is a vindication for me. I've always said that the massive data collection was far to unwieldy to be effective. It catches far too much noise to be useful. Sources on the ground will always be superior. Unfortunately, our sources on the ground were abandoned when we left Iraq, and we were never able to develop any in Syria. 

Our priority now should be developing those sources on the ground. That isn't to say that there isn't a place for signals intelligence, but until we start to gather human sources we will be handicapping our efforts. We should also start taking prisoners again. Yes Guantanamo Bay was a huge scandal and the CIA's rendition program was probably illegal, but surely there is a way to take prisoners without as much controversy? There may be political implications, but capturing prisoners instead of just killing everyone would help our intelligence gathering capabilities. 

Friday, May 29, 2015

Houthi rebels are holding American citizens prisoner. Washington Post.

Houthi rebels inspect a bombed building. Washington Post/Reuters.

Houthi Rebels have taken at least four U.S. Citizens prisoner in Yemen. Washington Post. U.S. efforts to free the prisoners has failed. One prisoner was scheduled to be released but the descion was reversed by the Houthi's ruling council. None of the prisoners worked for the U.S. government. Three were employed in the private sector and the last has duel U.S./Yemeni citizenship. In addition to the prisoners, many other Americans have been unable or unwilling to leave the country after the United States pulled out. So far the prisoners have not been treated as hostages or hurt, but their mental state may be deteriorating. 

My Comment:
Well, this was inevitable. It's unclear if these people were trapped there or if they chose to stay there, but my guess is that if the United States had gotten more people out this wouldn't have happened. The fact that we just left our people in Yemen is just disgusting to me. We had the means to help them, just not the will. 

So what happens next? The good news is that the Houthis are not ISIS. They won't execute these prisoners. I guess it is possible but it seems very unlikely. The much more likely scenario is that these people will be held hostage for money. Since the U.S. government does not negotiate with terrorists, the people will be held for a long time. 

There is also a real danger that the prisoners will be killed by accident. The Saudis have been essentially carpet bombing Yemen and there is a huge potential for a friendly fire case. Since the prisoners are being held in Saana, a major target for the Saudis, it's possible that they could be killed accidentally in a raid. It sounds like the United States knows where these prisoners are and they probably have passed on that info to the Saudis. Still, it's possible. 

Another solution is some kind of commando raids. I could see the Saudis doing that but not the United States. We aren't at war with the Houthis and killing a bunch of them in a raid would have major political costs, and could anger the Iranians. Plus, America has a pretty poor record lately for rescuing hostages...

Perhaps some other political deal will be made. It's not impossible, but any such deal would take a long time to make. It's also possible that the Houthis will view these prisoners as a liability and will give them up voluntarily. And it is also possible that the Iranians will put pressure on the Houthis to release the prisoners. That would be the best case scenario. 


Having computer issues this morning. They are resolved but it took to long for me to have a post up. I will hopefully have something posted again tonight.

Also, I hate how dependent we are on technology. When it works it is great, but when it fails...

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Syria loses last stronghold in Idlib province to al-Nusra militants. Reuters.

Al-Nusra fighters near the city of Ariha. Nice trigger discipline. Reuters.

Syrian forces have lost Ariha, the last outpost in Idlib province, to the Army of Conquest, lead by the al-Qaeda linked al-Nusra front. Reuters. The al-Nusra fighters took several check-posts near the city and had engaged the Syrians in the city. The Syrians contested the city but then withdrew. The defeat is part of a string of defeats the Syrians have faced, including losing the city of Idlib to al-Nusra and the city of Palmyra to ISIS. The rebels claimed that the large numbers of American made TOW missiles turned the tide of the battle. With the fall of Ariha, al-Nusra is closer to reaching the Syria/Turkey border. 

My Comment:
Al-Nusra is on the march again. And to be clear the so called Army of Conquest or Conquest Army or Jaish al Fateh, or whatever you want to call it is, for all intents and purposes, al-Nusra. And al-Nusra is al-Qaeda's arm in Syria. There aren't really any secular rebel groups left in Syria and none in the Army of Conquest. 

And it is very disturbing to me that Turkey and Saudi Arabia are helping al-Nusra. Though al-Nusra isn't as bad as ISIS, they are still a terrorist organization. Helping them is helping terrorism. Sure, Assad is bad, but the people he is fighting are worse. And I have heard rumors that Turkey is going to enforce a no-fly zone over Syria. 

It seems clear that even if they don't take that step, the Syrian regime is doomed. That is very bad news for everyone that isn't Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Should al-Nusra win, then they will be the de-facto government of Syria. They have made some empty gestures of being inclusive, but in the end, I doubt they will follow through. And that is assuming that they can hold onto power. ISIS has a decent chance of taking the country as well, or at the very least, contesting it after the regime falls.

And life after Assad will not be good for anyone that is a non-Sunni Muslims. Shia, Alawites, Druse, and Christians will all face, at the very least, discrimination. More likely, they will be killed or forced to flee. That will add into the huge refugee crisis that the Syrian Civil War has created. And it's not like the Sunni's will be treated any better. At best they will have the same despotic regime that they had under Assad. But now instead of a secular regime, they will have an Islamic one, just like Saudi Arabia. I hardly think that is an improvement. 

As for the war itself, I guess it is possible that Assad could hold on for awhile. It seems like Syria is abandoning some parts of the country that have been isolated. Some, like Deir-ez-Zor, have been isolated for most of the war. Doing so would be a trade off. They would be able to concentrate their forces and shorten their supply lines, which would be a huge help. But they would also be abandoning people, arms and equipment to the enemy. And it would also be an admission that the rebels are winning. 

If the rumors of a no-fly zone are true though, it seems very unlikely that Assad could survive. Air power has been keeping the regime in the war for quite some time. Not only would they lose the obvious advantages that airstrikes give, they would also lose the ability to resupply by air. They may also come under air attack as well, which would completely switch the advantage away from the regime. 

My prediction is that the regimes days are numbered. What comes next is anyone's guess. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Senior U.S. officials admit that they were blindsided by ISIS and had no contingency plans. Yahoo News.

ISIS fighters during the capture of Mosul. Yahoo/AP. 

Joint Chiefs Chairman General Patrick Dempsey admitted that the United States had no contingency plans in the lead up to the fall of Mosul last summer to ISIS. Yahoo News. On the PBS news show, Frontline, Dempsey admitted that the United States was caught by surprise by ISIS's capture of the northern Iraqi city of one million people. He said that they did not know that ISIS had the military capability or the allies to take the city. Dempsey was not the only U.S. official to drop the ball on ISIS as President Obama called them the J.V. team. CIA director also admited to not suspecting that Mosul would fall. 

