Friday, June 26, 2020

Vote by Mail

Everyone in the great state of Washington votes by mail.  Thank God our state capitol Olympia did away with the caucus system.  Ditto for Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, & Utah.  California allows everyone to vote by mail but also allows those who prefer to go to a polling place to vote.  No need to apply for a mail-in ballot, all registered voters get one.  No need to prove your inability to travel to the poll.  No need to prove you are out of state. 

There are checks in place to prevent fraud.  Sure, Junior can fraudulently vote for his senile parents.  But incidents like that are onesey-twoseys.  Large scale fraud is easy to spot via statistics, or by suspicious journalists or political analysts of any party.    Public election officials can easily prove or disprove fraud by checkin signatures. 

There is a system in place to insure secrecy & privacy of your vote.  It increases voter turnout.  It provides a legitimate backup record for recounts.  It lowers the expense to states and counties for holding elections.  What is not to like?

Reportedly two thirds of the country would prefer to vote by mail.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

86 degrees in the Arctic Circle yesterday.


But I'm sure the real smart opposition will kochsplain it to us.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Return of the Cannibal Plague Rats!

Beware rogue ravenous rats.

"That’s the latest coronavirus-tinged health warning from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as the rodents that have been starved of restaurant leftovers these past two months make themselves known.

In a species evolutionarily adapted to resort to cannibalism during hard times, the CDC is warning of “unusual or aggressive rodent behavior” stemming from their lockdown starvation diet."

Oh My Fucking God.

This is...c'mon, it's been less than a decade since the LAST outbreak of Cannibal Plague Rats - on a boat! - but this time it's with Actual Plague.

So I'm calling it right here, right now, and you better damn well remember I did so because I want the credit when it actually happens:

"Cannibal Rats versus Murder Hornets! This Sunday on SYFY Channel!"

THIS is the sort of entertainment we need.

Acting 1SG Lawes reads the morning formation announcements

Comp-ney, Atten-shun!

At ease.

Okay, listen up. Coupla things here.

AT Platoon.

I understand that, as those fucking pizza commercials keep reminding us, we are in "trying times", by which I mean both this fucking plague AND the fact that in this training cycle y'all have been down to the anti-armor range twice a day every day for three goddamn weeks. But if I get one. More. Phone. Call. from Brigade whining "Why are your AT vehicles parked in the B-Lane?" I will make it my personal business to go down to Willy's Speedi-Tow, requisition one of their goddamn trucks, and personally snatch your asses up and drag you back down to the motor pool.

You know the rules. I know the rules. And, unfortunately, so do those fucking Karens up at Brigade. So load and unload most quick smart and then park in the goddamn motor pool and walk back to the company area. Sergeant Morrow, you and me, after this formation. Am I clear? Thank-yew.


I am led to understand that there are certain individuals in this formation who are sick and tired of all this Plague Year shit. Who want to unmask, who want to slink back to the fucking Lizard Lounge so their Jody asses can get busy with rando grass widows, not that I'm being judge-mental or anything. I am led to understand that this commotion is all about "freedom", and that "your fear doesn't trump my freedom" and, yes, I see what the fuck you did there.

Let me remind you people.

We are STILL in the fucking Plague Year.

I trust that you, being the out-stand-ing airborne soldiers that I know you are, are familiar with the means and methods for the battalion in defense outlined in chapter three of Army Techniques Publication Three-dash-twenty-one.

That being said, how would you assess the behavior of, say, Private Black, here, if he proudly announced that he had no intention of digging a fighting position, that he would not submit his freedom from overhead cover to your fear of getting blown to small bloody independent republics by enemy artillery fire, and that he, in fact, intended to exercise his right to walk around the main line of defense wearing a pink tulle' tutu drawing fire whilst y'all cowered fearfully in your holes?


Thank you, Specialist Echevarria!

Yes. You would call him, and correct me if I am misquoting you here, Specialist, a "brain-dead fucker of whom the best portion of which ran down his mother's leg". Yes, indeed.

There are things you are supposed to be afraid of, people. Things that the fear is telling you not to fuck with, because they will fuck you up. Enemy artillery. Non-alcoholic beer. Payday loans.

The Plague will fuck you up like a one-five-five HE round. You are not brave and free if you walk around while the rounds are impacting your position, people. You are being fucking stupid and endangering your fellow troopers and compromising your airborne mission.

I trust this will be the last I hear of this nonsense. Keep your fucking masks on, people. Keep your distance. That's good practice for GIs anyway; remember - every time you bunch up you invite Mister Grenade to your party, and Mister Grenade is not really your friend.

Finally. Medical platoon.

You will be doing yourselves, this organization, and the nation a massive solid if you will kindly transfer those two empty shipping crates from your loading dock where they have been standing proud since, like, the last fucking fiscal year, to their forever home in the dumpster.

I spoke to Private Black about this the last time I ran into him on the loading dock and, frankly, I am not sure that I completely buy his explanation that they are part of what I believe he described as a "living art project" of Sergeant Carter's. Feel free to correct me after this formation if I am being overly skeptical, Sergeant.

Good. That is all.

Comp-ney, Atten-shun!

Platoon sergeants, take charge.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Died in vain

I was talking about this with my Bride today. She said that she didn't see how it made a difference where, when, or how you died in war; whether you died storming the Normandy beach to crush Nazis or blown up by an exploding latrine while waiting for orders in the War of Jenkin's Ear.

I replied that it was all part of the implied bargain that we the troopers made when we raised our hands.

We promised to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies. With our lives, if it came to that.

They - the Constitution in the form of our People, our government, our Army, and our officers - promised to hoard those lives and ensure they were spent as frugally as humanly possible.

The Old Lie is one thing.

The Old Lie, when the lie is told as part of a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury but signifying nothing?

That breaks the bargain.

