Archive for the ‘Terrorism’ Category

Whoomp

Monday, June 19th, 2017

 

The next big test of the Trump presidency is sneaking up on him. As I predicted, the domestic challenges that this administration has been dealing with will pale in comparison to international events where there is the very real possibility of escalation.

Trump’s generals told him and Congress that we are losing the war in Afghanistan. Trump agreed to send 4000 more troops into the area. What is Trump’s strategy? It appears that it is to do whatever the Pentagon asks him to do. These are the same generals that he criticized during his campaign about their strategies in the Middle East.

In past administrations, the State Department served as a balance to the Pentagon regarding policy and strategy. Trump and Tillerson have abandoned that role in their vision of a much smaller State Department. Those civilian State Department foreign policy experts no longer exist.

Gen. Mattis told the Senate that “Reconciliation” was the goal in Afghanistan. He was unable to articulate a strategy to accomplish that goal. The only apparent strategy is a response to what the Mattis described as a “Taliban surge”.

Trump is also expanding the war in Syria. The first step was firing missiles in retaliation for Syria’s use of chemical weapons. Yesterday, US forces shot down a Syrian jet that was bombing US-backed fighters near Tabqah. The US military said that they notified the Russians that they were planning to target this airplane using a communications system that was setup during the Obama administration. Russia denied receiving the message. Russia claimed they were going to shut that system down after Trump’s missile attack. They now say they are no longer going to accept these messages in the future. Instead Russia warned that US aircraft will be treated as targets going forward.

Trump has promised closer ties with Russia in a coordinated effort to fight ISIS.

That hasn’t happened.

Instead we have the same escalation in Syria that experts warned of when Trump talked about a military solution to the Syrian conflict.

That leaves us with a couple of questions.

  1. How will Trump respond when the additional troops sent to Afghanistan don’t have the desired effect and his efforts are criticized?
  2. How will Trump respond when Syria or Russia shoots down one of our aircraft in Syria?

The honest answer is that we don’t know.

That is just another problem with this administration. If the strategy of having no strategy actually works, we can all be grateful. If, on the other hand, it puts our military in a situation where they can’t win and introduces the threat of escalation into a much bigger conflict – is the risk worth the reward?

The Trump administration now owns both the conflicts in Afghanistan and Syria. They seem to have abandoned the Obama strategies of winding down the Afghanistan war and containing ISIS.  They replaced those strategies with short-term Pentagon-lead tactics. History tells us that tactics are particularly ineffective in resolving asymmetrical conflicts. Ultimately strategy and diplomacy are required because as Admiral James Stavridis famously said, “You can’t kill your way to success in a counter insurgency effort.”

The only remaining question is when will Trump supporters hold Trump and his administration accountable for the failure to have a coherent foreign policy?

Donnie’s Got a Gun

Friday, April 7th, 2017

fembots

Trump took action in Syria.

As he had previously said, he now owns it.

But one action does not a policy make. It isn’t clear what the Trump policy in Syria is, other than a warning to Assad that he can’t use chemical weapons and a threat that the US is now seeking regime change.

Lack of a clear policy as well as Trump’s apparent “go it alone” preference, leave us in a precarious place.

Here’s why.

Russia
Syria is Russia’s opportunity to be a player in the Middle East. Russia has its largest military base outside its own borders there. They are the primary reason why Assad is still in power. They have also ratcheted up the risk to the US in Syria by canceling the cooperative agreement that kept US and Russian jets out of each other’s way. Tillerson has talks coming up in Russia. At this point, there is little that he or the Trump administration can offer Russia to obtain some cooperation in Syria. Instead it is likely that Assad and perhaps Russia will both strike back. How will Trump respond if Assad gases somebody else or attacks US positions in the north? How will he respond if Russia cranks up something in the Ukraine or maybe Libya?

ISIS
Trump took his eye off the ball by striking Assad. He has said all along that his goal was ISIS, but now it appears that his goal has widened to remaking Syria. That is dangerous. Taking down Assad doesn’t mean a stable western-friendly government will replace him. Syria is much more likely to join the long list of failed states where the power vacuum is filled by another radical jihadist organization. On the other hand, the original goal of eliminating just ISIS had its own unpleasant consequences. With ISIS out of the way, Assad would likely win his civil war and Russia and Iran would gain power in the region.

