Saturday, April 30, 2016

Shiite protesters storm green zone and parliament in Iraq.

Protesters inside the Iraqi parliament building. Reuters. 

Hundreds of Shiite Muslim protesters have stormed the Green Zone in Iraq and entered and ransacked the Parliament building there. Reuters. Protesters had gathered near the heavily defended area that houses many of Iraq's military and political leadership. The protesters are followers of notorious Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. They are upset at Iraqi Prime Minster Haider al-Abadi wants to replace political appointees with technocrats due to widespread corruption. These ministers have in the past been appointed along sectarian lines. Hundreds of protesters entered Parliment and even more gathered on the walls of the Green Zone and outside. 

My Comment:
Want to make an enemy? Try and change something. That's what Prime Minster Abadi did. He wanted to do something about the massive corruption that is plaguing Iraq. To do so he would have had to fire political appointees and replace them with people that are actually capable of doing the job without engaging in truly heroic amounts of graft.  

It's a strategy that makes sense. Corruption is huge problem in Iraq and it has been ever since Saddam Hussein was overthrown, and even before then. Not only does corruption have a major impact on the level of trust the people have in their government, it also has a major effect on the battlefield. One of the reasons many Sunni Iraqis actually kind of like ISIS is because they don't trust the Shiite led government to not take them to the cleaners. Of course ISIS is doing the same thing, but from the Iraqi's point of view at least it is going to other Sunni Muslims. This sympathy for ISIS partially explains the groups success in the country and why there hasn't been as much resistance against them as you would expect. 

Corruption also hurts the troops fighting against ISIS or other insurgents. Weapons, equipment and supplies often end up being diverted from the front lines. Those weapons are often sold on the black market and may even end up in the hands of the enemy the Iraqi soldiers are fighting. It must be an incredibly demoralizing thing to face weapons and equipment that was earmarked for you. Even soldier's pay is effected by corruption. There would be more money to give to front line troops if there weren't so many "ghost" soldiers on the payroll. These soldiers are dead, wounded or lazy and are not involved with the fighting but they are still getting paid. Well, they aren't but someone is, and that leaves less for everyone else who is actually fighting. 

Since corruption is such a huge problem, Abadi decided to take action. And by doing so he angered one of the most powerful men in Iraq. Moqtada al-Sadr. You may remember Sadr from the bad old days of the Iraq War where he lead a Shiite rebellion that fought against US troops as well as Sunni groups. The man is not a good person and he is responsible for the deaths of many Americans. He's out de-facto ally now, since he is fighting ISIS, but there is a lot of bad things that he did that he should be brought to justice. 

Since Sadr is a respected and powerful cleric, he was able to arrange this protest. Why? I am sure he is upset that some of the minsters that are slated to be replaced are his hand picked men. Sadr is a powerful man and he does not want to lose one bit of that power. It's really that simple.

Why do his supporters go along with it, besides the fact that he's powerful and respected? Well, for one thing, they don't want to share power with the Sunnis. Though it isn't guaranteed that the new minsters will be Sunni Muslims, whoever is going to be picked is at risk of putting their country first and not their coreligionists. Plus there is the fact that there is a major civil war between Sunni led ISIS and the Shiite led militias, with the Iraqi Army made up of members of both groups is caught in the middle.  

I am starting to think that Iraq isn't going to be salvageable. The differences between the Sunnis and the Shiites are too strong. Far too much blood has been spilled between both parties for them to ever truly reconcile. Especially with foreign powers interfering. Remember, Sadr is also a Iranian pawn and he reflects their interest in Iraq as well. The Saudis and the other Gulf States are trying to do the same thing with the Sunnis further complicating the situation

In the end it might just be better to split the country in three pieces. First the Kurds can have the north. This would anger Turkey, which isn't a problem with me, but could make a deal harder to come by. Second, the Shiites can have the eastern half of the country, and the capital of Baghdad. Finally, once ISIS is kicked out of Iraq, the Sunnis can have what is left of the country in the West, with Mosul as a possible capital. These could be three separate countries or perhaps one in a very loose federal system. How likely is this? I think Iraq is heading that way anyways since the Kurds are basically independent now, so in the end it may be the best solution. Who knows what the future holds though? 

Editor's note.

Just an FYI, I have added a follow by e-mail app to this blog. If you sign up for it, you can get updates automatically. You can find it on the sidebar of this blog, right underneath the popular posts and labels. As always, you can also get updates from my facebook page and twitter.

Also, last week the popular posts app went nuts for some reason. It was showing full size photos on each link, which made everything ugly. It was an easy fix, but I didn't notice it for a day. If any of you readers out there see that issue happening again, don't hesitate to contact me via twitter, facebook, a comment here or the contact form.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Everyone is Hitler now.

In case you missed it, Donald Trump gave a major foreign policy speech yesterday. It was a wide ranging speech and it covered many different issues, but the main point of the speech was that we should put America first. Instead of putting foreign interests first, we should take care of our own. In other words, we should do what the vast majority of countries  have done throughout history.

There are arguments against this kind of thinking. Some of them might even be good arguments. But what do you think the media is harping on? The term "America First". Apparently that means that Donald Trump is literally Adolf Hitler. Yep, THE Adolf Hitler, they guy that took over France, invaded Russia and did horrible things to Jews. Trump is now a Nazi just because he used the term America First. Very few media outlets have said that directly, but more then a few have implied it rather explicitly.

How does that work? Well if you use the tortured logic of the left it goes like this. America First was semi-popular isolationist American movement in the 1930's and 1940's that wanted the United States to stay out of World War II. One of the people in this movement was Charles Lindbergh, American hero. Lindbergh was accused of being a sympathizer for the Nazis. Since Donald Trump said something to a guy that has been dead for a long time that may have had some sympathy for the Nazis, Trump is obviously Adolf Hitler now.

This whole argument is incredibly stupid but it has been all too common lately. Everyone on the right politically has been called Hitler. Everyone. And quite a few people on the left have been too. Why? Because everyone hates Hitler so if you manage to paint your opponent as Hitler, then everyone will hate your opponent as well.

It's nothing new, calling people Hitler has been popular even when Hitler was still alive. This is so universal there is a law for it called Godwin's law. Godwin's law states  "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1". Basically, it states that comparing people to Hitler is inevitable. Sooner or later it will happen eventually.

I prefer the corollary to that law. Anyone who invokes Adolf Hitler in an argument automatically loses the argument. If I could make this into an actual law, with punishment for anyone violates it, I would be tempted to have it enforced. It is obvious to me that anyone who makes the Hitler argument is simply trying to manipulate you emotionally. The only exception is if someone actually does defend Hitler, which, as far as I know, Donald Trump has not done.

So I would say that anyone in the media, left or right, that has made this comparison has already lost and should be ignored. And I am very supportive of popularizing the corollary to Godwin's Law that states if you compare someone to Hitler, you automatically lose.

I would also like to point out the obvious hypocrisy here. These left wing news outlets are the same people that were demanding isolationism back in the George Bush II years. Remember "no blood for oil"? Back then everyone said that George Bush was a Nazi for overthrowing a Middle East regime. And now that Donald Trump is saying that doing so was a bad idea and we should avoid doing so in the future and he is just as big of a Hitler as George Bush.

In short, you can be called Hitler by the same people for supporting totally opposite positions on a major issue. If that is the case, then the Hitler comparison is completely useless and is only a dog whistle/applause light that can be freely ignored by anyone not part of the left side of the political spectrum.

China's president Xi: No war in the Korean Peninsula.

China's President Xi Jinping. Reuters. 

China's president, Xi Jinping, says that China will not allow chaos or war to break out on the Korean Peninsula. Reuters. President Xi said that war would be in nobodies best interest. The announcement comes shortly after North Korea tired to launch yet another ballistic missile. The test failed shortly after launch and was the second test firing to fail recently. North Korea is also expected to test another nuclear device as their ruling party congress is set to begin next week. China is North Korea's only major ally but they are growing frustrated with North Korea's attempts to develop nuclear weapons. 

