Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Bill Kristol's Never Trump candidate is David French. Who on earth is that?

Weekly Standard editor and neoconservative pundit Bill Kristol announced over the weekend that he had a third party candidate ready to go. Many Trump supporters or anti-Clinton voters were worried that he had roped in someone with high name recognition and support like Mitt Romney. Indeed, Kristol had made overtures to many supposed anti-Trump Republicans, including Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, General James Mathis. All of them said no. But Kristol did find a candidate to run.

Who did he pick? Someone famous right? Nope. It's a writer at the National Review, David French. French is also a constitutional lawyer and was a veteran who won the bronze star. Want more information then that? Good luck, since he doesn't even have a Wikipedia page. Seriously, as of this writing typing in David French into Wikipedia gives you a disambiguation page where David French at the National Review is redlinked. It's to the point where I am not even sure what the guy looks like. I couldn't even find a picture for this post.

Far from an impressive candidate, the main reaction I had to hearing about David French was confusion then relief. The guy stands no chance, not even as a spoiler for Donald Trump. The 20 or so neoconservatives left might vote for him but nobody else will. Everyone else in the Republican party is either on board with Donald Trump or is going with Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson.

I'm not sure what French's politics are, after all at this point there is very little information about him, but if they are like Bill Kristol's I have a very hard time thinking that anyone will be impressed. This is not a year anyone is looking for neoconservatives. Neocons support vast immigration, massive trade deals and overthrowing third world dictatorships. Nobody in the GOP party wants those things anymore and even if they did they could just vote for Hillary Clinton instead.

Speaking of Hillary Clinton, this seems like a transparent ploy to get her elected. I doubt it would ever work, Clinton seems doomed no matter what. But the idea is to either take just enough votes away from Donald Trump so that there is a tie in delegates so the Congress can decide the election, or enough that Clinton manages to win.

For a true conservative either option should be unthinkable. If Congress decides the election it will be like Florida in 2000 all over again. People will lose a lot of faith in the country, and the reputation of the GOP would take a huge hit because they would be deciding who wins the election, not the people. And if they choose anyone else besides Trump, then the vast majority of the GOP electorate who backs him would be absolutely furious.

And if Hillary Clinton wins she is going to continue the disliked policies of Barack Obama, flood the borders with millions of immigrants and stuff the Supreme Court with liberal judges who will most likely overturn the 2nd Amendment. This is an outcome that should horrify someone on the right but Bill Kristol seems a-ok with it.

Why? I don't think he's a real conservative. I hate playing the No-True Scottsman card but in this case I think it is actually correct. Neocons were originally liberals that crossed over to the GOP because they had a better shot there. Now that the GOP electorate has changed they are going back to the Democratic Party. At least Bill Kristol is, I don't see many people following him and David French into oblivion.

I think this is probably the end of Kristol's career. The GOP is going to be furious with him. Many people in the party don't like Trump, but they are getting on board with his candidacy because they want to win. They also want Hillary Clinton to lose and no third party candidate is going to help with that.

My guess is that in the end this isn't going to matter. Nobody cares about Bill Kristol and his never Trump spoiler candidate David French. French hasn't officially announced yet and my guess is that he never does. He's not going to get any donors and my guess is that he is going to be harassed and threatened, both by losers on Twitter along with people with actual power. In the end he will give up and the only credible third party candidates will be Gary Johnson and Jill Stein.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Weekend movie night: The Revenant.

The Revenant movie poster. 20th Century Fox.

It's time for yet another movie review. This time it's 2015's The Revenant, staring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy. It's a story of revenge and survival during the frontier days in the United States. Loosely based on the real story of Hugh Glass the movie is violent, beautifully shot and well acted. As always with these reviews expect spoilers below! 

First things first, the movie is very loosely based on the story of Hugh Glass. Many of the events in the movie simply did not happen. First of all, it seems as though Glass never had a son at all, so John Fitzgerald never killed him, obviously. Glass also never took revenge on Fitzgerald either. He caught up with him and Jim Bridger after returning from the wilderness. He forgave Bridger right away and let Fitzgerald off the hook because he was at that point enlisted in the Army. Glass told Fitzgerald that as long as he was in the Army he was safe but he did manage to get his rifle back from Fitzgerald.

So what did happen in the movie? Well Glass was supposedly mauled by a bear and survived several attacks from Indians. He also did manage to make it back to Fort Kiowa after being left for dead by Fitzgerald and Bridger. And he was just as determined and bad ass as he was in this movie. Of course, it's tough to get an accurate view of these mountain men due to how their life stories were often embellished, but it is true that they were all bad-ass regardless. 

Still, you shouldn't go into this movie thinking it is an accurate telling of the Hugh Glass story. It's embellished quite a bit and quite frankly rather offensive to John Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was a monster in this movie. He murdered for profit and was generally an all around evil person but in real life he wasn't nearly as bad. Certainly his worse sin in real life (concerning the events in the movie) was leaving Glass behind. That either makes him a coward or a pragmatist, but not a complete monster like Fitzgerald was in the movie. I've never been a fan of movies that exaggerate the deeds of people just so they can have a villain and if I have a major criticism of this movie, this would be it. Indeed, I think the real life ending where Glass was denied his revenge would have been a lot more interesting an ending then the one we got. 

Now on to the actual movie itself. The signature scene in the film is the bear attack near the beginning. It's obviously a great scene and it's worth seeing the rest of the movie just for it. The CGI was very good and I think it is the most realistic attack I have seen in a film. Its absolutely brutal by almost any standard. Hilariously, somehow a meme got started on the internet where people thought Leonardo DiCaprio was raped by the bear. I can assure you that did not happen! 

The film was beautifully shot. Apparently the director shot the whole film on location in Canada and Argentina and did the whole thing with natural lighting. It really shows. This is one of the most "real" looking films I have ever watched. So often these days Hollywood films like to put CGI in everything and in this case they didn't do that. Though shooting the film this way must have been an horrible experience, you can really tell that it paid off in the end. This alone makes the movie worth watching. 

And I have to say this film had some of the most amazing scenery I have ever seen. The places they filmed this movie in were amazing. It was primal nature at it's most amazing and it's worth it to see the movie alone just for the scenery. It really made me want to go to the mountains of the great plains states or even to Canada or Argentina where the film was shot. 

The film was well acted. A lot was made out of Leonardo DiCaprio's winning the Oscar for this role. Some people think it was more of a consolation win after several high profile snubs for the actor. I kind of agree. I am in no way saying that DiCaprio was bad in this movie, indeed, he did a very good job, but it makes little sense to me to give a best acting award for a role where there is little speaking. He did good, but was it Oscar level good? Who knows? DiCaprio was definitely overdue for a win though, so I am not upset that he won for The Revenant.  

Tom Hardy did a fantastic job as John Fitzgerald as well. He was almost unrecognizable in his role, but that tends to happen with him. Just compare what the guy looks like as Shinzon from Star Trek, Bane from Batman and Fitzgerald from The Revenant. Domehall Gleeson and Will Poulter did excellent jobs as well. Over all the acting was fairly good. It really seemed like the men in this movie were real mountain men. 

I also have to say kudos to the film for casting actual Native Americans in the role. All too often in the past the role of Indians have gone to Italians and other non-Indians. I don't care about this for the whole "social justice diversity" reasons, just that it takes me out of the movie when I see an actor that's obviously not an Indian playing one. 

As for the plot, I greatly enjoyed the "survival against nature" theme. Seeing someone survive against the wilderness and hostile natives is always fascinating to me. The fact that everyone in the movie, including the villains, had to survive against the elements first and foremost made the film a lot more interesting. 

I was less impressed with the revenge plot. As much as I hate to say it I almost think that revenge plots are a bit played out. There have been so many movies where revenge has been used that I think it is getting overdone. 

I do have to say that I thought it showed the Ree/Arikara chief in a strange light. The Chief's actions, though motivated by understandable circumstances, were horrifying. And the movie really doesn't condemn him either. Not only was the whole plot spun into motion because he attacked an innocent party because he blamed them for a kidnapping that they had no role in, he also never got any retribution for what he had done. 

It almost felt like the makers of the film were a bit to afraid to have a Native American villain. Certianly, the savage Indian trope is overplayed but in my mind the noble savage one is as well. I think instead of the kidnapping plot they could have just used the real reason why the Ree tribe was attacking people during that time period. They had been the go-between for the tribes in the area and were being pushed out of the role by white fur traders. That may not be as relatable as the revenge motivation, but it's more of a nuanced position between the savage Indian and noble save tropes. 

All of this criticism is minor though. As is The Revenant is one of the better films I have seen recently, and I highly recommend it despite a few flaws. The only way you wouldn't enjoy it is if you hate violence as this is a very violent and gruesome movie. It's also rather long, but I count that as a point in its favor. All and all, it is worth it just to see how much effort they creators put into this film.   

