Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Brussels bombers had pictures of Belgium's Prime Minster's home and office, possible assassination plan?

Belgian police gathering evidence in Brussels. Reuters

The ISIS bombers that attacked Brussels had pictures of Belgium's Prime Minster, Charles Michel, office and home. Reuters. The pictures and plans were found on a laptop in a trashcan outside the bomber's apartment in Schaerbeek, a district of Brussels. Belgium did not comment on the reports. The bombers killed at least 35 people, including 3 of the attackers. 

My Comment:
Not much of an article, but I think this report is very significant. The obvious takeaway from this is that the Brussels bombers had plans to attack and assassinate the Prime Minster of Belgium. Obviously they didn't end up doing that, but that is probably because they had to move up their schedule due to the arrest of Salah Abdeslam, a Paris attacker and major planner for ISIS. Had that arrest not happened, the Brussels attack could have included a strike against a major world leader. It also could have had an attack on a nuclear power plant, but that is a whole different issue. 

I have said before that ISIS will likely start to attempt to assassinate world leaders. Indeed, I always believed that the suicide bombing at the stadium in Paris was an attempt to kill France's President, Francois Hollande. Only dumb luck and the actions of security guards prevented his death, and it looks like the Brussels attackers wanted to follow the same pattern. 

And that pattern is multiple strikes on multiple different targets, which divides and distracts the attention of anti-terrorism forces. It also includes an attempt on the leadership of the country they are attacking. Even if any prong of the attack fails, like the attempt on Hollande, you are still going to have a huge impact on the country you are attacking. That is what the plan was for the Paris attacks, and I think for sure that if the Brussels attack hadn't been moved up, they would have tried the exact same thing in Belgium. And even though the attacks on the leadership failed in both cases, albeit for very different reasons, the damage was still severe.

If it an attack was carried out where a world leader was hurt or killed, it would be absolutely devastating. A decapitation strike against a leader of a major country would strike a massive blow and do huge psychological damage to the people of that country. It really is a brilliant, if not disgusting plan. Not only would ISIS be terrifying and demoralizing an entire country, the leadership of that country would be in disarray. In short, it would be everything that ISIS wants to accomplish and more. 

Would it have worked? I thin it is very possible. I really think that Hollande could have died in the Paris attacks, and it was mostly luck that he didn't. Had the terrorists actually made it inside of the stadium, they could have found him and killed him. The same could be said for Charles Michel. Though both men have equivalents to the secret service to protect them, there is only so much you can do against suicide bombers. 

Certainly, hitting a world leader is the very definition of a hard target. But time and time again, we have seen how terrorists, rebels and lone nutjobs have pulled it off. Just think of all the presidents that the United States has lost due to assassinations. And that doesn't even count the dozens of close calls that we have missed. It's difficult to be sure, but I don't think it is impossible that ISIS could pull this off. And they only have to be right once. The bodyguards for these leaders have to be right 100% of the time... 

It's not just Hollande and Michel that are targets. They are just the ones we know about. I would say that every leader in Europe is at risk right now. My biggest concern, though, is the Pope. Pope Francis is a man of the people and sees it as his holy duty to meet with the common man. He takes risks that other world leaders would not. He's also the leader of one of the worlds largest religions, and a de-facto world leader. Killing him would be a massive win for ISIS, and I don't think it would be all that difficult for them to do so. Certainly not any harder then pulling off the attacks in Brussels or Paris. Plus, killing him would probably turn most of Christianity against Islam, which would also help ISIS. Killing the Pope would be a game changer, and I honestly don't know what would happen after it happens. 

But it's not just the Pope either. I'm worried about US politicians as well. I think Barack Obama is reasonable safe, compared to other world leaders, but what about all the people running for president right now? We have seen in this election cycle people getting very close to the candidates. Indeed, Donald Trump almost got roughed up by a protester, and Michelle Fields got close enough to Trump to put her hands on him. Had either of those people been assassins, Trump would be dead right now. And the same goes for all of the other presidential candidates as well. The security at these rallies is not as good as people would hope... 

We are not helped by all the idiots on Twitter and Facebook who think it is a good idea to say that they are going to attack or injure one of these candidates. The Secret Service has to investigate all of these threats, even when they are obviously fake, so there is a real threat that they will miss something. That something might not be an ISIS attacker, but the fact remains that something could fall through the cracks. The threat of ISIS and lone nutjobs are so high right now, I am amazed that nobody has actually tried to kill any of the candidates so far. 

I really hope I am wrong about this, but I do think that ISIS will either kill a world leader, or come damn close to doing so, before this year is out. It probably won't be in America, but I would guess that at least one world leader in Europe or the Middle East could be dead before the year is up. And it is amazing to me that nobody else is talking about this... 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

My take on the arrest of Donald Trump's campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski for battery of a reporter.

Video of the incident in the question. 

The big story today was what should have been a total non-issue. Donald Trump's campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, has been arrested for an incident at a Trump campaign rally involving an altercation with a Breitbart reporter, video of which has been posted above. In the video, it appears that Michelle Fields is grabbed by Lewandowski briefly after she was talking to Donald Trump. Lewandowski has been charged with simple battery.

I think this is an obvious politically motivated arrest. The video above shows that this is not much of an incident. Does it meet the legal standard of battery? Perhaps. Lewandowski did touch Fields without her consent, and may have caused some bruising. Fields did put out a tweet showing a small bruise on he arm. Even so, if that is the worst thing anyone has done to Fields, then she has lived a charmed life. 

But Lewandowski should have a built in defense against these charges. In the beginning of the video, it's clear that Fields is hassling Donald Trump. He looks rather annoyed since he's being asked questions after the press conference is over. Fields can also be seen clearly grabbing Donald Trump and him pulling his arm away, which also would be considered battery. You can also see something in her hands that looks like a pen. 

In my eyes this is just a campaign manager protecting his candidate from an attack. Fields is obviously hassling Donald Trump, and given how many threats there are against him, it makes sense that someone would have done something to her. It would be right to do so, and if the secret service had noticed, I am convinced that they would have done the same thing. Only they would have been much less gentle with Fields then Lewandowski was. Remember this?

And he didn't even touch Donald Trump.

Keep in mind the following. Lewandowski claimed that he didn't even know who Fields was. She wasn't the usual Breitbart reporter assigned to Donald Trump. For all Lewandowski knew, she was just some crazy person grabbing Trump's arm. Fields had also gotten past the Secret Service and for whatever reason, there didn't seem to be any agents nearby. Had Fields actually wanted to hurt Trump, she could have done so. 

So I think Lewandowski's actions were not only justified, but obviously so. The one thing you don't ever do is put your hands on a presidential candidate. If you do, bad things happen to you. That is a rule that can not change. Especially with all the threats against Donald Trump. If the Secret Service and Trump's staff let their guard down, there is a good chance that Trump doesn't make it to the November election. That can't happen, so if it means that a reporter gets roughed up once an awhile, then so be it. 

Why make an issue out of this? Why arrest Lewandowski at all? Well, it hurts Donald Trump. He loses his campaign manager for awhile, and the mainstream media gets to drag his name through the mud yet again. The media also will focus on this non-issue while ignoring critical issues like Ted Cruz's sex scandal and every single thing that Hillary Clinton has ever done, which also hurts Trump. 

My guess is that the prosecutor that filed these charges for political reasons. Either the prosecutor came under fierce political pressure from Trump's opponents to file, or the prosecutor disliked Trump and did this to try and stop him. I don't think they have any merit, and that Lewandowski will be vindicated, either at trial or, more likely, when the charges are dropped. 

I also think that there is a bit of "white knighting" going on here. If Michelle Fields had been a man, nobody would have cared about this incident at all. But Fields is a woman, and an attractive one at that. So even though a woman is just as capable of harming a presidential candidate as a man, nobody cares because a pretty girl got roughed up. I think that is incredibly sexist and by any objective standard, Fields is the one that is in the wrong here... 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Pakistan to step up attacks on militants after bombing kills 70 people.

Security forces gather outside the site of the blast. Reuters. 

Pakistan is launching a crackdown on militants in the Punjab province after a bombing in Lahore killed 70 people on Easter. Reuters. The blast was claimed by the Taliban splinter faction, Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, which has some links to ISIS. The groups claimed that it was specifically targeting Christians who were celebrating the Easter holiday in Lahore. 29 children were among the dead, and 340 more people were injured. Pakistan is a majority Muslim country, but it has a 2 million strong population of Christians. Pakistan will crack down on militants in Punjab using the strategy of enhanced interrogations and raids that they have used since the 2014 massacre of 134 children at a military academy. 

My Comment:
My first impression upon reading this story was to be shocked that there were still any Christians left in Pakistan. I had just assumed that they had all been wiped out, either during the conquest period when Islam was expanding, or recently during the war against the militants in modern times. But apparently there are 2 million of them left there, most of them in the Punjab province.  

It goes without saying that this attack is disgusting. The fact that 29 children were killed, and more were wounded, says a lot about the Jamaat-ur-Ahrar group. Deliberately killing children, even children that aren't Muslim, is a step that even most Jihadists won't do. The fact that this group is doing so shows that they are evil to the core. 