My Comment:
The Frontline documentary can be found here. I haven't had time to watch it unfortunately, it sounds interesting. There also sounds like there is some discussion about Obama's decision making during the Syrian conflict. It sounds like we were very close to being at war with them as well, but at the last moment Obama pulled back. 

As for the article itself, I can't believe what I am hearing. How on earth were there no contingency plans for the fall of Mosul?!? The Pentagon is supposed to plan for all outcomes, no matter how unlikely they are. Back in the day we had war plans to fight Canada and the United Kingdom, two of our closest allies, because even if it was all but impossible, you still plan for it. Hell, I am pretty sure the Pentagon has war plans for things as unlikely as alien invasions and zombie apocalypses. But no plans for a major terrorist group taking over a major city in a country that we are supposed to have good intelligence assets in? Really? 

I really hope someone lost their job over this. The rise of the Islamic State should have been predicted. Mosul did not have to fall. I knew for months that ISIS was a major threat to Iraq and Syria. Their propaganda films alone showed how dangerous they are. And those films were released way before Mosul fell. They showed assassinations, executions and Iraqi soldiers being pushed back. Though Mosul was a shock to me as well, I don't think anyone thought that they would take Mosul so quickly, how did they not plan for it? Even back then, in the back of my mind I thought about what would happen if ISIS grew more powerful. But nobody in the Pentagon did? 

Someone must have. The military is many things but they are not stupid. I am sure that some analyst somewhere made a report that showed how dangerous ISIS was and that planning should begin to prepare for the possibility of them gaining a larger foothold in Iraq. My guess is that the recommendations were buried for political reasons. 

The only other option is that our intelligence gathering capabilities are so drowned out with noise that we really did have no idea how bad ISIS really was. If true that means we are wasting billions of dollars and violating the rights of millions of people for little gain. You would think that with the NSA, CIA and DIA spying on everyone and anyone that is remotely connected to Islamic terrorism they would have had an accurate picture of what ISIS was doing.

 I think this explanation is less likely then the concerns being buried for political reasons. At least I really hope it is. Obama had  Iraq was supposed to be Obama's legacy. He was supposed to have corrected the mistakes of the mean ol' Bush administration and left Iraq, strong, stable and free. Having a group like ISIS show up kind of destroyed that myth. My guess is that the Obama administration essentially put their fingers in their ears and ignored what they were hearing out of Iraq for the sake of political expediency.

Was there anything that could have been done though? I guess airstrikes could have helped save Mosul, but that would have been an unpopular move to say the least. Advisers could have been sent as well, but that would have been even more unpopular. Intelligence could have been gathered and passed on to the Iraqis, which could have remained secret and may have helped Iraq hold on to the city. Given how weak the Iraqi Army was, I doubt it would have helped. The best thing that could have been done, not withdrawing combat troops, was dong long before ISIS was even a threat. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Boko Haram is using women and children as suicide bombers. BBC.

A bombed out van. BBC. 

Boko Haram has greatly increased the number of suicide bombings using women and children in Nigeria. BBC. Last year Boko Haram committed 26 suicide bombings. This year they have already committed 27. 75% of these bombings are conducted by females, many of them children as young as 7. As Boko Haram is pushed out of territory and suffers military setbacks, they have become more reliant on this kind of terrorism. It may be improper to call these attacks suicide bombings because many of the women may have been coerced into doing them. Some of the bombers may not even have known what they were doing. There is some suspicion that the women and girls were tricked into picking up what they thought were parcels. The fight against Boko Haram has killed around 15,000 people and the group has a long history of treating women poorly. 

My Comment:
Well, that is about the most evil thing I have heard in a long time. Strapping a bomb to your chest and killing a bunch of civilians? Evil. Making someone else do it for you? Evil and cowardly. Tricking a child to do it for you? That's the kind of evil that is hard to comprehend. I've heard some truly horrifying things in my life but this is serial killer kind of evil. 

Using children in warfare is nothing new. And neither is killing children. But something about this combination is just beyond what I am prepared to comprehend. What kind of person looks at a 7 year old child and thinks "this is the perfect delivery system for my bomb"? Even if that child is a different race, religion or gender, it's still a kid right? And I can't imagine that even extreme forms of Islam consider killing children a good thing right? As far as I know, even ISIS doesn't go that far, though it is important to note that Boko Haram has pledged intelligence to them. 

You have to think that this is counter productive. Nigeria isn't that great of a place, and I know the government there is guilty of its own atrocities, but as far as I know they don't use children as suicide bombers. If your choice is between two groups that are both pretty bad, I think most people would like to support the one that isn't killing children.

As for Boko Haram, I hope they lose and lose hard. Though I'm generally against war crimes I think it would be perfectly understandable if the Nigerians stopped taking them as prisoners. Unfortunatly, the fact that Boko Haram uses a lot of child soldiers means that many of their troops never had a chance to choose a normal life. They didn't choose evil, evil chose them... 

Unfortunately nobody seems to care about Boko Haram because Boko Haram is in Africa. Nobody cares about Africa, or at least any African nation that isn't on the Mediterranean coast. I've noticed on my blog that the posts about Boko Haram consistently have fewer views then pretty much any other topic I cover. People read "Boko Haram" and "Africa" and their eyes just glaze over and they read something else. After all, Africans killing Africans is nothing new... 

You wouldn't think that would be true. After all Boko Haram touches on a lot of high impact issues that are dominating the news lately. Obviously, radical Islam is the number one international news story, but you would think that the way they treat women would be huge news. Boko Haram is pretty much the straw man argument that social justice warriors make about "the patriarchy" incarnate. They hate women, they want them to have zero rights and have no problems killing them. But the political left ignores them, especially after the failure of the #bringbackourgirls hashtag. 

The only good news out of all of this is that these attacks are pretty obviously a sign of desperation. Boko Haram has suffered several defeats recently. They have lost some of the towns they had conquered and several of the people they kidnapped were rescued. It seems like they are being pushed back and pushed back hard. Hopefully they will be defeated utterly and the survivors will pay for what they have done...

Monday, May 25, 2015

A few thoughts on Memorial Day...

Tomb of the Unknowns. Wikimedia commons. 

Today is Memorial Day in America. It's a day that is supposed to be about honoring the men and women who died in combat while serving their country. More often then not it is treated as a three day weekend, or in my case, a day that I get double time and a half for working on a holiday. But the actual purpose of the holiday is to honor the dead. This is not the day to thank the veterans that survived. That is what Veterans Day is for and some vets won't appreciate it if you don't know the difference. 