Sunday, May 29, 2016

ISIS under pressure in both Iraq and Syria.

Iraqi special forces near Fallujah. AFP.

ISIS is under pressure after three major battles have erupted. AFP. In central Iraq, special forces and other troops are preparing to assault the city of Fallujah. The troops have arrived and are scheduled to attack soon. Thousands of civilians are trying to escape from the city. In the north of Iraq, Peshmerga forces are attacking villages in the Mosul area. 5,500 fighters are attempting to secure the road between Mosul and the Kurdish capital of Arbil. Three villages have already fallen. In Syria ISIS has been attacked by rebels and Kurds near Raqqa. However, ISIS launched an offensive of their own near Aleppo.

My Comment:
Major happenings in both Syria and Iraq. It seems as though ISIS is coming under extreme pressure right now and are being attacked on multiple fronts. It seems likely that the terror group is going to lose quite a bit of territory soon. I'm going to go through each of the regions ISIS is involved in right now in both Iraq and Syria. 

First, ISIS is essentially doomed in Fallujah. That was always the case because Fallujah has been surrounded for quite some time. After being pushed out of Ramadi, ISIS lost their ability to backup the troops trapped in Fallujah. Indeed, ISIS has largely been pushed out of central Iraq, with Fallujah being the last holdout. They still have operational capabilities in the area, the massive suicide bombing campaign in Baghdad is proof of that, but they just don't have the forces to relieve or evacuate Fallujah. 

I think that the fighters trapped in Fallujah know that they are doomed. They are unlikely to surrender so I expect them to fight to the last man. I expect the battle of Fallujah to go much like the battle of Ramadi went. With special forces pinning down ISIS fighters so that US led airstrikes can destroy them. This will cause massive damage to the city and will extract a heavy toll on the civilian populace. And even when (if?) Fallujah is liberated expect the city to be booby trapped and for ISIS snipers to be left behind.

I guess it is possible that the special forces will be overwhelmed with taking the city. These fighters have been involved in many of the most recent battles and have to be close to exhaustion. The regular Iraqi army has proven time and time again that they are basically useless, so if the special forces falter, it is likely to be the Shiite militias that back them up. If that happens, expect a slaughter of civilians in Fallujah...

In the north, ISIS is coming under attack by the Kurds. Iraqi forces in the area have already demonstrated that they aren't competent, so once again it has fallen to the Kurds to fight ISIS. I think that this battle is more of a reaction to ISIS attacks in the region. Remember, ISIS had just launched a major offensive in the area early this month. That attack was pushed back but not before ISIS had broken out and even killed a US Navy SEAL.

My guess is that Kurdish moves in the region are more about protecting their territory instead of taking back the ISIS capital of Mosul. Taking back Mosul is a tall order for the Kurds, given how well defended it is, but securing the highway between the city and the Kurdish capital is a lot more doable. It also protects their territory from ISIS attacks and may discourage ISIS from launching anymore attacks in the area.

In Syria, the ISIS capital of Raqqa is under considerable pressure. They are stuck between a rock and a hard place. In the south Syrian forces, with Russian support, have taken back the city of Palmyra and may be moving north to secure the capital. To the north, Syrian rebels and Kurds, backed by the Americans, are moving south. 

The good news for ISIS is that the Syrian led assault to the south has fallen apart. Indeed, ISIS was almost able to encircle the city but were stopped in the end, but not before they were able to destroy four Russian helicopters on the ground.  Though ISIS is not able to withdraw troop from the region to fight the Kurds in the north, at the very least some of the pressure has been relieved. 

This is allowing ISIS to attack to the west near Aleppo. Though that battle has been back in forth, with villages changing hands several times, it shows that even under immense pressure, ISIS is still able to conduct offensive operations. 

And ISIS is still a very capable terror organization in both Syria and Iraq. In both countries ISIS has been launching major terrorist attacks in rear areas such as the Iraqi capital of Baghdad and the Alawite enclaves on the Syrian coast.

Globally, ISIS is having a mixed bag of luck lately. Their fortunes have certainly reversed in Iraq and Syria. And efforts to expand in Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan have largely been unsucessful. Even their affiliates in Nigeria, Boko Haram have lost most of their territory. But it isn't all bad news for ISIS. They are still expanding rapidly in Libya and they are growing more and more active in Egypt. And Libya is being used as a major infiltration point for ISIS trying to enter Europe...

Saturday, May 28, 2016

About that Twitter harassment study that claimed that women send 50% of misogynistic tweets...

The Twitter logo.

As many of you know there was a study that was released recently that said that 50% of "misogynistic" tweets are sent by women. It was done by a British think tank called Demos, and the results haven't been fully announced yet. But it did say that misogyny is a huge problem on Twitter. You can find the outline of the study here, but I wasn't able to find the full study even though it was supposed to have been released on May 26th

I've got some real problems with their conclusions though. Before anything else I will be using some offensive language from this point on. I don't know if I need that warning on this subject or not, but no harm in putting it out there. I am going to have to repeat a bunch of bad language, which, for some reason, people find more offensive then all the descriptions of ISIS atrocities  I post on this blog. 

My first instinct is that they are correct, saying "sexist" things against women is an equal opportunity sport. It's not surprising to me at all that women send mean tweets at each other and it should not be surprising if these results are correct. Especially when it comes to the terms "slut" or "whore". Anecdotally, when I have heard those words as a pejorative in my personal life, it has almost always come from a woman describing another woman. The rest of the time it was either used as a synonym for "hot" or "sexy" from a man and only occasionally did I hear a man say it as an insult about a woman. Indeed, I wouldn't be surprised if follow up studies found the balance to be shifted towards women sending these kinds of tweets. 

That being said, I do have to say that I question this study. First of all, I don't have any idea what their methodology was. All they said is that they counted up the number of people that tweeted the words "slut" and "whore" at women. They did say that they filtered out tweets that used the words non-aggressively but I wonder how effective they were at doing so. It also doesn't say how those tweets were chosen other then that they were from the UK, which isn't an accurate sample size for anything outside of that country. 

I think the most obvious thing that is missing is context. Obviously it can be upsetting if someone tweets you something offensive but it really depends on a lot of things. For someone with a small account like me (currently around 70 followers) getting these kinds of tweets would have much more of an impact then someone with 10,000 or even 100,000 followers. I am also guessing that many of these tweets are "drive-by" attacks and not part of a campaign of harassment. Many more are also the results of fights, which happen on twitter all the time. It's not harassment when both sides of an argument are attacking each other.

Twitter also has a major problem with fake users. I wonder how many of the people cited in this study are fake users. People often create bots with female avatars that could gather abuse and it is certainly possible that bots could be used to harass others. It's a huge problem on twitter and could completely skew any data if it wasn't taken into the account. I also wonder how they determined what sex people are. Just because someone has a female name or avatar doesn't mean that they actually are a woman. Plus many people have gender neutral accounts. The number males with anime avatars and names alone could skew this study completely, and I don't know how you would control for it. 

I also think that the Demos organization seems to have an obvious agenda. If their first reaction after posting this study is trying to make it trend with a hashtag then it seems obvious to me that they aren't doing science for science's sake. Supporting the #Reclaimtheinternet hashtag shows me that they are clearly feminists and therefore biased. Admitting that they found that 50% of these tweets come from women helps a bit but it also seems like they are advocating for censorship as well, so I don't know if I can trust their study. They very well could have exaggerated things or otherwise misled us. 

Speaking of bias, it's also clear that they completely left out male users in this study. I doubt many males get called "slut" or "whore", though more then you would think, but I am sure they get called terms that are sexist against men. Getting called "dick" or "cocksucker" or even the ubiquitous "faggot" is just as annoying and I would bet that it happens just as much, if not more, than women getting called anti-women terms.

Of course all of this is irrelevant. I really don't think that this kind of language is all that harmful. Sure, it is annoying as hell to have people send you mean tweets but that is why there is a block function. If the harassment doesn't stop, you can always go private, or even quit twitter for a bit. Twitter is obviously a confrontational medium, if you don't like the idiots, then you don't have to post there. What really is harmful is when people gang up on you, or keep after you long term. Getting called a bad word by random people every once in awhile should be treated as noise, but getting attacked by multiple users or the same person over a long term is where the real problem is. These trolls are common and are a bigger threat then any random person tweeting an occasional insult. 

I also would like to point out that getting trolled on the internet is an universal experience, regardless of gender. I know that I, as a male, have faced the same kind of harassment that women have, and most of the time it's completely random. Trolls live on picking fights with people and they will use any weapon they can to get under your skin. For women, especially feminist women on Twitter, the best way to get under their skin is to say something they will perceive as sexist. But every other group has their own hot button issues so we shouldn't act like women alone face this kind of thing.