And that got me thinking of how many bargains have been broken in the Plague Year.

So I posted this to my FB page today:
"Pandemic Timeline, Day 157: It suddenly seems utterly weird to be having a "day" about dead American soldiers when EVERY day hundreds and even thousands of Americans are dying all around us. Weird. And wrong."
And a dear friend immediately spoke up about his disgust that the federal government had decreed an official day of mourning with the national flags flown at half staff for the dead of COVID-19; "Couldn't have waited another few days to let us honor fallen soldiers?"

And I understand that. I do. I know he and his family have a very dear friend who was killed in Iraq, and I'm sure they still feel the pain of that loss.

Our dead are with us always.

But this was my reply:
"But these poor suffering bastards are dying for their country - in the sense that they're dying because of decisions their government made - as much as anybody who got killed at Bataan or Fallujah.

As an un-fallen soldier I'm as angry and grieved at these losses as I am about the lives we threw away in the Middle East or Vietnam. Even the rhetoric - "heroes" - is the same, whether we send GIs into the streets of Basra with hillbilly armor or nurses into the plague ward with homemade masks and re-used gloves.

I understand how you feel, my friend. But I'm too sick and too cynical to feel the outrage. Our country has decided that we are all expendable. So let the poor sods have their flag. We're all being driven into the minefield now."
And with that, I find that today I have nothing more to say.
Except, as always, this.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Briefing the Toddler

Apparently President Bone Spurs prefers to get his intelligence briefings from  a casino poobah, an 85-year-old golf partner from South Africa, and a house-painter turned talk show host.  He is too inattentive or disinterested.  Too short an attention span (the Ritalin maybe?).  Too wrapped up in irrelevant side issues.  Too narrow-minded and intolerant to reality or to any info that does not fit within his belief system.  Too untrustful of the IC that he sees as the borg or the deep state. Too lazy.  And too narcissistic.

Per the NY Times:

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Blundering into the blast zone

Forty years ago yesterday (May 13, 1980) as Dick Waitt records in his 2014 work In the Path of Destruction, the Washington State Department of Emergency Management and other agencies including the U.S. Geological Survey were forced by public pressure to open up large portions of the forest lands around the then-unquiet Mount Saint Helens volcano that had been off-limits since the end of April.

(then-Governor Dixy Lee Ray had signed an order establishing a "red zone" around the volcano on 30 APR 1980 that turned out to be, in fact, grossly undersized - something like 50 of the 55 to 60 people who died in the eruption on 18 MAY were outside the original "red zone" - see below).
But that wasn't enough for the people who made their living in the woods, or who had cabins or houses near the volcano, or who just wanted to go back into the forest to mine or pick mushrooms or whatever.

Saturday, 17 MAY, something like 50 vehicles drove into the area that had been closed to bag up their stuff. The eruption took place at 8:32am, before the second planned caravan enetred the blast zone at ten, and since it was a Sunday the active logging tracts were empty.

Still, somewhere in the vicinity of 55 people were killed.

That ain't Pompeii...but, then, we knew more than they did back in the First Century, and knew how damn deadly dangerous these stratovolcanoes were. The volcanoligists of what eventually became Cascades Volcanoes Observatory warned the State of Washington that this monster could do all sorts of unpredictably deadly things. And the state government listened...until people grew bored and restless and demanded to "reopen" the woodlands around an actively erupting volcano. We learned a hard lesson about the power of convergent margin tectonics and nature in general.

As a geologist I find it kind of interesting to reflect on that, just at the moment.

Oh...y'know. No reason.

Just a thought.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Legal Notes from the Airsoft Coup

Anderson and Deeks have a long digression at Lawfare on the latest stabile genius foreign policy chess move between sorta-kinda-the-U.S. and the Maduro government in Venezuela and, specifically, did it roll over into the "Neutrality Act" of 1795 (18 U.S.C. § 960), which says:
"Whoever, within the United States, knowingly begins or sets on foot or provides or prepares a means for or furnishes the money for, or takes part in, any military or naval expedition or enterprise to be carried on from thence against the territory or dominion of any foreign prince or state, or of any colony, district, or people with whom the United States is at peace, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both."
The pithiest description of the Trump Administration is "malevolence mitigated by incompetence" and that as much as anything surely describes this opera bouffe' "coup".
Obviously the part of this we'll probably never know (or won't until the clearance expires in a quarter century, assuming it ever does) is the degree to which the U.S. government was involved. The principle of the Neutrality Act is that it is illegal for a private citizen or citizens of the U.S. to take actions that might lead the nation into war with a foreign nation. But...if the U.S. government did authorize this clusterfuck, then it's no longer illegal under U.S. law. The Trumpkins deny any involvement because, duh, fail, of course they would whether they greenlit this thing or not.

My question would be...does that "authorization" extend to what might be called "guilty knowledge"? Can silence imply consent or even "authorization - without explicit authorization? Assuming that the administration knew this "coup" was in train - and since the knucklehead mercenary CEO publicly announced it (cunning move, there, Clausewitz...) it is difficult to believe they did not - and deliberately did nothing to forestall it...does that provide the mercs with implicit "authorization"? Certainly it would provide the US intelligence agencies plausible deniability. Sure, we knew. So what? Not our business. Oh, wait, it worked? Sweet! Welcome, our new Venezuelan buddies!

Once again, the difficulty is separating the incompetence from the malevolence from the pure goofy "WTF?" with these people.
Somewhere in Hell William Walker sneers in bitter contempt...

Friday, May 8, 2020

1919 vs 2020?