So how should we honor our fallen soldiers? That is a good question. Wreaths and flowers are nice gestures, but they don't really make up for a life lost too soon. Taking care of the family and loved ones of the fallen helps in an actual way. And taking care of the many veterans that did make it home also honors their service. After all, they weren't just fighting for their country, they were fighting for their comrades in arms. 

I think that trying to make sure that their sacrifice was not in vain would go a long way to helping as well. I'm sure there are a lot of veterans out there today that are wondering if the 2nd Gulf War was worth it. I'm wondering it myself. We sacrificed many lives in Iraq and we saw it descend into the very chaos we were supposed to saved it from. Having ISIS take over Ramadi was an especially bitter pill to swallow. We lost around 100 soldiers and Marines in that battle only to see it fall. And it's not like the rest of the country is doing all that well either. And the same goes for Afghanistan.

I'm not sure what else to say. I don't personally know anyone who died in the various American wars. I know a lot of vets that do though. My family has been lucky. I have a lot of vets on both sides of my family and a few that saw combat, including my Uncle and my late Grandfather. They all made it through. My uncle survived the utter hell that was the Mekong Delta in Vietnam and my Grandfather dodged kamikazes as an army engineer during World War II. I even had a relative that served in the Civil War, but he survived as well, even though he ended up getting hurt in a non-combat injury.  

At one point I wanted to serve myself, but I wasn't able to make it into the military due to various medical problems. If I had I guess I could have been one of the soldiers that died in Afghanistan or Iraq. My MOS would have been 11B, AKA front line infantry, so there was at least a decent chance that had I served I wouldn't have made it home. For me, Memorial Day reminds me that someone else may have had to die because I couldn't serve my country. Those of us that did not serve should, at the very least, honor those that died. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Defense Secretary: Iraqi army has shown no will to fight against ISIS. CNN

Iraqi Troops falling back from Ramadi. CNN/AP

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter says Ramadi was lost because the Iraqi troops defending it "showed no will to fight". CNN. Carter says that the Iraqi troops outnumbered the ISIS fighters but they failed to fight and withdrew. The statements are the strongest words from the Obama administration since the fall of the city. America has provided arms and training to the Iraqis and are speeding up more arms shipments in response to the disaster, but Carter points out they are worthless if the Iraqis won't fight. Some have recommended placing forward air controllers on the ground to help the Iraqis direct airstrikes, but that suggestion was shot down by the Obama Administration. 

My Comment:
Ash Carter telling the world what they already knew. ISIS isn't winning in Iraq because they are stronger then their enemies. They don't have anywhere the troops, weapons or support the Iraqis are getting but Ramadi was a route. Why? Because ISIS is willing to fight and die for their goals and the Iraqis, to this point, aren't. 

I've noticed something with the Iraqis in the war against ISIS. When they get support from American airstrikes they tend to fight harder and better. They may still flee in the end, but at least they put up a fight. Iraq does not seem to have much of a airstrike capability of their own so they are reliant on the Americans and other foreign powers for much of their close air support. Iraq does have a few airstrike capable planes and a few helicopters as well, but not enough to make much of a difference. 

The problem is that the Iraqis are used to fighting with close air support. I'm not exactly sure how the Iraqis are trained but if they are being trained under American doctrine, then they might have problems. Americans like to use their infantry as a holding force so their heavy weapons, tanks, airstrikes and artillery can destroy the enemy. That system breaks down when you don't have the heavy weapons or don't know how to use them properly.  

Another problem is that relying on airstrikes in cities is a bad idea. Urban warfare is brutal and close range. Finding targets in that environment is very hard, especially when civilians are running around as well. There is a very good chance of hitting your own forces or innocent civilians when you are sending in airstrikes in a city. And civilian casualties can turn your population against you.

I think deploying forward air controllers would help the situation, but politically it seems impossible. Obama is done with Iraq. He believes he was elected on a mandate to get troops out of Iraq and there is a case to be made that he was. Going back on it now would tar what remains of his legacy. I don't see forward observers being deployed until Obama is out of the White House. 

ISIS doesn't have any of these problems. They know that if they are to survive they can't wait until airstrikes come to save them because they have no air support whatsoever. They have artillery and tanks though, and every time they take one of these cities their arsenal of weapons grow. 

Why do Americans think that there are way more gay people then there actually is?


Once again, I have decided to wade into the cultural segment of my blog and talk about an issue that is sure to gather no controversy whatsoever. That's right, I am going to talk about homosexuality. To be clear this post isn't going to be about the morality of it or whether gays can get married or not. In theory, this post should be accessible to both sides of the debate and is about something only tangentially related to gay rights. It's going to be an article about statistics. 

For those of you still here, what is this about? The other day I was looking for news articles and I found some headlines that sounded odd. It was about how people in America vastly overestimate the amount of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders in the country. You can see some of the figures in the image above but the whole report from Gallup is here. 

In short, gays only make up about 3.8% of the population. That's it. Now that number seems about right to me. If you had asked me before this article what the proportion of homosexuals in America are I would have said less then 5%. But according to the polling, most people (53%) think that more than 20% of the population are gay with 33% of people saying that gays are more then 25% of the entire population. Only 9% got the correct response of less then five.

Needless to say I thought this is really weird. Gays being 20-25% of the population is completely different from my experiences. That isn't to say that I don't know any gay people. I knew a couple in high school, including one that came out later, a few more in college and a few now at work. The total number of gay men I have known, been friends with, or worked with is barely in the double digits. I'm not sure I have ever even met an actual lesbian, though I met a couple women that said they were bisexual. And if I have ever met a transsexual I didn't notice.  If anything gays have been underrepresented in my life by quite a bit. If the 3.8% number is true I should know a few more, but that probably has more to do with introversion then anything else. 

But if the number of gays was 25% that would have meant that that in a college class room of 100 people, 25 of them should have been LGBT. Not that it would necessarily be obvious, but you would think that with numbers like that I would have seen a lot more gay couples in school then I did. At that rate it shouldn't have been unusual to see gay couples holding hands or kissing, but I can't say that I ever say that in college. And I would say that my campus was relatively tolerant of homosexuals. The only exception was seeing girls kissing each other in bars, but for the most part those women identified as straight. 

So how are Americans getting such crazy numbers? I'm aware enough that my experience probably isn't the typical one but apparently everyone else isn't. There are a lot of factors that could be in play here and I want to go through a lot of them. Most of this speculation on my part. 

1.The entertainment media hypes up the presence of homosexuals. They are over-represented there compared to their proportion in real life. 