The militant group is claiming that they didn't actually want to target the women and children in the attack, but they obviously did. It would not have been hard for them to choose a target where there weren't so many children around, but the deliberately did not do so. To claim that they were doing anything else besides murder a bunch of innocent children is an utter lie,

Pakistan has had a rash of major terrorist attacks lately, and they have all been rather horrifying. In addition to this attack, they have had a couple of attacks targeting schools and killing children. Various groups are responsible for these atrocities, but most of them are from the Taliban or their splinter factions, like Jamaat-ur-Ahrar. 

It does seem that these attacks in Pakistan tend to get ignored in western media. This one is getting a bit more attention due to the young age of the victims, but for the most part attacks in Pakistan get a lot less attention then attacks in Syria, Iraq or Africa. And nowhere near the attention that attacks in Europe and the United States get. 

I think there are a few reasons for this. First, people are always going to care more about people they can relate to, and for Americans that is going to be fellow Americans and to a lesser extent, Europeans. Second, Pakistan is a lot less sympathetic then some of the other countries we deal with. Much like Turkey, they are unsteady "allies" in the war against terror. No one can question that they are taking casualties in the war against militants, but they also let Osama Bin Laden just hang out in their country without doing anything about him. 

Third, the militants in Pakistan haven't had anywhere near the success compared to groups like ISIS. Though those militants occasionally manage to make a spectacular attack against Pakistani targets, they don't actually control much territory. Finally, these groups are a much lower threat compared to ISIS or al-Qaeda. They are mostly targeting other Pakistani people, and not western targets. There isn't the "this could happen here" feeling when a target is hit in Pakistan.

Once again, I feel the need to point out yet another atrocity committed by Muslim extremists  against Christians. This was a deliberate attack on a group of people for no other reason but for their religion.  That is an inconvenient fact that certain people on the left would rather ignore. According to privilege theory this isn't supposed to happen because Christians are always the oppressors and the Muslims are always the victims. 

In the Middle East, parts of Asia and Africa, or anywhere else were Muslims are the majority the exact opposite is true. Though Muslims are commanded to at least tolerate Christians in the Koran, in reality it rarely works out that way. Indeed, in most areas Christians were before the expansion of Islam, the vast majority were either forcibly converted or killed. The ones that survived to the modern era are, quite frankly, often victims of genocide or discrimination.

I think the treatment of modern Christians in Muslim dominated areas is one of the most under reported stories in the world right now. You just don't hear all that much about the destruction of Christian communities in places like Iraq and Syria. Once in awhile you do hear about a spectacular attack like this one, but you almost never hear about the constant pressure these communities are under. These attacks are nothing new, and the only thing notable against this particular attack is that it happened on a holy day and the victims included many children. Otherwise, it's just another sad example of the kind of treatment Christians can expect in the Muslim world. 

I do think that if things keep going the way they are, there won't be any Christians left in the Middle East and the Islam-dominated areas in Asia and Africa. There just isn't anyone willing to step up for these people. The local governments hate them too, and most of the time they aren't allowed to defend themselves. And even Western governments seem to discriminate against them, letting in Muslims refugees in before Christian ones. 

I'm not a very religious person myself, but I do have to admire the courage of the Christians that stay in these parts of the world where they are killed for what they believe. It would be so much easier to flee or convert, but they are determined to keep their religion and culture. The ones that die are true martyrs.  It really puts things in perspective... 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Huge defeat for ISIS! Syrian regime takes back the city of Palmyra.

Regime fighters celebrate near the ruins in Palmyra. AFP.

The Syrian regime has taken back the ancient city of Palmyra from ISIS. AFP. The regime plans to use the city as a base to attack additional ISIS strongholds, including their de-facto capital of ISIS in Syria. The besieged city of Deir Ez Zor, will also be a priority target for the Syrian regime. The regime, backed by Russian airstrikes killed 400 ISIS fighters at a cost of nearly 200 regime and allied fighters killed. That number has been claimed to be ISIS's worst death toll from any battle so far. After the climax of the battle, ISIS high command ordered their fighters to abandon Palmyra. A few die hard fanatics remained in the city, and are still fighting. ISIS took over the city in May of 2015, and committed many atrocities against the city's population and the many ruins and artifacts found there. 

My Comment:
This is follow up to a post earlier this week where I pointed out that the regime had entered Palmyra. Obviously, everything I posted there is still true now, including the fact that this won't do much to stop terrorist attacks in Europe. This is a major victory though, and a huge defeat for ISIS. I'm rather happy that it turned out this way, and I congragulate the Syrians and Russians for their victory.

How huge of a victory is this? Well they lost 400 fighters in the battle at the very least. They probably had more than that injured and if there are still a few die hard fighters left in the city, both of those numbers will go up. The AFP report said that is the most troops ISIS has lost in a single battle and I think that assessment is correct. 

Contrary to popular belief, ISIS doesn't have all that many fighters in Syria and Iraq. Though the estimates of the number of ISIS troops varies wildly depending on which source you use, ISIS doesn't have nearly the number of troops that other factions in the region have. Though their numbers are bolstered by local and foreign recruits, I doubt that they can afford to lose 400+ fighters. Especially if those fighters were battle hardened and experienced. Plus there were probably dozens of fighters crippled or temporarily taken out of the fight due to injuries as well, which will also reduce the number of fighter ISIS has to use in other battles. 

This is going to be a major morale hit for ISIS. They are already reeling from the loss of the Iraqi city of Ramadi and they have also voluntarily withdrawn from central Iraq. Though they have had some victories, like yesterday's joke of a battle in Iraq, ISIS is getting pushed back hard in Syria. Indeed, the only good news for ISIS is that they are conducting so many terrorist attacks abroad and that they are still expanding in Libya. That alone isn't enough. Much of ISIS's appeal is the fact that for a long time they looked invincible. Those days seem to be long over.

Taking back Palmyra may have a domino effect on other territories under ISIS control in the region. ISIS areas to the southwest of Palmyra have now been largely cut off. ISIS fighters near Damascus and the city of Qaryatayn may have to pull back, not only to help defend other ISIS cities that are threatened, but to avoid getting caught up in a Fallujah style siege. And the capital of Raqqa and the besieged Dier Ez Zor region may come under further attack as well. 

In short, this is a huge defeat for ISIS, and by all rights the news should be even worse for them, if not for the Iraqis being incompetent in expelling ISIS from the Mosul area. It's clear to me that ISIS has lost the momentum in both Iraq and Syria, largely due to the Russian led intervention and the cease fire that is holding in Syria. 

I don't know how ISIS recovers from this. The only thing that I think could blunt the regime's momentum now is if the war starts up again with the rebels. But I think the rebels realize that its in their best interest to let the regime and their Russian allies pound the hell out of ISIS. ISIS has made an enemy of pretty much every other group in the region, so it isn't surprising that they are getting pushed back now that everyone isn't also fighting each other. Even if the war does start up again, ISIS would still be on the back foot and the momentum is clearly with the regime. 

It's important to note that the battle for Raqqa and Mosul are a long way off. Remember, fighting in both Syria and Iraq tend to fade away during the summer months. It's just too hot to fight effectively when it's 100 degrees or hotter outside. And there is still a lot of territory that ISIS holds between their enemies and these two critical cities. I just don't see either the Iraqi or Syrian regimes having that much success in such a short period of time. There is also the possibility of something crazy happening, good or bad, that could completely change the course of the war between now and then as well. 

I also want to point out that the Syrians seem to be having a much easier time of retaking territory from ISIS then the Iraqis are. Yesterday I mentioned that this is due to the fact that Syria never had it's military destroyed and dissolved and they still have a strong core of NCO's and high ranking officers. 

That's still true, but I think the way Russia is helping the Syrians is much more effective then the way the United States is helping the Syrians. Our rules of engagement are so strict that we can't always destroy ISIS fighters before they get into it with Iraqis on the ground. We are so afraid of civilian casualties, that we deliberately hold back. Russia does not seem to have nearly as much concern. Yes, a lot of civilians are dying in their bombings but if they manage to take cities a lot quicker then we are with our rules of engagement, less people in total might die. Either way though, it's clear to me that opening things up against ISIS has really helped the Syrian regime. 

Finally, I am glad that the Syrians and the Russians were able to extract a very heavy toll on ISIS in Palmyra. ISIS committed some of its most disgusting atrocities in the city, and at least 400 of them were brought to justice. Hopefully, as the battle continue, many more ISIS fighters will pay for what they have done... 

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The new Mosul offensive in Iraq against ISIS is not going well. Iraqi military already fled.

Iraqi soldiers involved in the Mosul offensive. The Daily Beast/Reuters

Iraqi soldiers involved in the new offensive against ISIS positions near Mosul have already fled after the battle did not go well. The Daily Beast. Iraqi troops tried to capture the strategic village of Nasr but were pushed back after light combat with ISIS.The offensive had already been slowed by ISIS snipers and IED's. Troops on the ground were furious about the lack of US airstrikes, which had been canceled due to weather. Though the Iraqi army inflicted some casualties on ISIS, the troops broke and fled after the threat of ISIS mortars. The panic seemed unfounded because no actual mortar rounds or bullets had actually been fired. In contrast, Kurdish Peshmerga forces, attached to the operation, laughed at the Iraqis and held their positions. The collapse of Iraqi forces comes a week after Iraqi troops abandoned a firebase, forcing US Marines to deploy 200 troops to hold the base, one of which was killed in a rocket attack. 