In related news North Korea is undergoing major food shortages. AP/CBS. Food production dropped 6% last year, due in large part to water shortages and droughts. Due to these shortages, North Korea will have to import thousands of tons of food. 

My Comment:
Sounds like China is getting tired of North Korea. They have reason to be mad. The actions of North Korea causes instability in the region, which is not something the Chinese government wants. They are also in danger of having the North Koreans upset America so much that our government actually puts pressure on the Chinese to finally do something about the entire situation. Indeed, just yesterday Donald Trump said that he would do exactly that if elected. 

China must finally be starting to understand that North Korea isn't worth the risk that they cause. Yes, they are very useful as a buffer state. If Korea was united the 30,000 or so U.S. soldiers, along with the combined armies of the North and South Koreans would be right on their border. Obviously that's not a good outcome for the Chinese. But at some point the Chinese have to admit that it just isn't worth it anymore. 

Right now what is keeping the Chinese from punishing the North Koreans to severely is the threat of war. Coming down hard on the North Koreans in a vulnerable time could cause them to do something desperate which could result in a shooting war.  I am guessing that the Chinese would avoid the fighting, but they would still face massive consequences. Much like Europe is drowning in the massive economic and cultural costs of a massive migration wave, China too would have to deal with possibly millions of people fleeing the 2nd Korean War. 

And there would be other consequences as well. If the 2nd Korean War would go nuclear, it's likely that fallout from the Korean peninsula could reach China. There is also the threat of biological warfare. North Korea has an active bioweapons program and if they unleashed the right virus into the wild, like smallpox for example, it wouldn't take much for it to spread to China as well. The best case scenario for China is a major disruption in trade and a huge refugee crisis. The worst case scenario is a war with the west, which is almost unthinkable. 

It's a lose lose situation for the Chinese. If they crack down on North Korea, they lose their buffer zone and may actually do enough damage to the regime that it collapses. That would also lead to a refugee crisis, and even if the regime survives. And it's not inconceivable that a desperate North Korea could go to war anyways. If they give them too much leeway, they could bring the peninsula to war as well, plus they would have to deal with economic and political pressure for the west. It's a bad situation all around for China.

But as bad as it is for them, it is way worse in North Korea. The famine of last year is clearly having a major impact on the lives of North Koreans. I am guessing people are starving right now and if this year's harvest fails as well, then the North Koreans will be in serious trouble. Though the regime has survived major famines in the past, with a newer leader in Kim Jong Un, it's possible that it won't survive this time. 

Which is what these nuclear tests and ballistic missile tests are all about. North Korea is desperately trying to bring other countries to the negotiating table so they can trade concessions with their nuclear program for food. They need millions of tons of food to feed their people and they can't get them any other way. This has worked in the past but it doesn't seem to be working this time. America is distracted by the Middle East and a presidential election, and everyone else in the region, China included, is tired of North Korea's act. 

If the nuclear test fails to get the food aid the North Koreans desperately need, they may try something else to get it. It could be another attack on a South Koran naval vessel. It could be a border skirmish. It could even be a terrorist attack. But I think they will try something in order to get the food aid they need so badly. Any of these events could spiral into a major war, if calmer heads don't prevail. North Korea would lose any such war but they would do a massive amount of damage before they went down in flames. An injured animal, backed into a corner, is still dangerous even if it isn't normally that threatening. Let's all hope that North Korea's harvest this year is a good one and their summer is wet and not dry... 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

New combat footage from ISIS, only this time it's footage they don't want you to see.

Screengrab from the video. Vice News. 

New video from Iraq shows and ISIS attack on a Kurdish Peshmerga outpost. But this time it is different. Instead of the propaganda we usually see from ISIS, we see footage that shows a different side to ISIS. Far from the professional videos we have seen before, the footage shows ISIS fighters struggling to fight. The battle occurred in Iraq, 30 miles north of Mosul last month. 

A few warnings before I post the video. First, though there isn't really any graphic content, the video still depicts real life events where people die. If that kind of thing bothers you, don't watch the video. Second, the video has been edited by Vice. Though I am not accusing Vice of being biased, just keep in mind that what you are seeing has been changed slightly. I also have no idea how accurate the subtitles are.

Just in case the video is removed or you can't watch it I will summarize the events of the video. In the beginning, the ISIS fighters say goodbye to a suicide bomber. The bomber then drives away in a bomb truck while the rest of the fighters get ready for battle. The scene then cuts to a improvised armored personal carrier with three fighters, one of which is wearing a helmet camera, and a driver in it. The three fighters fire a machine gun, rifle, an RPG and what looks like an improvised rifle grenade launcher. This continues until a Peshmerga fighter fires a rocket at the APC, killing the driver. The three remaining fighters then retreat and during that retreat the man with the camera is shot. 

The video showed that the ISIS fighters are no where near as professional as people generally perceive them to be. Several times in the video, it was clear to me that these guys were amateurs trying to play war. In a funny moment one of the fighters with a machine gun was firing. His buddies then started to yell at him because his shell casings were flying all over and hitting his friends. Any professional would have fired from the other side of the APC so the casings would have flown out of the vehicle. 

In another moment, one of the fighters was trying to fire an RPG but he had forgotten to take off the safety cap. Before that happened two of the fighters were arguing about trying to find rockets for the RPG and had major problems just trying to find one in the utter mess that was the back of their vehicle. We do see the fighter firing the RPG but he almost blows himself and his buddy up with the back blast. He just barely directed the back blast out of the APC, and even though he got most of it out, enough of it was redirected in that his buddy exclaims that he scorched everyone in the APC. 

I'm not sure if ISIS's tactics were quite sound. I know if I was in that battle I would not have been a happy camper. After the APC was destroyed the fighters were pretty much out in the open having to face an entrenched enemy behind cover. The retreat they pulled off was quite honestly more impressive then the rest of the video. Though rolling around in the dirt looked silly, it was pretty much their only option. And at the end there was a guy running out in the open shooting at his enemy. Probably not too smart but it was pretty brave considering. 

This video is interesting because it clearly shows ISIS losing. In the past ISIS's tactics would have worked well. They were using the same tactics that won them the battle of Ramadi, and helped them win in so many other battles. They followed up a suicide bombing with a light infantry and vehicles. But this time it didn't work. They lost at least two vehicles (notice the one burning in the background about halfway through the video) one fighter KIA and another one wounded. And they didn't take the position they wanted to take. 

It just goes to show that people are finally catching up to ISIS's tactics. Though the tactics that ISIS use are hard to counter, it's not impossible. You just need to do what the Peshmerga did in this video. Don't panic after the initial suicide bombing and then target the enemy vehicles with rockets. This totally broke the ISIS attack, and hopefully we will see more videos like this in the future. 

Doublespeak from the Obama administration about boots on the ground in Syria.

The above two videos are in reference to this report that 250 more special forces are going to be deployed to Syria. The first video is just amazing. John Kirby, a State Department spokesman, just looked utterly lost while in a press conference talking about this issue. The amount of double-speak there was just amazing. Sure, these special forces, most likely Green Berets, aren't going to have a primary mission of combat, but they are still going to be in harms way and will have to defend themselves. By any real standard that is "boots on the ground".

It was just crazy to see Kirby sweat over the reporters questions. He obviously knew that troops were getting deployed and it made it look like Obama was breaking his promise to not deploy ground troops to Syria. So he lied to the faces of the reporters that were covering the conference. It's rare to catch a government official in such an obvious lie. That alone made these two videos worth showing.

