Saturday, December 31, 2016

Massive New Year's Eve terror attack in Istanbul, Turkey.

Revelers flee from the scene as ambulances come to pick up the wounded. AFP/NBC.

A massive New Year's Eve terror attack has killed at least 35 people and wounded even more in Istanbul, Turkey. NBC News. The attack occurred at a popular nightclub called Reina in Turkey's most famous city. The attacker killed a cop guarding the venue and a civilian before entering the club and opening fire. It is unclear what has happened to the gunman or gunmen in the attack with conflicting reports saying the gunman is dead while other sources say he escaped. More then 500 people were in the club when the attack occurred. 

The Guardian has a live update feed that can be found here.
My Comment:
There hasn't been much of an update on this attack for quite some time. I have heard rumors that the death total is more then 100 people, but I haven't been able to confirm that. What I have been able to confirm, through multiple sources, that the attacker was wearing a Santa Claus costume. As crazy as that sounds, it has been confirmed through other sources. The NBC article said that Turkish police had dressed as Santa as well, so I am guessing this was either one of those cops that did it or a terrorist using the costume to look like a cop. I guess it could be some kind of sick joke or some kind of meta level commentary by ISIS as well, but I find that hard to believe. Still, anything could happen. 

As for suspects, my immediate thought is ISIS. This attack was very similar to the ones in Paris and Orlando. In Paris, the shooting at the Bataclan theater looked quite a bit like this, though in that attack there were more terrorists. The shooting at the Pulse nightclub is an even better match. Though it is very possible that this was done by some other group, possibly the Kurds, but that seems very unlikely considering how much the attack matches the other recent ISIS attacks. 

Turkey has had a terrible time with terror attacks this year and it is not surprising that the trend is continuing. ISIS has greatly stepped up their attacks there and the Kurdish insurgency has been responsible for some attacks as well. ISIS has killed hundreds in Turkey this past year and I would not be surprised if this attack was continuing that trend. Whoever is responsible for it should be brought to justice.

I've always though that New Years Eve celebrations were a major and obvious target for terrorist attacks. It's a night when everyone drinks and are not suspecting a terrorist attack. People are close together and crowded and have little defense against someone with a weapon. As this attack shows, it doesn't seem that hard to get a double digit death count attacking on New Years Eve... 

 The only disadvantage is that security is usually a lot stronger then it would be otherwise. It seems like this was even the case in Turkey, though it didn't help them much. A single cop standing outside of a venue isn't much for security. Indeed, it seems like an invitation to have what happened here happen. The cop died first and there didn't seem to be anyone left to help the civilians. A defense in depth would have been better.

Though this will be posted in 2016, the terror attack itself occurred in 2017. The attack occurred around 2:00 AM local time. This attack will go down as the first attack in 2017 and it already looks like it is at least as bad as the Brussels attack this year. It's probably going to be much worse then that. Those of us hoping for less attacks in 2017 are going to be disappointed. 

The media hasn't been covering this story very well. Part of that is because New Years Eve is a holiday for the press as well. Many of them are busy covering New Years Eve or are out celebrating themselves. My guess is that there will be more information released in the morning, but it is still disappointing that there isn't more information out there. If more information becomes available in the morning I may have a follow up post, but for now, I just don't have much else to add. 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

New Russia/Turkey brokered cease fire takes effect in Syria.

Syrian children play in the rubble near Aleppo. Reuters. 

A new ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey has taken effect in Syria. Reuters. Though some skirmishes happened after the 2200 GMT deadline, most of the fighting between the Syrian government and rebel groups has ended. The Free Syrian Army and many other rebel groups agreed to the cease fire, though jihadist groups are not covered by the agreement. The FSA are more confident about this cease fire then previous ones that have fallen apart. Those cease fires were brokered between the United States and Russia. The US was left out this time around and has been invited to the table as soon as President Barack Obama is gone. If the cease fire holds, peace talks will begin in an effort to end the war that has killed more then 300,000 people.

My Comment:
Good on the Russians, Turks and Syrians to finally come up with a cease fire. Though the past cease fires have failed and failed hard, with the fall of Aleppo, I have some more optimism that this one will have a better result. 

Why? For one thing the rebels don't have much of a choice. They have lost their largest stronghold and are on the way to total defeat. This is their only chance for them to have any kind of chance at a life after the war. If they keep fighting they will lose and will most likely be annihilated. 

The rebels must understand how bad their position is. Two of their major allies have all but abandoned them. Turkey is now working with Russia and Syria to end the fighting. In the past Turkey was one of the main engines of the war giving rebels a lot of support and help. That doesn't seem to be happening anymore. 

The rebels will also lose their US sponsorship on January 20th. Barack Obama has been trying to overthrow Assad for quite some time now. He has trained rebels and given them weapons which has helped them survive for longer then they would have otherwise. That all ends when Donald Trump is inaugurated. Trump has said multiple times that we should work with the Russians in Syria and that we shouldn't give weapons to rebels since we can't properly vet them.

With their allies abandoning them and their heavy losses on the battlefield, they have little choice but to try and get a deal. If they keep fighting they will lose and be eliminated. If they make a deal they get to survive. And this is the best time to do so.

I do think it is kind of funny that America was excluded from this peace deal. Barack Obama has pissed away most of our goodwill and credibility in the region. Our former peace deals failed and failed miserably and our allies are getting sick of it. 

Turkey is probably the biggest reason why this peace deal happened. And why did they suddenly go from wanting to overthrow Assad to wanting to work with him? My guess was it was America's supposed role in the coup there. Fair or not, I think the Turkish government thinks that Fethullah Gulen was responsible for it. Gulen currently lives in the United States and we won't send him back to Turkey. Whether Turkey is correct about any of that doesn't really matter, but it does explain why Turkey is now in the Russian sphere of influence instead of ours. 

The fact that Turkey is working closely with Russia despite the fact that they were almost in a shooting war last year and that the Russian ambassador was murdered in Turkey shows how poorly Barack Obama has done in the region. 

I have mixed feelings about this situation. On the one hand, I do hope the war against the rebels can end so everyone can focus on killing Jihadists instead. Plus a cease fire will probably save a lot of lives if it succeeds. On the other, I am no fan of Turkey and I don't like that they are gaining influence. They have gone too far in the direction of radical Islam. 

I wonder how a peace deal would work? What I have heard is that Syria might be divided into different spheres of influence. Turkey would take the border area to the north and crush the Kurds. Russia would take the coast and Syria would govern the rest. I don't know if that would work but we will probably have to wait and see...

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan says he has evidence that the United States has supported ISIS.

Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan. IBT

Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan says he has evidence that the United States has provided support for ISIS and other terror groups operating in Syria. IBT. Erdogan said at a press conference that the US had provided funds to both ISIS and Kurdish groups including the People's Protection Units (YPG) and Democratic Union Party (PYD). Erdogan said he had evidence that included pictures and video but has not released that evidence. Turkey is a NATO ally and has been accused in the past of helping ISIS as well, before entering the war in Syria and driving the terror group from the border region. Since the fall of Aleppo, Turkey has shown more willingness to work with Russia and Iran to end the war in Syria. 

My Comment:
Very interesting comments by Tayyip Erdogan and a huge sign in how much US-Turkey relations have deteriorated since the coup attempt. Regardless of the truth of these claims, Erdogan would not have made them if relations with the US were good. He essentially threw down the gauntlet to the United States, daring them to respond. 

Are the claims true? Some of them certainly are. We have given quite a bit of support to the Kurds in Syria. That is absolutely true and some of that aid has undoubtedly gone to some of the more extreme elements within the larger Kurdish movement. Are the Kurds terrorists? Well some of them are, arguably, but I don't know if the YPG really qualifies. Indeed, the YPG have been one of our better allies in the fight against ISIS.

But did America support ISIS? I think there is a case to be made that we supported them indirectly. Wikileaks showed that the Obama administration was aware that ISIS was part of the resistance against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad yet supported the rebels anyways. And you could argue that by supporting rebels that are fighting the regime we are also supporting ISIS, but I doubt that is what Erdogan was talking about. 