My Comment:
Not a good start to the Mosul operation. I have always said that the predictions saying that Mosul would be back in Iraqi hands by the end of the year were optimistic at best. I would now argue that the predictions are ludicrous at best. The Iraqi troops are just not up to the task. They are poorly trained and, quite frankly, rather cowardly. It's a leadership problem, plain and simple. 

And they are incredibly reliant on US air power. In this case the reason that they broke is that there weren't any airstrike available to dislodge ISIS. Once they heard that and realized that no help was coming, they decided that they couldn't stand on their own. This isn't the first time that this has happened. When Ramadi fell it wasn't because the Iraqi troops were outnumbered. They broke and fled because sandstorms had grounded US air support. Even though they outgunned ISIS and had far more troops, morale collapsed completely once it was clear that they weren't getting air support. 

This lack of morale is obviously a major problem with the Iraqi Army, and has been for quite some time. Iraqi troops, of questionable quality in the best of times, turn into complete wimps when they are left without support. That means that if there is too be an offensive against Mosul, they are going to extreme amounts of support from the United States and anyone else with an air force that wants to contribute. 

This is bad news for US goals in Iraq. Our main goal in Iraq isn't to support ground troops, it's to hit ISIS leaders and destroy their chemical weapons and car bomb factories. Every airstrike that has to be diverted to support troops on the ground is one that doesn't hit ISIS leadership. This is especially true when the ground troops aren't in any actual danger. The Iraqis, in this situation at least, should have been able to advance even without air support given how weak ISIS was in the area.

I think the problem is that the Iraqis don't have the population of senior NCO's and high ranking officers. After the Army was dissolved right after the invasion, Iraq lost most of its NCO's and officers. Some of those same people are now working for ISIS. They just don't have people with 10 to 20 years of experience that they need right now. Most of their people are green.

The non-commissioned officers should help keep the troops in line and kick a little ass when people are looking to flee. But the Iraqi ones seem to be failing to do so, probably because they are just as green and inexperienced as the troops that they are leading. If the leaders in the Iraqi Army are breaking, is it any wonder that the lower ranking privates are fleeing so easily? 

This is a major problem for the Iraqi military and I am not sure what the solution is. Even in peacetime it takes a long time and a lot of effort to make an effective military. Iraq doesn't have that luxury and they are under extreme pressure from ISIS. Indeed, if it wasn't for US airstrikes, as well as the efforts of the Kurdish Peshmerga, Iranian militia groups and the fact that ISIS is under attack in Syria, ISIS would have probably taken most of Iraq by now. 

The article mentioned that an alternative to these Iraqi army troops is the Iraqi Special Forces. While it is true that the Iraqi Special Forces are much better then regular troops, I think that they have been largely expended. They distinguished themselves in Ramadi and Fallujah, but they took very heavy casualties. And they are needed as a reserve force just in case ISIS manages to go on the offensive. The also lack the numbers needed to take a city as large as Mosul. 

I do have to say that the fact that ISIS hasn't managed to take any additional territory despite the weakness of the Iraqi army shows how much ISIS has fallen. US airstrikes have helped quite a bit, but what I think the turning point didn't happen in Iraq. It happened in Syria.

Russian airstrikes allowed the Syrian government to advance and put massive pressure on ISIS. ISIS had to withdraw from central Iraq in part due to the problems they are having in Syria. In the past, ISIS would have been able to reinforce these towns and cities, but there reserves have been depleted. They left those areas without a fight because they knew that even the Iraqi Army, as pathetic as it is, could destroy them if they didn't fall back. 

I also have to say that the obvious contrast between the Syrian military and the Iraqi one proves my point about the Iraqi Army's lack of NCO's and high ranking officers. Though the Syrian military is pretty awful by American standards, they are much more stable then the Iraqi one is, and that is even after many troops crossed over to the rebels or went AWOL. Had the Iraqi Army not been dissolved after the invasion of Iraq, I think they would be having less problems with leadership right now.  

The threat against nuclear power plants. Belgium nuclear security guard shot and access badge stolen.

Belgian mourners gather in Place de la Bourse after the attack in Brussels. Reuters.

A security guard at a nuclear power plant in Belgium was shot and killed and had an access badge stolen. Reuters. The murder happened just two days after ISIS attacked the city of Brussels, detonating bombs at the airport and in a metro station. The badge was immediately deactivated as soon as his body was found. The incident occurred in the Charleroi region of Belgium. Fears are high in Belgium as it was reported that the terrorists that attacked Brussels had originally planned to attack a nuclear power plant before those plans were canceled due to the arrests of other militants. Last year ISIS militants involved with the Paris attacks were discovered to be in possession of a video showing the movements of a nuclear power official. 

My Comment:
The obvious question is whether this murder has anything whatsoever to do with terrorism. Believe it or not, security guards have enemies as well. This could very well be a run of the mill murder, for all the reasons normal murders happen. It is significant that his ID access badge was stolen but that could just be incidental. If it was a robbery, for example, and the guard kept their card in their wallet or purse, it could have been taken by mistake. And there could be dozens of other reasons that the ID was stolen or the guard was murdered that have nothing to do with terrorism.

On the other hand, the timing is rather suspect. It's clear that ISIS has an interest in nuclear technology, both as a terrorism target, and for the possibility of creating a dirty bomb. The fact that the ISIS cell in Brussels was interested in attacking a nuclear power plant means that other cells active in the country could be thinking the same thing. It's plausible at least that this was part of a plan to attack a nuclear power plant.

Attacking a nuclear power plant would be a propaganda coup for ISIS and would cause a massive panic, even if it didn't accomplish much. In order to actually do some seriously damage a nuclear reactor they would either have to destroy the reactor's containment or damage its controls. If they could get past security, I think that a suicide bombing could probably accomplish that. Given how heavily guarded the nuclear power plants in Europe are, especially now, that would be a tall order. My guess is that they would be shot before they had a chance to pull it off. 

Still, damaging or even destroying a nuclear power plant would have huge consequences. First of all, there is the threat of radiation, which could kill or injure a large number of people. Far more then that would die during the attack itself. Second, there would be a disruption of the power grid, which would do massive economic damage and hurt recovery efforts. 

Finally, the psychological damage would be dramatic. People are afraid of nuclear power. Compare the reaction to the 2011 Japan Tsunami, which killed almost 16,000 and the meltdown caused by that disaster which killed zero people to date. Nobody remembers the tsunami, but everyone remembers that it caused a meltdown. People are still talking about the Fukushima radiation threat as if it is going to kill us all any day now. And that was from a natural disaster, not a man made terrorist attack. 

Even an unsuccessful attack on a nuclear power plant could cause a panic greater then what has been seen in Europe in years. If ISIS or another group managed to seriously damage a plant and actually cause a radiation leak it would be pure bedlam. Nuclear power would probably be on the way out in Europe and relations between Muslims in Europe and non-Muslims would completely degrade to the point of possible open warfare. 

Given that is what ISIS wants, it's obvious why they are so interested in attacking these nuclear sites. But I think the actual threat is low. Security is decent enough at these plants and I doubt they would be able to pull off a successful attack. Power plants in general are "hard targets" and nuclear ones are doubly so. It's so much easier to attack softer targets, like airports and metro stations. The impact of the attack is smaller when you choose a soft target but the chance of success is much better.

 I honestly think if they wanted to hit a nuclear power plant, the United States would be a better target, at least right now. Unlike Europe, we don't have our military posted at our nuclear power plants. We do have security guards, of course, and they are armed, but not so well armed that they could fight back against a determined attack. Fortunately, the threat in the United States is much less then the threat in Europe, so I doubt there are all that many people here interested in even trying compared to the massive threat that Belgium and the rest of Europe is facing right now. 

Of course, ISIS also has an interest in stealing nuclear materials to make a dirty bomb. That could have been the plan with this murder. They could just dress as the guard and then use his ID to get in and try to steal materials. It would be a dangerous plan with a small chance of success, but similar things have happened in the past. I would hope that nobody would be that careless during a time when the threat is so sky high, but anything could happen... Nevertheless, I think this possibility is extremely remote.

My guess is that this particular murder was just that. A normal, run of the mill murder. It sucks for the man or woman that was killed, but my guess is that the connection to international terrorism is mostly in these reporters heads. I could be wrong, but I hope that I am not. Either way though, it gave me an excuse to talk about the threat of nuclear terrorism... 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Is Ted Cruz's sex scandal going to derail his campaign?

Ted Cruz. Daily Beast/Reuters. 

It's been a crazy 24 hours since the Ted Cruz sex scandal story really began to take hold. On Twitter, #CruzSexScandal was trending for most of the night and well into morning. I followed it all day for the most part but I wasn't really comfortable writing up a blog post last night or this morning. Why? I just didn't have a good enough source The original report came from the National Enquirer, a supermarket tabloid. Though The Enquirer has broken some major stories before, including the John Edwards sex scandal which they almost won the Pulitzer Prize for, it's still a tabloid. It doesn't have a stellar reputation to the point where I saw the issue in question and briefly considered buying it. But I didn't because even though I was shopping at Wal-Mart, I was too embarrassed to be seen buying it.  