As for the deployment itself, it's practically worthless. The Green Berets are pretty good at what they do and are effective at training soldiers, but that's not what the problem is in Syria right now. The real problem is that there simply aren't enough recruits available that will fight under the conditions that the Obama administration wants. We want troops to fight ISIS but who will also not fight Bashar al-Assad's government. There are very few people who will sign up for that fight. And keep in mind that previous efforts to train troops to fight in Syria have been massive failures. We wasted millions of dollars on a truly tiny amount of soldiers that threw down their weapons and ran when faced with resistance.

The good news is that some of these forces will be helping the Kurds. But even that is problematic. I am sure the Kurds will fight and will blunt any ISIS offensives against them. I also am sure that they are not going to be the key to defeating ISIS in Syria. The problem with the Kurds is that they are very unwilling to attack outside of their homelands. The Kurds are great fighters and have been our best ally in the region by far, but I just can't see them taking the fight to Raqqa. So, again, these special forces will most likely not accomplish much of anything.

Perhaps it is a bit unfair to pick on Barack Obama for flip-flopping here. After all, every politician has done the same thing. My main problem with it is that he won't just cop to it. Instead he sends John Kirby at the State Department to deliberately bend the truth until reality supposedly matches what Obama wants to say. Which is that he really isn't, trust me guys, sending combat troops to Syria. I guess if you torture the truth enough and look at it in a warped way he has a point, but damn if it isn't dishonest. Our troops are still being put in harms way. Just once I would like a politician to say, "yep, I changed my mind, still doing it anyways".

I mean, I don't even disagree with this deployment! I don't think it will accomplish much of anything, but there is a chance it will help against the fight against ISIS. If it does then it will be worth it. But that's not the argument that is being made. The Obama administration, once again, is saying one thing and doing another. And I, for one, am sick of it...

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A quick post about the results of the northeast primary.

Once again, it's time to talk about primary results. This time it's for the primaries in the Northeast. Five states held votes today in ten races. As of this writing, all but one of those races has been called, the Democratic one in Connecticut. As of this writing the race there is way too close to call with Sanders in a slight lead. All the other races have been called. Clinton won three states, Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania, with Bernie Sanders taking Rhode Island. Donald Trump swept everything with wins in all five states.

So what did we learn?

1. Bernie Sanders did better then expected. Nobody expected him to take any states at all, let alone possibly two. That's the good news for Sanders. It shows that he isn't completely out of this race yet and at least made a showing. 

2. Of course the bad news is that the state he won, Rhode Island, is tiny and only gave him, as of this writing, 13 delegates out of 24. Most of the Democrat races are proportional so even when Sanders wins he doesn't gain delegates. Even if Sanders does end up winning Connecticut it won't help him that much. He's way behind even without the super delegate advantage that Hillary Clinton has. And he is rapidly reaching the point where he can't realistically catch up. I wouldn't be totally surprised if he dropped out completely. 

3. Hillary Clinton once again did well in the states she needed to win in. Pennsylvania had the most delegates up for grabs, and Clinton won the most of them. She also won in Maryland, which was another large state. Neither of those results are surprising but what is surprising is how easily she took Delaware. That state isn't anywhere near as diverse as Pennsylvania and Maryland and historically, Clinton has done much better in more diverse states. 

4. Donald Trump did great tonight, but may not get as many delegates as he deserves. Even though he won Pennsylvania, with about 60% of the vote as of this writing, he might not get much more then the 17 delegates he gets for winning the state. The rest of the delegates are voted for directly but there is no information on the ballot about which candidate they support. Some people will have almost certainly left the ballot blank or voted for the wrong delegate because they didn't know who to support. As of this writing, it's impossible for me to know how well Trump did until more detailed results of which delegates were voted for. 

5. Regardless, neither Ted Cruz or John Kasich are likely to gain many delegates. Only Delaware was winner take all so it's likely that both of the candidates will gain some, just not enough to really hurt Donald Trump. 

6. The margin of victory for Trump was fairly impressive as well. In the past, even in three person races, Trump had a very difficult time getting more then 50% of the votes. He still won of course but by much closer margins. Today, none of the races were even close. Trump won more then 50% in all five states and in many cases he got more then 60% of the vote. 

7. Ted Cruz was just destroyed in the Northeast. Starting with New York last week, Cruz has been in third place in 5 out of 6 races. John Kasich beat him to second place in every state besides Pennsylvania. With only 40% of the vote in, that could change. Cruz just isn't connecting with Northeastern voters. And even though Kasich did ok, he's still in fourth place for delegates. Marco Rubio, who dropped out a long time ago, is still beating him in delegates. 

8. I think voters are mad about how the GOP is handling Donald Trump. Donald Trump has been arguing for awhile now that the game is rigged against him and that argument is resonating for the voters. Especially after Kasich and Cruz confirmed that they are pulling out of states just to better stop Trump. Most voters are disgusted by that and want whoever leads in delegates at the end of the race to be the candidate, even if they don't reach the magic 1237 number. 

As for the rest of the election, the next major state to vote is Indiana next Tuesday. It will be make or break time for Donald Trump and it will be interesting to see if he can keep up the momentum. After that it is a long train of single state and territory votes before the last major election on June 7th where five states, including critical California, vote. I, personally, can't wait for this to be over! 

Al-Qaeda takes responsibility for killing a USAID worker and gay rights activist in Bangladesh.

Bangladeshi mourners at the funeral of  Xulhaz Mannan, a gay rights activist. AP.

Al-Qaeda's affiliate in Bangladesh, Ansar al-Islam, have taken credit of the murder of two gay rights activists. AP. Xulhaz Mannan, was murdered along with his friend, actor Tanay Majumder. A third person, a security guard, was also injured in the attack, which involved five young male attackers. Mannan was an outspoken gay rights activist who in 2014 created the first gay magazine for the country. He also worked with the US embassy under the USAID program. Homosexuality is illegal in Bangladesh, but the government initially blamed the opposition party for the attack. The murders come on the heels of multiple murders of secular and atheist bloggers in Bangladesh. 

My Comment:
Americans like to act like gays are still incredibly oppressed in the United States. To some degree that is true, but it is nothing compared to what is going on in the Muslim world. Even though there are still many hate crimes here, they always inspire outrage across the political spectrum. Indeed, I think plenty of Christian conservatives would condemn these attacks out of hand. Even the ones that think that homosexuality is evil would mostly like gay people to change their behavior, and would not advocate murdering them outright. Thought that stance, and even more tolerant ones such as live and let live, exist in Muslim countries as well, my impression is that there are lot more intolerant Muslims then there are intolerant Christians, at least during the 21st century. 

These murders are not surprising at all. Bangladesh doesn't like homosexuals all that much, but al-Qaeda takes it quite a bit further. Indeed, al-Qaeda and even ISIS have been rather active in Bangladesh lately. Unlike in other countries, where major, spectacular terrorist attacks seem to be the main tactic, Islamic terrorist groups in Bangladesh  tend to go with the assassination route. Their targets aren't just homosexuals, but atheists and secularists as well. We have seen some of this in the West, especially for attacks aimed at people that make Mohammad cartoons, but it seems to be a primary tactic for al-Qaeda in Bangladesh. Given the success of this and other attacks in the country, I wouldn't be surprised if the tactic spread to other countries and terrorist groups. 

Indeed, blogging is a very dangerous habit to have in Bangladesh. As a blogger myself, that angers me. I know there might be a few people in the world that might want to murder me for what I have said here (posting the Charlie Hebdo cartoons in the past would be enough), but I don't actually have to fear for my life. If I was in Bangladesh I don't know if I would still be doing this. If the wrong person read my blog while I lived in that country, I could be in trouble. The most I fear by writing this blog is some social justice warrior sending a twitter mob after me. That would be extremely annoying but nothing compared to being murdered... 