So what should be done about Twitter harassment? Not much I'm afraid. I think the worst thing you could do is try to control it from the top down. You can't avoid bias that way and I guarantee if you get a bunch of people trying to control harassment then free speech on the platform will be damaged. Given that twitter is more like a postal service then a company at this point, cracking down on harassment, real or perceived could silence a lot of people that disagree politically. 

What I do think would be helpful is if there was more education about how to deal with trolls. People need to know that they can walk away from the internet if things get too tough. They also need to know that engaging with trolls is always the worst mistake that you can make. Ignoring them makes them go away, feeding them makes them comeback forever. Again, the best thing you can ever do if you get a tweet from a jerk is to totally ignore it. Even blocking them can encourage them, but if you ignore then they can't do much to you. 

And people also need to realize that Twitter is a public platform. If you say something offensive or stupid people are going to notice and probably respond in kind. Remember when I said that the context of the tweets was missing in this study? How much do you want to bet that some of the women that got sent sexist things got them because they posted something like #killallmen or something else equally offensive to others? 

You really do have a right to free speech on Twitter, but that doesn't mean that you can act like a victim when you poke the hornets nest. I don't think that anyone should stop from posting anything just because they know that someone could be offended, and that in no way justifies threats or attacks, but some common sense is needed. If you really feel the need to tweet something like #killallmen, go ahead and do it, but just keep in mind that some battles aren't worth fighting. I'd argue that every battle on Twitter isn't worth fighting. 

Finally, some Twitter harassment is not harassment at all. Though the study focused on bad language, I have seen quite a few people complain when people are honestly disagreeing with others on the platform. If you post something wrong or controversial and another person tries to correct or argue with you, that is not harassment. It's only harassment if they are threatening you, but all too often people use anti-harassment tools to shut down legitimate criticism. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Donald Trump officially reaches the 1237 threshold. Here's what he has accomplished to get there.

Donald Trump speaks at an event in Arizona. Gage Skidmore.

Donald Trump has finally crossed over the 1237 threshold needed to be the Republican nominee. He picked up a few formally uncommitted delegates who now support him. The current number of delegates he holds, 1238, is just enough to secure the nomination. There are still a few more elections, including delegate rich New Jersey and California, up for grabs next week which will extend his lead even further. 

We have all been expecting this since the Indiana Primary so it isn't surprising that it has happened. But put into context, the rise of Donald Trump seems almost unprecedented. Indeed, few people expected much out of Trump's campaign when he announced that he was running for president back in June of 2015. In the past year Trump has accomplished quite a bit to make it this far. He was the longshot candidate of longshot candidates in a crowded field. And now he has a decent chance of winning the presidency.

So what has he accomplished? Well I am going to go through it point by point. Even if you disagree with Trump and don't want him to be president you have to admit that his rise has been amazing. Here's the list of all unexpected things he has done to reach this point.

1. He managed to defeat a very strong field of GOP candidates. 18 other candidates vied with him for the presidency, and many of them were golden boys beloved by the party. Dynasty member, Jeb Bush, who spent $100 million only to drop out when it was clear he had no chance, was destroyed by Trump. Fresh faced and young, Marco Rubio was an establishment favorite but he too fell before Trump. Powerful governors, like Chris Christie and John Kasich failed as well. And even the outsiders, like Rand Paul, Ben Carson and Ted Cruz, fell to Trump in the end. The GOP field was strong and yet a total outsider managed to win. 

2. He has survived "gaffes" and "scandals" that would have utterly destroyed lesser candidates. His campaign was considered over before it began when he made comments against Mexico and illegal immigrants yet he survived. He had a highly public feud with Megyn Kelly where he had been denounced for being "sexist". And his plan on Muslims was denounced by almost everyone. And yet, he still stands. 

3. He exposed quite a bit of hypocrisy and out and out lying by the media. Time and time again, the traditional media has lied about Donald Trump. When he denounced David Duke, the KKK leader that endorsed him, he stumbled on an interview. The media made it seem like he didn't want to denounce him even though he did days before the interview and did so immediately after. The media also lied about violence at his rallies. Though a few of his supporters did act violently it was drowned out by leftist protesters attacking them. Someone even tried to tackle Trump himself, but still the media tried to blame him. Because apparently the media thinks that expressing right wing opinions makes it ok to respond with violence. 

The attack on Trump.

4. He has majorly shifted the Overton Window. Before it was all but impossible to discuss illegal immigration in public. Same with criticizing Islam. If you did either you would be denounced as a racist. Trump has made it so that both can be discussed. You will still get called a racist, but now people are less concerned with the accusation. 

5. Trump has changed the Republican party as well. Before, the party relied on the votes of lower class white people but rarely did more then pay lip service to them. The real power was with the neo-cons and the economic elite. Even if Trump fails, that is no longer the case and the Republican party will have to pay better attention to the wants and needs of lower class whites. 

6. Finally, Trump has created real fear in the Democratic Party. They can feel their control slipping. They no longer control the narrative and Trump has exposed some real weakness in the party. After all, all it takes is writing his name in chalk on a sidewalk at a college to send young liberals into a fit. 

Trump reaching the 1237 threshold is a major accomplishment. I don't know if he is going to be the next president or not. I am leaning towards yes, but even if he doesn't win, it's impossible to argue that he hasn't changed things. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Leftist protesters are trying to shut down conservatives.

Protesters in Albuquerque. AP

Once again, leftist protesters are trying to shut down conservative events. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, a riot erupted at a Donald Trump event. Rioters stole t-shirts from vendors, attacked the police and even threw a bottle at a man in a wheelchair. Six police officers were hurt. A second riot, this time in Anaheim, California, was broken up before any violence could happen. 

In another incident, protesters shut down at Chicago's DePaul university where Breitbart's Milo Yiannopoulos was set to give a speech. Black Lives Matters protesters attacked Milo and threatened to hit him. The event was shut down and Yiannopoulos and his followers marched to the Chancellors office to complain. 

These incidents have a lot in common. Both Trump and Yiannopoulos are major figures on the right. Trump's obviously a presidential candidate while Yiannopoulos is a popular pundit. Both of them often say things that people on the left do not like. Trump says a lot about immigration and Islam while Yiannopoulos focuses on countering Social Justice Warrior beliefs and practices. Both of them aren't immune to criticism. And both of them have had events attacked by leftist protesters. 

Now I don't have a problem with people exercising their right to free speech. If people are angry with what Trump and Yiannopoulos have to say, then I have no problem with trying to counter that argument. You can even do it with marches and crude, vulgar signs as long as you aren't shutting down their events. Peaceful protest has a long history and I wouldn't ever want that to change.

But there is a limit of what people should be allowed to do and that line is violence. No matter what anyone says, you don't have the right to attack someone or their supporters. Just because Trump said something about immigration you didn't like that doesn't mean you can throw a bottle at a man in a wheelchair. Just because Milo Yiannopoulos is a troll, doesn't mean you can threaten to punch him and shut down his event.

This behavior is completely unacceptable, but you wouldn't know that if you watched the news. Indeed, I was amazed that this AP/Washington Post article I linked in the first paragraph was as balanced as it was. I turned on CNN for a bit this afternoon and they had the gall to blame Trump for the riot in Albuquerque. And other then the conservative media, nobody even covered the attack on Yiannopoulos. 

What the media should be doing is criticizing these protesters, but that never happens. Why? Because they like the beliefs of these protesters more then they like the victims of these attacks. Trump's also a major thorn in their side and Yiannopoulos is a direct competitor. That kind of explains the lack of negative coverage but it doesn't make it right. 

Of course these protesters never seem to understand that these protests and riots often convince people to oppose them. People wanted police reform before the riots in Baltimore and Ferguson. I decided to vote for Trump after the riots in Chicago. And I am guessing more then a few people like Milo Yiannopoulos for standing up to people that want to shut him down. I know that I personally am extremely motivated this year to vote for people that are opposed to left wing tactics like this. 

So what can be done to counter these protests? I think talking about them in this way is one way. Criticizing them on their behavior without talking much about their cause is the right thing to do. Even though I am opposed to these protesters on the issues, I don't have a problem with them saying what they have to say. But I do have a problem with them trying to silence speech, and I would have a problem if someone on the right was doing the same thing. 

I also think that it is critical for the targets of these attacks to not fight back. Some of Trump's supporters tried to do the same thing and it backfired. The media, along with politicians on both sides opposed to Trump ended up trying to paint Trump as violent himself and his supporters being the actual cause of these riots and attacks. 