Now I have a better source. The Daily Beast has a report detailing many of the issues raised by the National Enquirer. As a review, the original article claims that Cruz was having an affair with 5 different women, three of which have been identified because the Enquirer did a piss poor job of pixilating their pictures. Two of them have publicly denied the report, so I feel comfortable naming them. 

The first is Katrina Pierson, who used to work for Ted Cruz but is now a spokeswoman for Donald Trump's campaign. She denied her supposed involvement with Cruz, but did not say if any of the other allegations are true. 

The second was Amanda Carpenter, who works as a CNN talking head and had worked with Cruz as a speechwriter until about a year ago. Hilariously enough, Carpenter was confronted with the allegations on CNN this morning, which was an amazing example of live television going off the rails. You can see the video in this article, which also shows Katrina Pierson's tweet denying the story.  

So what's my take on this? If it is true then Ted Cruz is done. Not just as a presidential candidate, but as a Senator as well. The accusations, if true, make Cruz look like a gigantic hypocrite, since he has always run as a fundamentalist Christian. Even if it isn't true, or can't be proven, Cruz is going to take a major short term hit in the polls. Enough that he will probably lose my home state of Wisconsin. I will say if the allegations due turn out to be false, Cruz will get a huge boost in the polls and Donald Trump will be hurt. 

But is it true? I think there is a bit of evidence each way. The fact that a lot of other news outlets passed on this story makes me think that there isn't a whole lot of evidence for these affairs. On the other hand, some of those passes could have been for political reasons. For example, Breitbart, an alt-right news organization, passed on the story, but they have been accused in the past for being in the bag for Ted Cruz. That doesn't mean that the story is good, but it could offer up a second explanation as to why they didn't cover it. Indeed, it's very possible that both options are true.

I also have to point out that there hasn't been any solid evidence that has been released. The Daily Beast article claimed that there is video footage of Cruz meeting with one of the women every week on Tuesdays and Thursdays while coming out of a hotel, but that video hasn't been released. Until that happens, this story doesn't have a lot of proof. The article was a weak one and named the women without naming any sources or showing any evidence like photos or video. 

But I think there is a circumstantial case for it being true, even now. First of all, I watched both Heidi and Ted Cruz this morning while they were in Oshkosh, Wisconsin for a campaign event. Both of them seemed a bit more nervous then they normally are, and when Heidi talked about how much she loved her husband, it seemed more then a little forced. That could just be because they were caught off guard by this story, but I am not so sure. Amanda Carpenter's denial of the story on CNN also convinced me that there was a bit of fire causing this smoke. It seemed obvious to me, just based on my experience with liars, that she was lying, though I could of course be wrong.

None of that would hold up in a court of law though. But I think there is a much better argument for this story being at least partially true. Why? Because the National Enquirer will get sued into oblivion if it wasn't true. In order to avoid a lawsuit for libel, not only from Ted Cruz, but from Pierson and Carpenter as well, the Enquirer would have to be able to prove in court that the allegations true. Otherwise their magazine is going to be utterly destroyed in court, especially after what Hulk Hogan did to Gawker. It's too big of a risk for the Enquirer to publish this without some stronger evidence that they are holding back. 

Even more convincing to me is that both the Rubio and Trump campaigns shopped this story around. When Rick Wilson, an establishment crony and genuinely terrible person, was shopping it around to various news organizations, it was clear that he was a Rubio supporter. Had he been able to sell the story and it turned out to be false, Rubio would have lost Florida by a greater margin then he did. That was obviously against his and the other Rubio supporters goal, so they wouldn't have even tried if there wasn't some evidence here.

The same thing will happen to Donald Trump's campaign if this story turns out to be false. Even though Trump has disavowed the story, his former campaign adviser Rodger Stone, who Trump fired last summer, was the only person quoted in the story. Trump has a lot of pull at the National Enquirer, and I think it would be unbelievable if they wrote this story without his approval. And no matter what, Trump was going to get blamed for this story anyways, so he'd be crazy to release it without knowing that it is true. 

The common thread here is that neither campaign, Rubio or Trump, would have wanted this story to get out if they thought it would hurt their campaign. The fact that they allowed it means that, in my mind, they think it is a legit story. 

So what is going to happen now? I expect the video of Cruz and one of his supposed mistresses to be released soon, by next week at the latest. I also expect the National Enquirer to release a follow up report with stronger evidence, if, for no other reason, to avoid getting hit with a massive lawsuit. Other media outlets are going to dig into this story as well, and I am betting they find something. Expect video by next week and a concession speech shortly after that. Once Cruz is out of the race it's a two man race between Trump and Kasich, who is mathematically eliminated from winning the nomination.  

Finally, I have to say that I am very disappointed with Ted Cruz. That was true even before this scandal erupted. His actions in Iowa, where his staffer lied to Ben Carson supporters saying he dropped out and sent out voter "grades" that looked a lot like voter intimidation, were enough to be disgusted with him. Even if these allegations are false, I was long ago convinced that he didn't have the ethical standards to be president, even if I agree with him politically.

 If the allegations are true, and I am about 80% sure that they are at least partially so, then he's scum who doesn't deserve to be in the race. Though I don't think cheating on your wife should automatically disqualify you from being president even if it is a scummy thing to do, I hate hypocrites. Cruz ran as a Christian conservative and like so many in the past, he may not have lived up to what he preached. Nobody likes people who say "do as I say, not as I do"... 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Syrian troops re-enter the strategic city of Palmyra.

Syrian troops on the road to Palmyra. Reuters/SANA. 

Syrian media claim that troops loyal to Bashar al-Assad's regime have entered the strategic city of Palmyra, which was taken by ISIS last year. Reuters. Monitoring groups claim that the regime is just outside of the city and is making fast progress in the area. The regime launched an offensive to take back the city earlier this month and the advance is being backed by Russian air power. Civilians have attempted to evacuate from the city. Palmyra sits an a crucial crossroads between Deir Ez Zor in te east and Damascus in the west. It was also the site of several historical ruins that were destroyed by ISIS.

My Comment:
Very good news out of Syria, especially if they manged to take the city without doing further damage to the ruins there. The destruction of the ruins in Palmyra is one of ISIS's most heinous and disgusting crimes. The ruins that were lost were irreplaceable and their destruction diminished all of humanity. I am afraid though that there is nothing left to be salvaged. ISIS was very determined to destroy anything they viewed as blasphemous, and for whatever reason, they felt that these ruins were. 

I've said before that the iconoclasm of ISIS is one of the worst features of the organization. That isn't to say that they are the only group with that problem. Indeed, all of Sunni Islam thinks that veneration of the dead or depictions of people are blasphemous. It's the worst feature of an already problematic religion and it is threatening history itself. And it's the moral obligation that makes the very least sense for me. Why could it ever be wrong to depict someone? I guess I kind of understand the prohibition against ancestor veneration, if you truly believed it is disrespectful to God , but it's still stupid and wrong. 

Not that the destruction of ruins was the only thing that ISIS did in Palmyra. Indeed, the executions they did there among the ruins were probably even worse. I have seen videos of them using children, as young as 8 years old, to execute prisoners with the ruins of Palmyra as a backdrop. Dozens of prisoners were killed in these videos by children. If you really want to see such a thing, you can find it yourself, I won't post it here, but it just goes to show that ISIS has a lot to answer for in Palmyra. Using children as executioners is so vile I can't even think of a fictional society that would do it. The fact that we have real people, using real children, to murder is just unbelievable. 

As for the Syrian regime they have been making quick progress ever since the cease fire has been declared. Not having to fight the more moderate Syrian rebels has freed their forces up to target ISIS and, to a lesser extent, al-Nusra, who are not covered by the truce. Without the threat of rebel attacks, they can concentrate their forces against ISIS. Though the truce may not hold forever, it is freeing up large numbers of troops. The obvious caveat is that if the truce falls apart, then the offensive could stall, though my guess is that ISIS is the main target for right now. 

The Syrian regime can also concentrate the firepower of their Russian allies. The Russians have pulled out most of their air force but they have left quite a few jets and helicopters behind. What is left is being used in a smart way, in support of the Syrian regime troops. Having that kind of firepower available is most likely a huge morale boost and is helping the troops on the ground advance. Air power is a force multiplier that increases the effectiveness of ground troops. And if this war has shown us anything it is that Russian air power is effective and destructive. 

This strategy is already paying dividends. The regime has taken quite a bit of territory back from ISIS in the Aleppo area, and this new battle to take back Palmyra could push ISIS back even further. Palmyra is a hugely strategically important city and if they capture it they can use it as a springboard for further attacks east. Not only can they use the city as a base to relive the besieged city of Deir Ez Zor, they are also creating a massive salient to attack ISIS forces that are stationed in Qaryatayn. It could even be used as a base for attacks on the Syrian ISIS capital of Raqqa itself. In short, Palmyra could be a dagger pointed at the throat of ISIS, and taking it would be a huge victory.

If the battle for Palmyra ends in a regime victory, consider it a major turning point in the war against ISIS. As recently as a few months ago, ISIS was still taking territory from the Syrian regime. Russian airstrikes, along with this new cease fire, has completely reversed ISIS's momentum in Syria. The regime is starting to take their country back and ISIS is in serious trouble.