This is the knee jerk conservative argument that I saw a couple of times while I was researching this post. I'm not sure how true it is though. I tend to think that the media has less of an impact on peoples beliefs then anyone likes to admit. 

Sure the bias is there, gays sure seem to be over-represented in media, but it really depends on what media you are talking about. There are a lot of gay people, and forgive the stereotype, on television shows about fashion then there are on shows about sports. You watch an NFL football game and gays don't exist, but if you watch MTV they are everywhere. I think you could argue that gays are over-represented in sitcoms and scripted dramas due to token characters, but even if that is true, would that really result in numbers this high? Off the top of my head the last few shows that I saw that had a gay character or characters didn't really have them over-represented except in cases where there was a very small cast. Most of the time, if they were over-represented at all, it was closer to a more reasonable 10% number then the crazy 20-25% number.

I think that gays in the media could have some effect on the number but it doesn't explain all of it and it doesn't explain why it is as off as it is. Either way, I don't put too much stock in the conservative argument that the numbers are higher because of media "brainwashing". If anything I think the higher numbers of gays in the entertainment is a result of the misconception, not the cause. It may feed into itself a little bit, but the issue started elsewhere.

2. Gay rights is the hot button issue right now. They show up all the time in the news

It's clear that gay rights is a major wedge issue right now and the media loves to talk about it 24/7/365. It's hard to go a day without hearing a major story about gay rights. Indeed, most news outlets have whole sections of their websites dedicated to gay news. 

This makes it easy to think gay people are more common then they actually are. After all, why would anyone make such a huge deal over gay rights if they weren't a major part of the population? Both sides of the gay marriage debate benefit from exaggerating the numbers of gay people. For gay rights supporters, making it seem like that gays are as much as 25% of the population means that any imposition on their community effects way more people then it actually does. And gay rights opponents get the psychological high from feeling like they are outnumbered and that their argument about gays taking over is actually happening.

In truth both sides are pretty far from reality. Unlike other people, I don't think this is some kind of crazy conspiracy theory, but the natural tendency to think that both things you like and things you hate are more common then they actually are. Exaggeration in arguments are extremely common, so you would expect to see the numbers a bit higher then they actually are. Even so, it still doesn't quite explain how people get the numbers wrong by so much. 

3. Gay people tend to self segregate so they look more populous then they are. 

To explain this one lets look at two communities. The first one is a stereotypical small town. It's got a low population and is very religious. There is little to no diversity (though that doesn't mean they are all white just that whatever race is there is the only one). Everyone knows each other and everyone judges everyone. Everyone votes for Republicans (unless, they are a non-white community). People that don't fit in will probably have a very hard time.

The second one is a major metropolitan city. Think New York or San Francisco. It's got thousands of people and there is a ton of diversity. You can walk for hours and never see anyone you know. There is a ton of diversity, though people tend to stay with people that look, think and believe like them. Almost everyone votes for Democrats regardless of which race they are.

I think it is pretty obvious where the gay person is going to end up. They aren't going to stay in small town USA. They are going to go to a large city like New York or San Francisco. Places that have a thriving gay community. Not just because of discrimination, but for more chances of meeting mates and the sense of community that living with people that resemble you gives. This is going to happen again and again until the point where the 25% number starts to make sense. Indeed, Wikipedia has a whole article about these kinds of "gay villages". They list the gay population of San Francisco as 15% and New York, which is 6% gay, has the largest total number of gays in the country. 

So what do you think happens to members of those communities that have a larger population of gays? They overestimate the number of gays in the entire country. It also helps to explain some of the differences between liberals and conservatives in the Gallup poll. Obviously, if there are fewer gays in the small towns, which are mostly Republican, Republicans are going to estimate fewer gay people. 


Still, this doesn't explain all of it. Even in San Francisco, the estimated number of homosexuals is higher then it should be. There is still a 5 to 10% gap in the numbers.

4. The number of gays is higher then self identified polling reveals

The argument here is that there are still a ton of closeted LGBT people. While I am sure there are still some people that haven't come out of the closet, the numbers don't seem to have changed all that much. After all, acceptance of homosexuals is about as high as it has ever been. If people being closeted was an issue, the numbers gays in surveys should have gone up. From the statistics I saw on Wikipedia, the number of gays has stayed pretty steady between 3 and 6% with a few studies finding  a little less or a little more then that, with little variation over time. I don't give much credence for this argument, which I would expect those on the left to make.

5. People aren't defining gay the same way.

Quick question. Is a man that had 100 sexual partners in his life, and 99 of them were women, gay, straight or bisexual? How about all those girls in college that I knew that would happily make out with a girl in a bar but would never have sex with one? Were they straight, gay or bisexual? Does it matter what they say or do we just know what their sexuality is by their actions? Does self reporting matter? And lets not even get into the sexuality involved when one partner is transgender... 

I think the problem here is that people tend to think that being gay is like losing your virginity. Once you have done it you lose your status as a heterosexual. This is especially true for men, though it really doesn't seem to apply to women. After all it's almost expected for women to experiment in college and still be regarded as straight, but for a man to even give a sideways glance at a man is to be forever labeled gay. The popular meme is that male bisexuals do not exist and you are either gay or straight with nothing in between. There is a double standard here but I can't for the life of me figure out what it means

I do think that this could lead to people overestimating the number of gay men at least. If your definition of gay is not "dates exclusively members of the same sex" but "anyone who has ever done anything even remotely sexual with a member of the same sex" you are going to get higher numbers.

On the other hand, I have never heard any man claim to have had consensual sexual contact with a man that wasn't gay, so I have no idea how common this kind of conduct is. It just isn't talked about in polite society, and to be completely honest, I am fine with that. Without that information it is really hard to figure out how much of an impact this belief has.

6. People are just bad at statistics.

This is probably the largest factor by far. It's no coincidence that Gallup also claims that people vastly overestimate Blacks and Hispanics as well. People are just really bad at math. When you ask people "what's a good percentage for a group of people that are fairly common, but not a majority" most of them would probably say 25% Some of them might say 33%. You probably aren't going to find too many numbers that are different then that, with the possible exception of 10%. I can't prove that empirically but my gut tells me that this is a major factor here. 

I don't think this is a full picture but I just don't know enough about gay people to go into this any further. Still, thinking about this changed some of my own beliefs. I never realized that people thought that there were so many gay people in America. I did think that people thought that the number was a lot closer to 10%, which is still too high, but 20% and up just shocked me. 