Indeed, that is classic protester behavior. One of their major goals is to get that kind of reaction from people so they can play the victim card. If a protester throws a Molotov cocktail at a cop and the cops pepper spray him the media will make it look like the cop was just being brutal for no reason. Attacking a protester is the worst thing anyone can do, even if it is self defense and justified. 

One thing is for sure, this is probably going to get worse before it gets better. I am expecting violence at both the Democrats and Republicans conventions. And I expect more attacks at Donald Trump rallies throughout the election season. Finally, I also think that there will be more shutdown of conservatives at colleges throughout the country. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Satellite imagery appears to show the distraction of four Russian helicopters in Syria by ISIS.

A Russian MI-24 "Hind" in flight. Igor Dvurekov.

Satellite imagery seems to confirm reports that Russia has lost four MI-24 "Hind" helicopters in a raid at the T-4 airbase in Syria. Stratfor. The before and after images shows the burned out remains of the four helicopters, the destroyed remains of a supply depot and damage to a Syrian MIG-25. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack and likely used artillery to destroy the helicopters. Russia has publicly denied the attack and claim to have not lost any aircraft. The T-4 airbase is strategically critical and is located by the recently liberated city of Palmyra. ISIS was threatening to cut off the city but their offensive stalled out. They were still able to get close enough to T-4 to deploy artillery. 

My Comment:
This story is interesting me, not so much because Russia lost four helicopters but because Stratfor decided to embarrass them on a national stage. Stratfor is a private intelligence company and they specialize in things like this and it isn't that surprising that they would release this information. But I also think they got quite a bit of satisfaction in doing so.

The Russians were claiming that this attack never happened and that all of their helicopters were accounted for. That seems to be obviously not true. The pictures in the article clearly showed the wreckage of four MI-24's. I guess it is possible that those MI-24's were operated by the Syrians, since they have the same aircraft, but that seems rather unlikely to me. The Russian deployment to T-4 was open knowledge. 

So why did the Russians deny this? Because it is incredibly embarrassing to them. The loss of these four helicopters, and the supply dump that supported them, represents a major fraction of the Russian forces deployed to Syria. To lose four helicopters means that Russia's attack force in the country has been somewhat crippled. 

Those MI-24's were getting work done as well.  The close air support that the MI-24's can provide is crucial in battles against ISIS. They may have even stopped ISIS's attempts to cut off the recently liberated city of Palmyra. With them out of the picture, ISIS's fortunes in the area may improve, and the Syrian forces on the ground may take a morale hit when they realize that their isn't as much air support for them when battles spiral out of control. One thing that seems universal no matter who is fighting is that air support is a major boost to morale. Losing that air support can cause armies to collapse. That's what happened to the Iraqi's in Ramadi and I hope that it doesn't happen again here in Syria.

This is a huge victory for ISIS. Not only is this a propaganda coup, they have managed to embarrass one of their primary foes. It also goes to show the Russians, both in the military and civilians alike, that the forces deployed in Syria are vulnerable to attack. Though I haven't heard any reports of Russian casualties from this attack, the fact remains that if ISIS can hit a major airbase like T-4, they can probably hit anywhere. And if that is true then sooner or later Russia is going to start taking more casualties then they have through this point in the war. 

ISIS will probably gain a morale boost from this as well. ISIS's main disadvantage is that they are largely defenseless against airstrikes and helicopters. Sure, they have a few MANPADS and occasionally shoot down a Syrian plane or helicopter, but that doesn't happen enough to really help. Destroying four helicopters on the ground is more then they usually accomplish and goes to show their fighters that their enemies aren't invincible. Taking out these helicopters, which usually seem so invincible, will be a major boost for the morale of any ISIS fighter that has had to face them in battle. 

Destroying these helicopters will also help ISIS efforts in the area. I already talked about the morale effect on both sides, but there is more too it then that. The loss of these helicopters also means that the Syrians and Russians will be less effective in fighting in the area. There won't be as much air support available and what is left in the area will be hard pressed to keep up with the demand. That means that ISIS attacks in the area will be more effective and less hampered by attacks from above. 

I also wonder if air operations out of T-4 have been disrupted. The base wasn't just home to the MI-24's. There was also a couple of squadrons of Syrian SU-24 "Fencer" and SU-22 "Fitter" fighter bombers based out of the airbase in a critical role for the Syrian air force, along with a few utility and training planes. Though it appears that these aircraft were not lost, the attack on T-4 could have greatly disrupted their operations as well. Certainly during the attack itself, flights would not have been operating out of T-4, but what I wonder is if they are back on track or even if the airbase is still vulnerable. 

Finally, I wonder if Stratfor released these images on behalf of the United States government. The US has reason to embarrass the Russians, and this incident certainly accomplished that goal. Stratfor does have connections to the government and I can see them following up on a request from the government to release this information. 

Honestly, I question the wisdom of doing so. Even if you agree that Russia and the United States interests in Syria do not line up (and I would not), it makes little sense to publish a major victory for ISIS. Stratfor is essentially doing ISIS's propaganda work for them. Of course, part of the reason why the Russians wanted to keep this secret is to protect their reputation, but was it really worth besmirching if it gives ISIS more positive coverage throughout the world? Either way, the information is already out there, so I don't feel bad repeating it. The genie is out of the bottle, so to speak... 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Suicide bombings in Syria kill 148 people, ISIS claims responsibility.

A man inspects the damage in Jableh, Syria. Reuters. 

Five suicide bombings in Syria killed 148 people in Syria and wounded scores more. Reuters. The attacks occurred in Jableh and Tartous, which have until now escaped the war. Both cities are home to Russian military bases. Tartous is the home of their naval base and Jableh hosts their airbase. ISIS has taken responsibility for all of the attacks, which involved five suicide bombings and two car bombs. At least 10 ISIS fighters died in the attack. The targets were members of Bashar al-Assad's Alawite minority. 

My Comment:
This was a major attack in Syria. And the fact that it happened on the formally secure coastal area of Syria is a major escalation in the war. ISIS has so far been unable to strike at the home of the Alawites. 

So why target the Alawites? Well the obvious reason is because it hurts President Bashar al-Assad. He is an Alawite himself, and is largely seen as their champion. Targeting them hurts him and also loosens his grip to power. After all, what good is a champion if he can't protect his people? He has been fairly good at protecting the coastal Alawite enclave. That seems to have changed now.

ISIS has religious reasons to target the Alawites as well. ISIS considers Alawites to be heretics. Alawites are Muslims, but they are more closely related to Shia Islam as opposed to the Sunni branch that ISIS is part of. Alawites also keep many of their beliefs secret, which leads to speculation and rumors. ISIS considers groups like the Alawites to be at the bottom rung of acceptability. ISIS believes that they deserve death.

Of course killing Alawites isn't the only reason ISIS staged this attack. They are also sending a clear mission to Russia. It isn't a coincidence that ISIS hit cities where Russia has bases. Jableh has their airbase, which has been used to conduct airstrikes against ISIS, and Tartous is the main logistical hub for Russian operations in Syria. Though no Russians died in these attacks, it still shows that these places are not safe from ISIS and if the group gets lucky they could hit Russian military targets. 

The attack also weakens Bashar al-Assad. These cities were relatively insulated from the war. There had been no major attacks there and the area has been peaceful. All that has changed now. The people in these cities now have to wonder if they are going to be attacked as well. Though I don't think one attack will make those people reconsider their support for Assad, if multiple follow up attacks happen, it could change things. 

It seems like ISIS is switching tactics recently. As they have been pushed back in both Syria and Iraq, and have failed to take much new ground, they seem to be switching to terrorism. In the past ISIS often used car bombs and suicide attacks to support their offensive operations. They would use these bombs to blow holes into defensive positions and devastate the morale of the enemy. Though ISIS hasn't abandoned these tactics, it seems as though a new style of attack is gaining prominence. 

This recent attack, along with the streak of bombings in Baghdad, Iraq, happened far away from the front lines. They also targeted areas that should, by all rights, be safe from attacks. The general point seems to be sowing terror and distrust instead of any short term tactical gains on the battlefield. 

I think this tactic makes sense for ISIS. Since they seem unable to take any more territory they need to do something to keep momentum up. These attacks will cause panic and force the government's of Iraq and Syria. They may even have to pull troops back from the front line to better protect their rear areas. This may even open up new opportunities for ISIS to attack...  

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Iraq launches new offensive to take back the ISIS controlled city of Fallujah

Iraqi soldiers firing a mortar. Reuters. 