Well worth reading discussion of the similarities and differences between the current pandemic and the previous one here.
"It’s really remarkable to me that the flu of a century killed 675,000 Americans out of a population of 110 million, meaning that roughly works out to the 2.2 million upper range guess of projections for COVID-19 by proportion of the population. And yet, the cultural response to it was primarily to shrug our collective shoulders and get on with our lives. It wasn’t total ignorance that created that situation. Some communities did engage in effective quarantining, for instance, and there were real death rate differentials between them. But to my knowledge anyway, sports weren’t cancelled. The World Series went on as normal (and quite famously in 1919!). There was no effective government response at the federal level."
One point I will take issue with, however, is this:
"Basically, what has changed is us. We see ourselves as something closer to immortal today." (emphasis mine) "The only two health crises even close to the flu between then and now were polio and HIV and those are very different types of events. Polio’s transformation into something much more powerful than in the past definitely scared lots and lots and lots of people, but what could you really do? AIDS certainly frightened many, but it was also classified as gay cancer early on and Reagan was happy to let them all die until his buddy Rock Hudson fell to the disease.

We have a culture of immortality. That’s not a bad thing. Science has advanced so far. We think we can protect ourselves from the outside world through eating and exercise and medicine. To an extent, we can. Even though COVID-19 has hit very old people in nursing homes and those with co-morbidities much harder than most people, it’s seen as an unimaginable tragedy to lose these people in a way that the deaths of thousands upon thousands of young parents and workers was not a century ago. To an extent, this is a reminder that human beings are incredibly fragile animals who have bodies where germs and bacteria pass in and out of all the time. We just don’t think about it. Our seeming indifference to climate change is related to this as well. We simply think we will figure it out, just like we figured out polio or the ozone layer or how to make a good television comedy."
I think this confuses correlation with causation.

Yes, we do think we'll "figure it out". But that's because we are accustomed to the - when you think about it - astounding advances in medical practice over the past century.

I mean...the docs in 1919 understood the germ theory of disease and the nature of influenza. They weren't stupid. They did what they could.


At the time inoculation and vaccination was just beginning to become widespread. The notion that "oh, sure, we'll get a vaccine for that" was not just remote, it was nearly unthinkable in many cases. People died all the time from diseases we've more-or-less removed from our experience; typhus, cholera, diphtheria, measles, smallpox. That simply doesn't happen anymore.

So it's not that we "see ourselves as...immortal" or have a "culture of immortality". It's that we have internalized that what is going to kill us is a heart attack, or cancer, or an auto accident, or a random nutter with a firearm. The notion that a simple contagious disease - a sort of superflu - can kill or maim us?

THAT's insane. That's fucking creepy. That's...something that shouldn't be happening.

So we ARE not really treating this plague the way we did a century ago, but not because WE'VE changed.

It's because our fundamental baseline for medical competence and medical success has changed.

We don't expect we're going to die of cholera anymore.

So we're really pissed off and really frustrated and really afraid that this thing has become, despite all our knowledge and skills and learning, the pestilence that stalks in the darkness

Friday, May 1, 2020

O tempora, o mores!

Bearing arms against the Republic, 1864:
The U.S. government's response, 1864:
Bearing arms against the Republic, 2020:
The U.S. government's response, 2020:
We live in sadly diminished times.

Update 5/11: As noted in the comments, I think the obvious problem here is that the rebels and traitors are seeing a lot more Buchanan (if not more Jeff Davis...) than Sherman in the federal government's responses and they are thereby emboldened:
“We need a good old fashioned lynch mob to storm the Capitol, drag her tyrannical ass out onto the street and string her up as our forefathers would have,” John Campbell Sr. wrote in a group called “People of Michigan vs. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer,” which had nearly 9,000 members as of Monday morning.

Steve Doxsie had the same idea: “Drag that tyrant governor out to the front lawn. Fit her for a noose.”

“Either President Trump sends in the troops or there is going to be a midnight lynching in Lansing soon,” Michael Smith chimed in.

Others suggested she be shot, beaten, or beheaded.

“Plain and simple she needs to eat lead and send a statement to the rest of the democrats that they are next,” James Greena, of Fennville, wrote.

Chris Rozman said, “She needs her ass beat. Most of these politicians need a good ass whooping. Just. Punch there lights out.”

When someone suggested the guillotine, Thomas Michael Lamphere responded, “Good ol’ fashioned bullets work better, but I like the enthusiasm.”

“Wonder how long till she’s hit with a shotgun blast,” Chris Parrish wrote.

Matthew Woodruff had another idea: “Can we please just take up a collection for an assassin to put that woman from Michigan down,” he asked.
With these knuckleheads I'm not sure that even fear would be the beginning of wisdom. These are deeply,aggressively stupid people.

But the prospect of giving it a try sure seems increasingly attractive.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Breaking the Belt? Leaving the Road?

Andy is one of the few regulars here that keeps reminding us of this, but the current pandemic has brought the problematic relationship between the United States (and much of the "developed world", I should note...) and the People's Republic of China into a harsh light. Fred Kaplan at Slate posted a worthwhile conversation starter here:
"David Livingston, an analyst at the Eurasia Group, notes in an email that while China is not a rich source of raw materials or finished products, it is “a behemoth in the middle of supply chains.” It is in fact the world’s largest exporter of intermediary goods, providing one-third of the “intermediate goods” that help turn raw materials into finished products.

According to a recent report by the McKinsey Global Institute, China supplies the critical components in 70 to 85 percent of the world’s solar panels, 75 to 90 percent of high-speed rail systems, 60 to 80 percent of agricultural machinery, and 40 to 50 percent of cargo ships.

COVID-19 has drawn attention to this grip on the middle of supply chains for health and medical products—a grip that’s tighter than commonly realized. As Bradley Thayer and Lianchao Han note in the National Interest, China produces “key ingredients to medicines in almost every area,” including drugs for Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, antidepressants, HIV/AIDS, and cancer treatments, as well as statins, birth-control pills, antacids, and vitamins. If China stopped exporting these ingredients, they write, “America’s—and the world’s—hospitals would be in free fall.”
It's very obviously not in the national interests of a supposedly-developed, supposed-republic like the United States to be at the mercy of a one-party dictatorship. Especially a dictatorship that sees itself as a global rival. Especially a dictatorship that is moving aggressively to gain influence beyond its borders in a way that no previous Chinese governments have ever attempted since the days of the Yuan Dynasty.