And the situation is even more dire for ISIS because the situation in Iraq is similar to the one in Syria. Troops are massing for attacks on the de-facto capital of Mosul, and it seems likely that ISIS could lose even more territory then they have already. Could this be the beginning of the end of the ISIS threat?

Hardly. ISIS has survived reversals in fortune before. For example, after losing Tikrit in Iraq, they were able to take Ramadi out from under the noses of the Iraqi security forces. Such a reversal isn't quite as likely today as it was back then, but it's certainly possible. And ISIS still holds massive swaths of territory in both Iraq and Syria, which will take years to clean up. Remember, in the summer, wars in Iraq and Syria tend to die down, so don't expect much in the way of offensives during the summer months. ISIS is also gaining territory in Libya and the situation there is much like the situation in Iraq and Syria when ISIS first started to come onto the scene. 

More importantly, these advances against ISIS won't do a damn thing against the threat of terrorism in Europe. The sleeper cells are already there and wreaking havoc, as the recent attacks in Brussels has shown. And more and more ISIS fighters will infiltrate into Europe, many of them battle hardened, as the migrant crisis continues unabated. Even worse, ISIS is inspiring an entire generation of Muslims to take up the call to Jihad. Many will resit that call but the ones that do not will cause massive problems. Even if ISIS is pushed out of Syria and Iraq completely, the genie is out of the bottle. It's unlikely we will ever get it back in... 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A rant about the election...

I'm kind of getting sick of how this election is playing out. It seems lately that there has been nothing but a negative stream of articles and posts about how Donald Trump is the devil and how he's the next Hitler an all that nonsense. That would have been inevitable no matter who the GOP front runner was, but what is annoying me is that nobody else is getting pounded on the same issues. I don't really have a problem with people vetting the candidates, indeed, it's a good thing. But right now only one candidate is getting vetted. I'm just going to point out what some of the problems I have with the other candidates in the race. I'm going to do all four non-Trump candidates, and for fairness sake, I will include Trump as well. 

Keep in mind this is more of a rant then an actual argument. I won't pretend that my objections are universal ones, but I really do think that we need to do a better job with vetting the other presidential candidates. This is my take on it, having followed the election closely since last summer.

John Kasich:
Sure, he's a "nice guy", but I think he is going to get us all killed. Kasich is a neocon who seems to think that Russia is the biggest threat. To the point where he actually implied that he would shoot down Russian planes if they violated a proposed no-fly zone in Syria. That is just insane to me because that kind of situation could start World War III, a war that I probably wouldn't survive. He also wants to arm Ukrainians to fight the Russians and their rebel allies as well. Again, this could start World War III.

So no, I don't think Kasich is a "nice guy". Nice guys don't get us into wars with Russia for dubious reasons. Overthrowing the Syrian government or making sure the Ukrainians hold on to their breakaway provinces is not worth fighting Russia. Almost nothing is worth that. And that's a huge downside to Kasich that nobody is talking about. 

Also, I think that Kasich's motives for staying into the race are not good. He's up to something and I think there are two scenarios that could be playing out, both of which rub me the wrong way. First, he could be angling for Trump's VP slot. It's unlikely given how different they are on policy, but given that he is hitting Ted Cruz and ignoring Trump, it's possible. He hasn't attacked Trump all that much, and by staying in the race he is hurting Ted Cruz. Though I would rather have Trump win then Cruz, I also think that it should be up to the voters to decide who the candidate should be. And with Kasich in the race, the voters have to put up with a false candidate that has no chance of winning, even in a brokered convention.

That's the other possibility and if you have been reading my election posts at all lately, you know that  I hate the idea of a brokered convention. If Kasich isn't aiming for Trump's VP slot, and I don't think he is, then the only thing he is in the race for is to prevent anyone from winning the primary elections outright. That's dirty pool as far as I am concerned and neither scenario shows me that Kasich actually cares about democracy at all. 

Bernie Sanders:
Guy's a communist. Sure. he's better then Clinton, but his whole platform is basically steal from the rich to give to the poor. As a student of history I have seen how that works out and it isn't good. I'd rather not just punish everyone who is rich just to give it to people who don't deserve it. That doesn't mean that rich people are all good, but to listen to Sanders you would think that they are all sacrificing babies to Moloch or something. I could never vote for someone as far to the left as Sanders. 

And I really don't think free college is a good thing. Indeed, too many people go to college right now. They never tell you about it but so many people drop out of college, and not just because they can't afford it. There are a lot of people that just aren't smart enough to go to college. I saw plenty of them when I was in school, and a lot of them ended up dropping out. If we let everyone get into college for free, then everyone is going to go and a lot of those people are just not going to be able to hack it. So that either means that we chop the standards up so bad that only the very worst of the worst can't pass, so a college degree is useless, or we fail at educating millions of people and waste billions of dollars that would be better spent elsewhere.

Bernie Sanders is also an one trick pony. All he talks about is income disparity, as if that is the only problem that is happening right now. Though I didn't watch as many Democratic debates compared to the GOP ones, I did watch a few of them and whenever the topic of foreign policy came up he just seemed lost. When a question about Afghanistan came up, Sanders seemed like he didn't remember that we were still involved in a war there. And that is not the only time I noticed when Sanders seemed lost, he just doesn't seem to understand foreign policy at all. When he does speak about it, it's mostly like his response to the ISIS attack in Brussels yesterday. "We need more tolerance and understanding to the people trying to kill us". Give me a break! 

Ted Cruz:
This is a tough one because I actually agree with Ted Cruz on policy more then anyone else. But where I disagree I really disagree. He's a strong Evangelical, and I am... well... not. He's very passionate about abortion, an issue I don't care about at all, and he was involved in the plot to shut down the government, which backfired horribly. He's so extreme on those issues that I can't see him working with the Democrats at all on anything. Though I am no fan of the Democrats, we at least need to be able to work with them.

But that would be easy enough to overlook if he wasn't just so sleazy. I still haven't forgiven him for what he did to Ben Carson in Iowa. His people told Carson's supporters that he was dropping out and that they should vote for Cruz instead. That cost Carson a ton of votes and may have given Cruz the election. And this isn't the only sleazy thing he has done. From robocalls claiming Trump had dropped out and a voter scorecard sheet that looked more like an attempt at intimidation, Cruz has done some seriously shady crap in this campaign. 

And I really don't like how he, the former maverick anti-establishment hero, is cozening up to the #nevertrump crowd. I mean he was just endorsed by Jeb "everything that's wrong the the GOP" Bush for crying out loud! It makes me think that he will give in to the establishment on issues like immigration and foreign policy, which would otherwise be a strength for him. 

Hillary Clinton:
Here's the short list:
-The entire Libyan war
-Her push to attack Syria (which Obama, to his credit, turned down)
-The e-mail scandal
-Her opposition to gun rights
-Everything I said about Kasich causing World War III, only without the guns that Kasich would let us keep to fight off the mutants in the nuclear wasteland afterwards
-Bill Clinton is at the very least a sexual harasser and is a likely rapist too, and Hillary Clinton has supported and enabled him for years. 

I could go on and on with Hillary, but right now nobody is attacking her for her various ethical issues. She's legitimately a bad person, even ignoring the policy issues I have with her. There is no way that she should even be allowed to be president. 

Donald Trump:
I'm going to utterly ignore all the usual criticisms because none of them matter to me. At all. But I will say that I do have some serious policy differences with Trump. First of all, he is totally wrong on the NSA issue. I am extremely uncomfortable with the government spying on me. Trump will probably use these powers to spy on suspected terrorists, but what about the person after Trump? It wouldn't be that hard for the next President after him to abuse the power. For example, targeting Trump's own supporters for "radical" beliefs, such as gun ownership or disliking Barack Obama... 

I'm also somewhat concerned that he could change his mind on certain issues. He has done it before. Though I think he is smart enough to not betray his current beliefs about, for example, gun rights, what would happen if he ends up a lame duck like Barack Obama? If he changes his mind then and starts to move to the center on that issue, then I'm screwed out of my rights. I don't think he will, but I think I trust Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders and John Kasich a bit more when it comes to not flip flopping. Of course compared to Clinton, Trump's a bastion of consistency...

I also don't think all of his policy goals would actually work. The great wall of Trump is a good shovel ready jobs program and a gigantic middle finger to the rest of the world, which makes it worth doing in my opinion, but on the other hand, it won't stop all illegal immigration. Remember, a lot of people here illegally are people who had their visas run out while they are already in the country! And it does nothing to protect our northern border with Canada or our various ports of entry. 

Same thing with torture. I don't think it is morally wrong to torture someone if the stakes are high enough. I just don't think it works all that well. It's not a great way to gather intelligence and if it doesn't work, given how unpopular it is, we shouldn't really do it. 

Well, that's my rant. It's not as thought out as some of my other posts but I was just frustrated this morning because people are treating Donald Trump as the second coming of Hitler when the truth is that none of the candidates are all that good. In my humble opinion, Trumps the best of a bad bunch, which isn't saying much. I'll probably hold my nose and vote for him, but my discomfort with him isn't for the reasons the media is pushing. 

Of course there is never a perfect candidate. Back when my favorite candidate was still running, Rand Paul, I could have probably wrote a bullet point list where I disagreed with him as well. It's just frustrating to me that only Donald Trump is getting vetted right now. Sure, he deserves to be and there is a ton to discuss with him. I'm just afraid that everyone is so focused on him that they won't realize the downsides of the other candidates. 