Iraq has announced a new offensive to take back the ISIS controlled city of Fallujah. Reuters. Iraqi Prime Minster Haider al-Abadi called for civilians to leave the city. Iraq will engage the the city with a combination of Iraqi Army troops, police, special forces, local tribal militias, and Shiite militias. The United States is expected to provide air support. Fallujah has been under ISIS control since January of 2014, and was taken even before the fall of Mosul. The city has been under siege since last year. It isn't clear how many civilians are left in the city but the estimates vary between 60,000 and 90,000 people. Those people may be trapped as ISIS is not allowing people to flee from the city. 

My Comment:
The timing for this attack is suspicious. We had not heard anything about attacks on Fallujah recently, so this could be considered something of a surprise. Not to me. I think there is an obvious reason for this attack. 

That reason is that the major offensive launched against ISIS in Mosul has fallen apart and failed. Even the preliminary operations failed and failed hard. And ISIS was even able to launch an offensive of their own. That offensive was blunted, but only due to US airstrikes and the bravery and effectiveness of the Kurds. And it even killed a US Navy SEAL. Since then any attacks in the northern part of the country seem to have been put on hold.

With the battle for Mosul put back on the back burner yet again, Iraq needed to go elsewhere to fight ISIS. There weren't many other targets they could go after besides Fallujah. Most of central Iraq has been recovered. The Iraqis won battles in Ramadi, Hit, and other various cities and towns in the central part of the country. Though Iraq deserves credit for winning those battles, it should be noted that ISIS withdrew most of their forces from central Iraq.

Only Fallujah remains as a bastion for ISIS forces in central Iraq. Those forces, limited in number, are largely cut off from the rest of ISIS. They are surrounded and under immense pressure. Indeed, their have been reports of the city running out of food and medicine. Those shortages alone, make Fallujah a decent target on humanitarian grounds alone. Though they are entrenched, Fallujah will probably be easier to take back than Mosul would be. 

Fallujah is a tempting target, and I think that Iraq can probably take the city. It will be a tough battle for sure. Urban combat is often terrible, and I expect there to be heavy casualties on both sides. There will be house to house fighting and I am guessing that the battle will end the same way the battle for Ramadi ended; with much of the city destroyed and with very few places safe for civilians to return to. Even after the city has been taken, ISIS will leave explosives and snipers to harass the Iraqis. Iraq will also be relying on US airstrikes will add to the destruction. 

Iraq desperately needs a victory as the government of Haider al-Abadi is under immense pressure. Baghdad has come under withering terrorist attacks with major car bombings becoming an almost daily occurrence. Abadi needs to be able to say that he is doing something about these attacks and taking back Fallujah would be something, even if I am not so sure that it would actually help against these terrorist attacks. I guess it is possible that ISIS is using Fallujah as a base to attack the capital, but given how surrounded the city is, that seems unlikely. 

Abadi also needs the support of the Shiite militias. Abadi is having serious problems with the Shiites in his country and having a bunch of them fighting ISIS instead of defending the capital could help avert the massive protests he is facing right now. It's probably not a major factor, but one worth mentioning. 

One wonders what ISIS will do in response to this attack. I get the feeling that the ISIS fighters left in Fallujah have been abandoned to their fate. I don't expect ISIS to try and lift the siege, and any attacks from Fallujah itself seems unlikely. I would not be surprised if ISIS tries to take advantage of this battle to attack Iraq elsewhere. A major offensive will require the Iraqis to move their forces around and that may create weaknesses that ISIS could exploit. Given how unstable the Iraqi government is and how successful ISIS has been in the past during these kinds of situations, I almost wonder if this offensive is not worth the trouble it will cause for the Iraqis...   

Trump and Clinton are now neck and neck in the polling.

The recent polling numbers. Via RealClearPolitics.

As you may know, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are in a statistical tie in election polling after months of Clinton dominating the field. For months and months, except for a few outlying polls, Clinton had a lead, often of 5 to 10 percentage points. That lead has largely evaporated. Though Clinton still leads in a few polls, the lead is often in the margin of errors and Trump has even gained the lead in a few cases now. 

So why has this happened?

1. Trump no longer had to compete with Ted Cruz and John Kasich. Cruz was hitting Trump very hard when he was still in the race. I am guessing having a fellow Republican and his supporters bashing him every day on national news hurt Trump's poll numbers a bit. With Cruz, and to a lesser extent Kasich, gone, Trump no longer has to protect his flanks from his own party. The feud between Trump and Cruz was especially bitter and didn't reflect well on either of the candidates, but with the issue resolved by Cruz dropping out, people are forgetting about it. 

2. The #neverTrump faction has completely failed to stop him. Even now, people are abandoning the movement and are grudgingly supporting Trump. Bill Kirstol's attempts to find a third party candidate to run against Trump have failed completely and only a few deluded supporters are clinging on to the idea. The party may still have some splits but the GOP is now unifying and rallying around Trump. Even people like Rand Paul, who Trump hit hard during the primaries, have endorsed Trump. Trump has essentially unified his party.

3. Hillary Clinton is in a difficult spot right now due to the fact that she hasn't managed to put Bernie Sanders away. Sanders is likely to keep in the race until the convention, so that is a couple of more months that Clinton will be facing attacks from her left as well as her right. She is going to be painted as both way too liberal and not liberal enough at the same time. While Trump has unified his party, Hillary Clinton is very far away from unifying hers, and at this point she may not be able to do so until the Democratic Convention, and even after that it's no sure thing.

4. Hillary Clinton is having legitimacy issues. While Trump wrapped up his nomination fair and square and will easily pass the 1237 number of delegates required to win, Clinton is heading to a much closer victory. Though I won't speculate on her final delegate numbers, I don't see her having a huge lead over Bernie Sanders, compared to what Trump has done in the GOP. She currently has about a 250 pledged delegate lead, which could possibly shrink before election day. Right now she's winning, but the election is mostly being decided by super delegates. This is feeding into the idea that the Democratic Party is not treating Bernie Sanders fairly. Though it's hard to blame Clinton for gathering support among the super delegates, it still makes her look like an insider in a year of outsiders. It also shows that the Democratic Party is having more trouble unifying under a candidate then the GOP has. 

5. Trump's attacks on Hillary Clinton are starting to have an effect. If you look at Trump's Twitter feed, you will see quite a few attacks on her. Right now he seems to be focused on her hypocrisy on gun rights, but he's also been hitting her on her husband, Bill Clinton. Clinton has been responding, but I have said in the past that Trump is way better at social media then she is.

6. Trump has been doing and saying all the right things to gain the support of the GOP base. Not only has he been trying the mend the fences with GOP leaders he is also spending a lot of time on GOP red meat issues. One of the #neverTrump complaints was that he wasn't a "true conservative" and would be weak on the issues. Trump has countered these complaints in part due to releasing his list of Supreme Court nominees, all of which are acceptable to most in the party. Given how many Justices are near retirement age, this will help Trump get support from GOP voters who may have been wary of him. Also important is his recent endorsement from the NRA. This was another issue that #neverTrump hit him on and it's clear now that their complaints were largely baseless. 

7. The presumed terrorist attack that took down the EgyptAir flight. Though the jury is still out on that case it still brought the issue of terrorism back into the limelight and may have had a small effect on the most recent of polls. Most of them were wrapping up by the 19th so only a few of the people polled had that information, but it still probably had an effect on those polls. Trump wins on terrorism because his solution of a temporary ban on Muslims would actually have an effect short term. Hillary Clinton's plan, is the same old thing we have heard since 9/11. More tolerance and understanding is needed for the people trying to kill us. Though Trump's plan is controversial, it is at least different and isn't a rehash of the same policies that haven't done much to stop the threat of terrorism. I said before that if a major terrorist attack were to happen, it would help Donald Trump, and that may have been the case here. 

I don't know how long term these poll results are. Indeed, much of the bounce seems to be from the fact that Trump has managed to unify his party while Hillary Clinton has not. I am convinced that she will be able to do so at some point, but by then it might be too late. This primary season may have created wounds so deep in the Democratic Party that they might not have fully healed by election day. 

Of course there is a lot that can happen to polling numbers between now and election day. My guess is that Trump is going to keep gaining a lead on Hillary Clinton. Though the factors I mentioned in this post were mostly temporary boosts that will probably go away after the convention, I still think that Clinton is a very weak candidate. Though it is very premature to call the race this early, I do think that she doesn't have much of a chance to win. These current poll numbers may be the turning point in the race where everyone else realizes that as well... 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Editor's Note

Just an FYI, today was the last day of my vacation. Posting should pick up again. Expect more posts during the evening hours as opposed to the morning hours. My sleep schedule is all screwed up!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Russia wants joint strikes with the United States to target al-Nusra and other rebels in Syria

Vladimir Putin meets with his generals. Reuters. 