And I really think that this has an impact on the way America works. If people really believe that LGBT is 25% of the population, that is going to change the way people think of gay people. Not necessarily in the way gay people want, or the way conservative Christians want for that matter, but change it will. If nothing else our reasoning about gay rights is wrong if people are using the inaccurate numbers as their basis of argument. Regardless if you agree with their conclusions, a bad argument based on incorrect data should be fought no matter what. Even if it hurts your political position.

So what was the point of this post? I don't have an agenda either way about gay rights, it's an issue that largely doesn't interest me. But I do believe in truth. People should have an accurate view of the world. Make a liberal argument or a conservative argument if you want. Ban gay marriage? Legalize it? Either way, use real numbers and adjust your views after finding out that your beliefs about the number of gays is wrong, if it was wrong in the first place. I don't care if these numbers help or hurt your worldview, but people need to know the truth. Even if the truth isn't something they want to hear... 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

43 killed in gunfight in Mexico. The Mexican Drug War is still happening. Yahoo/AFP.

Mexican Federal Police leave the scene of the raid. Yahoo/AFP. 

Mexican Federal Police killed 42 cartel members and arrested several others during a 3 hour gun battle. Yahoo/AFP. One federal police officer was killed in the raid in the Mexican state of Jalisco. Though the name of the cartel targeted in the raid, it is likely that it was the New Generation cartel, which is headquartered in the state. The Cartel was recently in the news for shooting down a military helicopter with an RPG, killing 7 troops and a police officer. The raid began when the Federal Police found a car full of gunmen and engaged them. The gunmen then fled to the ranch, where they were killed in the compound and the surrounding fields. The new raid is the latest in the Mexican Drug war which has killed 80,000 people since it began in 2007, with 22,000 more declared missing. 

My Comment:
Everyone forgets about the Mexican Drug War. This is the first time in a long time the war has made the news, not counting the destruction of that army helicopter. You would think that a war that has killed at least 80,000 people, and I think that is a very low estimate of deaths, would rate more discussion, but it never comes up. I know that there are bigger wars right now, but you would think one on the border of the United States at this intensity would be talked about all the time. 

And if you think about it, it really has a huge impact in the United States. The whole war is about drugs and that effects our entire criminal justice system. Not only does organized crime on this scale bring a whole host of secondary crimes, including murder, corruption, blackmail and general violence, it also fuels the black market drug trade. Crime gets talked about all the time, but the war that ensures that the crime rate is higher then it should be? Nothing. 

Right now drugs are not on anyone's mind, other then marijuana legalization. People in favor of legalization tend to overestimate the impact that ending the laws against marijuana would have. Sure, the cartels make money from it, but they also have dozens of other drugs to run, along with kidnapping, smuggling, human trafficking, corruption, gun running and prostitution to gain money. Just like getting rid of prohibition didn't destroy the Italian Mafia, legalizing pot won't end the cartels. They are just too entrenched at this point.

Another aspect that is effected by the Drug War is immigration. Neither side of the immigration debate ever mentions that Mexico is a war zone. Pro immigration people never try to paint the immigrants as refugees, they only talk about economic hardship. Anti immigration people never talk about the huge security risk that the cartels are causing. You would think that would come up in one of the most vicious and passionate debate in the United States today right? 

Though ISIS gets the headlines today, it was the cartels that invented their style of terrorism, at least in the modern age. Killing people isn't anything new but the way they used the internet and social media to spread their message was. There are so many beheading and other acts of terror that are pasted all over the internet from the Mexican Drug War that it is easy enough to confuse the pictures for Iraq or Syria. But other then a few scant mentions, nobody talks about how bad the cartels are. 

The only aspect of the war that does get covered is the issue of firearms. Gun control advocates like to talk about how many guns come from America, without ever mentioning that most of those guns were sold to the Mexican Government from the American Government. Gun rights people like to talk about Fast and Furious and the fact that guns are pretty much banned in Mexico and that civilians have no protection against the cartels. But I get the feeling that neither side cares all that much about the actual violence. 

So why is it so ignored? For one thing, the war isn't quite as intense as it used to be. There were less casualties in the past couple of years. It is very hard to get accurate casualty figures but the total number of murders, most of them cartel related, dropped in 2014, and there haven't been as many in 2015 either. 

But I think the fact of the matter is that nobody wants to admit that it is an actual legitimate war. People don't like to think that criminal organizations having so much power that they have actual military arms. And if the government actually did admit what was going on in Mexico was a war they would have to answer some very uncomfortable questions... 

As for the battle itself, I find it very suspicious that the casualties were so one sided. You would expect at least a somewhat more even death toll in such a long and drawn out gunfight. Sure the police are better trained then the cartel members, but you would have thought that there would be a few injuries on the police side. 

My guess is that this was a "no prisoners" kind of raid. Sure they took a couple of people alive, but the vast majority of them were killed. If true that would be a crime, but I doubt anyone will face justice for it. After all, it's hard to feel sorry for cartel members... 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Palmyra falls to ISIS, thousands of years of history at risk. Yahoo/Reuters.

A Syrian soldier in Palmyra before the fall. Yahoo/Reuters. 

ISIS has taken both the modern city of Palmyra and the ruins of the ancient city of the same name in its offensive in Syria. Yahoo/Reuters. The victory comes on the heels of the successful capture of the Iraqi city of Ramadi and the Libyan city of Sirte. ISIS now controls half of Syria. ISIS has long treated archaeological sites like Palmyra as sources of income at best, and as affronts to God at worst. The fear is that ISIS will destroy the ancient ruins in the city, erasing thousands of years of history. During the battle, Syrian troops evacuated civilians before abandoning the city. The offensive is putting massive pressure on the Syrian government. 

My Comment:
So far there hasn't been any reported damage to the ruins in Palmyra but I doubt that will last. ISIS considers ruins, tombs and gravestones to be blasphemous, and they have destroyed so much history in Iraq and Syria already. It seems clear what will happen as soon as ISIS is settled in and can turn their attention away from winning the battle. At best the ruins will be chopped up and sold to the highest bidder on the black market. At worst they will be destroyed completely.

And that is what is truly disgusting about this is that it isn't just Syrian culture on the line. Palmyra is 4000 years old and is an important part of history. It's mentioned in the bible, it has Greek and Roman ruins and was a crucial piece of the puzzle for the ancient silk road trade caravans. That's not Syrian culture. That's my culture ISIS is destroying. I'm partially ethnically Greek and my ancestors either lived under Roman rule or were the Romans. Destroying these sites is destroying my heritage, not to mention the heritage of millions of others. 