I am always disgusted by attacks on free speech and this is pretty clearly a case of that happening. Mannan was an advocate for political change and his magazine was helping to organize followers. By killing him, al-Qaeda has weakened the gay rights movement in Bangladesh quite significantly and will likely prevent other people from speaking out. I completely disagree with this kind of thinking, no matter who it comes from. Ideas should be allowed to expressed no matter who doesn't like it. If the radical Muslims think it is obvious that gay people are wrong, then they should make the argument, not kill people. But asking for that is just wishful thinking... 

The relationship between Islam and homosexuality is an interesting one. Officially it's prohibited, but that doesn't mean that there aren't a lot of gay Muslims. They just tend to stay in the shadows, especially in countries like Bangladesh. My guess is that homosexuality is as common in Muslim countries as it is anywhere else, it's just that they can't live openly. 

That's not what a lot of these people in these countries believe though. There is a rather large conspiracy theory that homosexuality is a Western perversion and that we are spreading it there in an effort to weaken Islam. I don't buy the reasoning, but it's clear to me that there is a bit of truth to it. After all, you can't tell me that Mannan wasn't at least getting encouragement from the US government. I don't think it is a controversial statement that expanding gay rights globally is a goal for our current president. It isn't to destroy the Muslim world though, it's just because our government cares about gay rights. 

Do I think it is a wise idea for us to be doing this? I am not sure. Of course I don't think it is right that gay people are getting murdered and it's really stupid that Bangladesh still makes homosexuality illegal. But I also think that pushing gay rights onto the Muslim world plays into their conspiracy theories about the west. If it fails, there will be a whole lot of resentment... and a lot of dead activists. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

ISIS affiliate Abu Sayyaf decapitates a Canadian hostage in the Philippines

Hostages captured by Abu Sayyaf. John Ridsdel at center. Abu Sayyaf video.

ISIS affiliate Abu Sayyaf has decapitated a Canadian hostage in the Philippines. Reuters. John Ridsdel, a former mining executive was captured along with 3 others in 2015 while on vacation. Abu Sayyaf had threatened to kill one of the hostages when their demand for $6.4 million per hostage was not met. New Canadian prime minster, Justin Trudeau, condemned the execution and pledged to work with the government of the Philippines to bring the executioner to justice and secure the release of 2nd Canadian hostage, Robert Hall. A Norwegian man and a Filipino woman captured with the two Canadians are still being held by Abu Sayyaf as well. Abu Sayyaf is a brutal terrorist group and they have links to both al-Qaeda and ISIS. 

My Comment:
It's always sad when a hostage is executed and this is no exception. Nobody deserves to be executed by a terrorist group, but it has been all too common. It is too late to save John Ridsdel, but I hope that the rest of the people held by Abu Sayyaf will be released. I also hope that his family members get help and support in the aftermath of this attack. 

Abu Sayyaf isn't a terrorist group that gets attention that often, but they have a long history of terrorism. They conducted the worst terrorist attack in the Philippines and the worst terror attack at sea with the SuperFerry 14 bombing. The group also has a long history of kidnapping people as well. Most of these hostages are eventually released or even escape, but this is not the first time that Abu Sayyaf has beheaded someone. 

The fact that Abu Sayyaf has captured so many people and that ransom has been paid so many times shows the danger of negotiating with terrorists. Doing so creates incentives for them to continue to capture more hostages. The $6.4 million that was demanded for these hostages would go a long way towards funding Abu Sayyaf for quite some time. If the ransom had been paid, they could have funded further kidnappings and even terrorist attacks. It just goes to show that you should never pay off terrorists.

I have to give some credit for the Canadian government. Obviously they didn't pay off Abu Sayyaf. I am guessing that even after the execution of John Ridsdel they won't spend money on releasing hostages. Though paying the ransom would spare the life of the hostages, it's clear that the Canadian government understands that it is very unwise to create incentives for hostage taking.

Frankly, I didn't think Justin Trudeau had it in him. I immediately suspected that Trudeau was a weak Prime Minster. He's far to the left, and is, quite frankly, a social justice warrior. I might be prejudiced against people that have his political beliefs but I thought that Trudeau would be the kind of guy that would immediately cave to terrorists. I guess he has a bit of a spine after all, unless he does cave in the end. 

As for Abu Sayyaf, they pledged allegiance to ISIS some time ago. It is unclear how strong that link is. There is some speculation that they only reason that they tied themselves to the ISIS bandwagon is for attention. I don't know if the links between the two groups is stronger then that. ISIS did have strong links to al-Qaeda in the past but given how much ISIS and al-Qaeda hate each other, it's likely that the links between Abu Sayyaf and al-Qaeda have deteriorated. The question is mostly academic as well. Abu Sayyaf is a dangerous and powerful terrorist group even without any links to other groups. 

For ISIS, links to Abu Sayyaf doesn't help them all that much. It's obviously a positive but nothing earth shattering. When Abu Sayyaf pulls off a terrorist attack or conducts and execution, ISIS gets a bit of the attention that those acts create. It also helps with the perception that ISIS is everywhere. There is even a tiny chance that if/when Iraq and Syria fall, the Philippines could be used as a backup base for ISIS. 

It's clear that Abu Sayyaf is slightly different then ISIS though. Both groups have decapitated hostages, but ISIS seems to be more brutal about it. As far as I know Abu Sayyaf didn't film this and didn't release video of the execution onto the internet. That is not the strategy that ISIS would have used. Half of their fame is due to their execution videos. Though Abu Sayyaf is taking a page out of the ISIS handbook, so far at least they haven't sunk to the depths that ISIS has. That's only good in comparison though, by any other standard Abu Sayyaf is a brutal and evil terrorist group. 

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The US government is concerned about how Egypt is handling ISIS in the Sinai Peninsula

A picture of the Airbus A321-231 that Egypt's ISIS branch destroyed. Sergey Korovkin. 

The United States government is growing more concerned with the way Egypt is handling the war against ISIS in the Sinai Peninsula. Washington Post. General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with Egyptian president Abdel Fatah al-Sissi discussed the activities of ISIS and the plan to defeat them in the Sinai. U.S. officials believe that ISIS may spiral out of control and may gain territory in the region. They are also afraid that the 700 US troops in the region, part of a security deal between Egypt and Israel, could come under attack. ISIS has already wounded four U.S. soldiers in an attack last year. International peacekeepers could end up a priority target for ISIS since they could capture and/or kill members of the international coalition arrayed against them in Iraq and Syria. The Sinai Province of the Islamic State made a name for themselves when they destroyed a Russian Metrojet Airbus, killing all 224 people on board. Egypt has been resistant to heeding US advice in defeating ISIS. Instead of a sustained counterinsurgency program, Egypt has relied on airstrikes from US made fighter jets and helicopters. 

My Comment:
The Sinai Province of ISIS should have a bigger name for itself. After all the destruction of Metrojet Flight 9268 was a major victory for ISIS and one of the worst terrorist attacks in recent memory. However, the attack itself was largely forgotten about. Why? Well, the Paris attacks, with their higher levels of violence and dramatic images, managed to capture the attention of the public. A mass gun attack/bombing is more frightening then the destruction of a single airplane. 

The attack also wasn't confirmed to be a terrorist attack for quite some time. At first both Egypt and Russia played down reports that ISIS had taken credit for the attack. Very slowly, as details of the attack came out, more and more countries realized that the attack really was conducted by ISIS. By that point the world had moved on to other things. 

Also, the western media never wants us to feel sorry for Russians. It was mostly Russians that died in the attack and the idea that the United States and Russia could make common cause with the West against terrorism, well, that just won't do. 

All that being said, it's clear to me that ISIS in Egypt is still a major threat. I think there is a real chance of a terrorist attack sometime soon in the area targeting Westerners. The Washington Post article focused on attacks on international peacekeepers, and I agree that they are a major target. Killing, or worse, capturing a U.S. or allied solider would be a coup for ISIS, both in terms of media attention and propaganda. ISIS would love to get video of a soldier getting executed... 