Russia once again has called for joint airstrikes in Syria targeting al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, al-Nusra, and other rebels. Reuters. Russia hopes to implement the plan by the 25th of May. The targets will include al-Nusra and other rebel groups that are not abiding to the ceasefire. Russia would also strike convoys carrying supplies into Syria from Turkey. Though Russia is talking to the United States, the government has expressed little interest in working with the Russians. All that the United States is willing to do is taking steps to make sure that neither side gets in each others way. Russia and the United States are both against al-Nusra Front, but Russia supports the Assad regime while the US supports rebels fighting the regime. 

My Comment:
This isn't exactly a new story, Russia has been calling for cooperation with the United States since they joined the war. But it does go to show how terrible our foreign policy is in the region. In a sane world, Russia and the United States would work together against al-Nusra and ISIS. Obviously that is not happening. And given the threat that al-Nusra presents it is infuriating to me that we won't do what makes sense. 

After all, Al-Nusra is a major threat in Syria. I have said this dozens of times before, but it pays to repeat it. ISIS may get the headlines with their flashy executions and destructive terrorist attacks, but al-Nusra is still a dangerous terror organization. If ISIS hadn't risen, after splitting off from al-Nusra, they would be getting the headlines. Indeed, before ISIS split off, al-Nusra did gather the headlines.

Al-Nusra is dangerous for many reasons. There are the standard ones that you could level against ISIS. They are brutal, they hate anyone that isn't a Sunni Muslim, they use terrorist tactics, they could grow into a international terrorist threat, and so on and so forth. But one thing makes al-Nusra arguably even more dangerous then ISIS. 

They are willing to work with other groups. Unlike ISIS, al-Nusra has many allies in their fight against the Assad regime. They have been known to work with ISIS, who they are usually enemies with, when their interests intersect. Al-Nusra also has many allies among the rebels fighting the regime. Most of those are the more moderate Jihadists, but even many of the secular rebels work with them as well. 

This ability to work with others makes al-Nusra an even larger threat then the run of the mill terror groups. It makes it very hard to support the rebels, morally and logistically, when they are working with this terror group. There have been many cases of US allied rebels either crossing over to join with al-Nusra, or surrendering their arms and supplies to them. 

This also explains partially why the Obama administration is so unwilling to strike al-Nusra, compared to ISIS. Yes we have sent some airstrikes against them, but it has had a high political cost. Doing so alienated al-Nusra's allies. making it harder for the US to get support in their efforts to overthrow Assad.

Of course, the effort to overthrow Assad is misguided at best. Though Assad is a brutal dictator, he is also one of only a few groups that is fighting against ISIS and al-Nusra effectively. By fighting him, we are essentially helping ISIS and al-Qaeda, who are supposed to be our sworn enemies. 

There is also the current administrations zero-sum treatment of Russia. One of the main reasons we are opposing Russia's strikes in Syria is because doing so helps Russia. Propping up the Syrian regime gives Russia access to their port in Tartus and some power and prestige in the region. Obama can't have that so he is going against our countries best interest and is refusing to work with the Russians.

I am hoping that the next president we get has a better attitude when it comes to the Russians. I don't want a pushover, but it seems like we should be able to work with Russia when our interests meet. Both of our governments share an interest in destroying al-Nusra and ISIS, so we should be working together in Syria. Donald Trump would probably give the Russians a fair shot, while Hillary Clinton would probably just do what Obama is doing, or even escalate the situation by creating a no-fly zone....

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Destruction of EgyptAir flight 804 likely due to terrorism

File photo of an EgyptAir plane. Reuters. 

An EgyptAir flight has crashed over the Mediterranean on a flight between Paris France and Cairo Egypt. Reuters. The Airbus A320 had 66 passengers and crew on board. Egyptian, Greek and international authorities are conducting a search for debris. The Greek defense minister claims that the plan was flying at 37,000 feet when it suddenly turned to the left and then did a 360 degree spin to the right, plunging to 15,000 feet before disappearing from radar. The ground controllers lost contact before the plane started to descend. No distress signal was reported. No terrorist group has claimed responsibility for the attack. 

Live updates:

My Comment:
The live feeds have been saying that it is much more likely that this is a terrorist attack then a mechanical failure. Those sources include Egyptian, French and Russian government sources. Though a mechanical failure has not been ruled out, it seems rather unlikely at this point. This was a relatively new plane and it had just undergone a safety inspection, which it passed. It is definitely still a possibility but it seems less and less likely as time goes on. 

My guess is that this is indeed a terrorist attack. Much like the Russian airliner that was brought down by ISIS in Egypt, it is very possible that they were able to strike again. It does not take a large amount of explosives to take down a plane so it is very possible that someone was able to slip a bomb onto the plane. That would be the most likely scenario.

Another possibility is that this was an attempted hijacking that went wrong. This seems unlikely. For one, there was no distress signal received or reported by anyone, as of this writing. It is also very difficult to hijack a plane after 9/11. There is also no evidence that any of the passengers were linked to any group that wanted to conduct a hijacking. It is possible but I personally think that it is extremely unlikely.

Finally, this could have been another case of a pilot deciding to kill himself along with his passengers and crew. That has happened before, with the most recent being the Germanwings flight that crashed last year. This is also unlikely just because the way the plane crashed. It is very unlikely that the plane would spin around like it did if it was deliberate. 

My guess is that it played out like this. A small bomb, planted at an airport, either Charles De Gaulle airport in France or one of the airports in North Africa the plane had visited recently, exploded. That caused the plane to spin out. The pilots may have been able to gain control or they died/passed out due to the blast. The plane wasn't able to recover and it either broke up in the air due to the explosion once it dropped off the radar or crashed into the ocean.

So if it was a terrorist attack, who was responsible? The obvious suspect is ISIS. ISIS has done this kind of thing before. After all they brought down a Russian jetliner out of Egypt last year. That attack even occurred in Egypt, and one of the airports that the plane was in during the 24 hours before the attack was Cairo. They also have a presence in Tunisia which the plane also visited. It could even be terrorist based in Paris, though the higher security there would make that seem unlikely. 

ISIS isn't the only suspect though. AQAP, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is a possibility as well. They have a long history of terrorist attacks and have tried to attack jetliners as well. Most of those attacks have failed, but AQAP has a presence in Paris, where they conducted the attack on Charlie Hebdo. Given how much al-Qaeda has faded in comparison to ISIS, this attack could be an attempt to regain the spotlight.

What are the impacts of this attack? Well for one Egypt is going to take yet another hit in terms of tourism. Egypt is very dependent on tourism for its income and their industry has already been hurt badly. Not only is the country unstable, there is also the long string of terrorist attacks that have occurred there. This attack is just the last in a long line of attacks. My guess is this news will make even more people reconsider traveling to Egypt. 

The attack also raises concerns about the threat against airlines. If this bomb is proven to have been planted in Paris, in a major international airport with supposedly good security it means that the terrorists can slip bombs in almost anywhere. If it was planted in Africa, it just further shows how vulnerable those airports are to infiltration. Either result would be shocking after the destruction of the Russian jet last year. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Senate passes bill that would allow US Citizens to sue the Saudi Arabian government over 9/11

Barack Obama meeting with Saudi officials last month. New York Times. 

The United States Senate has passed a bill which would allow US citizens to sue the government of Saudi Arabia over 9/11. New York Times. The bill passed unanimously and will now face a veto from President Obama. The Saudis are furious about the bill and have threatened to liquidate $750 billion in assets in response. The bill comes as more information is coming out about Saudi connections to the 9/11 plot. The Obama administration is considering declassifying 28 pages of the 9/11 commission report that details the connections to Saudi officials. 

My Comment:
I haven't been covering this story closely but I think that this should change now. The legislation is interesting enough. Being able to sue foreign governments for terrorist attacks is a major change in the way we do business. It has implications far outside Saudi Arabia as many other governments could be liable for suits as well. North Korea, especially, could be one of the countries that gets sued, along with many other rouge states. 

The problem is that it could result in other nations following suit. There are a lot of people with axes to grind against America and those countries could use this legislation as an example of how to sue governments they disagree with. For example, a person that lost a family member in Yemen to a drone strike could sue and with this new legislation it would be hard to argue that they shouldn't be able to. Given how many drone strikes, coups and revolutions the CIA has conducted over the years this could lead to a lot of lawsuits. 

I am less afraid of the Saudi threat to liquidate their assets in the United States. I wouldn't be opposed to getting the Saudis out of American business in the first place, but I seriously doubt that would ever happen. It would hurt them way more then it would hurt us, even in the best of times. And it is clear that these are not the best of times for the Saudis. Not only are they bogged down in a terrible war in Yemen, they are also facing internal threats from ISIS and other terrorist groups. Plus they have to worry about Iran's ascendancy on the world stage. Again, this just isn't going to happen. 