Nothing will be done to save these ruins either. When it came down to it, Syria chose to save the lives of their soldiers and the civilians in  Tadmur (the local name for the city). Can you really blame them for that? The Syrian regime is on the verge of defeat and the groups that are looking like they are going to win, al-Nusra and ISIS, are evil incarnate. And they hate Alawties, Shiite Muslims, Druse and Christians. For them it was an easy choice to sacrifice this city to protect the lives of those people. 

And that is how desperate the war against ISIS has gotten. For awhile it seemed like they were on the verge of defeat themselves. But then Ramadi fell. And Sirte in Lyiba. And now Palmyra. The question is now will they be stopped before they reach Baghdad, Damascus and Tripoli? And if they aren't, how far will they go?  

It's not even that ISIS is strong. It is because their enemies are weak. I've written at length how bad the Iraqi army was. They were a weak force before the battle of Mosul. After the defeat there, they essentially ceased to exist. The defenders of Ramadi were the best troops Iraq had, which isn't saying much. In the end they dropped their weapons, abandoned their vehicles and fled with their tails behind their legs. If those were their best troops and they were routed, who will defend Baghdad? The Shiite militias, that are only slightly better then ISIS? The Kurds, who have no interest in the non-Kurdish parts of Iraq? 

And the Syrian regime is on the verge of a total collapse. Taking Palmyra gives ISIS a base to stage attacks on the West Coast of Syria. With Al-Nusra and the "Army of Conquest" alliance pushing hard in the northwest, Bashar Al-Assad is running out of options. Four years of conflict have bleed the Syrian regime dry. They won't get any help either, other then a few Hezbollah fighters and Russian arms shipments. 

So what happens next? Unless something major happens on the ground, it seems clear that ISIS is going to keep taking territory. Airstrikes and training won't win the war. Indeed, it seems that providing arms and training to the Iraqis is a complete waste of time and resources if they just flee from combat leaving all their shinny new weapons behind. What is needed are fresh, professional, well trained troops to fight on the ground. And no nation on earth is willing to provide those troops. 

And it is just amazing to me how quickly things changed in the Middle East. Just a few years, Syria and Libya were at peace, Iraq was starting to recover and tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran were comparatively low. Now look at it. A apocalyptic death cult has conquered half of both Iraq and Syria, and has outposts of territory across the world. And that isn't hyperbole on my part. They  literally want to bring about the Apocalypse. It's their religion. 

The world is on fire right now. I won't say that things couldn't be worse, because I know it isn't true. But it just seems impossible that the world will get any better. Not without some serious sacrifices made by countries that have no further interest in stabilizing the Middle East... 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

North Korea claims to have developed nuclear missile technology. Washington Post.

Kim Jong Un tours a indoor farm. Washington Post/AFP/ KNS/Getty.

North Korea claims that they have developed nuclear weapons small enough to fit onto a missile. Washington Post. North Korea has long been trying to build up its nuclear forces and if the claim is true the development will greatly increase the threat they pose. However, the reports are not confirmed and North Korea has in the past exaggerated their capabilities. North Korea also claimed to have tested a ballistic missile from a submarine, though those tests are widely believed to be a fabrication. Indeed, in one of the pictures released by the North Korean media showed a ship towing an underwater barge. Though the missile test was discredited, experts admit that the nuclear weapon development may be legitimate. If they have made a nuclear weapon small enough to fit a missile, they would be able to put it on their KN-08 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBMs), which has the capability of hitting the western United States. 

My Comment:
If this is true, it is a fairly disturbing development. Until this point, the nuclear threat from North Korea was minimal. They had no reliable way to deliver a nuclear attack. They don't have heavy bombers and even if they did they would be destroyed before they could attack. I guess they could try to smuggle one overseas but that would be a logistical nightmare and it would very hard to do during a war. That leaves ICBMs alone as the only practical way to deliver a nuke for the North Koreans.  

So do I think it is true? I'd bet on it. Yes, North Korea lies about everything. If Kim Jong Un said the sky was blue I wouldn't take his word on it. That being said, I don't think miniaturizing a nuke is beyond their capabilities. From what I understand, actually developing the nuclear weapon is the hard part. Once that is out of the way it is much easier to add it to an ICBM.

The good news is that North Korea's ICBM's are primitive at best. They haven't had a very good track record with missile technology and any nuclear attack would have a decent to strong chance of failing on the launchpad. They also need to do a lot more testing of their missiles before they can be a serious threat. 

So what would happen if the North Koreans decided to attack the West Coast? Well, like I said before, there is a very good chance they would fail completely. There is also a decent chance of their nuclear sites being destroyed before they could launch in the case of a sudden war. The United States at least has a chance of intercepting the missile as well. I'd say it would be more likely then not that even if they were dumb enough to try an attack, it would fail and fail hard.

But what if they pull off a successful attack? Well, that would be the utter end of North Korea. At the very least there would be a massive conventional attack. If one or more of our large western cities was destroyed the American people would be baying for blood. The capacity of North Korea to make war, or do anything for that matter, would evaporate within days. And that's assuming we don't nuke them back. That raises the question of how the Chinese and Russians would act when they found out that their neighbor was reduced to ash, but that's a question for another day. 

I don't think it will happen though. North Korea has always wanted nukes for the protection and prestige of the Kim family. Kim Jong Un knows that any attack on South Korea, Japan or America would be the end of him, his family and his country. He is many things, most of them bad, but he is not a fool. And only a fool would invite death in such an obvious way. And North Korea's enemies are also much less likely to attack them if they have nukes ready to launch.

The real danger is from either instability or proliferation. If North Korea falls apart on its own, it could very well turn its nukes on itself during a civil war. Though it would obviously be counter productive, it is possible that the Kim family, or whoever secures the nukes, could use them if the situation became desperate enough. North Korea seems to be having some internal struggles if the almost constant reports of high ranking officials are to believed. The country could very well fall apart. 

North Korea could also sell or give its nuclear technology to a third party, such as a rouge state or terrorist group. Though that could have devastating consequences as well for North Korea, they may be willing to risk it for the right price. With an arms race occurring in the Middle East between Iran and everyone else, there is a chance they could find a buyer... 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Where candidates stand on NSA surveillance. Yahoo News.


Yahoo has compiled a list of the 2016 presidential candidates and their opinions on the NSA's collection of U.S. citizens phone and internet data. This list is not comprehensive because some people have been left off but it should serve as a basic guide. I'm going to forgo the usual format with my posts for this one and post my commentary after stating each candidates position. As always, the original article will have more information. 

-U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R): Strongly against NSA surveillance. Out of all the candidates, Paul has condemned the NSA the most and would go further to stop surveillance. Instead of supporting the ending of the bulk phone data collection with the USA Freedom Act, he would stop ALL data collection of U.S. citizens. 