The problem with that is that obviously soldiers are harder targets then civilians are. It's always a harder sell to attack people that can actually defend themselves, and the U.S. soldiers there can do so, even if they don't have the support an actual major deployment would have. Though we only have a few hundred troops in Egypt, they still are capable of defending themselves, at least compared to softer targets. 

Those soft targets are what I am really worried about. Egypt is a major tourist hub, and millions of tourists visit the country every year. Though the bigger attractions, like the Pyramids, have some security, it's unlikely that the entire country is a "hard target". The destruction of the Russian passenger jet proves at the very least that there were some major vulnerabilities in airport security at the very least.

And it is also possible that U.S. or European tourists or workers could be abducted. This has happened before. Last year ISIS killed a Croatian national by the name of Tomislav Salopek. Salopek's death has been criminally under reported in the west, but it goes to show that ISIS is capable of capturing westerners. Salopek was a contractor, not a tourist, but there are many foreign nationals in Egypt which could be targeted. 

Since the threat is so real, I wonder why there hasn't been more done to try and stop ISIS. Egypt has conducted a few airstrikes and conducted raids with Apache helicopters, but other then that they haven't done much. In my, admittedly limited, view it seems as though Egypt has been mostly reacting to ISIS moves in the area. Most of those strikes have been in response to ISIS attacks on checkpoints and bases. 

Should Egypt be more aggressive? Perhaps, but you have to remember that Egypt isn't the most stable of countries. Clamping down hard on ISIS could anger the normal citizens enough that they start up the cycle of revolution and counter revolution up again. Egypt may also be gun shy due to an incident last year where they accidentally killed a bunch of innocent tourists. That kind of mistake could make anyone think twice about cracking down. 

I do have to say that I don't know if I like the idea of withdrawing troops from Egypt just because ISIS is there. If our operations on the Egypt/Israeli border are important, then we should commit to it. If ISIS wants to fight us their we should give our troops the equipment and arms they need to defend themselves and to take the fight to the enemy. The idea of us taking troops out of Egypt just because they are under threat makes us seem weak. And it sends exactly the wrong message to ISIS and other terrorist groups... 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Israeli media claims that Russia has fired on Israeli fighter jets.

Israeli F-15 participating in a training mission in the United States. TSGT Kevin Gruenwald/US Air Force.

Israel's top newspaper claims that Russian forces in Syria have fired upon Israeli fighter jets on two occasions. Reuters. Details are sketchy, but Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu told the paper, Yedioth Ahronoth, that coordination issues between Russia and Israel have gotten worse. He calls for stronger coordination between the two countries. The report did not give any dates or locations for the incidents and did not say if any planes were hit. Russia dismissed the reports, saying they were far from reality. Last week a Russian jet approached an Israeli one near the Syrian coastline over the Mediterranean but no incident occurred. Israel has been active in the Syrian conflict and has often hit weapons shipments they claim are headed to Hezbollah. When the Russians joined the war, the Israelis immediately created a hotline between the two countries. 

My Comment:
As much as I hate writing about Israel, I will make an exception here. This is such a strange story. The Israelis are claiming that in two cases the Russians have fired on their airplanes. But they won't give any further details then that? Where did this happen? Was anyone hit? Did it involve air to air combat or was it a ground to air threat? The Russians claim it never happened and seem a bit confused about the whole thing.

So what happened here? I am not sure. It seems very unlikely that the Russians would fire on the Israelis. Russia and Israel aren't really allies but they have a better relationship then many of the other players in the Syrian drama. They also have a hotline set up to try and prevent these things.

Sure, Russia has definitely been pressuring its neighbors and the United States lately, but they usually don't resort to out and out shooting. The Russians signature move is to either cross borders, thus provoking a response like when the Turks shot down one of their planes, or to simply buzz by other jets and ships, like they have been doing recently. Actually firing on targets, either with warning shots or actually trying to shoot down planes, almost never happens. That isn't to say that Russia isn't capable of doing something this dumb, but I have to admit it doesn't seem to fit the profile of how they usually behave. 

It also isn't clear that this was an air to air engagement. It is possible that the Russians used their SAM sites in Syria to target Israeli airplanes. They could even have lit them up with the older style of flack AAA. Still, that seems very unlikely. I guess it could have been a case of mistaken identity. After all, the Israelis do fly similar aircraft to the United States, with their F-15's and F-16's. Perhaps the men on the ground fired at these jets without knowing they were Israelis?

Of course if that was the case, it begs the question, why on earth would the Russians be firing on American fighters either? I guess they could be trying to protect Assad's forces on the ground, but the United States, or the Israelis for that matter, never seem to directly target them. Plus it would be a huge escalation for the Russians to fire on American fighter jets, and it seems like something they would want to avoid. 

I guess there is a scenario that does make sense. Perhaps the Israelis were trying to destroy Hezbollah's forces. Hezbollah is working with the Syrian regime to fight ISIS and the various rebel groups, including al-Nusra, but Israel hates Hezbollah and consider them a major threat. Since Hezbollah and Syria are allies, that means the Russians may have a reason to defend them. Is it possible that the Israelis were trying to destroy Hezbollah troops/weapons depots, but the Russians didn't like it? I guess, but it still seems rather thin.

I think that the most plausible explanation is that it wasn't the Russians at all. The Syrian air force still has jets flying and some of them are similar to the planes the Russians fly. The SU-24 is a prime suspect and it is very possible that the Israelis mistook a Syrian jet for the Russian ones. 

If it was ground forces that attacked these jets, then who knows who was responsible. There are dozens of factions on the ground in Syria and most of them have a grudge against the Israelis. And MANPADS and other forms of anti-aircraft weapons are proliferating at an alarming rate. It could have been Hezbollah, ISIS, al-Nusra or even the FSA. Without knowing more about the incident, it's just pure speculation. 

My guess is that if there was anything that happened at all, it wasn't the Russians that were responsible for it. My first choice would be the Syrians, but even if it is the Russians, I doubt that these incidents were deliberate. If they are though, then Russia's actions make zero sense to me. I just can't think of a reason why they would want to actually fire upon Israeli targets. They could have been defending regime or Hezbollah troops on the ground, but even that seems unlikely. Hopefully this indecent gets explained better soon and the Israelis and Russians can go back to destroying terrorists. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Donald Trump, the pro-transgender Republican candidate?

Donald Trump, his wife Melania, and his children. New York Times/AP

In a town hall event on NBC's Today Show, Donald Trump said that he supports transgender people using whatever bathroom they want. New York Times. Trump was responding to a question about North Carolina's bathroom law that forces people to use bathrooms based on their biological sex, not their gender. Trump argued that the law was unnecessary due to very few complaints or issues before the law was passed. He also said that the backlash against the law has caused far more problems for North Carolina then the transgender ever did. The interview also name-dropped famous transgendered person, Caitlyn Jenner, with Trump saying that if she ever visited Trump Tower, she could use whatever bathroom she wanted. Trump's stance may hurt him among social conservatives. Already his main opponent, Ted Cruz, quickly condemned Trump's statements. 

My Comment:
This story is already getting buried due to the death of Prince, the musician. But I thought I should cover it because as far as I know Donald Trump has taken a stronger stance on this issue then any of the other candidates, Democrats included. This issue has really set him apart from the other candidates, especially against Ted Cruz.

So do I agree with him? I'm not sure. I do think he put forth a strong argument. The transgendered are a tiny minority of people. The estimates I have seen is that somewhere between 0.3 and 0.03 percent of Americans are transgender. That means that very few people actually are transgender. Presumably, there would be even less in a conservative state like North Carolina. If the numbers I have seen are correct then only between 30,000 and 3000 people are transgender in North Carolina, if the state is in line with the rest of the country. Not all of those would even try to use different bathrooms or even go out in public dressed as their preferred sex. 