As for the allegations, I tend to find them credible. Which is somewhat amazing. I always thought the the 9/11 truthers were a bunch of idiots. And to be fair, the vast majority of them were and continue to be. To be sure, 9/11 wasn't what they claimed it to be, which usually ended up with some variation of blaming the Jews for everything which is beyond ignorant. And that was the most lucid theory. Most of them, including the ones involving holograms and phantom jets, were just beyond stupid. Indeed, I always thought that the 9/11 truther movement was a conspiracy theory itself to redirect anger over 9/11 away from Islam.

But it is clear that there are some holes in the official story that never came out until now. These Saudi connections, based on what I have seen, do seem to be real, and if they are then it means that it wasn't just al-Qaeda that was involved with the 9/11 attacks. From what I understand, some lower level Saudi diplomats and spies had significant contact with the hijackers. There also appears to be some evidence that this connection was deliberately covered up.

Why? My guess is that 9/11 was a rouge operation that was not authorized by the higher ups in the Saudi government. They probably didn't know what was going on until it happened. And the people involved didn't come up with the idea themselves, they just helped al-Qaeda along. The Saudis, knowing that they would be blamed for something they didn't really want, did their best to cover up the links. The US government did the same thing because they valued the relationship with the Saudi government more then they valued bringing these low level people to justice. 

If I had been in charge back then, that is not how things would have played out. I would have exposed the links immediately and then given the Saudis a simple demand. Hand over these men or execute them immediately. Either way I would want their heads on a platter, and if the Saudis didn't play ball I would have treated them the same way we treated the Taliban. It would be a tough war, given that we sold the Saudis our weapons, but in the end it would be justified. 

Which is probably a major reason why this information didn't come out until now. If we had found out that low level Saudis were involved in the plot there would have been major demands for war against the Saudis unless they gave us what they wanted. With so much time having passed, tempers will have calmed down significantly. The Saudis won't get away scot-free but they won't be facing an invasion from a very pissed off American public. I think there will be people that will want these people extradited but I doubt there is much appetite for war over it. 

All of this brings into focus how negative the impact of the Saudis are when it comes to international terrorism. The Saudis are a major reason why Islam is the way it is right now. Not only do individual Saudis, rich with oil money, fund terror groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda, they are also responsible for spreading their radical interpretation of Islam. It's not a coincidence that the rise of Wahhabism is correlated with the rise of terrorism. 

I really think that we would be well served if we stopped being close allies with the Saudis. They have done little to stop the rise of ISIS and they have connections to quite a few of the major terrorist organizations in the world. Though they aren't responsible for 9/11, some of their people probably helped the attacks along. Unless the Saudis change course and do it soon, by cracking down hard on radicals in their government and purging anyone who thinks terrorism is justified, we should not stand with them. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Video: Kurdish attack on an outpost in Turkey.

Video of an attack in Turkey.

Here's another video that is making the rounds today. This time it's in Turkey and it shows a Kurdish attack on an outpost there. I am assuming that these are PKK rebels and that the attack takes place somewhere near the border, but I have no way of verifying that. There isn't any real graphic footage that I could see but as always don't watch if you don't like seeing combat footage. 

The video shows the Kurds watching the base for quite some time. Guards are relaxing, an officer appears to brief his men and generally the atmosphere is relaxed. Then the guns start shooting and chaos erupts. It looks like the outpost gets fired on with mortars and rockets and a few bunkers get destroyed. This is obvious propaganda of course. The uplifting and exciting music added to the video is proof of that. It also doesn't show any casualties on the Kurdish side. 

So what does this say about the war in Turkey? Well for one it's a real war. There were some heavy weapons deployed here. Not only do the Turks seem loaded for bear with their Cobra helicopters flying around, the Kurds deployed some high caliber weapons of their own. We have also seen that those Cobra helicopters are vulnerable as well, with one just having been shot down. It makes me wonder if this video is from the same engagement. 

I'm also not too impressed by the Turk's performance here. Though it is clear to me that the cameraman that recorded this video was pretty far away, he's still close enough that he was able to film it. You would think that the Turks would have been able to spot this guy and deploy a patrol to take him out. It makes me wonder what the rules of engagement are in Turkey. Perhaps they spotted the guy but couldn't take him out for some reason. Either way a guy filming a base like this is an obvious sign of an imminent attack.

I also think it is strange that this is clearly a hilltop fort but the cameraman was able to film it at what looks like to be an equal height. That means that the Turks didn't have control of the surrounding hills, which makes them vulnerable. That's a rookie mistake but one that isn't always possible to correct. Turkey might not have the forces available to cover the other hilltops. 

Still, it's not like this base was overrun or anything, because if it had been it would have been shown. What it does show is a Turkish military base coming under extremely heavy fire and surviving. At the very least the Turks held on so they at least save some face. 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Amazing footage out of Turkey. Super Cobra helicopter shot down by Kurds with a IGLA.

This video has been making the rounds today so I thought I would post it as well. It's pretty incredible. From what I can tell the video was recorded in Turkey and the men that fired it are Kurdish PKK militia. The Super Cobra was responding to a gunfight between the PKK and the Turks near the Iraqi border. The weapon appears to be a Russian made IGLA launcher system. Unfortunately, it sounds like both of the pilots died, but given what was seen in the video, that's not surprising.

So what can we learn from this? Well for one, MANPADS are spreading. I have no idea how the Kurds were able to get an IGLA. My guess is that they made their way into Turkey from across the border in Iraq or Syria. This video shows how easy it is to shoot down a low flying aircraft if you have one of these launchers. If the MANPADS are spreading to the point that even the Kurds have them in Turkey, I am worried that some terrorist will use it against commercial airlines on landing or takeoff. ISIS or al-Nusra also have these kinds of weapons and I wouldn't be surprised if they used them at some point at civilian targets.

Turkey is claiming that this helicopter crashed due to "mechanical failure". I mean I guess it is true because the helicopter stopped working after the tail fell off, but my guess is that they didn't want it widely known that they had a helicopter shot down and that their enemies, the PKK, had MANPADS. That ship has sailed now.

As for the war between Turkey and the PKK, I don't really like either faction. Though the Kurds are a great ally in Iraq and Syria, I don't like their political beliefs. Too many of them are communists for me to ever be comfortable with them, especially the PKK. Of course I greatly dislike Turkey as well, so my response to this attack is mostly indifference. I do have to say that Turkey's war against the Kurds seems to be spiraling out of control. If it ever gets to the point of full blown civil war it could create yet another migrant wave to overrun Europe...

Why I think Hillary Clinton is a long shot for winning the presidency.

Official Senate picture of Hillary Clinton. 

As of this writing Hillary Clinton is the odds on favorite to win the presidency this November. This is in spite of the fact that she hasn't even locked up the nomination at this point, with several elections to go. Her defenders cite record low approval ratings for her opponent, Donald Trump, as a reason she might win. They also cite chaos in the Republican Party and the demographic advantage the Democrats have. In short, they believe that Donald Trump has no path to the presidency.

I'm not so sure. To be completely honest, I am biased against the Clintons. I never liked either Bill or Hillary Clinton, and I don't want either of them in office. But I think the media is ignoring some huge disadvantages that Clinton has. I won't go so far as saying that Hillary has no chance, but all the articles crowning her as the next president are far too premature. At the very least she has some massive problems. I could be wrong but I think she definitely has an uphill battle. 

A note on the format. I am going to stick to a "listicle" style post for this one. It's not my favorite way to do things but it does make it a bit easier to write. I'm going to start with some obvious disadvantages and then go onto a few things that could break either way. 

1. Bernie Sanders is still a thorn in her side. Sanders has been winning primaries for quite some time and, as of this writing, is only 283 delegates behind Clinton, and if the Democrats had more winner take all races, he might have caught her. It's not impossible for Sanders to catch up in terms of pledged delegates, or at the very least close the gap. 

No matter what though, Sanders is kind of screwed. He doesn't have the super delegate advantage that she has. So even if he somehow manages to tie or even pass Clinton, it's extremely unlikely that he is able to win. But if Sanders makes it to the convention at a near tie, or even with a lead, the Democratic convention will be contested. As you all know, pundits and media people talked ad nauseam about how a contested convention would rip apart the GOP, but it looks like the Democrats could do the same thing.

All of this could cost Clinton the support of the Sanders supporters. Some will, of course, fall in line when, not if, Sanders loses. But the rest are going to be mad as hell, especially if the race is so close that the super delegates end up deciding the race. If that is the case then Clinton will probably lose some of their support. Some of them will be disillusioned and stay home in November. Some will vote third party, for Jill Stein or whoever the Libertarians pick (probably Gary Johnson). And a small but significant number will cross over and vote for Trump just out of spite.