The difficulty - as the piece points out - is finding some less fraught middle ground without pushing either nation closer to an open Cold War.

It's tempting to read the problem as an artifact of the sort of bog-standard-fatheaded-Trumpian-"diplomacy" that has produced idiocy like the ridiculous "Love Letters from Pyongyang" Kim-Trump bromance. I think that's heaping too much of the problems on the current Administration; this is a tangle produced by generations-long economic and political miscalculations from the West in general and the US in particular, as well as a false hope that the fall of the Soviet Union (once described to me as "because nobody wanted to wear East German jeans and listen to Bulgarian disco music") could be duplicated by showing the PRC the attraction of Western goodies. Far too long the US has been coasting on the Nixonian engagement policies begun back in the Seventies. The PR has been more than willing to open the doors. It's just not going to let anything in it dislikes - like the idea of a China not run by the current dictatorship.

It's also tempting to look at it as purely a governmental and diplomatic issue without considering the massive role played by domestic US financial and tax policies that encouraged private US corporations to move much of their production to the low-wage nations of East Asia. If corporations are people those people are sociopaths; they typically have no interest in anything other their bottom line. Making the West hostage to Chinese mercantilism? Hey, not my problem! Gotta make the price point on those inhalers and the cheap plastic Walmart crap!

The duplicity - and let's not kid ourselves, regardless of whatever else the PRC did in this pandemic, their initial reaction was horrifyingly similar to that forecast in Max Brooks' World War Z PRC's response to the zombie apocalypse; they tried to hide the outbreak and downplay the severity because that's overwhelmingly often what dictatorships do - of the PRC's government simply points out that as currently constituted the government of mainland China is not anything similar to the sort of state presumed to be a part of the "Western group" of nations.

The fact that the United States is increasingly neither one of those states is neither here nor there in affecting how the rest of the developed world decides to deal with the PRC.

But I think the problem at the heart of the Kaplan piece remains; how? His conclusion is that "...we need to diversify our supply chains, we need a more clever, alliance-driven style of diplomacy, and we need a new president."

Which is all well and good, but...those supply chains are largely in private hands, which will move them only as far as the fattest profit.

And the diplomacy is largely in the hands of that president, who was recently quoted recommending that Americans threatened by a pathogen inject themselves with bleach and swallow UV lights and yet remains the god of nearly 4/10ths of the American public. There is at least an even chance that there will be no "new President" for another four years and change.


Update 4/26: Dan Drezner at Reason has a thoughtful piece that goes into the US-PRC relationship in more detail. In particular it does good work examining the starry-eyed narrative that too many US officials believed would link economic growth and political freedom, as well as the clumsy mess that the Tariff Man has got the relationship into.

However, when he comes to his proposals for solving the mess, Drezner doesn't seem to have all that much more than Kaplan:
"There are areas in which the prospect of weaponized interdependence means that some negotiated decoupling will be necessary. In those arenas, however, the United States will need the cooperation of its allies—because otherwise, China is likely to be the one setting global standards in 5G and other technical areas. The U.S.-China Trade Policy Working Group, a collection of economists and lawyers from both sides of the Pacific, has put forward a framework for managing the relationship. As for coping with predatory liberalism, Adam Silver's change of tune in the face of a media firestorm shows that negative press attention is the best way to get U.S. firms to stop kowtowing to Chinese authorities."
The notion that the Trumpkins will sudden drop their "America First" mania and begin cooperating with allies is risible, while "negative press" seems a weak reed for a world that has gotten used to reading the press equivocating on whether drinking bleach is a bad idea.

So I think we're still very much in the same place. We know there are some things that need to be done about the US-PRC relationship. But what things, and whether the US in its existing condition can or will do them?

That seems very much not so much undecided as largely unexplored.

Update 4/29: It's worth noting that this really is a transnational problem; the Trumpkins' "America First" xenophobia isn't the only source of trouble here. There's much to ponder in this essay (An Old Anxiety in a New Era 1900 & 2020 庚子年的優思 by Zi Zhongyun) regarding the turn to aggressive nationalism on the PRC. It appears that the Xi regime has largely abandoned the pretense of socialist internationalism inherited from the original revolutionaries. In its place - at least, per Zi - is a sort of purblind xenophobia and nationalist rage that would make any MAGA rally look like a kid's playdate.
(The banner above the restaurant door reads "Enthusiastically Celebrate the Coronavirus in America; Wishing the Virus a Long and Successful Journey in Japan". Yike.)
"This deplorable situation is only getting worse and, given the kind of unwarranted self-congratulation encouraged by the recent Amazing-China-boosterism [inspired by a swaggering and sensationally popular 2018 propaganda-documentary, ‘Amazing China, My Country’ 厲害了, 我的國], it is hardly surprising that we are now subjected to fabricated stories about how neighbouring countries are supposedly pleading with Beijing to be allowed to merge with the ‘Chinese Motherlands’. [Note: in mid April 2020, articles appeared on the Chinese Internet claiming that Kazakhstan was applying to become part of China. In response, the Kazakh foreign ministry summoned the Chinese ambassador in Almaty to issue a formal protest]. On the global stage stories like this feed an existing anxiety that China is secretly harbouring plans to invade and absorb other nations."
I've heard it said that a diplomatic catastrophe often requires the hard work of the parties on both sides. It would seem that we have just such a situation at hand.

Update 4/30: This...
...on the other hand, is NOT good.

Friday, April 17, 2020

That's how sieges work, Phil.