I don't think there is any evidence that the United States has provided direct support to ISIS. If there is, Erdogan should release it because I haven't seen anything that shows that ISIS got arms or money from the United States. It is certainly possible, but an extraordinary claim requires extraordinary evidence and right now Erdogan hasn't provided any. 

There is a better case to be made for al-Nusra, the former al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, and even then it was more of an issue of incompetence then malfeasance. Our complete failure trying to train rebels in Syria did lead to al-Nusra gaining quite a bit of our equipment and weapons. It had more to do with the rebels being incompetent then anything else though, 

It's fairly hypocritical for Erdogan to make these accusations since the case for him and Turkey helping ISIS is much stronger then the case against America doing so. For a very long time Turkey was the main route for ISIS recruits coming in from across the world. Turkey's border with Syria was open and recruits and weapons flowed into the country while oil and terrorists flowed out. It's even been alleged that Turkey was buying some of the oil from ISIS. Even if Erdogan's accusations are true, it's not like his hands are clean either. 

But what if the allegations are true though? What if Erdogan releases indisputable proof that the United States was providing or has provided aid to ISIS? If true then it is treason and whoever is responsible for it needs to be removed from office and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. I don't think that is going to happen though... 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Iraqi PM says ISIS will be defeated in Iraq in three months...

Iraqi Prime Minster Haider al-Abadi speaks via video. Reuters. 

Iraq's Prime Minster, Haider al-Abadi says that ISIS will be defeated in Iraq in three months. Reuters. Abadi has revised his previous prediction that Mosul would be liberated this year, as the battle has bogged down. Abadi made the prediction after being asked to comment on a report from a US commander saying that it would take two years to fully eliminate ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Abadi said that the Americans were pessimistic and that his forces were brave and strong enough to reduce the time to liberate Iraq fully to three months. In Mosul itself the battle continues, with the US led coalition bombing the last bridge over the river Euphrates. Only one quarter of Mosul was captured before Iraqi troops stood down. The offensive is scheduled to continue shortly. Beyond Mosul, ISIS still controls the towns of Tel-Afr, Qaim and Hawjia. 

My Comment:
Abadi is probably going to regret those words. The battle for Mosul started two months ago and has only liberated 25% of the city. If they keep going at that rate it's going to take another 6 months at least to fully liberate Mosul. And that assumes that the battle stays on track. 

It's already clear to me that the battle isn't on track. The fact that Iraqi troops had to stop advancing shows me that they were either unprepared to take back the city or that they ran out of supplies and/or took to many casualties. From what I have seen the battle for Mosul has been absolutely brutal and I doubt that it will end anytime soon. 

And it's not like Mosul is the only place in Iraq that ISIS has control over. Even if the city were to fall today, and it won't, there would still be several major towns left to liberate. The most notable of these, Tel-Afr, has long been a hotbed of ISIS activity and is known in the region to be a place full of bad guys. Though liberating it would probably be easier then liberating Mosul, I still expect it would take quite a bit of time and blood to take. 

Furthermore, Abadi's predictions have discounted the possibility that ISIS could go on offensive. Though ISIS has been mauled pretty bad in both Iraq and Syria, the battle for Palmyra shows that they still have the capability. Indeed, Palmyra shows how ISIS could take advantage of the battle of Mosul. If they have any troops available they could send them somewhere else in Iraq, perhaps in the center of the country and attempt to take back one of the cities that were liberated this year. It might not work because ISIS is pretty weak right now, but even an unsuccessful attack would probably force Iraq to shift forces around and weaken their attack in Mosul. 

Even if Mosul were liberated, even if the other smaller towns were taken as well and even if ISIS fails any new offensives, would that be the end of ISIS in Iraq? I would say no, especially considering that they still have a massive amount of territory in Syria to retreat too. Remember, ISIS came from al-Qaeda in Iraq, a group that was largely destroyed in the last days of the US lead war in Iraq. After their defeat they took advantage of the chaos in Syria to regroup, rearm and reorganize into the Islamic State. That could very well happen again, especially with the Syrian regime focusing on other rebel groups in Syria. 

Another possibility is that ISIS goes underground. As ISIS loses territory and weapons they may transform from a government into a more traditional terrorist organization. Indeed, that has already happened in Libya, where ISIS lost control of most of their territory. Though ISIS has largely been defeated in Libya, ISIS is still present there and will probably launch terror attacks or attempt to take territory again. 

So how long will it take to liberate Mosul? I am not sure. The fact that they just bombed the last bridge in the city tells me that they are getting a bit desperate. Destroying that bridge will have humanitarian concerns and ISIS has already used it as a propaganda tool before when they just damaged it. I am thinking that if Mosul really was just a couple of months away from liberation this bombing wouldn't have happened. 

I also think that Iraq has probably expended quite a few of their forces. Remember, Iraq was depending on their special forces to take the city. The other forces available all have their own problems. The regular Iraqi army isn't anywhere near dependable enough. The Iranian led Shia militias are likely to turn Mosul into an abattoir, and the Kurds aren't likely to fight for a city so far away from their homelands. That leaves the special forces, who have already been overused and expended this year.   

My guess is that Mosul is going to stay largely in the control of ISIS for quite some time. 6 months is a stretch and I wouldn't be entirely surprised if Mosul isn't liberated by this time next year. And even if it is, I expect an insurgency of left behind ISIS fighters to continue for a long time after the city is officially liberated. Unless something absolutely crazy happens, that's my prediction. 

Monday, December 26, 2016

Last year I made predictions for 2016. How correct was I?

Last year I did a predictions post about what I thought was going to happen in 2016, which can be found here. I will probably do another predictions post for 2017, but this is not that post. Though we still have a few days left in 2016 I thought I could take a look back at the old post and see where I was wrong and where I was right. There is no point in making predictions if you don't look back later and see if you were right or wrong, right? I think I did ok and I was correct about some things that other people were wrong about.

A quick note on how I originally did my predictions. I gave everything a percentage value but it was more about how likely I thought something was. If I said something had a 95% chance, I meant that it was almost certain to happen and a 5% chance would be an almost certain chance of it not happening. I'll give myself credit when I was correct but if I hedged I will only give myself partial credit. I also realize that some of my percentages don't add up. Blame that on my poor math skills that fill me with shame. An easy early prediction for 2017, I will still suck at math! 99%

Let's begin:

2016 Presidential Election:
-Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic Party's candidate for President. 90% (I was obviously correct here. It turned out that she rigged the primary but even if she hadn't this was a safe bet)
-Hillary Clinton will not be president because she will be arrested and awaiting trial or actually be in jail. 5% Should be 100%... (Actually came closer then I thought it would, but I still get credit)
-Bernie Sanders will be the Democratic Party's candidate for President. 1% (Didn't happen)
-Bernie Sanders will run third party after losing to either Hillary Clinton or Martin O'Malley in the primaries. 5% (I was correct that Sanders would bend the knee, even after it was clear that Clinton cheated)
-Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders will drop dead allowing Martin O'Malley to become the candidate. >1% (Probably should have been higher given the fact that Clinton was in poor health and Sanders was a dinosaur. Still, correct.)
-Martin O'Malley becomes the presidential candidate on his own merits and not because the other candidates died or had their campaigns explode, literally or figuratively. 0% (How many people even remember that he ran? )

Total: 6/6

-Donald Trump will be the Republican Party's candidate. 90% (Correct and wasn't even close)
-If he is the candidate, the Republican Party will back him and won't try to undermine him. 75% (Mostly correct, though there were prominent people that didn't back him. Partial credit)
-Ted Cruz ends up as the Republican Party's candidate. 5% (Correct)
-Combined chances of anyone else ends up as the Republican Party's candidate. >1% (Correct as well. There were some long shot chances but none of them were realistic)
-Jeb Bush will be the Republican Party's candidate. 0%. I'd go lower if mathematically possible. At this point it would take divine (or diabolical) intervention... (Correct)
-Donald Trump will run as a third party candidate. 1%  (Correct)

-Someone will try to kill Donald Trump either before or after the election. 1% (much higher then I would rate the chances for all the other candidates combined) (Very wrong. Someone actually did try and assassinate Donald Trump. He failed miserably, but the attempt was made)

Total: 5.5/7

-The election will be between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. 90% (Correct, safe bet even back then)
-Donald Trump will win. 65% (Correct and I deserve credit for calling it this early. So many other people said that he never had a chance, but I said he would probably win even further back then this post.)
-Trump will also gain more African American supporters then any Republican in recent memory. 90% (Trump did better among African Americans but not amazingly so. Still, correct)
-Trump will also gain Asian and women supporters compared to past candidates and will not lose a significant chunk of Hispanic voters. 60% (Correct, but only half credit because I hedged pretty hard here, plus Trump gained Hispanic votes.)