On the other hand, I do think accommodating the transgender creates a huge loophole. I am thinking that there are probably only a couple thousand of transgender people in North Carolina. But how many people are willing to cross dress just so they can spy on people of the opposite sex and claim they are trans just to get out of punishment? Depends on who you ask. My guess is that it would break down on political lines with liberals saying there aren't any and conservatives saying that they are everywhere. I don't have any real numbers but I think that the number of people that would actually try this would be tiny, but similar to the number of transgender people in North Carolina. 

Of course, it wouldn't just be cross dressing perverts that would spy on people. Not every transgender person flips their sexuality as well. Some transgendered people are "lesbians", being attracted to their own gender. And some are pedophiles. But here is the thing. Natural women can be perverts as well! And given the tiny population of transgendered people, if your female child is molested by someone in a woman's restroom it's probably going to be a bog standard female pedophile, and not a transgendered person. 

So given all that is Trump right when he says this isn't a battle worth fighting? I am not so sure. The bathroom law was never about  the transgendered or even protecting children. It is about the culture war and virtue signalling. Most of the people that care about this bill, on both sides, have never even encountered a transgendered person. They just want to score points for their side.

Which is why I am not so sure that Trump is correct here. Even if he is right and the law is pretty much useless and isn't worth fighting for, it's still part of a larger battle between the left and right. Simply flying the white flag is not going to be popular, especially since this is a battle in a larger war. Remember, the LGBT law in North Carolina isn't just about bathrooms. It is also about limiting liability for people who refuse to participate in things like gay marriage. The law prevents stupidity like the pizza fiasco from last year. I think that part of the bill is definitely worth fighting for. 

But for the bathroom war? I am not sure at all. Remember, we are talking about a tiny number of people here. I've gone through my entire life and in almost 33 years, I have never met someone that I knew was transgendered. There were a couple of people that I have met that I thought might be, but that's two people in 33 years. I can't imagine that there are so many people like this that it's even an issue. Even if you buy the argument that men will dress as women for purposes of voyeurism or sexual assault, their numbers will be tiny as well, and not a significant increase from the threat that already exists. 

On the other hand I also think that all this acceptance for the transgender will make it more difficulty for researchers to find a cure. Right now our only option is to butcher the body to make it line up with the sick brain. Obviously if there was a pill or genetic treatment available to make the transgendered make them think that their gender matches their sex.  Even writing out that I think a cure should be found over sex-reassignment surgery makes me "transphobic" to the social justice community, even though I bare no ill will to anyone who happens to be transgendered and am willing to accept sex-reassignment as a stop-gap measure. Either way, it's clear I am conflicted on this issue. 

Politically I am not sure how much this helps and hurts Donald Trump. Obviously, acceptance of the transgendered is not high among Republicans so it might hurt him in the upcoming primaries. On the other hand, most of the people that care about LGBT issues on the right aren't voting for Trump anyways. And I think he is positing himself well for the general election. The Democrats were going to attack the GOP candidate as a transphobic asshole but now that line of attack is gone. And he might even get a few more Democrats that would vote for him now.

Finally, I think it is hilarious that Caitylin Jenner was name dropped. Jenner famously came out as a Republican and endorsed  Ted Cruz, much to Cruz's embarrassment. Since Cruz just bashed all transgendered people and Trump seems more accepting, Jenner might endorse Donald Trump. If that happens expect the world to explode from all the cognitive dissonance from all sides of the political spectrum! 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The first meeting between Russia and NATO in two years accomplished very little.

The NATO flag. Public Domain

The first meeting between the NATO alliance and Russia failed to resolve any of the issues between the two groups. AP. The meeting covered issues such as the war in Ukraine, Russia's military activities and the security situation in Afghanistan. The meeting ran 90 minutes longer then it should have as well, despite the failure to reach any agreements. The failure comes after high tensions after Russian planes have harassed a US destroyer. NATO/Russian relations have fallen apart since the annexation of Crimea and the Ukraine war, which the NATO alliance views as an armed insurgency. Both NATO and Russia have been building up forces in the region. 

A Russian SU-24 buzzing the USS Donald Cook. 
My Comment:
At the very least they are talking. Not talking in this kind of situation is always a mistake. Though NATO and Russia are worlds apart right now, the very act of engaging in diplomacy can work to reduce tensions. Even though no agreements were made (or were likely to be made in the first place), at the very least diplomacy has begun again. Hopefully that will reduce tensions.

And make no mistake, tensions are still very high. The above video shows how far the Russians are willing to push NATO and the United States right now. Though the SU-24's looked like they were unarmed, they were clearly doing a practice attack run on the USS Donald Cook.

Though Russia has a long history of buzzing US planes and ships, this is a lot closer then they usually get. And it is incredibly dangerous for everyone involved. Not only does the pilot risk crashing into the ship (or plane), they also risk provoking defensive action. I think in this case it was clear that the attack run was fake, but if someone got trigger happy, the planes could have been shot down. I don't think it is a very good idea for the Russians to pull this kind of crap, but on the other hand, they know we won't respond in kind. They have the advantage and they know it. 

It's always dangerous when these kinds of incidents take place, and the Russians are playing a dangerous game. An accident or a misjudgment could, theoretically, spiral into a war. That almost happened when a similar incident happened at the Turkish/Syrian border. The Turks, a NATO member, got sick of the Russians pulling this kind of thing and shot down a SU-24. Somehow, thankfully, that didn't escalate into a full scale war. But next time we might not be so lucky. 

I think much of the problem lies with the leaders of both America and Russia. Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin hate each other. They are on the opposite side of the spectrum when it comes to politics and they have views that are completely incompatible with each other. As long as those two men are in charge of their countries, tensions will remain high.

Though Vladimir Putin isn't going anywhere, Barack Obama is almost on his way out. Once that happens, the new president might actually be able to reduce the tensions. If that president is Donald Trump, Ted Cruz or Bernie Sanders, we might actually be able to make some progress with Putin. But if it is Clinton or Kasich, no progress will be made and tensions might even increase thanks to both candidates stance on Syria. If you thought tensions got high when the Turks shot down a SU-24, imagine how bad things will get if Clinton or Kasich shoot down a bunch of Russian jets over their Syrian no-fly zone.

The whole situation bothers me. I never understood why NATO had any interest in Ukraine whatsoever. As far as I am concerned the Ukrainian revolution just overthrew one corrupt government and replaced it with another one. The only difference is the new one was a lot more tolerant of Nazis and far right radicals, and that they don't like Putin. Even if you disagree with that line of thinking, who in their right mind thinks that Ukraine is worth going to war over? What have they ever done for the United States? 

And we should be working with Russia in Syria. Not in the "we will stay out of your way if you stay out of ours", way but "comrades in arms" level of cooperation. ISIS is a global threat and taking them out should be the top priority for every country with interest in the region. And al-Nusra is almost as bad, and deserve just as much attention. It is in both of our best interests to fight ISIS and other Islamist groups but both groups are to stubborn to do what needs to be done. I think everyone involved needs to just swallow their pride and get over it. 

I will admit to being somewhat biased in favor of Russia. Though Vladimir Putin has plenty to criticize, I do think he is a much better leader then our president. I'm convinced that Obama hates America and thinks that nationalism is a four letter word. Putin loves Russia (perhaps just because it makes him powerful) and is un-apologetically nationalist. He also is able to pick out weakness and he has been two steps ahead of Obama for his entire presidency. Even if Russia isn't our friend, I have more respect for them then I do for our own government. Not so much because I want the Russians to win in whatever they are trying to do, but because someone out there is at least trying to be competent. My hope is that the next president can undo the damage that Barack Obama has done to our relations with Russia... 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A quick reaction to the New York primary.

As you probably know the New York primary was today. As of this writing the election has been called for both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. That wasn't surprising, everyone thought that both candidates would cement their front runner status in states where they had the home field advantage. Tonight wasn't surprising, though I do think there is something to be learned for tonight.