How the hell did they deal with these people in the past?
Phil: "That's it. I can't take it any more. We gotta get out. Open the gates."

Dave: "We've been through this, Phil. The Mongols are still outside. We can't open the gates yet."

Phil: "But...freedom! I gotta get out. I can't take it. I gotta...I gotta weed the turnips! I left the lights on in the cow byre! I gotta buy another dozen swords!"


Dave: "Mongols, Phil."

Phil: "Uuuugh. I can't staaand it. We've been in here for...weeks!"

Dave: "That's how sieges work, Phil."

Phil: "But...the Mongols have barely killed anyone for days!"

Dave: "That's because of the walls."

Phil: "Are you sure? Maybe the Mongols aren't as dangerous as you said they were!"


Phil: "I'm just saying, how bad could it be? They can't kill all of us!"

Dave: "That is literally the thing they do, Phil."

Phil: "Aaarrrggh! My turnips!"

Friday, April 10, 2020

Naval Gazing

Good discussion here about what the USS Theodore Roosevelt fiasco shows us about the internal mess that is a now an integral part of "the world's most powerful armed force":
"The response to Crozier’s memo, after it was public, was incoherent. Everybody was saying different things. Modly got on the news and told CNN, We’re working on it, we have a plan in place, which was true because he was in communication with Crozier and his staff at that point. That same afternoon, Modly’s boss, Secretary Defense Mark Esper, got on the evening news and said, I haven’t made any decision and I haven’t read the letter in full. They were nowhere near on the same page. It was the beginning of this massive schism that’s happening right now between civilian and military leadership."

"You see a real difference between how the admirals and the political appointees are dealing with this. The admirals are looking for how to get the sailors off and investigate what happened. But the political appointees, specifically Modly and Esper, seemed like they were completely foundering and looking for a political mitigation tactic that might save them face."
And let's not kid ourselves; it wasn't just the flunkies - this clusterfuck goes all the way up to Head of Grifting:
"Last year, the Navy was roiled by Trump’s call for clemency for Eddie Gallagher, a Navy SEAL who was convicted of keeping war trophy photographs of himself with a dead Iraqi captive. So there was already this sense, when Modly came to the job, that you need to anticipate what the White House wants and carry it out. I think that’s an understanding most administration hopefuls have reached. It could be seen as a bit of a proximate factor for what happened with Crozier."
So as far as "most powerful" goes, while I do not question the sheer weight of metal that the U.S. military has and will continue to bring in the near future, it's worth noting that the track record of military organizations that are beaten into a sort of permanent cringe... being forced to suck up to the whims of their dictators... not a good one.

Update 4/25: Innnnnnnn-teresting:
"Pentagon leaders are now at an impasse about how to move forward. While CJCS Milley wants a broader inquiry, CNO Gilday and ASECNAV McPherson want to move ahead with reinstating Crozier. SECDEF Esper may be the deciding vote between the two camps."
Why I say this is interesting is because the CJCS is NOT in Crozier's chain. Remember the little thing I posted about the Navy chain of command?

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs ain't on it.

The only reason I can see that Milley is sticking his fucking oar in is that certain Trumpkins want to torpedo Crozier somehow but don't want their tiny little fingers on the firing button.

Like I said; the track record of armed forces who begin sucking up to political despots?

It's not good.

And, given the track record we already have from the U.S. performance in Central Asia?



Tuesday, March 31, 2020

What's Hungarian for Ermächtigungsgesetz?

President Trump's EU pash, Viktor Orban, is now officially the Dictator of Hungary.
Somewhere in the bowels of the White House Stephen Miller does a little dance.

I'm as terrified of this plague as anyone, but I'm almost equally terrified of our little American Orbans and their orange Leader. War and pestilence are the great enablers of dictators. It is when We the People are the most fearful and beaten that we are willing to trade liberty for "safety". We will get neither - especially given that these new dictators worship the old Gods of the Gilded Age that mean more profits for themselves - but those of us who prize "security" over that liberty will surely be tempted.

And, given our recent history, I cannot be sure we can resist that temptation. Four of ten Americans have already shown they will gleefully support any amount of destruction to small-r republican mores if it means shuttering drag queen story hour and keeping the dusky heathens in their place.

It will be intriguing to watch the reaction to this from the EU. If the leader of a European nation can become an out-and-proud dictator without consequence, what will stop those others (looking at you, Poland...) who are teetering along the border?
Did I mention lately how I reeeeeeally hate this timeline?

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Mass for Shut-ins: Crossbarry 1921

While we're sheltering in place wondering if we'll be ordered back to work on Monday, here's a blast from the past: The Ambush (or Battle) of Crossbarry, a bit of an older guerrilla war, Brits versus Irish in the Twenties. Auld Tom Barry has a good day and Major Percival a bad one, all to the tune of Piper Begley's Greatest Hits.
A late bit of St. Paddy's Day green beer for y'all. Up the Celtic!

(FWIW, my maternal grandfather was a Scots-Irish Prod, and every St. Paddy's Day he'd trot out the old Orangman's toast. It went something like this:

"Here's to Good King William the Fourth
Who saved us from knaves and knavery,
rogues and roguery,
Popes and popery,
From brass buttons and wooden spoons."
(this, by the way, is where nine-year-old me thought "Grampa, WTF?" or at least would have had nine-year-old me known WTF WTF meant at the time...)
And may he whosoever denies this toast,
Be crammed, slammed and jammed into the Great Gun of Athlone.
The gun fired into the Pope's belly
The Pope into the Devil's belly,
The Devil into Hell, and the key in an Orangeman's pocket.
And here's a fart for the Bishop of Cork."

And this was in 1966, mind.
Sometimes the past isn't even prologue...

Friday, March 20, 2020

Love in the Time of Cholera: an open forum

It just seems remiss for a geopolitical blog not to have something to say about the Plague Year, and yet...
I'm not really sure WHAT to say.