-If Trump is the Republican candidate, I will vote for him. 90% (I don't want Clinton to win and I don't really like any of the third party options) (Correct)

Total: 4.5/5

Other Political Predictions:
-Barack Obama will try to ram through some kind of gun control before the end of his term. 99% (Correct, he pushed through a measure targeting people on government assistance who can't manage their finances)
-This will result in a civil war. 1% (Correct, no civil war so far due to gun control)
-No national gun control legislation will be passed by the Federal Government. 100% (Correct)

-There will be a mass shooting not related to foreign terrorism in 2016. 100% (I'm actually struggling to think of one, but a quick wikipedia search shows a couple, most notably the Kalamazoo Uber shooting. Plus I think the Black Lives Matter attacks on cops probably fit, even though I consider them to be terrorist attacks, they weren't foreign terrorism)

Total: 4/4

-Race relations will continue to deteriorate. 99% (Subjective, but I would argue correct)
-This will also result in civil war. 1% (Correct)
-Someone directly involved with Black Lives Matter will either intentionally kill police officers or commit an act of racially motivated terrorism. 85% (Correct, tragically. Multiple cases)
-Opinion polls on Black Lives Matter will shift until the majority of people admit to disliking them. 75% (I'm tossing this one because I haven't seen the polling data. I hope it is correct though)
-Racial violence between blacks and whites will be more common next year then they were this year. More Dylann Roof's and equivalents on the black side. 70% (Wrong. Though there has been an increase of racial crimes, there weren't any more Dylann Roofs that I am aware of. )
-The media will be held at least partially accountable for their role in this mess. 0% (Correct)
-The media will blame the mess on racism, the police and gun rights, while avoiding blaming themselves, Democratic polices, and gun control. 100% (Correct, though I probably should have said mainstream media)
-Crime rates will increase due to police abandoning tactics that could offend Black Lives Matter. 60% (Partial credit. Crime rates have risen, but I can't prove why it has happened)

-Some police officers will die because they will hesitate to shoot a suspect out of fear of being the next Darren Wilson. 80% (As far as I have been able to tell this was was incorrect). 

Total: 5.5/8 +1 tossed question.

-Republicans will retain control of both the House and Senate. 90% (Correct)

-Republicans will also retain their lead in Governor's offices and State legislatures. 70% (Correct)

Total: 2/2

-Social Justice will continue to face an even larger backlash then they did during the later half of 2015. 90% (Correct. Trump's election is proof of that alone, but other things have happened as well)
-Social Justice will face such a backlash that it will hurt the Democrats chances in 2016. 75% (Subjective, but I think I was right. Social Justice's overreaction to things were used as a rallying cry for the right.)
-Social Justice will still be a large force by the end of 2016. 70% (Correct. They are on the decline since the height of their power, but they are still powerful)
-Criticism of Social Justice, such as using the term Social Justice Warrior and anger over political correctness along with a general shifting of the Overton Window will push SJ out of the mainstream 25% (Correct)
-Social shaming campaigns will lose some of their effectiveness in 2016. 33% (Correct, they are still effective. The right is also starting to use them as well, with today's incident with a professor talking about wanting White Genocide launching a campaign against him from the right)
-Barack Obama will finish out his term as president and won't be assassinated or removed from office. 99.9999% (Barring something horrible happening in the next few weeks... correct)

Total; 6/6

Foreign Policy:
-Relations with Russia will continue to falter. 55% (Half credit. Though I was right, I hedged quite a bit. Plus the election of Donald Trump helped quite a deal)
-Relations between Turkey and Russia will deteriorate to the point that war erupts. 10% (Correct)
-NATO will be drawn into that war. 1% (Also correct)
-The Ukraine conflict will largely stay the same as it is now. A stalemate with little actual fighting. 80% (Correct)

-Vladimir Putin will still be in charge of Russia by the end of 2016. 95% (Correct)

Total: 4.5/5

-China will get into a conflict with one of its neighbors, over maritime claims. 55% (Half credit since I hedged, but basically correct)
-That conflict will lead to an actual war. >1% (Correct)
-China's economy will collapse for any reason. 25% (Correct)
-The Mexican Drug War will continue with it's current intensity. 80% (Correct)

Total: 3.5/4

-The Syrian Civil war will still be going on by 2017. 99.9999% (Correct)
-The United States will deploy major ground forces in Syria and/or Iraq. 10% (It really depends on how you define "major forces". I was correct that there weren't any major combat troops deployed, but the number of troops were increased in Syria. Still, I think was correct)
-Some other country will deploy major ground forces. 1% (Completely wrong. I did not predict Turkey joining the war in Syria)
-Bashar al-Assad will be the president of Syria by the end of 2016. 90% (Correct)
-China will join the war in Syria, in a role similar to Russia's. 60% (WRONG!)

-The Iraqi government will survive 2016. 98% (Correct)
-A major international war will break out due to reasons I did not mention above and not related to terrorism. 2% (Correct)

Total: 5/7

-ISIS will still control significant parts of both Iraq and Syria. 99% (Correct)
-ISIS will lose either Mosul or Raqqa and have their territory shrunk in both Iraq and Syria. 45% (Correct, but half credit for hedging)
-ISIS will actually expand in Iraq and Syria. 35% (Correct, though ISIS did retake some minor territory, such as Palmyra. Overall they lost much more then they had)
-ISIS will lose control of most of the major cities they currently hold in Iraq and Syria and will be reduced to holding onto backwater towns and the country sides. 5% (Correct, ISIS still holds Mosul, Raqqa and several other cities)
-ISIS will expand in the other countries they control territory in, such as Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Nigeria and Afghanistan. 99% (Very wrong. ISIS has been decimated in Libya and Nigeria and their operations in Nigeria, Yemen, Egypt and Afghanistan haven't really changed much)
-ISIS will also expand in other countries, to the point of taking and holding territory. 95% (Wrong)

-ISIS will be the main jihadist group in Syria. 99% (Correct)

Total: 4.5/7

-ISIS's leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi will still be alive by 2017. 75% (Correct, though he has been reported dead a couple of times)
-ISIS will conduct an assassination or terror attack that kills a world leader. 65% (Results pending. The assassination of the Russian ambassador in Turkey would certainly count, but we still haven't figured out who the assassin was working for. Since we don't know, I am tossing this question for now)
-ISIS will assassinate the Pope. 50% (Wrong)
-ISIS will execute another US citizen; 80% (Also wrong)
-ISIS will still exist by 2017. 100% (Correct)
-Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States will admit their role in creating, funding and supporting ISIS, either currently or in the past. 0% (Correct)
-The United States will admit their role in creating ISIS. 1% (Partial credit. though the mainstream media and our current president have denied this, President elect Trump argued this at the debates, along with many people on the right)