I would recommend to everyone that they take a critical look at the candidates they are supporting. The Trump people are excused since the media is going 24/7 on his flaws, real and perceived, but right now everyone else needs to take a look at their candidates as well. I don't expect people to agree with me on my criticisms, obviously, but if you look at your candidates positions and histories, and watch how they act, then you may find something you don't like. The media is supposed to do that job for you but right now they are only doing it for one candidate... 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Major terrorist attack in Brussels, Belgium. Suicide bombing in an airport and a bombing at a metro station.

Blown out windows at the Zaventem airport. Reuters. 

I'm going to skip the usual format for this one, and point out that everything I am writing here is an initial reaction. As you are probably aware there was a major terrorist attack in Brussels, Belgium this morning. The most current casualty figures I have seen is 34 dead and 170+ wounded, but that number is likely to change. The attack was a two pronged one. The Zaventem airport in Brussels was struck by a suicide bomber. Near the EU headquarters a metro train was bombed at the Maelbeek station. 

For live updates for this event visit one of these sites:

I'm absolutely furious about this attack. I know a few people that are in Europe right now, and at least two of them were either in the area or were going to be there soon. One person I know usually rides the train that was blown up and only didn't today because she was running late. Another was on vacation and was scheduled to land at Zavetem airport a few hours after the attack. Thankfully, they are both safe and fine right now, but I can't even pretend to be objective about this topic when two people I know, both from high school, could have been killed if things had been even slightly different. 

I think it is fairly obvious that this attack is related to the arrest of Salah Abdeslam, the last known attacker involved with the Paris attacks. Though I don't feel like this is a "revenge" attack for his arrest and the raid that killed another Jihadist, I do think that the attack is at least related. The timing is a bit too quick for it to be an attack that was specifically an attack in response to that. It is unclear if Abdeslam was working with this particular terrorist cell. It's possible that Abdeslam was not involved with this cell, but my guess is that he was.

If he was, then this attack may have been pushed up due to his arrest. If Abdeslam talked, the whole operation could have been burned, and the attack could have never been pulled off.  My guess is that they felt the police closing in so they had to attack now. We don't know if that is the case or not, but I would put money on it. 

It also seems obvious that there are still suspects at large. Though one of the bombers blew himself up, I don't think that one person planted all three bombs. He probably did place the two bombs that detonated at the airport, but I don't think he did the metro bombing, just due to the improbable timing that would require. My guess is that at least one bomber is still on the loose, with more possibly on the loose. Belgium has taken the extraordinary step requesting that the media not talk about the ongoing operation, so we probably won't know what happened for quite some time.

I also want to point out the significance of these targets. Obviously an airport is a major target no matter what. It is a tempting target and despite the presence of security outside of the gates, it's fairly easy to strike outside of the secure areas. That seems to be what has happened in Brussels. The bomber didn't blow himself up in the secure areas, he just attacked the people waiting to get through security. Attacking an airport also increased the number of people that would be effected by the attack. People from all over the world visit the Zavetem airport, and I am sure there will be victims from other countries besides Belgium.

The attack on the metro station is even more significant. The Maelbeek station is right by many EU government buildings. The choice of this station is a direct attack on the EU and may have indeed killed people that work for the EU. This is a clear message that nobody is safe, not even the people that run the European government.

I haven't said much about the people responsible for this attack. It's almost certainly ISIS. After all, it happened right after an ISIS cell was burned and many ISIS supporters are celebrating the attack on social media. And I haven't heard anything about al-Qaeda being active in Belgium. They have a history in Europe, as they pulled off the Charlie Hebdo attack, but I think it is extremely unlikely that they were the ones responsible for it. 

As for what should be done, I am not sure. Belgium really needs to crack down on the extremist Muslims in the country, but at this point I am not sure that is enough. Once we know more about the suspects, we should know more about what can be done. It is possible that the attackers were either native born, recent immigrants, or even people smuggled in during the migrant crisis. But no matter where these people came from, they were still able to pull off this attack. 

I do think that we need to start hitting ISIS harder though. Though we are still hitting ISIS in Iraq and Syria, we have been ignoring them for the most part in Libya. But even if we do go into all three countries, there are so many operatives and terrorists running around, the threat won't go away. I really don't think there is much that the Europeans can do to stop these attacks, short of the law enforcement and intelligence activities that they are doing now. 

Finally, I may have an update post on this topic later tonight. I could write more about how this could effect the US election or if it could effect the UK trying to leave the EU, but I am just not up to it. For right now, I am going to take a break from all this and try to think about something else... 

Monday, March 21, 2016

Russia is growing frustrated by a lack of US coordination on Syrian cease fire, may act unilaterally.

The current military situation in Syria. Via Wikipedia.

Russia is growing frustrated by a lack of coordination with the United States over cease fire violations in the Syrian Civil War, and may unilaterally launch airstrikes. AP/CBS.  The airstrikes may begin as soon as next Tuesday if an agreement isn't reached. Russia has accused the United States of dithering when it comes to enforcement of cease fire violations, which Russia claims has killed 67 people in the Aleppo area. Though the cease fire has been largely successful, violations are relatively common, and both the Syrian regime and rebel groups have been accused of violating the truce. 

My Comment:
Trouble ahead for the truce? I'm not sure. From what I understand the US government disagrees with the Russian's assessments and think everything is fine. I don't see how that is possible. It seems to me that both sides in this conflict are regularly violating the truce. And the Russians are right, we aren't coordinating with them. 

And I still don't know why we can't just work with the Russians. I know we officially still support the rebels and want Assad to fall, (well I don't but the government does), but doesn't the cease fire mean that both sides in the conflict are working to end it? I mean peace talks are starting up and there could be a solution found. It seems like it would be rather easy to find away to agree with the Russians on the rules of engagement. Why not enforce the terms of the cease fire? 

As it stands right now, nobody is getting punished for violating the cease fire. I think that this has the potential to derail the entire peace process. After all, if rebel groups, or the Syrian government, can get away with attacking their enemies, there is little incentive to not do so. A horrific amount of blood has been spilled in Syria and a lot of people still want to settle scores before the fighting ends. Allowing that to happen could end the cease fire and start the fighting up again. 

That shouldn't happen as this cease fire is the best chance for peace. Simply allowing the rebels to break the cease fire isn't going to help things. Then you get into a tit-for-tat cycle of revenge that can spiral out of control. Sending in airstrikes might not be the best solution but it would at least make the rebels think twice about breaking the cease fire. I haven't heard of a better way to enforce the cease fire either. 

Of course we aren't sure which group of rebels are responsible for the breaks in the cease fire. It could be one of the non-ISIS, non-al-Qaeda Jihadist groups that is responsible. If that is the case, then we have no reason not to bomb them when they act up, since, as Jihadists, they deserve airstrikes anyways. It could also be the more mainstream Free Syrian Army units as well. They occasionally exhibit bad behavior as well. And we can't rule out regime forces violating the truce either. 

On the other it is very hard to tell a Jihadist rebel apart from the more mainline FSA units. Indeed, it's very hard to tell any of the rebel groups apart, even when you factor in groups like ISIS and al-Nusra which were not covered in the truce. My guess is that this is probably one of the major reasons why the United States is dragging their feet on this issue. They don't want to have the "wrong" rebels get bombed. I'm not super sympathetic to this argument because even the few "secular" rebels left in Syria are at the very least working with Jihadist and Islamist groups, even if they aren't themselves all that radical. 

Finally, I am amazed that this cease fire has lasted as long as it has. It stated on the 27th of last month and back then I thought it would last a week at best. Right now were are quickly approaching a full month of cease fire, which I think is very impressive. I will give credit to both the rebels and the regime for at least trying to make the cease fire work, even if there are a bunch of violations. 

What are the chances that the cease fire becomes permanent? I don't know. It just seems like there are too many factions with a stake in Syria for it to ever be truly peaceful. The Jihadist groups have their own agenda and won't stop fighting even if there is a major breakthrough. And there are a lot of countries, such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia, that have a large interest in continuing the war. But if there is any hope at all, this cease fire is probably it... 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Why Donald Trump is popular... part two. Another post about Trump and his supporters.

Donald Trump. Photo by Michael Vadon

A while back I wrote a rather long post about Donald Trump's popularity. That was last summer. A lot has changed since then but the arguments that I made, that Trump was tapping into widespread anger about immigration and political correctness, still hold. I think those arguments are solid and I still stand by them. But I also think there is much more too it then that. The past few months have proven that Trump is tapping into something far greater then a backlash against political correctness and immigration. 

Indeed, many people I have talked to about Donald Trump, either in real life or on the internet, seem to be utterly baffled by his popularity even after I explain those two factors. And it doesn't really fully explain his popularity. My hope is that I will be able to better explain things here, via a blog post, so that these people will better understand where Trump's supporters are coming from and why they are supporting a candidate that is being attacked on all fronts as a sexist, racist and bigot. 

This isn't a post to convince anyone that Trump is the correct candidate for America. As a full disclosure I do plan on voting for Donald Trump during the Wisconsin primary for reasons I don't need to get into here. He wasn't anywhere near my first choice but I do think he is the best candidate in the race. I don't think I am that biased for Trump, as I am a reluctant supporter, but keep that in mind anyways. 