It seems that this is sort of inevitable; human history has been punctuated by pandemics, going back to the Plague of Athens in the 5th Century BCE. At one time epidemic disease was so common as to be nearly unremarkable - who even remembers the Third Cholera Pandemic which tore through the globe killing millions? - but that through advances in public health and medicine we've gone over a century without a genuinely frightening pandemic.

Is COVID-19 that frightening pandemic?

It's dangerous, that we do know. But how dangerous? There's still some big questions. The PRC, where it seems to have originated by animal-to-human transmission much as many other historical pandemics have (note that this is in no way some sort of accusation of biowarfare or aspersion of blame; southeast China is simply one of the world's largest concentrations of domestic animals - largely chickens and pigs from which many (and almost all influenza) viruses are incubated - and humans who come in contact with those animals, and trade routes), has 1) a sketchy record of lying about its internal affairs, and 2) tremendous motivation to lie about the course of this disease. I have a hard time believing that it's genuinely eradicated inside the PRC. Russia has a hell of a long land border with China, and, yet, we know nothing about the presence or virulence of this infection there.

The real problem here is that the data we're working off is so poor. On one hand the London study suggests that nothing short of extreme public closures - workplaces, public spaces...almost any and all public gathering places - will reduce the degree of infection to a manageable level.

On the other, our information level is so low. As noted, the PRC is not a reliable witness, much of the other polities infected are having the same issues with the level of testing that US is having, and we have some datasets that suggests that this disease may not be as deadly as we fear.

If it isn't, and we lock down much of the global economy for a year or more..?

I think we need to prepare for, and treat this, like it is a potential disaster.

But I'm willing to be convinced otherwise.
So consider this an open thread to discuss; what do you think..?

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Happy Xmas (War is Over)

While not really changing my opinion that the current Administration is an overall total clownshow, I gotta give credit where credit is due: Trump left Zalmay Kalilzad in Qatar to hammer out a war-ending ceasefire agreement with the Taliban representatives, and he did, inking a pact at the end of this week that sets out a process to finally #endendlesswar.
Now...there's a bunch of troublesome cans that this kicks down the road.

The Kabul government wasn't party to this critter.

That, in itself, might be a dealbreaker in a sense. Because as sure as the sun rises the odd-lot of tribes currently reigning in Kabul is doomed to fall before the Pashtun factions that are the core of the Taliban. Right up there with "don't get involved in land wars in Asia" (oops!) is "never bet against the Pashtun in Afghan power politics". The critical factor will be the Talibs willingness to be patient and let the Trumpkins distance themselves from this thing, so when the inevitable collapse of the current Kabul regime happens they can wave their hands and make it none of Our Business.

There are also a lot of other people with interests in keeping the Afghan pot boiling, and it will not be simple for the main parties to this agreement to keep them from mucking things up. Various Islamic extremist factions, Afghan tribal interests, Americans who will see this as rightly a recognition that the past 19-odd years have been a complete and utter waste of blood and treasure...

But, frankly, it isn't Our Business; the U.S. has little reason to be picky about who is mulcting the opium trade from the gaddi in Kabul. Provided whoever they are keep the place relatively quiet and regional unrest on the downlow it's a "win" for U.S. interests. When the Taliban is the organization in charge? If they can do that, then more power to them, and us.

Nike employs people who helped kill GIs in Vietnam to make shoes for American feet; why shouldn't Talibs who shot down Americans in the Korengal Valley grow opium for American junkies?

Is this a "good" way to end this mess? Probably not. But, then, there really is no "good" ending, just a selection of bad and worse ones, and this is probably as good as it gets.

Update 3/2: As you might expect, the Kabul government immediately shoved a spoke in this deal, refusing to agree to the prisoner exchange portion.

Plus the Taliban - or some part of the anti-Kabul rebellion - bombed a soccer game almost immediately after a ten-day "reduction in violence" ended. Apparently the Taliban has committed to not whacking GIs but has left the Kabul government fair game.

As Trump famously said about presidenting; who knew this stuff would be so hard?

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The Shores of Tripoli..?

Anyone care to speculate WTF is going on in Libya? Turkish invasion? Seriously?

Sunday, January 26, 2020

“...disunited, undisciplined, ambitious, faithless...”

Worth noting, as we drift unmoored through the final days of the Republic, that we're showing as many indicators of a late-stage political dissolution abroad as we are at home, one of these being an increased dependence on mercenaries to fight our cabinet wars.

I'm not going to pretend that these hired guns are going to have anything like the negative domestic effects Niccolo Machiavelli reported they had on the Italy of the Renaissance:
"Mercenaries...are useless and dangerous; and if one holds his state based on these arms, he will stand neither firm nor safe; for they are disunited, ambitious and without discipline, unfaithful, valiant before friends, cowardly before enemies; they have neither the fear of God nor fidelity to men, and destruction is deferred only so long as the attack is; for in peace one is robbed by them, and in war by the enemy. The fact is, they have no other attraction or reason for keeping the field than a trifle of stipend, which is not sufficient to make them willing to die for you. They are ready enough to be your soldiers whilst you do not make war, but if war comes they take themselves off or run from the foe; which I should have little trouble to prove, for the ruin of Italy has been caused by nothing else than by resting all her hopes for many years on mercenaries, and although they formerly made some display and appeared valiant amongst themselves, yet when the foreigners came they showed what they were."
The United States is not the Florence of the 1500s; we will neither be conquered nor ruined by these mercenaries.

But a putative republic should be concerned with the interests of its citizens. When it increasingly becomes, through using hired troops to further divorce its actions abroad from its people at home, more of an imperium it furthers the conditions that make all the more likely that - although the standards may still read "The Senate and People" - that the orders that move those standards do not reflect any actual intent to do good for, or further the interests of, We the People.