Total: 3.5/6 +1 tossed question

-There will be a terrorist attack that kills a similar amount of people to the San Bernardino attacks in the United States in 2016. 90% (Correct, the Pulse shooting)
-There will be a terrorist attack that kills a similar amount of people to the Paris attacks in the United States in 2016. 75% (Feel free to argue this one, but I think as the worst terror attack since 9/11, the Pulse shooting qualifies. Not quite as many deaths but the impact was about the same)
-There will be a terrorist attack that kills a similar amount of people to 9/11 in the United States in 2016. 20% (Thankfully correct)
-There will be a terrorist attack that will occur but will fail to kill anyone due to incompetence on the part of the terrorists. 99% (Correct, the New Jersey and New York bombings. Still amazed that nobody died there. Also the mass stabbing by the Somali man in a mall. Probably a few more)
-Canada will experience a terrorist attack. 80% (Partial credit. The attack was disrupted by police before it could be carried out)

Total: 4.5/5

-Europe will have multiple smaller terrorist attacks and at least one on the scale of the Paris attacks. 90% (I'd argue that the Brussels bombing probably counts given how complex it was, but in terms of casualties I'm probably wrong. Partial credit I guess)
-Europe will have a attack on the scale of 9/11 with 1000+ casualties. 45% (Correct, but partial credit for hedging)
-Europe will have a terrorist attack using nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. 33% (Correct, but probably closer to being wrong then people would like to admit)
-North Africa will see more attacks like the ones that occurred in Egypt and Tunisia this year. 75% (Wrong)
-Boko Haram will still conduct the majority of terrorist attacks throughout next year. 80% (I'm tossing this one because I haven't seen the data yet. Probably correct though)
-Egypt will be a hotbed of terrorism and westerners will be attacked much more frequently. 60% (Wrong)

Total: 2/5 + 1 tossed question

-Asia will suffer a major terrorist attack on the scale of the Paris attacks. 75% (Depends on how you define Asia. Pakistan and Afghanistan are in Asia but I think I was pretty clearly talking about China/Japan/Korea and other East Asian countries. No credit)
-South America will have a major terrorist attack of any scale. 15% (Correct)
-At least one major terrorist attack will involve people that infiltrated the United States or Europe as a refugee. 80% (Correct, the Berlin attack was the most recent one)
-The vast majority of terrorist attacks in both Europe and America will be conducted by 2nd generation citizens. 75% (Correct as far as I can tell)

Total: 3/4

-Other terrorist organizations besides ISIS will pull of a major terrorist attack in 2016. 90% (Correct)
-Al-Qaeda will become relevant again. 50% (I would say that I was wrong here. Al-Qaeda still exists but they haven't done much. Even al-Nusra has abandoned them)
-The vast majority of terror attacks in Europe and North America will either be directly conducted by ISIS or inspired by them. 99% (Correct)

Total: 2/3

Final Total: 66/79 + 3 tossed questions. 83% correct.

I think I did a fairly good job at my predictions. I was much more correct with my political ones then my foreign policy ones. I had a couple that I was completely, embarrassingly wrong about, most notably about ISIS expanding outside of their current holdings in Syria and Iraq, but overall I was more right then wrong. I think there is an argument to be made against some of my conclusions and I did have a few easy predictions, but despite that I still think I deserve a bit of credit for getting a lot right. 

Will I do this again? I think so. I will probably have a post up this weekend for my predictions for 2017. I don't think I will do as good as I did for 2016 though. Why? Because the election answers kind of bolstered my numbers a bit and I won't have an election to deal with this year. Still, I hope that when I do them I will still be mostly correct. 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas everyone!

I hope that everyone that reads this blog has a good holiday. I'm going to be spending the day with my family, so probably no post until tomorrow. Until then I hope everyone has a great Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Berlin truck attacker shot by police in Italy.

The body of the Berlin truck attack suspect Anis Amri under a blanket. Reuters. 

The main suspect in the Berlin truck attack that killed 12 people, Anis Amri, was shot and killed by a police officer in Italy. Reuters. Amri had just arrived in Milan when he was stopped by two police officers that though he looked suspicious. He pulled out a gun and during the ensuing gunfight he was killed. One officer was slightly wounded in the fight. Video released today also showed Amri pledging allegiance to the Islamic State. Euroskeptics condemned the handling of Amri's presence in Europe as he was a criminal who should have been deported but was not because he did not have an ID.. Amri had lied when he had arrived in Europe in 2011 and had falsely claimed that he was a minor. 

My Comment:
First of all, great work by the Italian police. They did a great job identifying someone suspicious and when confronted they handled the situation correctly. When he opened fire they returned it and took this guy down quickly. Had the Italian cops not been on the ball Amri could have escaped and conducted another terrorist attack and set a dangerous precedent for terrorist escaping after conducting an attack. 

I don't think there was any doubt that Amri was still a danger. He had a gun and, failing anything else, he could have shot a few people. It wouldn't be a very effective terror attack, but it could have still happened. More likely he was in Milan looking for other ISIS fighters who could shield him and perhaps plan another attack. 

If he was looking to do another attack he probably needed to get away from things for awhile. A terror attack isn't just something you do on a whim. You need to pick a target and choose a method of attack. Since Amri was traveling alone with little money he needed to find someone to help him as well. What the Italian police need to do now is find out who he was trying to meet and if that person or persons are planning further attacks. 

I have little doubt that Amri had help. His escape from the scene of the attack is evidence alone that he had someone helping him. Though I guess it is possible he just walked or ran away after the attack, I can't imagine that happening. My guess is he had someone there with a car or other vehicle to pick him up. The only other thing I could think of is that he had left a vehicle there, but that seems like it would be pretty hard for him to do alone. 

The threat from ISIS in Europe is sky high right now. To the point where it is greatly impacting how Europeans are acting. Germans have put up barriers at their Christmas markets and from what I have seen, there are less people going to them as well. Of course there is a chance that there will be secular attacks from Muslims as well. After all, the Cologne sex attacks happened on New Year's Eve. Either way I would not be surprised if 2016 has another European terror attack before it concludes. 

The Amri case is going to throw fuel on the fire for anti-Islam and anti-EU people in Europe. By almost any standard Amri had no business being in Europe. He lied about his age to get into Italy and after getting arrested and jailed for four years he went to Germany. While there he continued to commit crime and had his asylum request denied. He even came under investigation from the German government for his obvious ties to terrorism. Despite several chances, he was still not deported. It boggles the mind that he was able to be in Europe under these circumstances. 

And you can't really argue against them either. Like I said, there was absolutely no reason for Amri to be in Europe and the fact that he was means that the entire system failed. The fact that it did is not surprising. Europe has been completely flooded by migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, along with hundreds of terrorists and even more potential terrorists. With the pressure on the system so great, it is not surprising that someone like Amri was able to slip through the cracks.

So what could Europe do? Well for one they could shut down the flow of refugees. Just turn away everyone at the borders. Anyone that shows up via boat gets a free ride back to wherever they came from. Anyone that showed up in the migrant wave and is in Europe illegally gets deported, end of discussion. That would solve most, but not all, of the problems in Europe right now.

But it won't happen. For whatever reason deporting people who are in the country illegally is "racist". Hell, in many European countries being critical of the largely Muslim migrants publicly can result in actual jail time. This state of affairs can not last. Either Europe fixes its immigration system or they are likely to head to war. Right now they essentially have a low grade insurgency but eventually it could degrade into open war with right wingers, angered at the situation and the fact that the governments of Europe are siding with the migrants,  possibly opening up a second front... 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Syrian government declares the battle of Aleppo in a major victory.

A Red Cross vehicle drives in al-Rashideen, where many rebels and civilians fled too. Reuters. 

The Syrian government has declared victory in the battle of Aleppo in the regime's biggest victory to date. Reuters. The last rebels have evacuated the city along with many civilians under a joint Turkish and Russian peace deal. The regime celebrated the victory and gave credit to both Iran and Russia. Iran sent in hundreds of ground troops and Russia was instrumental with air support. Celebrations broke out in areas of Aleppo held by the regime throughout the war. 34,000 rebels and civilians were evacuated under the peace deal. As part of the deal, Shiite Muslims were evacuated from villages that were under siege by the rebels. With Aleppo in government hands, many speculate that the city of Idlib, where many of the rebels evacuated to, could be the next major battlefield.