My take on Paul is that he is by far the most serious candidate about this issue. He isn't doing it because he wants votes, he actually believes that ending the surveillance should be a huge priority. Unlike many of the other candidates, I expect him to keep his word if he is elected. 

-U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R); Weakly against NSA surveillance. Cruz would not go as far as Rand Paul would. He supports the Patriot Act alternative, the USA Freedom Act, which would end phone data collection but would not stop all data collection. 

Cruz seems to be splitting the middle here, which I see as more of a political move then as acting out of true conviction. Still, he is at least willing to consider that the bulk collection has gone to far, which puts him ahead of other candidates. 

-Florida Senator Marco Rubio (R): Supports the Patriot Act and further surveillance. He claims that the act could have prevented 9/11 if it had been in place at the time and that the program had largely kept America Safe.

Not what I would have expected from a Tea Party candidate, since the movement was, at one point at least, mostly libertarians and fiscal conservatives. This greatly changes my opinion of him as a candidate. I used to respect him, but now he's just as bad as Bush or Christie. Speaking of which... 

-Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (R): Supports the Patriot Act and surveillance. He has praised the Obama administration for continuing the program calling it the "best thing Obama has done". 

I consider the NSA surveillance program the worst thing George Bush did by a couple of orders of magnitude. The fact that he then handed it over to Obama, and ideological enemy on almost every other count, makes it even worse. Since a major factor of my disapproval of the NSA programs is the fact that the political left could use it as a superweapon against the right (to be fair, the reverse is just as true), hearing a Republican politician defending not only the program but the guy in charge of it makes me wonder if I should be more worried about authoritarians of both stripes then the Left/Right divide... Needless to say I am no fan of Jeb Bush...

-New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R): Supports the Patriot Act and surveillance. He is on record calling people opposed to surveillance "civil liberties extremists". He also thinks that Libertarianism is "dangerous".

See what I mean about authoritarians? What the hell is a "civil liberties extremist"? I have never liked  Chris Christie for his stance on gun rights and other civil liberties, but this puts the nail in the coffin for me. He's about the worst candidate the right has to offer and is in the running for worst out of any party, including joke candidates like that guy in the last election that wore a boot as a hat.

A much better candidate for president then Chris Christie. 

If he is the only choice the Republicans put up, I'm voting independent or Democrat. 

-Carly Fiorina (R): Unclear. She did help the NSA when she was the CEO of Hewlett-Packard. She also had a professional relationship with Michael Hayden, who was the Director of the CIA. 

I don't know what to think of Fiorina. I don't really think she is all that credible as a candidate in the first place, and I think the best she can hope for is a Vice Presidential posting. I need to hear a lot more from her before I decide, but her connections scare me a bit. 

-Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (R): Against bulk collection. Huckabee said he would repeal the program and protect Americans privacy rights. It is unknown if he would support a half-measure like the USA Freedom Act. 

A pleasant surprise for me, because I never thought of Huckabee as a defender of civil liberties. I need to hear a bit more detail from him and what his plans are, but at the very least he is saying the right things. I've moved him up a bit in my presidential rankings. 

-Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R): No position listed. 

This is something that Walker needs to come out with one way or the other as soon as possible. I think many people already see him as weak on defense and mostly focused on domestic issues. Obama was the same way and look how that worked out for us... As a voter who is on the fence about him, he needs to take a position for me to decide. Anyways, given his status as a leading member of the Libertarian wing of the Republican Party my guess is that he would be at the very least in favor of reform. Of course, I would have said the same thing about Marco Rubio.

-Former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chaffe (D): Strongly opposed to data collection. He claims to be a supporter of the 4th amendment and says the data collection goes to far. As a senator he voted for the Patriot Act twice.

I don't know much about Chaffe, but he sounds like a flip-flopper to me. He voted for the surveillance back when he was in the Senate but now he opposes it? I'll give him credit for agreeing with me about the issue, since I changed my mind myself, but I wonder if he isn't just playing politics?

-Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (I): Strongly opposed to data collection. On this issue he is closer to Rand Paul then anyone else. He also voted against the Patriot Act.

I'll give Sanders credit for being consistent. He was always against the Patriot Act, and was pretty much right about what it would turn into. I disagree with him on every other issue though, but put a gun to my head and I might vote for him over Chris Christie.

-Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D): Weakly opposed to data collection. She supports the USA Freedom Act but voted for the Patriot Act.

I think Hilary Clinton only cares about one thing and that is power. She says she is opposed to surveillance but I doubt she does on any authentic level. Still, I have to give her credit for at least recognizing that people are upset about the issue.

There are a few other candidates that Yahoo didn't list, but I am not sure any of them are all that popular in the first place. All that being said I think I can say that a few people were definitely taken out of the running for me. Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio talked themselves out of a possible voter on this issue, and Carly Fiorina and Scott Walker need to answer the question before I am willing to support them.

Still, I am not am not a one-issue voter. I'm a huge supporter of gun rights, and if the choice is between a pro-gun, pro-NSA candidate and the anti-gun, anti-NSA candidate, I would probably choose the first. In reality though, I would vote third party Libertarian though so I could get both. The problem is that I really shouldn't have to throw my vote away to a third party that doesn't have a chance of winning, especially considering that libertarians are a large faction in the Republican Party. Being opposed to gun control and the NSA surveillance programs should be fairly mainstream in both parties, but it clearly isn't.

Monday, May 18, 2015

ISIS victorious in Ramadi... Reuters.

Smoke from a bombing in Ramadi. Reuters. 

ISIS has fully taken the city of Ramadi from Iraqi government forces and has secured most of Anbar province. Reuters. ISIS released a statement claiming to have captured vehicles and killed "dozens" of Iraqi security forces. Iraqi troops also pulled out of a nearby army base. It was hoped that the deployment of Shiite militias would have turned the tide in Ramadi, despite the risks of using the militias, but in the end they had little impact on the battle. The ISIS victory is a stunning reversal of the gains the Iraqi military made after taking the city of Tikrit in the north, and the largest victory ISIS has had anywhere since the fall of Mosul last summer. The United States government is downplaying the victory and has stepped up airstrikes in the area.

Video reported to be of Iraqi troops fleeing Ramadi. 

My Comment:
Terrible news out of Iraq, but news I was expecting. Already people are comparing this to the Tet Offensive in Vietnam back in 1968. That battle changed the American public's view of the war and made it look like the communists would never be defeated. Though I don't think the impact of this battle will be anywhere near the impact of Tet, it's important to note that in a strictly military sense, the Americans and South Vietnamese won that battle. This battle can't be claimed to be anything else then an utter failure by the Iraqis. 