Plan
It isn’t clear that there is any plan here. Weakening Assad will in fact end up prolonging the conflict in Syria. More chaos provides more opportunity for ISIS, generates more refuges which continue to cause problems in Europe, and ultimately more innocents are killed. Eliminating ISIS strengthens Assad and Russia. That will also result in more persecutions, more refugees, and likely more Russian and Iranian activity.

Summary
Trump is being tested in a very public way at a time when he is most vulnerable at home. His approval ratings are at historic lows. His own party is in disarray. He badly needs a win to turn things around. The problem is that there is no clear path to a win in Syria. Trump took military action in order to respond to one incident in what has been a long and brutal civil war. How will he respond to the next incident?

He has expanded his scope in Syria to include bringing down Assad. He is going to need Russia’s help to do that and Russia isn’t interested. They like Assad right where he is. What Trump has done instead is set himself up for long term failure in return for the short term gain of a little popularity boost.

Worse yet, by taking this provocative step, he has opened himself up to a series of potential escalations without any clear understanding of how they all might play out. It will take some focus off of his domestic struggles, but at what cost?

He doesn’t have an experienced staff of diplomats in place right now to guide his actions. Our military leaders are his primary source of information. The weaknesses that he has already displayed in dealing with domestic issues combined with a bias toward military action may create an international crisis that could be Trump’s final undoing.

 

 

Get With The Program

Monday, February 6th, 2017

Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.

Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson and the other framers of the constitution made sure that our democracy included a free press.  They understood that it was a vital check on the power that they were investing in government

What happens to our democracy when a significant number of voters reject even the concept of an unbiased media?

The American Journal of Political Science recently released a study to answer the question of how this could happen.

Political affiliation is now a stronger predictor of behavior than even race.  People are much more accepting of someone of a different race as a potential spouse than they are of someone who has differing political views.

Many who are sharing fake news understand that it may not be accurate, but they share it none the less because it supports their point of view.  More importantly it also demonstrates to their peers that they are trusted members of that social group.

Conservatives may also be more fearful.

According to a study slated to be published in the journal Psychological Science, it might be true that conservatives are more likely to fall for false, threatening-seeming information, but it’s not because they’re dumb. It’s because they’re hyper-attuned to hazards in their world. If they spot a sign of danger, they figure trusting it is better than ignoring it.

That’s all fine and good for Facebook users.  But what happens when the President of the United States starts saying things are aren’t supported by facts?

You’ve got frivolous things like the size of the inauguration crowd (smaller than Obama physically and virtually), blaming his loss of the popular vote on illegal voting (voter rolls have problems, but no evidence of illegal voting, supported by recounts in Wisconsin and Michigan), the biggest Republican victory since Reagan (Bush I was bigger), and his standing ovation at the CIA speech (CIA officers stand until requested to sit.  He never asked them to sit.)

But then you have things that affect people’s lives.

An executive order that counters the dramatic expansion of the federal workforce when the federal workforce is the same today as it was 8 years ago.

A ban on Muslims from 7 countries including Syria, when no Muslim immigrants from those countries has ever committed an act of terrorism in this country.

Trump suggested that there were only 100 or so people affected.  His lawyers later testified in court that over 100,000 were effected.  How could he have been so far off?

Trump provided preference to Christians because he said that they were having a more difficult time previously getting into the country.  That’s not true either.  We admitted Christians and Muslims at roughly the same rate. The smaller number of Syrian Christians is due to the fact that they are only 5% of the Syrian population.

His administration cited a fictitious massacre in Bowling Green, KY as evidence that we should fear Muslim immigrants.  The data suggests that US citizens are MUCH more likely going to be the perpetrators of mass killings than immigrants.  This ban will likely only alienate the domestic Muslim population further, at the precise time that we need their help.

At home as well, Mr. Benjamin said, the president’s order is likely to prove counterproductive. The jihadist threat in the United States has turned out to be largely homegrown, he said, and the order will encourage precisely the resentments and anxieties on the part of Muslims that fuel, in rare cases, support for the ideology of the Islamic State or Al Qaeda.

In our country, journalists have the responsibility to hold elected officials accountable.  They do that by informing voters and speaking truth to power.  There is no one else.  Yet Trump is systematically delegitimizing the trustworthiness of the press.  Why is that?