Civilians celebrate in Aleppo. Ruptly. 

My Comment:
This is a turning point for the almost six year old Syrian Civil War. The rebels have held parts of Aleppo since the very beginning of the war. Indeed, the war started there after anti-government protests turned violent after the government shot protesters. Ever since then Aleppo has been the beating heart of the Syrian rebel movement. 

That heart has now been cut out. It's hard to understate how important the victory at Aleppo is. Though thousands of rebels have escaped the city, thousands more died in Aleppo and the rebels lost massive amounts of weapons and supplies. The victory in Aleppo has essentially broken the back of the rebels. 

I wonder if the regime made a mistake by letting so many rebels escape from the city. In the long run it may end up with more dead then were saved by ending the battle. Many of those rebels escaped to Idlib and I think there is a good chance that they will continue the fight.  With those rebels still alive the war will not end anytime soon. 

Still, with Aleppo under government control a lot of lives were spared in the short term, and I guess that means something. Russia and Turkey deserve most of the credit for setting up the cease fire. Without their work, I am guessing Aleppo would have been even more of a bloodbath then it actually was. 

America took a back seat in the negotiations. In the end we pretty much abandoned our role as world cop in favor of letting Russia and Turkey handle it. Though I think the outcome of the battle was correct, the fact that our influence in the region is now pretty much non-existent is probably a bad thing. On the other hand our attempts in Syria have been so counterproductive and incompetent that our waning influence is probably a good thing. 

I'm not sure if Idlib is really the next target for Syria. The rebels aren't the only target left in Syria. ISIS and al-Nusra, both violent terror groups, are still powerful and influential. Though ISIS has taken a beating in the north where Turkey has been hitting them hard, they have retaken Palmyra and have even given the Turks a bloody nose as well, burning two of their captured soldiers alive. I am guessing taking back Palmyra would be a good next target for the regime given how embarrassing it was to lose the city for a second time. 

My hope is that the regime and the international community will now focus on attacking ISIS and al-Nusra. In a perfect world that would have happened long ago. But I am thinking that people will finally realize that the rebels are done and that Assad isn't going anywhere. With that being the case the best idea is to back him as his government fights ISIS. 

I also have to point out that the apocalyptic massacre that was supposed to have happened in Aleppo has largely not materialized. Though there were some reports of Iranian militias killing some people, it wasn't the slaughter that people were predicting. Indeed,I got the distinct feeling that there was a lot of propaganda out there trying to make the situation look worse then it actually was. It just goes to show that you can't trust the media... 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Massive manhunt underway in Germany for suspect in Berlin terror attack.

Pictures of the suspect Anis Amri. AFP.

A massive manhunt is underway for Anis Amri, the main suspect in the Berlin terror attack that killed 12 people on Monday. USA Today. Amri is a Tunisian asylum seeker and documents found in the wrecked truck used as a weapon linked him to the attack. Amri was under surveillance from the German government and had links to ISIS related groups. The Germans suspected that Amri was going to buy a weapon for an attack, but the surveillance was dropped in September of this year.  Amri's plea for asylum was denied and he was supposed to have been deported this year. A previous suspect, a 23 year old from Pakistan, was released due to insufficient evidence.  Amri is considered armed and dangerous and the manhunt for him has extended throughout Europe. 

My Comment:
More information is coming out about the Berlin attack and what I have read has been shocking. Before I move on though I want to mention the fate of the driver of the truck, a man from Poland who had a young child at home. Apparently he was carjacked and tried to fight with the suspect before he was shot and killed by him. Though he was unable to prevent this terror attack, I have to recognize bravery whenever I see it and that Polish truck driver was certainly brave. I know a lot of truck drivers, and it's a dangerous job as it is. I can't imagine having your rig stolen and used as a weapon in a terror attack. 

That being said, this entire attack seems like a colossal mess up by the German government. First of all, how on earth did Amri, if he was the attacker, get away from the scene of the crime? His vehicle was wrecked and there should have been police and security there to round him up right away. The fact that he was able to get away tells me one of two things. Either he had help and someone with a vehicle picked him up right away or the German police just completely screwed up.

Even worse, Amri was not even supposed to be in Germany. His application for asylum was rejected and he was due to be deported. My question is if wasn't supposed to be in Germany, why hadn't he been kicked out. He was a bad enough person that he was under surveillance and he had links to ISIS. You would have thought that he would have been fast tracked and deported quickly right? But that didn't happen. 

Well according to the Daily Mail, he wasn't deported due to a clerical error. I don't know how accurate that is because it's the Daily Mail, but they are saying that he had been arrested three times in Germany and had served time in Italy. The article also made it clear that he had been planning an attack but the German government wasn't able to prove it. 

It just boggles my mind that such a person would be allowed in Germany in the first place. He is a career criminal and has obvious links to terrorism. Why then was he allowed to stay in the country when his asylum claim was denied? Why didn't they serve his deportation papers? 

My guess is that the German immigration service is so overwhelmed by the massive migrant wave that they are simply too busy to follow up on anything. A lot of bad people For that I blame Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel. She opened the floodgates to the massive waves of immigrants that have inundated Europe. The only people that have more blame for this attack, other then Amri and whoever helped him, is Merkel and the people responsible for the wars in Libya and Syria that started this whole mess. 

Amri's alleged criminal links are not surprising either. European terrorists often have links to crime. Not only do they sell drugs and rob people to fund their attacks, they also use their underground links to buy fully automatic firearms. Because of this pattern, I don't think that Amri was actually a lone wolf attacker. Like I said before, the fact that he escaped makes me think that he probably had help. I just can't believe that he could escape that quickly if he didn't have someone working with him

The question is what happens next. With Amri on the run he is going to be desperate and dangerous. And it is very possible that he could try another attack using the same method. Though security is probably going to be raised in Berlin, he could attack elsewhere and his method of attack is pretty foolproof. All he needs to do is overpower or murder another truck driver and then find a crowd of people. And if he has help perhaps he will find a different way to attack as well. 

It makes me wonder if it wouldn't be a good idea for European truck drivers to be armed. Though the legal problems of giving truck drivers guns is obvious and probably impossible to overcome, but I don't know of any other way to prevent these kinds of attacks. The only thing standing between terrorists and a whole pile of dead bodies crushed under a truck is the driver and right now these people are limited to hand to hand combat and harsh language... 

Monday, December 19, 2016

Three major terror attacks today. Germany, Turkey and Switzerland.

Police take the suspect in the Berlin attack into custody. NBC News

Three major terror attacks happened today in an absolutely crazy news cycle. In Berlin Germany, a pair in a stolen truck rammed through a Christmas market killing 12 people and wounding 50 more. NBC News. One of the dead was found in the truck, but it unclear if that person was a victim or an accomplice. It is unclear who was responsible for the attack but it has been determined to be deliberate. Witnesses say that the truck was going at least 40 miles per hour and that there was no chance that the attack was an accident. There have been no claims of responsibility reported yet but the attack looks very similar to this year's attack in Nice France, where a truck driver killed 84 people and wounded 200 more. The United States had previously warned US citizens to exercise extreme caution at these outdoor holiday festivals. 

In Turkey, a police officer murdered the Russian Ambassador at an art event while the press looked on with horror. AP. Mevlut Mert Altintas, a Turkish riot cop, shot Ambassador Andrei Karlov in the back. He then went on a rant about Aleppo and Syria before Turkish police arrived and killed him. The assassination comes during heightened tensions between Turkey and Russia, which have improved lately despite disagreements over Syria. Vladimir Putin has vowed an investigation and retribution to anyone who may have helped with the attack.

Police secure the scene at a Mosque in Zurich. EPA.

Finally, in Zurich Switzerland, three people were shot at an Islamic center. Wall Street Journal. Police say a man entered the Islamic center and started shooting, wounding three and then fleeing. A dead body was found nearby but it is unclear if that person was involved in the attack or died under other circumstances. The other three victims were taken to the hospital and the suspect is still at large as of this writing. 