I wish I could, as I so often do, make this into a partisan problem. It's not; the desire to make the nation's military adventures less fraught with political consequences has been sought by the "leadership" of all factions outside the tiny genuinely Red Left (such as it is) and the equally tiny isolationist Right.

No, it's not a Democratic or Republican problem.

It's an "American" problem, and one generated by the massive indifference We the People have shown towards holding our "leaders" accountable to us for their indifference towards...I won't even say "our interests"; it's an indifference towards even trying to honestly and openly assess what those interests are.

Any truly rational evaluation of the value of spending blood and treasure to send soldiers - any soldiers - to chase the ragged aspirants of a theocratic fantasy around a disputatious and chaotic foreign region would quickly conclude that value is utterly nil. All the bullets ever cast cannot kill the notion of Islamic hegemony any more than they could kill Christian dominionism when it was the animating force of the West. It took an Enlightenment to do that, and by our part in discrediting and destroying the secular authorities in the Islamic lands we've done a hell of a fucking good job ensuring that the Islamic Enlightenment is further away than ever.

I have not desire to see my fellow soldiers thrown into this pointless abyss.

But I have even less desire to see my country continue to sow the dragon's teeth simply because I and my fellow citizens are too lazy and disengaged to bother with that sowing when it's done not by our "own" hands but by hired ploughmen tilling foreign fields with the seed my taxes have bought.

Those underneath the harrow are not too stupid to know whose money is behind the rifle, regardless of who is actually carrying it. If we do not understand that, if we do not understand the idiocy of trying to use those hired rifles to divorce ourselves from our cluelessness and geopolitical stupidity, we will never understand that we can never hire enough of those rifles to ever prevent being continually nipped by the dragons.
"...he who told us that our sins were the cause of it told the truth, but they were not the sins he imagined, but those which I have related. And as they were the sins of princes, it is the princes who have also suffered the penalty." ~The Prince, Chapter XII

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Jihadi Jumbo

Abu Abdul Bari, also known as Shifa al-Nima, was arrested in Iraq Thursday.  The high ranking daeshi Imam, supposedly an authority on Sharia, has been charged with issuing fatwa death sentences against other clerics who had repudiated the daeshis.  Also allegedly ordered the destruction of the Tomb and Mosque of Biblical Prophet Yunus (Jonah) back in 2014 saying it had become a place of apostasy.  Or was he jealous of the whale? 

Affectionately nicknamed 'Jabba' and the man who put the fat in 'fatwa'.    They could not cram him into a police car, so they hauled him off in the back of a pickup truck.  Where has he been hiding all this time?  He'll break the scaffold if they hang him.  Unless of course they put him on a radical diet first. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2020


One week

One week into

One week into the New Year

And here we are...

I thought Iran would proxy us, and to be honest, I'm surprised they took direct action.

But the details coming out about how Qassaem Soleimani was lured to his assassination explains a lot about the duplicity of how we cravenly used duplicity to kill a man under a white flag.

I don't even know what to think or say...just...fuck.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

New Year starts with a bang

Well the Moron has just put over 5000 US troops and 7000 US contractors in the firing line.  Wag the Dog strategy.  War for partisan internal politics.  Popmpom and the neocons now apparently have control of the Idiot's brain.

Not only Suleiman, but also Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Hashd al-Shaabi, and a member of the Iraqi National Council, who was said to be in line for Iraqi Minister of Defense.  Several other high ranking Hasd al-Shaabi leaders killed.  The attack was reportedly done by attack rotary wing on a convoy traveling on the Baghdad Airport road.
Mr. Thucydides on Line 1... An addendum from FDChief

Mike has given us the bare facts, but I want to add a note on just how geopolitically moronic this is.

Leaving aside the purely moral questions of murder-by-drone (and I suspect that a drone is more likely to have been the Angel of Death here rather than an Army aircraft...) any politico-military act by a Great Power can and should be judged by the cost versus the benefit of the action. So, let's look at those here; first, what are the benefits?

1. Taking a powerful Iranian piece off the board.

Fred Kaplan has a pretty good summary of the larger view of this action here (he also calls it an "act of war" eliding, I think, the reality that the U.S. and Iran have been in a cold war since Trump's abrogation of the JCPOA). Bottom line is that the Dead Guy was effectively the combined Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the CINC of Special Operations for Iran. This was a decapitation strike and, as such, a successful one.

2. Reminding everyone, especially everyone in the Middle East, and especially everyone in Iran, that the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.

Not that anyone really needed that reminder. But this is an in-your-face example of the Ledeen Doctrine. As such it raises as many questions as it answers, and we'll discuss that below. But there's no question that this is a sort of "you're not safe anywhere" gesture to anyone thinking about giving Uncle Sammy the side-eye.

3. Aaaaand...that kinda runs me out of "benefits".

Seriously. I'm not sure what else this does, other than ratchets up the US-Iran cold war.

OK, so...what are the (direct) costs?

1. Rachets up the US-Iran cold war.

Which in itself isn't a good thing, but my real concern is that it could lead to a US-Iran hot war, and there's simply no "good" result of that.

Look, the United States at this phase of it's existence is a "status quo" Power. Stability and regularity are its friends, chaos and uncertainty its foes. Like any status-quo Great Power, it benefits when it can work with smaller regional powers to exert its influence. When it's forced to respond to troubles thrown out by regional instability it risks - as it has found - getting mired in endless sapping brushfire wars and profitless imperial adventures. Status-quo Powers are not usually good at "responding", they're not designed to be nimble or flexible. They do best when they can surround themselves with buffers of client and proxy states that can be bribed, wheedled, intimidated, or some combination of all three, into doing the Power's dirty work for them.