-Bernie Sanders did not do well. Once again, he has proven that the only people who will vote for him are young white people. He got blown out in areas with a large minority population. Since New York has a very large population of minorities, Sanders did not do well. He actually did pretty well in upstate New York, but it wasn't enough to counter Hillary Clinton's advantage in the big cities.

-Bernie Sanders is also looking less and less likely to pull back a surprise win against Hillary Clinton. Hillary widened her lead tonight, and though I haven't seen the final delegate count yet, it is clear that Sanders recent winning streak is over.

-There were a lot of disappointment Bernie Sanders supporters on social media. I saw a couple of people very pissed on both facebook and twitter. Reddit is also having a meltdown. Just look at the Sanders for president subreddit! 

-Donald Trump did better then expected. Everyone thought he was going to win, but people thought that he might not get as many delegates as he needed. As of this writing, Trump has 84 and Kasich has 2, out of a 95 total. It is very likely that Trump will get 90+ delegates when everything is said and done. Even if he doesn't get any further delegates, which is extremely unlikely, the 84 delegates he has now is better then the pundits were predicting.

-Trump also broke the trend of losing in closed primaries. Even though many of his supporters, including two of his children, were not able to vote due to the stupid registration rules, Trump was still able to win easily. Most of that is because New York is his home state, but it is still a good sign.

-Ted Cruz is essentially done. He is extremely unlikely to gain any delegates whatsoever, and that will probably continue next week as well. Ted Cruz just does not do well in states that aren't dominated by evangelical Christians. I don't think he has been mathematically eliminated yet, but he is getting damn close to being done.

-Cruz was really hurt by his "New York Values" comment at one of the debates. The people of New York have a long memory and even though not all of them like Donald Trump, they couldn't help but to notice the out and out insult to their entire state. I think it will end up being one of the biggest blunders in the 2016 race, right up their with Marco Rubio's collapse during one of the debates and Jeb Bush's entire campaign.

-John Kasich is the only other GOP candidate to come away with any delegates, but given the fact that he was mathematically eliminated a long time ago none of it really matters.

Taliban launches major terrorist attack in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Afghan security forces respond to the attack> Reuters. 

The Taliban have launched a major attack on the capital of Afghanistan, Kabul, which has killed at least 28 people and wounded hundreds more. Reuters. A suicide bomber detonated a car bomb near the headquarters of the National Directorate of Security (NDS). An attacker also attempted to assault through the hole made by the car bomb, but was killed by security forces there. The Taliban have taken credit for this attack and have claimed that their fighters actually engaged in a gun battle after the bombing took place, though it seems they have exaggerated their success. The attack marks the worst terrorist attack in Kabul since 2011, where 60 people died in a mosque bombing. The Taliban has been making major gains in the country ever since US and allied troops withdrew most of their combat forces, leaving the Afghani government to fight the Taliban almost alone. The Taliban is now considered to be the strongest it has been since US involvement in the war began in 2001.

My Comment:
More bad news out of Afghanistan. The attack itself was a major blow to the Afghan government. The agency which was hit, the NDS, was responsible for security for VIP's and politicians. Though it's not at all clear how many of the people that were killed or injured actually worked for the NDS, the loss of even a few of their troops is a tough pill to swallow. It's also a major psychological blow for the people of Kabul and the various government officials stationed there. 

Attacking the NDS also sends a clear message to the politicians in Afghanistan. Even the people that protect you aren't safe from the Taliban. If the Taliban can walk into the capital city of Afghanistan, and target the government agency charged with keeping their government safe, then they can hit anyone at any time. This attack could even be an attempt to disrupt their operations so assassinations are easier to pull off. Every politician and government worker in Afghanistan that isn't aligned with the Taliban will be thinking of this attack for quite some time.  

It amazes me that the Taliban are able to get into Kabul and attack like this so easily. There had to be guards and other security forces in the area. Did none of them discover this attack force before it attacked? You would think that the area around the presidential palace, which is only a few hundred feet from the NDS compound, would be very tight, but somehow the Taliban slipped through.

I think there are two options as to how they were able to pull this attack off. The first is that security around the presidential palace isn't tight at all, and that the government and President Ashraf Ghani is at risk of being attacked. Indeed, it almost seems like if the Taliban had made Ghani the target, they might have gotten him. If the Taliban is able to drive right up to the gate of the NDS compound without being caught or shot, why can't they hit the presidential palace instead? 

The second option is even more disturbing. It is very possible that there are turncoats that helped out the Taliban. I am guessing that there had to be some kind of checkpoints around this area of Kabul. The fact that a car bomber and a few gunmen were able to get through tells me that either the guards were  either completely incompetent and missed them or that they let them through on purpose. Perhaps they were bribed or they are true believers that want to help the Taliban and just let the fighters attack. When your explanations for a terrorist attacks are either incompetence or corruption then you know Afghanistan is in trouble. 

And it is clear that Afghanistan is in major trouble. This isn't the first time that the Taliban has been able to launch attacks near the presidential palace. Ad the Taliban really are much stronger now then they have been in years. Just a little while ago they were able to briefly take the city of Kunduz. Though they were pushed back out, losing a major city like that even for a brief time shows me that the Afghan security forces aren't able to stand on their own. 

But they have no choice but to do so. I just can't see NATO sending troops back into Afghanistan. 9/11 was a long time ago and the threat of al-Qaeda isn't nearly as bad in Afghanistan as it once was. There isn't any appetite in the United States to send major fighting forces back into Afghanistan to fight the Taliban, especially when the major threat is in countries where ISIS is active. ISIS does have some forces in Afghanistan but not enough to justify major US force in the country. 

I have mentioned this before, but you would think that during an election year the Afghanistan problem would get more coverage. I have watched almost all of the GOP debates and many of the Democratic ones and I only recall seeing Afghanistan talked about once. It was Bernie Sanders in one of the Democratic ones and he completely wiffed on the question. Nobody, Democrat, Republican or third party is talking about Afghanistan. 

And that is very annoying to me. I don't know about anyone else but it seems to me that Afghanistan is going to fall right back into control of the Taliban. Considering the thousands soldiers killed or wounded in the country and the billions of dollars we have spent fighting there during the 14 years we have been involved in the war that is a huge failure. And it's one that nobody is even trying to fix. I don't think sending in thousands of troops back to Afghanistan is the answer, but nobody else is even trying to think of a solution to the Afghanistan problem.

What is clear to me is that the Afghan security forces just can't handle it on their own. They are losing territory and taking unsustainable casualties. They have US air support and plenty of US supplied weapons, but they just can't translate that into success on the battlefield. What they need is a strong powerful army to take the fight to the Taliban and better leadership to ensure that things like this don't happen anymore. Developing an army takes a long time, and I don't know if the Afghans are going to succeed before time runs out... 

Monday, April 18, 2016

American trust in the press has hit an all time low.


Only 6% of the American population claims to have a "great deal of confidence" in the news media. AP. To compare, only 4% of Americans are have the same amount of confidence as congress. 38% say that they remember a specific incident where they lost faith in the media. The media has gotten some huge stories wrong, including the Boston Marathon Bombing and the Obamacare Supreme Court ruling. Critically, Rolling Stone published an article about a sexual assault that never happened, and would have been exposed as a faux scandal if the magazine had done any research at all into the alleged incident. News media has been trying to balance accuracy with the desire to get the information out as fast as possible.

My Comment:
Here's the part where I bash the media for doing things that I am probably guilty of as well. I too have occasionally rushed posts out or made mistakes. But I don't think I am a hypocrite for what I am posting here for the following reasons:

1. I'm a blogger not a journalist. I mostly do this for fun, and I don't think anyone expects me to have the same standards as a major news organization. 

2. Everything on this blog is my opinion. Even the little content summaries I write are my interpretation of the articles I use as sources. 

3. Most of the actual facts I write about are pulled from journalist sources. When I do screw up it's often because someone else screwed up before me. 