With Ramadi fully under the control of ISIS, Fallujah, already under attack, will be the next target. After that there isn't much between ISIS and Baghdad itself. If losing Ramadi isn't equivalent to the impact the Tet Offensive had, losing Baghdad would probably eclipse it. It would completely repudiate a decade of foreign policy in the Middle East and an utter catastrophe for the people of Iraq. 

Will it happen though? It's hard to tell. As the summer months come to Iraq, the war campaigns tend to slow down, for no other reason then the heat. ISIS has momentum now but if they can't keep up the offensive through the summer months, they will lose it. I don't see them capturing Fallujah that fast and even if they do they would be hard pressed to get Baghdad.

It's hard to overstate how important this victory is for ISIS. They were on the back foot in both Iraq and Syria. They lost Tikrit to the Iraqis, several villages and Mt. Sinjar to the Kurds and failed to capture Kobani in Syria. They had lost a lot of territory in both Iraq and Syria and were in danger of being pushed out of Anbar province. Not only did they blunt Iraq's offensive in Anbar, they got back the momentum that they haven't had since last summer. That is just a massive reversal of fortune.

The question now becomes, how do we push them back? It seems very clear to me that ISIS's recent victories, in both Iraq and Syria have more to do with the weakness of the governments there instead of the strength of ISIS. Iraq's army was devastated last summer and never even came close to recovering. What few Iraqi troops are left seem to have no backbone whatsoever. In Syria, the government is under siege, not only by ISIS but other rebel groups as well. The rival al-Nusra front has pushed them back to the point that it looks like Assad will fall. Though the Syrians pushed ISIS out of Palmyra, they are still hard pressed to fight ISIS. 

Both states are being held together by massive support from Iran. Iranian backed Shiite militias in Iraq and Hezbollah in Syria are doing much of the fighting against ISIS. Without Iranian support it is very possible that both countries would have fallen to ISIS or other Islamic groups a long time ago. Of course, Iran expanding its influence in Iraq and Syria is very bad news for the United States, but there is literally nobody else that is willing to fight. 

The Pentagon is overplaying the significance of airstrikes and commando raids on ISIS. Air power and special forces alone won't blunt ISIS's offensives. What is needed are troops on the ground and nobody outside of Iran is willing to make that happen. And even with Iranian support, ISIS is still on the march. In short, this war isn't anywhere near over and there is a real question about which side will win... 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Editor's note.

Today is my birthday so I probably won't have any other posts up for awhile. I might have one late tonight but no promises. It's been a busy week, and I have been gone quite a bit. Blogging should return to normal in the next day or so, with any amount of luck.

Also, I kind of feel like i whiffed on the fall of Ramadi story. A lot has been happening in Iraq and Syria lately but that's not a very good excuse. The whole "I'm to busy" story is a better one, but I still feel like I should have covered it. On the other hand I did predict that it would happen awhile ago...

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Breaking news! U.S. commando raid kills senior ISIS leader in Syria. Yahoo/AP

The White House. Yahoo/AP.

The White House has announced that a daring commando raid has killed a senior ISIS leader in Syria. Yahoo/AP. The ISIS commander was named Abu Sayyaf and he was accused of planning "terrorist activities" and had a major role in the Islamic States oil and gas operations. His wife was with him and was captured by the commandos. In addition a Yazidi slave was also rescued. Thousands of Yazidis are still being held captive by ISIS, and it appears that Abu Sayyaf and his wife held the woman as a personal slave. Syria also claims to have killed another top commander in the same area as the American raid that killed Abu Sayyaf, but it is unclear what the circumstances of that raid were. The White House denied that they worked with Syria but did acknowledge that they informed the Syrians of the raid. The mission was planned with the assistance of Iraq and no U.S. casualties were reported. 

My Comment:
The White House statement can be found here. 

What's my take on this raid? It sounds like they went after a major player in the Islamic State's economic sector. The fact that they sent commandos, updated reports say it was Delta Force, after him instead of blowing him up with a drone or airstrike means they wanted him for intelligence. Apparently he fought back, to little effect. Perhaps his wife or his Yazidi slave will offer up some useful information. 

It's a smart strategy. People that can handle the economic side of warfare are rare. Killing Abu Sayyaf will hurt ISIS in the long term. More then anything else ISIS needs money. The money they get from their oil and gas wells funds their offensives and pays for their recruits. They also keep the lights on and the food on the table for the people under their control. If the United States succeeds in destroying the economy of the Islamic State, then they are well on their way to defeating them. I've always said that logistics is the most important part of warfare but  being able to pay for your soldiers and weapons has to be closely related. 

ISIS has to be running out of money. Sure they make a lot from the oil sales and the selling of illicit artifacts. And they stole millions from Mosul when they raided it. But they have to pay their troops, pay for the civilians under their control and buy weapons and other supplies. You can't run a state on plunder alone. You need an economy, and without oil, ISIS will have a very limited one. 

I'm not sure what the AP article was talking about when they said that the Syrians also pulled off a raid. I guess it is possible but it seems like a huge coincidence that they would conduct a raid at roughly the same time in roughly the same area as the United States. My guess is that there was no raid and that the Syrians found out about the American raid somehow. They wanted to take some credit as well and look like they were still in control. I guess anything is possible though, so maybe they did have some action as well. 

I'm glad to hear that they rescued a Yazidi woman. From what it sounds like, they are going to try to return her to her family. Let's hope that it happens, but in all likelihood there won't be much family to find. There is a good chance that they were killed in last summers massacre or they were enslaved themselves. Perhaps, for once, there will be a happy ending. 

I also wonder how complicit the wife was in this whole mess. I understand that the initial feeling is that she is as much of a victim as the Yazidi woman was but I'm not so sure. Yes, women are treated as less then people in the Islamic State, but it is possible that she took an active role in mistreating the Yazidi woman as well. Plus, she might have been one of those very misguided women who joined ISIS willingly. Is someone who willingly oppresses herself really a victim?

On the other hand it is very possible that she was as much as a victim as the Yazidi woman. She might not have wanted to be the wife of Abu Sayyaf and even if she did, she might not have wanted to have a slave. From what I understand ISIS doesn't consider it adultery, or rape for that matter, if the woman is a Yazidi. Perhaps this is as much as a relief for the wife as it is to the slave.

From the new reports coming out it sounds like this was a close range fight. If the reports of hand to hand combat are true, then it is even more impressive that Delta didn't have any casualties. They are the best of the best though, so we should expect the impossible from them. It's good to know that our military can still pull off complex and difficult operations like this.