My Comment:
Absolutely crazy news day today and I am not even covering the drama around Donald Trump and the election. Though newsworthy, I didn't feel like covering the electoral college vote because it was always going to end this way. I did find it funny that Clinton had more faithless electors than Donald Trump, but in the end the story will just be a historical footnote. 

These three terror attacks though have larger implications. I'll start with the one in Berlin. Obviously this looks like a copycat attack. The attacker essentially used the same tactic as the ISIS supporter that attacked in Nice this year. Though the death count was much less than the one in France, the attack was essentially the same. My guess is that this was another lone wolf attacker using the same technique. 

A couple of days ago while writing about a failed attack on another Christmas market in Germany, I said that they would make a decent target for terror attacks. Not only are they congested with many people, they also have symbolic importance for ISIS. Killing a bunch of Christians is a major goal for them and by attacking this market they are sending a clear message to Christians everywhere. Even in your most holy of seasons ISIS can strike you and kill you. 

The attack also continues a trend of ISIS using vehicles as a weapon. Nice wasn't the first attack like this and I doubt Berlin will be the last. It is just so simple to pull off and hard to defend against that I expect more attacks like this to continue. These improvisational attacks are a great way for a terrorist that doesn't otherwise have access to weapons or explosives to kill a large number of people. My fear is that this new tactic will not only spread, but could be combined with more traditional attacks like mass shootings and suicide bombings. The Nice attack was a hybrid attack, as the terrorist also had a gun, so there is a precedent for it. But if Berlin proves anything, its that you can get a double digit death count just with a truck. 

The assassination in Ankara, Turkey was just insane. The attack obviously has some political and international consequences but before I get into that I have to say that this attack will live on in history for years and years. Why? Because it happened in front of the press and to their great credit the camera and photo people on site kept doing their jobs. It's not often I praise the press, but when they put their lives on the line I have to give credit where credit is due. Given that these were reporters covering a minor story about an art show, it's impressive that they did so well. 

The images of that attack will live on for years. A well dressed assassin shooting and killing a high ranking political official and then going on a rant made for amazing photography and video. It's probably morbid to put it into these terms, but the whole thing looked like something out of a Hollywood movie. The attack was one of those media moments that will be talked about for years... 

As for the attack itself, it is unclear if the attacker's motivations were due to Islamic extremism or not. Obviously a guy screaming "Allah Akbar" tends to indicate terrorism, but that doesn't mean that this guy had any links to any particular terrorist group. Though it is possible that he was just a lone activist, I am guessing that he probably did have a link to a terrorist organization. The question now is if it was ISIS or someone else. 

If it was ISIS then I think I deserve partial credit for predicting it. I said last year around this time that ISIS would try to murder a world leader. Though an ambassador probably doesn't count as a world leader, it's obviously an indication that ISIS is willing to assassinate important politicians outside of their main areas of operations, if indeed they are the ones responsible for the attack. 

The political ramifications of this are rather obvious. Tensions between Turkey and Russia are high due to Syria and this guy just killed Ambassador Karlov because of Syria. The attack seems to be an obvious attempt to ratchet up tensions at a time that relations between Turkey and Russia have been improving. Russia seems to understand this and Putin went out of his way to not blame Turkey for the attack. Hopefully calmer heads will continue to prevail. 

The last attack is a bit of a mystery to me and has been largely overshadowed by the other attacks and news. Since the attack was at an Islamic center or Mosque (I've seen it described both ways), it seems rather unlikely that this was an attack committed by ISIS or another terror group. Unlikely, but not impossible because it could have been a Shia mosque or other non-Sunni group or even a Sunni one that didn't pass the purity test for ISIS. 

The other possibility is that it was a right wing attack against the Muslims. If true that means that the cycle of revenge has begun. And honestly after the massive number of terror attacks in Europe I am surprised that it has taken this long for people to take revenge. You can only push people so far before they start to fight back, and though I don't condone terrorism from any source, I certainly understand why people might want to do so. 

No matter what the circumstances, it seems to me that all of Europe, Turkey technically included, is in a state of civil war right now, even if nobody else will admit it. We are seeing low scale improvised attacks and targeted assassinations. And if the attack in Zurich is an actual revenge attack, then the battle is joined. If I am right then it is a dire sign of things to come... 

Finally, I have to say that the news cycle was exhausting today. I followed all three stories as they happened along with following the Donald Trump/electoral college story. If you are interested I tweeted about it as it happens so if you are interested you can see my twitter account here. Given how crazy things were today, if things calm down tomorrow I might just skip a post. I am technically on vacation after all...  

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Weekend Movie Night: Rogue One

Rogue One poster. Disney

I finally went and saw a movie in theaters and it was a good one. I saw Rogue One, the Star Wars spin off film/interquel. It's a great movie and I highly recommend seeing it. There will be spoilers in this review, of course, but I will keep it spoiler free until later in the review. If you haven't seen the movie, don't read further then the warning! Seriously, don't spoil the movie, there are a lot of surprises that you don't want to ruin it. I also have to say that I am a total Star Wars fanboy, so don't expect an unbiased review. 

I also want to apologize in advance because I am pretty much guaranteed to misspell the name of the film. If you see "Rouge One", just assume it's a typo that fills me with great shame and not a reference to the inevitable adult film parody.  

I initially wasn't sure if I was going to see Rogue One. There was quite a bit of political drama in the weeks leading up to the release of the movie. A couple of the writers decided to shoot their mouths off on twitter and said some really stupid political things that had very little to do with the movie they were supposed to be promoting. These writers basically accused everyone who voted for Donald Trump of being a "white supremacist". This led to fear that the entire movie was a shot against Trump and his supporters which resulted in a boycott movement by conservatives. 

This faux pas was a huge mistake by the writers and almost convinced me to not see the film. After all, I don't like giving money to people that hate me. But Disney made it pretty clear that the movie was apolitical and that the writers had gone pretty far off of the reservation. Having seen the movie I have to say that they were correct and that the movie really didn't have an anti-conservative or anti-Trump bias. The writers may have shot their mouths off, but the film itself has nothing to do with the current culture wars, other then a rather diverse cast. The film does have political themes of course, but Star Wars always has and the controversy is mostly just internet drama that doesn't have much focus in reality. 

As for the movie itself, it's basically a 2 hour love letter to the Star Wars fandom. It's the movie fans have been looking for since the 1st prequel and it is better then any of the movies released since Return of the Jedi, including The Force Awakens. Most of that is because of the massive amount of "fan service" in the film.

If you were a fan of the original trilogy, there are dozens of references to it, which is fitting considering it is a prequel movie. If you were one of the few defenders of the prequel trilogy, you will find a few references to them as well. If you saw the Clone Wars and Rebels cartoons, you will be extremely happy with this movie as there is a huge reference to the Clone Wars and a few nods to the current Rebels series as well. 

They even go to more obscure sources as well. The entire plot is essentially an expansion to the story told in the first level of the Dark Forces FPS video game, released back in 1995. Though the story is different enough that it's obviously not an adaption, there are some thematic references to the game. Even the main character's name, Jyn Erso is a play on the mission officer character in the game, Jan Ors. And the black clad stormtoopers, the Death Troopers, are a pretty obvious reference to the Dark Troopers in the game. They even sound like them! As a huge fan of Dark Forces, seriously I grew up on that game, this was completely awesome and one of the cooler things I have seen in a film. 

As far as the plot, you should know it by now. It's the movie about how they got the Death Star plans. They did a fair job with it. The plot was fairly predictable and was also a lot darker then most Star Wars movies. Though the movie is probably lighter then Revenge of the Sith or Empire Strikes Back, it is still a dark film. There wasn't much in the way of surprises in term of plot, but if you are fan of Star Wars, it's not going to matter that much. The films greatest sin is that if you were familiar with Star Wars you knew what was going to happen before it was going to happen. Still, given all the fan service and references, that's almost a strength.