Also, please don't accuse me of supporting Donald Trump for all of the reasons I listed. Some of them I acknowledge but don't think are reasons to support a candidate or even ethical. I'm going to present the arguments, even if I disagree with some of them I'll let you figure out which ones I support and which ones I disagree with yourself (hint, it's the first argument that I have the most problems with, but it isn't the only one). Again, just because I am making the argument doesn't mean I agree with everything I am writing. This is a post about understanding why people think the way they do and you can't do that without actually writing out what people are thinking, even if it may be unpleasant to read for the more (overly?) sensitive. 

With that out of the way, I am mainly writing this post to answer the question "why would anyone ever want Donald Trump to be president?" I ask forgiveness in advance for the "listicle" format but I think it is probably the easiest way to organize this. I won't be covering the immigration and political correctness topics extensively because I posted about that before.  I do acknowledge that those two issues are a major source of Trump's popularity as well, and suggest you read that post for my arguments there.

1. The political left/Democrats have all but declared war on middle, lower and underclass white Americans. I covered this a bit when I talked about political correctness, but it's clear to me that the left has abandoned all white people that aren't upper class democrats. Why? Privilege theory. This isn't going to be a essay on the ins and outs of that theory, just how Donald Trump's supporters may see it.

According the privilege theory, which is supported by a large part of the Democratic Party and is used to form their policy, the only reason that minorities, be they racial, gender or LGBT, have any problems at all is because straight white males have all the advantages in society. This invisible privilege means that a homeless straight white christian male is better off in society then Barack Obama, the most powerful man on Earth right now. Sure, social justice warriors on the left might acknowledge that Obama is in a better situation, but would still argue that he has been disadvantaged by racism and other forms of discrimination that the homeless white guy didn't. Usually though, they only admit that underclass and lower class whites are a thing if you press them very hard. At all other times they act as they don't exist and criticize whites as if they were all middle or upper class. 

There is probably some truth to that, in a way, since I personally don't have any idea what it is to be black, gay or a woman, but the whole thing is just an appeal to worse problems. Saying Barack Obama has faced racism so we should tackle the problem of racism even if it means we ignore poor homeless white guy, is a logical fallacy. Sure, I'm guilty of a bit of a strawman here, but the point remains that someone isn't automatically worse off if they are a minority even if they do have to face discrimination. And the accusation that someone is automatically better off then a minority if they are having major issues, like many people in the underclass and lower class are, is grating at best and down right insulting at worse.

Where does Donald Trump fit into this? Well, he's speaking right to those white people that are being attacked by the left. He hasn't gone so far as to say that privilege theory is incorrect, but he is focusing on the concerns and problems of the white lower classes. This group of people has been largely ignored by both parties and all but demonized by the left. Donald Trump is basically saying that yes, these people exist, and yes their concerns can be addressed. In short, he's treating them like people, not irredeemable racists that deserve whatever they have coming to them. 

You might disagree with Donald Trump about immigration or trade deals, but the perception on the street is that these things hurt lower class whites (and minorities for that matter, which explains some of Trump's popularity among blacks compared to previous Republican candidates). Focusing on them can only help him get elected and for the lower class it's like a breath of fresh air. 

These attacks, by the way, also go a long way in explaining why attacks against Trump as a bigot have largely failed. The terms "racist" "sexist" "islamaphobe" and "bigot" have been so overused by the left that they have largely lost all meaning. As a personal aside, I have been called a racist simply for majoring in Criminal Justice during college. Not for supporting the police. Not for attacking people of color. Just for learning about the criminal justice system, from a bunch of liberals mind you. It's hard to take accusations of racism seriously after something like that, and I think a lot of people have similar stories

2. Donald Trump is also seen as protecting and sticking up for these people from the Republican party. For the longest time when the rank and file Republicans tried to talk about trade deals or immigration, they have been demonized as racists and worse. Not only is it the media and the Democrats doing this, it is their own party as well. When anyone speaks out about illegal immigration, even using the term illegal immigration, the left will call them racists and the elite Republicans will practically fall over themselves to agree with the left! 

That's a bitter pill to swallow for many Republicans who voted for candidates that said they were going to be tough on immigration. Those same candidates, which were all for tougher immigration laws and promised that they would do something about it when they were up for election, ended up being the architects of amnesty and other unpopular proposals. And when their supporters pointed that out they denounced their own followers as racist scum. It's pretty easy to understand why the Republican base feels betrayed. 

And this isn't the only issue that Republicans tend to feel betrayed by their own party. Off the top of my head there is the reaction to the Confederate Flag controversy that erupted last year. Many southern whites expected the GOP to stick up for them. They didn't, with some good reasons justifying why they didn't. Still, it's another example of the GOP trying to play nice to impress people that don't like them anyways. 

Which is probably the most infuriating thing. These betrayals on wedge issues are driven in part by efforts to bring Hispanics and Blacks into the GOP. It isn't working because those groups don't believe that the GOP cares about them at all. And why should they? They don't vote Republican. Donald Trump is making more headway because he is focused on the economic issues, such as trade deals and immigration, which are also hurting minorities. Sucking up to people by denouncing your own party doesn't work. Actually trying to solve the problem, which Trump claims he will try, might. Which is why you often see Blacks and Hispanics at Trump rallies. 

3. Trump also treats women as equals. And by that I mean he treats them exactly the same he treats men. This does not mean that he is a chivalrous person. He says nasty things about people he disagrees with and by all accounts he is actually nice to people that he likes. Gender doesn't seem to play a role in how he treats people whatsoever. You can call that sexist if you wish, but I think there is a certain appeal to someone who treats women the same as he treats men, even if it means he's just mean to everyone. And it's hard to claim that Trump is sexist as he does treat everyone, regardless of gender, or race for that matter, the same way. Unless your definition of sexism is that woman should be treated with kid gloves less they get their feeling hurt (which is incredibly sexist against women), Trump doesn't seem like a sexist, but someone who is able to engage women opponents as equals. 

So why does this help Trump? After all, Trump's likely opponent is Hillary Clinton, a woman who never fails to remind people that she is a woman, damn it! Usually, Clinton is able to shrug off attacks against her by playing the gender card. She might not do it personally, but it's inevitable that anyone that calls her out on anything gets called a sexist pig. Just look at what happened to both Bernie Sanders and his supporters in the Democratic primary race. All he did is mildly disagree with her and interrupt her a couple of times at the debates and now he's been labeled a misogynist. And his supporters got hit with the same label because, no kidding, some people got trolled on the internet. Stop the presses!

Trump's different. For whatever reason, the "sexist" label doesn't seem to effect him. Those attacks just roll off his back, and I think it's because he never goes on the defensive. When Hillary Clinton accused him of being sexist awhile back, he didn't apologize or grovel like so many other Republicans have done, he hit both Hillary and Bill Clinton back twice as hard over Bill's many indiscretions and accusations. Nobody has done that to Clinton before, at least not presidential candidates. There is a major appeal there for anyone who dislikes Hillary Clinton. 

4. Republicans hate the people that hate Donald Trump, both inside and outside of the party. This section is for the people outside of it. People like Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street and all the various leftist groups that like to cause trouble. I don't think people on the left understand how disliked these various groups are. It's not their politics that people hate, or even the color of their skin, it's the actions that these groups have taken. 

After all, these groups all practice civil and uncivil disobedience. Occupy Wall Street, which started with bipartisan support, soon became noting more then a roving riot who fought with the cops and caused chaos. Sure, the Occupy folks would see it a different way, but for the average Trump supporter they just seemed like they were caused chaos for chaos's sake. And it's undoubtedly clear that in some cases, especially with the more radical communist and anarchist groups, that was what their goal was. 

And then there was Black Lives Matter. For many people it's still baffling what the movement is even about. So many of the poster children for the movement, like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, were obvious criminals. Even in cases where the cops undoubtedly screwed up, the involved people, like Eric Gardner and Freddie Gray, greatly contributed to their own deaths. It's difficult for people outside the movement to even understand what the issue is, let alone agree with it when those are the people being discussed. 

Black Lives Matter then proceeded to destroy Ferguson and Baltimore for reasons that the Republican base just doesn't understand. They disrupted rallies, stood in traffic and were generally annoying to anyone who came into contact with them. It may make sense to people on the left, but it doesn't make sense to anyone on the right. If I think about it hard, I can kind of understand it, but I don't think most people on the right will give it that much though. Right or wrong, there just isn't any support for Black Lives Matter on the right.

 Indeed, their actions, riots and protests which hurt people and damaged race relations, angered, confused and frightened those of us on the right politically. Though I don't think it's fair to say that the right in America hates minorities, it do think it is fair to say that they hate anyone that causes riots and protests this way. Hell, given the rather outspoken approval to the conclusion of the Oregon standoff, where a white guy got shot under dubious circumstances, it might just be that the right doesn't like the very concept of protest in general. it goes against the law and order beliefs that many conservatives have. I know I am very uncomfortable with it, and I think a lot of other people are too.