With that out of the way I am surprised that trust in the media is as high as it is. The media has been just completely wrong on several major stories lately. The Rolling Stone article, A Rape on Campus was a great example. The magazine had a story they wanted to tell, but they never bothered to find out if the source on the story, Jackie Coakley was telling the truth. It took a bunch of bloggers looking into it before the story fell apart and it turned out that the Rolling Stone didn't even try to confirm what they were being told. And that wasn't even the only case like that. Remember the Duke Lacrosse scandal? "Mattress girl" Emma Sulkowicz? 

The article claims much of the problem is due to the media rushing to get stories out in order to beat the competition. In the rush, the media sometimes forgets to make sure they have the story right. That is certainly part of it, but I think it goes much further then that. All too often the media out and out lies or misleads on purpose. I think the Rolling Stone article is a good example of that, and I am sure you can find dozens of others. 

The problem is that so much of journalism is completely biased. Most of the media is biased to the left politically, and whatever is left over is biased the other way. And instead of trying to at least appear to be objective, many journalists wear their biases on their sleeves. There are just some issues that you are guaranteed to never get an objective news story on. The short list is anything related to the culture wars, gun rights, global warming, internet, race, gender, and especially politics. 

Sometimes this manifests itself as sins of omissions. For example, the media has been calling Donald Trump a racist for almost a year due to remarks he made about illegal immigrants and the Mexican government. The media almost always focuses on his "rapists" comment without putting into context. Right after that he said that some of them are good people as well. There is room to criticize Trump's comment but the media almost always leaves out the mitigating parts of it. 

We saw the same thing in Europe as well. Abuses and attacks by the Muslim population, many of them recent migrants and refugees, were covered up until the situation became so dire that they could no longer do so. Both the child sex rings in Rotterham and the New Years Eve attacks in Germany were the straw that broke the camels back. Everyone in the media knew that these kinds of things were happening but nobody outside of the right wing press, which has its own problems, were talking about it. 

Another problem is that the media is just plain ignorant about the subjects they are talking about. Some of this is to be expected due to the fact that reporters are experts in reporting, and not everything they are being asked to recover. But everyone who is an expert in their field knows that when the media covers something they know about, they tend to get it wrong. I don't think people are as susceptible to the Gell-Mann amnesia effect as Michael Crichton believed. I know that when I see that the media screws something up I know about, it makes me less likely to trust them.

I also think that social media is part of the problem. A lie spreads the speed of light on Twitter and Facebook. Sometimes the media, to their credit, corrects those lies. But the problem is that once people make up their mind, it's hard to convince them they were wrong. Remember Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. Twitter convicted both George Zimmerman and Darren Wilson before the bodies were even cold. When the actual story came out, supported by strong evidence, nobody was convinced because their minds were already made up. 

I really think that some of that mistrust is just due to situations like that. People see something on twitter, make up their minds and when the media actually tries to correct the bad information they trust the media less because they aren't telling them what they want to hear anymore. That least them to sticking to media sources that bend the truth to fit their particular worldview. I think everyone is guilty of this to some effect, even me. 

So how do you counter the media? I think people need to read about stories from multiple sources. Though I am a conservative myself, I don't just read Breitbart or the Daily Caller. I get most of my news from wire services, who actually try to be unbiased, and I make it a point to read some of the less insane left wing outlets as well, such as Vox and CNN. 

I also think that if there is reporting on a subculture it is very important to actually visit that subculture to see what they are saying themselves. For example, when the Reddit/Ellen Pao thing blew up last year I didn't just take what the media were saying. I actually went to Reddit and saw what the users were saying. Same thing with gamergate, anything related to Donald Trump's supporters and even gun rights. You have to actually listen to what people are saying and see how that relates to what the media is saying. Sometimes you find the media is right and sometimes you find out they are full of crap. Either way, you find out more then if you had simply trusted the media. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Germany is considering prosecuting a commedian for mocking the president of Turkey, Tayyip Erdogon

German comedian Jan Boehmermann. Reuters

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has allowed prosecutors to consider pressing charges agianst a German comedian Jan Boehermann after he recited a vulgar poem about Turkish leader Tayyip Erdogon. Reuters. Boehermann's poem consisted of criticism of Erdogon's handling of Turkey along with many low-brow insults. Boehermann also admitted that he was going beyond what the law allows, and is now under police protection. Merkel allowed her prosecutors to consider the case after receiving a complaint from the Turkish government. Boehermann's employers, German public broadcaster ZDF vowed to fight for him in court but they also pulled the clip from their website.

My Comment:
If you want to hear what Boehermann's poem was like, I will post a link. Unfortunately I couldn't find it on youtube. They had a bunch of translation but no video of the incident itself. Given the nature of the clip, I wouldn't be surprised if it was removed, and if the video I am linking too goes the same way. I was able to find a video on liveleak, with a questionable English translation, but keep in mind both the poem and the website in general is not safe for work. Fair warning.

What's my take on this? I think that it's clear that everything that Boehermann said in that poem was true, at least when it comes to the non-vulgar stuff. Erdogon does treat religious and ethnic minorities horrible. The rest of it is just run of the mill gross humor, not all that different then you would see on South Park or Family Guy here in the United States. It's certainly as low brow as you can get, but there is nothing there that should be prosecuted.

Indeed, such vulgarity is the kind of speech that needs to be protected most. It is insane to me that the German people are putting up with this. I mean the president of Turkey has a huge role in the current sorry state of affairs that Germany is in right now. They should be able to criticize him anyway they want. If that means making fun of his penis or saying he hits little girls that should be allowed. The very existence of this law is disgusting to me.

Imagine if we had this law in America. Given how our presidential candidates are acting, how long would it be until Donald Trump was in prison. I mean, he has said some pretty nasty things about various world leaders as well. Under German law he could be prosecuted for it. Hell, if I were to say that Tayyip Erdogon is a terrible president and he should deposed as a leader, I could be prosecuted too. Given how many times I have said that on this blog I am very glad that I live in America!

I also want to say that Angela Merkal's behavior of late has been reprehensible. She pretty much destroyed Germany with the refugee crisis. When she opened the doors to hundreds of thousands of people, she ruined her country. And they are still paying for it today. Remember New Years Eve? That alone should have been enough to get her removed from office but somehow she is still there. And, again, I am very glad I live in a place where I could call her a four letter word if I so desired.

Her role in the European migrant crisis would be bad enough, but now she is hurting her own citizens on a foreign government's behalf. Merkel is begging for Erdogon to help her. She desperately needs to stem the tide of refugees and migrants flowing into Europe and right now Erdogon is helping by keeping Turkey's borders closed. It cost Merkel quite a bit of political capital to pull that off, and more the a little credibility given Turkey's recent actions. My guess is that Merkel was threatened by Erdogon. He probably said something to the effect that if she didn't allow Boehermann's prosecution he would open the floodgates.

It isn't surprising that Turkey is cracking down on free speech where ever it is found. Erdogon does not handle criticism that well and he desperately wants people to see him as a wise and strong leader. Reading the news out of Turkey and it is clear he is anything but. Given how hard Turkey has cracked down on free speech inside their borders, it isn't shocking at all that they would try to pull this off.

What is utterly shocking to me is that anyone outside of Turkey is going along with it. Merkel folded, and though I understand why, it is still a disappointment for me. I didn't think Merkel could sink any lower then she has already but I guess my expectations weren't low enough...

This whole incident is another example of how fast free speech is eroding in Europe. People on the continent are actually going to jail for posting stuff on twitter that wouldn't even bat an eye here in the United States. It's very dangerous for people in Europe to criticize any aspect of the current immigration policy or the behavior of Muslims in general. This trend is likely to continue as this summers migrant wave begins to arrive. My hope is that this loss of rights is eventually reversed and never ever manages to cross the Atlantic and effect my home...