The acting was a bit mixed. One of the disadvantages of the multi-cultural crew is that some of the actors had strong accents that occasionally made it hard to understand what they were saying. It's a minor quibble as the actual acting was good, but I did miss a little of what was said. Perhaps I am just a little hard of hearing. Felicity Jones was great as Jyn and I liked pretty much all of the cast. Alan Tudyk was great as K-2SO and provided some much needed comic relief in an otherwise serious and dark film. K-2SO is going to be the breakout character from this movie and I wouldn't be surprised if we see more from Tudyk in the Star Wars universe...

Finally, I have to say that the special effects were pretty amazing. There was some criticism of the CGI but in 3d on the bigscreen I didn't have any issues with it. Indeed, the CGI characters looked about as good as you could get and I consider the criticism of the CGI modified characters to be inexplicable. Without spoiling anything, the way they brought certain things to the screen was just fine in my book. 

The rest of the film was very impressive visually. Seriously, the end of the movie was beautifully shot and the effects were amazing. The final battle, which I will not spoil yet, is probably the most visually impressive one in the entire series. It was what I have been waiting for since Return of the Jedi and none of the movies lived up to my desire for a big space battle until now. Revenge of the Sith came closest, but this battle blew it out of  the water. 

I think that almost anyone will like this movie. Star Wars fans will love it for all the fan service and references. Action movie fans will like it for good effects and battles. And the film makes for a better introduction to the series then the prequels did. It's a great movie and I highly recommend it. 


Last chance.

Ok, time to geek out a bit. You can skip this if you aren't a huge fan of Star Wars because this is just going to be gushing. I loved all the references in this film and I want to make some specific points. First of all, the most surprising thing to me about Rogue One was the character of Saw Gerrera, who was a major character from The Clone Wars cartoon. He was in the Orderan arc series of episodes. I did watch the Clone Wars and liked the series but his addition was pretty shocking for me since he was a rather minor character in the show. 

The use of Gerrera tells me that Disney is taking a different approach to cannon then George Lucas did. They are using things from the expanded universe and putting them in the movies themselves. Your opinion on that may vary since not everyone liked the Clone Wars and Rebels shows, but I think it is positive development. It really makes watching/reading the spin off stuff more rewarding because you never know if something else will show up in the main films. 

I also want to say that there were so many small references to characters in the original trilogy. Ponda Baba and Dr. Evazan, the two goons Obi Wan killed in the Cantina showed up. Red Leader and Gold leader both showed up. And Grand Moff Tarkin, Bail Organa, Mon Mothma and Darth Vader all played major roles in the film. And there was even cameos from Princess Leia, C-3P0 and R2D2. That's a huge amount of fan service and I loved it. 

The final battle was a thing of beauty. There were giant capital ships blowing each other up. There were Y-Wing bombers actually acting like bombers, dropping bombs in atmosphere and firing torpedoes in space. There were drawn out dogfights. In the atmosphere,  AT-AT's were getting utterly wrecked by starfighters. And we even found out why Luke Skywalker's position was open, the original Red Five got shot down. As someone that loves space battles in general and Star Wars space battles in particular, it was amazing. 

I also liked how there was more moral ambiguity in this film then we have seen since the prequel trilogy. Though the prequels tried to show that neither side was completely in the right, Rogue One did a much better job at it. Saw Gerrera was a literal terrorist who seemed to be losing his mind and mind raped Bodhi Rook and even Cassain Andor was essentially an assassin. That's a lot more ambiguity then the normal good vs evil we saw in the original trilogy and I think it is an improvement. 

I am hoping that the quality of the next few Star Wars movies continues. Episode VII was a major improvement on the prequels and Rogue One is an improvement on it. I am hoping Episode VIII continues the hot streak and the next spin off film is as good or even better then Rogue One was. Until then, I might just have to see Rogue One again... 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

12 year old in Germany attempted to detonate a nail bomb at a Christmas market

The Christmas market in Ludwigshafen, Germany. NBC/EPA.

A 12 year old boy in Germany attempted to detonate a nail bomb at a Christmas market in Ludwigshafen Germany. NBC News. The suspect was of Iraqi descent but was born in Germany. The device was found by a member of the public and the bomb squad destroyed it in a controlled detonation. The bomb was made of a glass bottle stuffed with gunpowder taken from fireworks and laced with nails. The boy had made a 2nd attempt 9 days before but it is unclear if he used the same device. The boy had links to ISIS and had wanted to join the group in Iraq. Since the boy was under aged, he will not be charged with a crime but will be put into foster care. 

My Comment:
This happened yesterday but I missed the story until now. It's an extremely serious attack that probably only failed because of dumb luck. I have to say that whoever pointed out that bomb to the police is a hero and deserves a lot of credit. Whoever that person is should be honored for doing the right thing. 

I'm not sure how dangerous this kind of bomb was. My initial reaction is that a 12 year old wouldn't be that good at making a bomb. But if he really was reading stuff from ISIS it's very possible that this device would be more dangerous then one would think. It's also possible that he had help from an adult. From the bare description in the article it seems like that if placed correctly it could have killed and injured quite a few people. The bomb doesn't seem that different then the one that was used in New York City recently. 

It is rather shocking that a 12 year old would try to kill a bunch of people for ISIS. ISIS has long tried to use children as weapons and have done some horrible things in Iraq and Syria. I have posted multiple times about ISIS using children as executioners and their Nigerian affiliate, Boko Haram have gone so far as to use children as suicide bombing. With that pedigree it's not surprising that ISIS would try to recruit a child as a bomber. They have done way worse... 

The attack also brings up the question of what the hell do you do with a 12 year old that tried to murder a bunch of people for ISIS. Germany can't prosecute him because of their laws but they are putting him into foster care. That just sounds like a recipe for disaster. After all this was a radicalized person and I hope whoever is taking care of him is capable of deprogramming him. If they can't, then it is very possible that the boy is still a threat. 

I also have to point out that this boy wasn't part of the massive refugee wave that hit Europe in the past couple of years. He was a native born German, even if he was of Iraqi descent. He was presumably a 2nd or even 3rd generation German citizen. It just goes to show that the problem of immigration from Muslim countries doesn't end in the 1st generation. Indeed, it seems that the 2nd and 3rd generation are often a bigger threat then the 1st. 

I wonder if the target was significant as well. On one hand, the boy may have just targeted a large gathering of people. Markets are a easy target no matter what season it is, so it might just have been a matter of it being an attractive place for a terror attack. 

The other possibility is that it was targeted because it was a Christmas market. ISIS has long had a problem with Christianity and have targeted them in multiple terror attacks in Europe. It is very possible that this boy had been instructed to attack a Christmas market because he knew Christians were there. 

It's also possible it was for both reasons. ISIS is smart enough that they could have multiple consideration when choosing targets. The problem is that I doubt a 12 year old would be smart enough alone to pick a target like this. It seems to me that he was being helped quite a bit. He may even had help making the bomb. If that is the case then I hope that the people helping him are caught soon before they recruit someone else... 

Friday, December 16, 2016

China seizes an US owned underwater drone.

USNS Bowditch, a research ship involved in the incident. Reuters. 

The Chinese Navy has seized a US underwater drone in a major international incident. Reuters. The drone was taken 50 nautical miles north of Subic Bay in the Philippines. The drone, or underwater unnamed vehicle (UUV) was participating in a survey mission for the Navy along with a 2nd drone. While the 2nd drone was being retrieved by it's home ship, the USNS Bowditch, the Chinese Type 922 salvage ship stole the drone. The theft comes on the heals heightened tensions with China. China has been expanding their control of the South China Sea by building up islands and placing airports and air defenses on them. President elect Donald Trump has also raised eyebrows by receiving a phone call from Taiwan. 

My Comment:
Not sure what game the Chinese are playing here but it's not a good sign. The Chinese have been playing fast and loose with the rules when it comes to maritime encounters. They have been very aggressive in pushing their claims in the South China Sea so this incident isn't that surprising. 