When these same people, these leftist agitators and racial rabble rousers, start attacking Donald Trump it's almost impossible not to like him if you hate those groups. Even if protesters are getting beat up at his rallies. I don't think people like the violence, it's just that they are sick of nobody standing up to people that are causing this kind of disruption. Plus they disagree with them politically, which always makes it easier to look the other way. 

5. There is also the people inside the party that are pissing off the Republican base. I already discussed the elites that spend most of their time denouncing what has been their most loyal voter base. But they are part of a bigger problem. I think people are also sick of the policies that the Republican Party is selling. (incidentally, this is probably the strongest argument for a Trump presidency in my eyes)

For one thing, nobody is really interested in going to war anymore. The neocons (in both parties, such as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on the Democrats side) still say that overthrowing despotic middle eastern countries governments will lead to peace and prosperity. The state of Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan blows the hell out of that argument but so many in the Republican elite still believe it. Donald Trump, though a firebrand, doesn't seem to want to get us into any further wars. He is talking about taking the war to the terrorists but he doesn't seem to want war with Iran, Syria or even Russia. He just wants to fight the terrorists and not every country who disagrees with the United States. That's a huge difference from the warmongers in the GOP. I'll give credit where credit is due and point out that Ted Cruz is also spot on about this issue as well. 

Second, there are the disagreements about trade and immigration. I have talked about that before, but it's critical to repeat the point as the difference between the Republican Party base and the GOP elite is wider on this issue then any other issue combined. To hear the Republican elite describe it, both trade deals and immigration, legal or otherwise, are the best things since sliced bread and the panacea for all that ails the economy. I'm no economist, but my guess is that a family of four where the dad lost his job to outsourcing and the mom lost her job to an immigrant isn't going to agree with that assessment. And neither will the millions of people who are being threatened with the same thing. Donald Trump at least claims to understand that and may actually at least try to do something about it, instead of saying it's a good thing. 

Third,  people are sick of hearing about entitlement reform. People like Social Security. They like Medicade. And though they hate Obamacare, they do like the idea of socialized medicine. The Republican Party elite hates all of those things with a passion and only Donald Trump has anything nice to say about keeping those programs funded, or in the case of Obamacare, replacing it with something better. That has a broad appeal and is liked by not only the GOP base but by labor focused Democrats as well. 

Fourth, people are disgusted about how the GOP is handling Donald Trump's candidacy. For more moderate folks that are unswayed by Trump's arguments on the issues, but think he is a better potential president then anyone in the Democratic Party, especially Hillary Clinton, the idea that the party should destroy itself over Donald Trump is insane. I think the #nevertrump crowd is a loud but tiny minority of people that actually do hate Trump more then they hate Hillary Clinton in the GOP. But they are not a major group and there are a lot of people disgusted at the idea of a brokered convention. I, for one, will vote for Donald Trump for that reason alone (or Ted Cruz if Trump somehow drops out before my primary date). I don't care if Trump does hurt the GOP, the will of the people should not be ignored! 

6. People just hate the media and are disgusted by their actions. I don't think I really even have to explain this one. Donald Trump hits the media hard. He plays them like a fiddle. That's why I don't think the tiff between Trump and Megyn Kelly amounts to much. She may be a women and a rare conservative in the media but it doesn't matter. She's a reporter first and I think for a lot of people that means that they don't care what happens to her. She may be a woman and a conservative, but since she's a reporter, and for no other reason, she's scum in the eyes of many in the GOP. Even pro-GOP reporters are thought of as less then dirt these days. That's how low the reputation of the media is right now, and the fact that Donald Trump seems to control them better then any other recent candidate this side of Barack Obama, and may even take steps to reign in the excesses by loosening libel laws, is a major reason to support him. 

It just doesn't matter that the media is attacking him. They attack all Republicans, but at least this one fights back instead of just siting there and taking it. And the perception is that many of the attacks are unfair or not even an issue at all. The media is just out to get Donald Trump, just like they would be out to get whoever the Republican front runner is. They don't care about truth or what's best for the consumer, they just care about bashing people and getting ratings/views. People hate the media right now, especially on the right, so anyone who gets attacked by them and can fight them to a standstill will get some supporters. 

7. Donald Trump speaks like he is a member of the Republican base. Unlike someone like Mitt Romney, who comes off as snooty, Trump speaks in an in your face and direct style. He's also crude and obnoxious, but more importantly, he sounds like he is from a class lower then he actually is. He's an upper class elite who speaks like a lower class "slob". Even his grammar and spelling mistakes on Twitter help him. After all, even I make mistakes and when the media makes fun of Trump for his various errors on Twitter, I don't sympathize with the media. I think that Trump is just like me. A guy who screws up once and awhile and gets unfairly attacked for minor errors. That's probably a stupid argument for supporting someone, but I, too, know what it is like to be attacked for sounding a certain way or writing a certain way. And I am a college educated writer who probably writes better then many of the people supporting Trump. 

Language is a powerful thing. Being able to speak and write like the lower classes shouldn't be underestimated. It was part of the reason why George Bush, an elite himself, was so popular, even though he sounded like an idiot sometimes. Even if he did say some stupid stuff he seemed more authentic to the Republican base then an upper class twit like Mitt Romney did. And attacking Donald Trump for speaking and writing the same way as millions of other Americans is sure to backfire. 

8. People are really scared of terrorism. That has always been the case but after the attacks in Paris and the various other major terrorist attacks across the globe, people are more worried now then ever. Americans have been killed in attacks even in our own backyard. ISIS is also spreading at an alarming rate and everyone remembers the videos of them executing captured journalists and aid workers. If you need a reminder about how serious the threat is, on this blog alone I have, at the time of this writing, 261 posts about ISIS alone, and none of them are flattering. I have another 100 posts about terrorism in general and 45 more about al-Qadea. I have only been writing this blog for little over a year and half, yet ISIS and other terrorist groups dominate it. 

It's clear that radical Islam is a problem. But how do our leaders respond? With #notallmuslims. Sure it's literally true, not all Muslims are terrorists. Most of them aren't. The ones that are though  are really bad people. It's hard to understate just how evil these people are. I know I have watched ISIS light people on fire, drown prisoners in cages and even use children as young as eight as an execution force. And ISIS and al-Qaeda have no problem with killing Americans wherever they can find them. How can we fight the enemy when we aren't even willing to admit that our enemies are a member of a certain religion? 

But once again, if you have the temerity to suggest that maybe bringing thousands of Muslims into the country is a bad idea you are denounced as a racist. Even though Islam isn't a race and there are, wait for it, white Muslims, you will be called a racist if you say anything critical about Islam. Sure, some people are legitimately prejudiced against Muslims but even if you like the religion or respect the members of Islam, you have to admit that radical Islam is a huge problem and a major threat to national security.

Other then Donald Trump though, none of the candidates seem to get that. Their solution for the ISIS problem is vague promises about airstrikes, and the utter destruction of the Syrian regime. Because destroying the people that are fighting ISIS will somehow help defeat them. Makes sense. Oh, and we can't forget the endless calls for tolerance and understanding. After all, the terrorists wills stop cutting heads off and blowing themselves up if we just understand their religion a little bit better! Because that is something that happens in the real world! Even the war hawks that want to go into Syria and Iraq and destroy ISIS don't seem to have a solution to the terrorist problem. People are getting radicalized without ISIS's help, and there is legitimate concern that refugees and other Islamic guests could cause problems. 

Donald Trump's blanket ban on Muslim travel isn't a good solution. Indeed, it's overkill, but at least he is trying to do something about the issue. Something that would undoubtedly work. If there isn't a population of Muslims to be radicalized then the threat of terrorist attacks goes down. It's not a perfect solution, because it hurts some people that don't deserve it, but at least it does something about the threat. I've been eagerly awaiting a better solution from the other candidates, but as of this writing there just isn't one. 

9. I think that people understand that Trump can't deliver on all his promises. He probably won't be able to make Mexico pay for a wall, but he will probably at least try to do something about the immigration situation. He probably won't be able to stop all Muslims from entering the country, but he could be able to stop ISIS from getting here. Indeed, I think that everyone knows that Trump is a lot of big talk, but the issues he is talking about are so ignored that anyone saying they would do anything about them is a huge improvement. Even if Trump can't accomplish all of his promises, he should be able to do something, which is more then a lot of the candidates would say. 

People should be aware that Donald Trump wrote in his book, The Art of the Deal, that you should always ask for way more then you actually want. That throws your opponent off their game and when it comes time, it makes you look more reasonable when you back down. I think people understand that Trump is shifting the Overton Window as well, making things more acceptable to talk about. And they know that he will be able to get more then he would otherwise if he was trying to run a country any other way. Or I could be wrong and there will be a lot of disappointed people when he pulls back a bit on his policy issues during the campaign... 

I, personally, see Trump as a deal-maker who can work with people to get things done. Though his tactics are well known, they are also effective. I think Trump will be able to work the the Democrats and his own party to get things done, and I think the average guy on the street would agree with that. People think he is tough but willing to talk it out. That's a good quality for a president to have.

10. Finally, I think there is a great respect for how Donald Trump is running his campaign. On a completely objective level, it seems that Trump has been brilliant. He realized almost all of the things I mentioned above and specifically tailored his campaign to fit the mood of the country. Though it may be unwise to vote for someone just based on how well he is doing, there is the argument that if he is a good campaign manager he might just be good at running the country...