What We the People should have learned from the last 19 years is that "regime change" in politically un- or under-developed polities is unlikely to produce more stability. The Clintonistas tried to "save" Somalia and just knocked it further into the tules. The Bushies knocked the Saddam cork off the Iraq bottle and produced the unholy clusterfuck that this move is part of. The Obamites went along with defenestrating Ghaddafi in Libya and produced an even-more-failed-state.

Removing the mullahs from Iran won't produce a "better" Iran (from a US policy standpoint). Whoever follows is going to be 1) Persian, and, as such, convinced of Iran's place as the regional middleweight power, and 2) reminded that the US has not been a good thing for Iran since back in the 1950s - he, she, or they will remember Mossadegh and the Shah and the Gulf War and, now, this.

2. Replaces the Dead Bad Guys with...some other bad guys we don't know.

The Trumpkins make much of how the Dead Guy was a Bad Guy, but...c'mon. Seriously? This was fucking Napoleon? How "irreplaceable" a military-political genius was this joker? It's not like the IRGC is some sort of modern-day Alexander's Companions. They've made trouble in the Middle East and...what? Like it's that difficult to make trouble in the Middle East? Like it takes some sort of 12-dimension-chess-master? The cemeteries are full of irreplaceable men.

And - as we found with Ghaddafi and Saddam - sometimes the people who replace the guys you kill are madder, badder, and more dangerous to know.

I said this succeeded as a decapitation strike. But who knows? It may turn out to be a "Yamamoto shootdown"; a little revenge drama that has no impact on the military organization it's targeting. Only this one wasn't in the middle of buttrump nowhere Southwest Pacific but at the freaking Baghdad Airport, which brings us to...

3. Punks the Baghdad government and every Iraqi regardless of political affiliation.

Imagine how you would feel if your neighbor kicked your door down, walked into your kitchen, and shot dead the guest your cousin had invited in.

You might not like the guest, or your cousin all that much...but that? That's a punch in your face. That's utterly contemptuous of you and your home. The neighbor has, to put it bluntly, just shown that you are his bitch. If you don't respond with force, are.

It's one thing to know that the strong do what they can. It's another thing to have your nose rubbed in it.

Seriously, I have no idea how the current government in Baghdad survives this if they don't make every American persona non grata and order the whole nutroll out of their country within 30 days. Hell, you'd think that they'd demand the extradition of the drone operator and everyone in their chain of command on murder charges. They won't...but why not? I mean, it kinda WAS premeditated murder.

3. Bogs the US even further in the Middle Eastern/Sunni-Shia War of Religion mire.

The one thing that everyone here has tried to make a Trump Positive is his supposed longing to #endendleswars. How the hell does this do anything to do that? I want to whack this dude? Fine. You can't find a way to get him to turn up in the Baghdad Marriot with a fatal heart attack, two labradoodles and a boy toy wearing a full wetsuit and stripper heels? Instead you choose the most ridiculously in-your-face fuck-you to every Masud and Amina between Gibraltar and the Celebes?


We've had discussions here that always seem to come back to the "Well, sure, Trump talks bugnuts shit, but that's just Trump..." thing. But I think this is a perfect example of WHY it's a problem. This doesn't strike me as something that was the result of some sort of deep foreign policy analysis. This feels like Trump gets pissed off at these pesky little Persians fucking with HIS embassy and making the news like he was a girly-man Jimmy Carter sorta wuss and calls down to his CIA Iran desk and says "Goddamn it, find me some Iranian sonofabitch to kill!" so he can look Strong and Commanding. This really is Foreign Policy by Tweet.

I'm not trying to say that he's somehow breaking U.S. Middle Eastern policy. That's been a shitshow since we stepped into the French and British colonial shoes after 1945.

But the feckless bastard has found ways to make it an even bigger shitshow, and after Bush I wasn't sure that was even possible.

What a fecking mess.

Update 1/4/20: Oh, for fuck's sake...
OK, so...the part where this whole idiocy is "Foreign Policy by Tweet"?

1) Fifty-two hostages? The 1979-1980 "Hostage Crisis"? Seriously?

2) "Iranian culture"? You're advertising that you're gonna war crime Iran by targeting cultural heritage sites? Why not bomb Coventry Cathedral, too, bubba, so you can bag the sweep. Jesus wept.

3) No more threats, hunh? I guess you're King of the Playground now, Spunky.

IF one of my troops had actied this stupid I'd have had the sonofabitch pulling extra duty until he ETSed. Since the POTUS is in the chain of command,...

Update 1/5/20: No, duh.

Like I said; this was fucking inevitable.

Anyone but a complete goddamn moron or goddamn Donnie Trump - but I repeat myself - could have seen this coming. KNEW this was coming the minute the warhead of the Reaper missile detonated. Does it mean that the GIs will have to do a Saigon-embassy-un-ass the joint? Maybe. The Baghdad government knows damn well that the GIs are the only militarily effective force in their country, and that if the GIs go it'll be a matter of time before the Sunni rebels re-rebel (the ridiculous Islamic State panic masked the reality that, in Iraq, anyway, the IS was more-or-less just the continuation of the Sunni resistance to the US occupation that began in 2003.

But the hell with tomorrow; today the Iraqi pols have only one choice, and that's between giving Uncle Sammy the finger, or being his tool. No Iraqi pol is stupid enough to think that being a Quisling is going to get him anywhere after this past week. Trump has made it cleat that his entire geopolitical approach to the Middle East is summed up in the sort of thing one of his goobers would wear on a T-shirt at one of his Nuremburg rallies; "Kick the ass. Take their gas."

IF I thought that Trump was serious about #endingendlesswars, that he'd simply tell the guys to grab a hat and not let the door hit them in the ass?


But whacking Solemani and sending paratroops to Kuwait and not even feinting towards repealing the AUMFs?

Nope. He's not even trying. He's pulling your leg just like he pulled the poor bastards' legs who "invested" in his fake university. That's who he is. That's what he does.