I do have to wonder what China gains by stealing this UUV. It wasn't worth much and the technology is publicly available anyways. It's not like they need to reverse engineer the technology or anything. They could just order one themselves and avoid all the trouble this incident could cause. 

My guess is that there are a few scenarios of why the Chinese did this. 

1. The government is lying and this drone is more advanced then they are saying. I guess this is possible and would explain why the Chinese would be willing to take the risk. I don't think it is very likely though. 

2. The Chinese didn't realize that the drone was something that is publicly available. The captain of the the salvage ship may have thought that the drone was more valuable and useful then it actually is. 

3. The Chinese simply screwed up and didn't realize what they had was US property. This was a salvage ship after all and they may have though the drone was something that had been abandoned.

4. This was a deliberate provocation and was cleared by higher ups in the Chinese chain of command. The Chinese have been saber rattling for quite some time now and it wouldn't be surprising if they were continuing to do so. 

I think the 4th option is the most likely. The Chinese have been throwing their weight around for years now. They consider the South China Sea to be a sovereign part of Chinese territory and have been long interfering and harassing other countries at sea. Stealing  drone certainly doesn't seem like it would be unprecedented considering their behavior in the past. 

The Reuters article made it sound like this was due in part to Trump's conversation with the president of Taiwan. I guess that could be part of it but you would think if they were going to test Donald Trump they would have waited until he was actually in office to do so. The saber rattling may have gotten worse because of his statements but I doubt it was the only factor, or even a major one. 

My guess is that no matter what is happening with Donald Trump, China was going to respond to this drone operating in what they consider their waters. Though the drone was on a scientific mission, the data they collected has military uses. Gathering that information in water the Chinese consider theirs was probably considered a provocation by the Chinese.  

In the end though this incident will probably be a footnote. I doubt anything much will come from it. The US will complain but in the end nothing much will happen because of this. There is always a chance that the right spark could launch a conflict in the South China Sea but this incident isn't it. 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Dylann Roof found guilty for his attack on a black church.

Dylann Roof shortly after his capture. Reuters. 

Dylann Roof has been found guilty of multiple crimes for his attack last year on a black church. New York Times. Roof killed nine people in a race based attack at a black church. Roof was convicted of the following crimes:
-Nine counts of hate crimes that resulted in deaths
-Three counts of hate crimes conducted in an attempt to kill (for the three survivors of the attack)
-Nine counts of obstructing religious practices resulting in deaths
-Three counts of obstructing religious practices in an attempt to kill
-Nine counts of murder using a firearm. 

The jury was expected to reach this verdict as there was very little chance for a defense for Roof. He confessed to the crimes and his defense lawyer has attempted to portray him as a troubled, mentally ill young man. The trail now moves on to the sentencing phase where Roof faces the death penalty. Roof has raised eyebrows by saying that he will represent himself during the sentencing phase. 

My Comment:
This is welcome news and not at all surprising. The evidence against Roof was rock solid and there was no chance of a jury not convicting him based on that evidence. There was always a chance of jury nullification, but I think even a jury of legit racists would have convicted Roof. Had he not been convicted the entire country would have exploded in anger and for once it would have been justified.This was the right call and it goes to show that sometimes the criminal justice system still works.  

Roof's crime was, of course, horrible. Regardless of your views on race and crime in the United States, there was never an excuse to attack a bunch of people at a church. And his entire plan was stupid as hell. If he was trying to start a race war he failed miserably since everyone else was going to agree that his victims were completely innocent. Even people that would have otherwise agreed with Roof's racial views would have been disgusted by his choice of target. 

If Roof really did have a problem with race based crime, why didn't he go into the inner city and shoot some actual criminals? My guess is he was a coward and was afraid that they would fight back. So he picked a place where he knew that there would be no one with a gun and probably nobody that would be willing to fight back. 

I also have to say that I consider Roof's attack to be terrorism. This was a political attack, plain and simple. I also consider the attacks against cops in Dallas and Baton Rouge to be terrorism as well. Even though the attackers in all of those cases had opposite ideologies as Roof, they and Roof himself were just as much terrorists as Omar Mateen or Syed Farook. I am actually kind of disappointed that Roof wasn't charged with terrorism as well, but considering all the other crimes he committed, I guess it doesn't matter. 

I read Roof's manifesto right after it was released and it was pretty bad. You could tell that Roof wasn't very smart and didn't have very good arguments. That, along with his choice of target, tells me that he was basically a moron. Smart enough to pull off an attack like this, but not smart enough to do much of anything else. 

Indeed, I think his attack backfired in terms of advancing his beliefs. If anything he made it more difficult for people to be racist as people didn't want to be associated with a movement that killed a bunch of innocent people. He even made the Confederate flag a social faux pas and if it hadn't been for Black Lives Matter and the associated terror attacks targeting police, his attack may have actually helped race relations in this country. It may have caused some people to reconsider their beliefs, but not in the way he wanted. 

As for the trial, it now moves on to the sentencing phase. Roof is eligible for the death penalty and I can't imagine he wouldn't get it. You would have to be a die hard opponent of the death penalty to not give it to Dylann Roof and even a few opponents of the death penalty would probably choose to sentence him to death. I've always been uncomfortable with the death penalty itself, not so much that I call myself and opponent but enough that I am not upset that my state doesn't have it, but if I was on this jury I would have no problem with sending Roof to his death. 

Still there is always a chance that Roof could have gotten lucky and gotten a death penalty opponent on the jury. What happens then? Well he will go to prison for the rest of his life and I don't see him doing well there. I doubt he will get put into general population given how much of a target he would be for pretty much everyone and how weak physically he appears to be. My guess is that he would be in solitary confinement for the rest of his life, which honestly sounds to be worse then getting a lethal injection. 

Honestly though, the jury is probably going to be under incredible pressure to sentence him to death. I know if I was on that jury I wouldn't want to be known as one of the people that let Roof "off the hook" even though he was convicted. Certain people would be incredibly angry that he didn't get the sentence allowed by law and would probably threaten the people on the jury if they don't. That's obviously not right either, if a jury doesn't want to sentence someone to die they shouldn't be punished for it, but the threat has to be running through the jury's heads right now... 

Either way though, I am glad that this seems to have been a one off attack. Since Roof I haven't heard of any other racial based attacks inspired by him. Sure there have been plenty of attacks but most of those were inspired by Islamic ideology, and not racial animosity. Roof's plan for a larger racial war has failed largely because White people aren't interested in killing Black people. Regardless of what Black Lives Matter says, most people aren't racist and even those people that are generally aren't in favor of Nazi style race wars. Roof didn't change that and if that was his goal then he was an idiot. 

In somewhat of a tangent, I have to point out that the Sandy Hook shootings happened about four years ago. While mass shootings are still a problem, the reasons why people do these things has changed. In the past it was lone weirdos like Adam Lanza trying to get back at society for their crappy lives. If there was a political aspect at all it was some vague anger at society. 

The memetics of mass shootings have changed now. Now it seems like every mass killing has a political aspect to it. Almost every attack that I remember recently has been for political reasons. Roof was an anti-black racist. Micah X. Johnson, the Dallas attacker was an anti-white, anti-cop racist. Omar Mateen, the Pulse nightclub shooter, was an ISIS operative. Even Eliot "Supreme Gentleman" Rodgers had a manifesto and could be classed as a political terrorist... kind of. He hated women and Asians though he seems straddles the line between the "lone weirdo" and the "political" types of shooters. 

I really think that the day of some angry kid picking up a gun and shooting a bunch of people at a school is gone. These days such an act would be seen as political and the kind of person that would have in the past attacked may choose not to avoid the terrorist label. Either that or they would have adopted one of the many ideologies that would not condemn such an attack. It's a chicken vs egg problem, but either way I do think that as the rate of political attacks increase the more traditional weird loner ones will subside. I hope I am right, though it's not like having a bunch of political terror attacks is much of an improvement...