 And none of this even mentions the possibility of a third party run for Sanders. I doubt he would do so, but I have heard rumors that Sanders could be picked as a running mate for Jill Stein. If that happens, Trump will win and win easily. Of course, Clinton could try to mitigate Sanders by tapping him as a VP pick, but I don't see that happening. She isn't going to be forced into picking him and wants to pander to minorities by picking either a woman, black or Hispanic VP.

2. Bill Clinton is a major liability for Hillary Clinton. Not only does he sometimes get into trouble with the way he talks, he counters one of Clinton's best attacks against Donald Trump. Hillary desperately wants to attack Donald Trump on his behavior with women. If it was anyone else making the attack or anyone else being targeted it would probably work. But Trump is willing to go where nobody else is willing to go.

Every time that Hillary Clinton attacks Trump on this issue, it is trivial for him to turn the issue around on her. Because of Bill Clinton's treatment of women and Hillary's actions defending him, she just can't use that line of attack without it backfiring on her horribly. It has nothing to do if the attacks on Trump are true, but everything to do with the Clinton's being gigantic hypocrites on the issue. 

Bill Clinton has been accused of rape, groping, exposing himself, sexual harassment and generally being a pervert. Not all of those charges have been proven but there is a pattern there and even if only some of them are true, then it goes directly against the argument that Hillary Clinton is the correct person to talk about women's issues. Trump's labeled her an enabler and she has also been accused of harassing the victims of her husband. 

Indeed, her husband is probably the reason that Clinton is so unpopular among women. Sure, she still has better favorability ratings then Trump does among women, but I think there a lot of women out there that don't want to support a woman that has enabled her husband to be a sexual predator. Some of them aren't convinced yet, but I am betting that this will be a major line of attack for Trump which will hurt Clinton in the end.  

3. The e-mail scandal could end up destroying her. As of this writing, she hasn't been arrested yet, but she is still under investigation. If she does end up getting arrested one of three things will happen. The first is that she drops out. I can't see her doing that. The second is that she continues to run even under arrest because if she doesn't she goes to jail. Third, she could get pardoned by Barack Obama. 

All of those options hurt her massively. Obviously if she drops out she isn't going to win. If she runs after being arrested she is going to be an easy target for pretty much everyone. The worst thing that could happen though is if she gets a pardon. This would infuriate the right and the center and could even anger a few people on the right as well. People hated it when Ford pardoned Nixon and I am guessing people want to see her answer the charges. She won't do that if she is pardoned.

Even if she isn't arrested, the e-mail scandal hurts her chances. Though there are many people that don't understand why information security is so important, or don't care even if she did break the law, there are millions of people out there that do understand. These people are mad as hell that she is getting away with something that would get almost everyone else fired or imprisoned. I can't see many people in the military or anyone with a security clearance voting for Clinton. 

4. Her health. Though Hillary Clinton looks and sounds better then her husband, she still has some serious questions about her health. She has had problems on the campaign trail with repeated coughing and even being unable to get back to a debate on time. The fear is that she won't even survive a full term. She might not even make it to November. If she did drop dead tomorrow I would not be surprised. 

Which is kind of odd because Hillary Clinton is about the same age as Donald Trump. He's 69 and she's 68, but there is no question in my mind who is in better health. I haven't seen Trump ever coughing or having any kind of medical issues whatsoever. 

I think this could have an impact on voters, but I also think that it could hurt Hillary Clinton in other ways. For example, if her condition, whatever it is, has a flare up, she could be forced away from the campaign trail at a critical time. It could also effect her debate performances and he various rallies and fundraising speeches. 

5. Her support among minorities isn't as strong as it once was. Don't get me wrong. The vast majority of the minority population is going to vote Democratic this election. And I don't think she has done that much to alienate minorities. But I do think that Donald Trump is uniquely qualified to get some of the minority vote, at least when compared to other GOP candidates. He will do bad among minorities but most GOP candidates do horrible.

Trump has strong name recognition among the black population. And unlike previous candidates, like Mitt Romney, he has some appeal. Trump's personal style is much closer to what many blacks think rich people should act. He's not a snooty millionaire like Romney was. Trump lives like a rap star, with his obvious consumption and flashy style. The black community knows Trump and has some reason to like him. Indeed, more than a few black celebrities have endorsed Trump, like Mike Tyson, Terrel Owens and Azealia Banks.

Plus they might like some of his policies. Sure, I don't see many blacks liking him due to his support of law enforcement (another constituency that Clinton has pissed away), but they may like him on other issues. The black community has been especially hit hard by illegal immigration and free trade deals, so as Trump focuses on those issues he might peal away a bit of support from Clinton.

As for other minorities, Trump isn't going to be liked by Hispancis but more of them will like him then you would think. Not all Hispanics care about immigration as some of them have been here for generations. And not all Hispanics care if Trump bashes Mexico. Why would someone from Cuba or Puerto Rico care if he cracks down hard on Mexico? Don't get me wrong, Trump will do poorly among Hispanics, but I don't see him doing all that worse then anyone else in the GOP would.

And Trump is even making inroads with the LGBT community. He's basically said that he's fine with states deciding things like gay marriage and the various bathroom bills. He also seems to be rather pro-transgender, at least compared to other Republicans. Now I don't think that these inroads are enough that the LGBT community will cross over. But it does show me that some might, certainly more then if Ted Cruz had been the candidate. Given how small the LGBT community is, it won't matter too much, but every little bit helps Trump and hurts Clinton. 

6. She's losing support of white males. This is mostly a problem with the Democratic party in general, but as a whole the party is moving away from the interests of white males. Even liberal ones. Sure, Bernie Sanders has a lot of support of male liberals, but Clinton does not because she doesn't focus on the issues that they care about.

Instead Clinton is pandering to minorities and women. Which is the worst thing she could do if she wants white males to vote for them. I won't speak for all white males but I do believe that there is a lot of unhappiness and disgust just waiting to be tapped into. As Clinton focuses in on things like Black Lives Matter and Planned Parenthood, white males are asking themselves "what can you do for me?" And Hillary Clinton doesn't seem to have an answer for that. 

You know who does? Donald Trump. You could say that Hillary Clinton's opponent is focused like a laser on issues that white males care about. White males have been hurt by the economy, generally support gun rights and are turned off by identity politics. All of those things aren't focuses of the Clinton campaign but are major points in favor of Trump. Add that in with the lack of support from women and minorities as outlined above and you can see how this could be a problem for Clinton. Barack Obama was able to win the presidency without the support of the majority of white males, but I don't think Hillary Clinton is strong enough to say the same thing. 

And now here's a short list of things that could break either way:

1. Debate performance. I get the feeling that Trump is going to wipe the floor with Hillary, but I have to admit that it could go either way. I don't know if Trump hitting Hillary hard will help or hurt. Some people might think he is a bully even if he destroys her.

2. VP Pick. This could go either way. If Clinton picks Sanders and Trump makes a boneheaded pick like Sarah Palin, it could really shake up the race. But if Clinton picks some unknown token minority and Trump picks a good candidate, it could shake up the race in the opposite way. Most likely is that the race is only slightly impacted either way. Though I am not a fan of Chris Christie, he would be a major help in hitting Hillary.

3. Terrorism. I tend to think that a major terrorist attack on the scale of Paris would probably help Donald Trump. He got a huge bump in the polls after Paris, San Bernardino and Brussels mostly because his proposed temporary ban on Muslims entering the country was the only real solution being offered. If another attack happens, especially if it happens here, expect Trump to gain from it. On the other hand if ISIS doesn't pull off any major attacks, then the support for the ban could fade. 

4. Social Media. I think that Clinton is completely outclassed here. Obviously Trump is a social media candidate and in comparison Clinton is way behind. It's a double edged sword because Trump often gets himself in trouble over his tweets and facebook posts. Still, I think even a stupid tweet helps Trump more then it hurts. 

5. Third Parties. This might be a big year for third parties. Already, a lot of people have said they are going to vote for the libertarian candidate, which will hurt Trump more then Clinton. And if the #nevertrump people actually do end up running a third party candidate, it would obviously hurt the race, even if they only get 1% of the vote. On the other hand, if Sanders runs third party or goes as a VP pick for Jill Stein, Clinton is screwed. 

6. Civil unrest at either convention. People really don't like protesters so of the usual suspects, communists, anarchists, Black Lives Matter, manage to disrupt either convention it might help Donald Trump. 

So does Hillary have a chance? Yes, but I also think that as a candidate she is very weak. I also think that Trump is quite a bit stronger then she is and is in a better position than the media is giving him credit for. I really do think that he's got a much better chance of winning then Hillary does at this point of the race. All that being said, this election cycle has been crazy and I wouldn't want to put money on any of this. Who knows what will have changed by November?