Some claim that this is the influence of Bannon.  His world view is that the old order is corrupt and must be overthrown.  He believes that we are literally at war with an expansionist Islamic philosophy and the solution is to exert our own sovereignty.  Rather than make the world safer through alliances, he would prefer that the US protect itself through power and nationalism.  The press, in his opinion, is part of the problem rather than part of the solution.  That’s because he views himself as a radical and he feels his own cause justifies ANY ACTION.

This is an old and proven strategy.  Create fear of “the other”.  Convince people that the only way to be safe it to eliminate “the other” from our society.  The simple math is that you are either with us or you are against us.  If you are against us, you become part of “the other” should be treated in the same way that we are treating “them”.  You hear some of that language coming from the administration today in reactions to dissent.

In a democracy, we have to hold our elected officials accountable to telling the truth.  It is THEIR responsibility to separate belief from fact.  If we can’t trust that our elected officials are making their decisions based on the best facts available to them, our institutions begin to unravel because they can no longer be trusted to deal fairly with all people.  And that’s the key here. Bannon isn’t interested in dealing fairly with all people.  He is interested in a revolution where HIS OWN VISION of the future triumphs, not the vision of the founders, or even the vision of the majority.

The danger to democracy when people stop believing the press is that they will ultimately stop believing in the rest of the institutions that are the foundation for our society.  That’s the moment that demagogues can gain followers by claiming that they are the only ones that are willing to tell the truth.  The reality is that they are the ones manipulating the tribalism they create and the fear they instill to undermine democracy and usurp power.  It is a proven formula.  Don’t let it happen here.

 

What Happened?

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016

what-just-happened-g

 

We elected Trump president.

He is by all objective accounts the least qualified person ever elected to this office.  Yes he is a businessman and by all appearances a very wealthy person.  We have elected business people to this office in the past, but never one with absolutely no government experience.  We have also elected wealthy people to this office in the past, but never one who claims to be as wealthy as this guy.  As a result, we have no idea how he will perform because we have no previous history to use as comparison.  The closest we can come is Herbert Hoover, and that didn’t work out so well.

In as a dispassionate way as possible, I’d like to figure out why and then perhaps lay out just a few of the challenges that he and we will face.

Change

Republicans began this race with a significant advantage.  US voters simply don’t like to give any particular party more than 8 years in the White House.

The Clinton campaign understood this challenge.  As it became clear that Trump would be the Republican nominee, they crafted a strategy to highlight the risks of electing someone with so little government experience.  They framed this election as a choice between change and risk.

Here’s an example of how Clinton discussed this choice.

Donald Trump’s ideas aren’t just different – they are dangerously incoherent. They’re not even really ideas – just a series of bizarre rants, personal feuds and outright lies.

He is not just unprepared – he is temperamentally unfit to hold an office that requires knowledge, stability and immense responsibility.

As proof of how effective her message was, Clinton won these points.

  • Just 38 percent of voters said that Trump was “qualified” to be president (52 percent said the same of Clinton).
  • Just 35 percent said Trump had the “temperament to serve effectively as president” (55 percent said Clinton had the right temperament to be president).
  • One in three voters said Trump was honest and trustworthy (36 percent said the same of Clinton).

But she still lost the popular vote in the key states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida.  That’s because the desire for change was stronger than the perceived risks associated with that change.  Four in 10 voters said the most important character trait in deciding their vote was a candidate who “can bring needed change” to Washington. Of that group, Trump won 83 percent to Clinton’s 14 percent.  In effect, all that Trump had to do is demonstrate that he was NOT part of the establishment in order to win this election.  For the change voters, particularly in the key battleground states that I listed, all of his objective weaknesses were strengths.

Demographics

I had thought that the Obama victories spelled the end of white angry male politics.

I was wrong.

Clinton still did well with emerging demographics.  The white male voter segment is getting smaller in every election including this one.  That vote increased 2% from 2012-2016.  In comparison the black vote increased 6%.  The Asian vote increased 16% and the Hispanic vote increased 17%.  The problem for Clinton was that most of those votes were in states like California rather than the battleground states where Trump was able to eke out narrow victories.

Clinton won 55% of the young vote, but they weren’t as large a percentage of the total vote in 2016 as they were in 2008 or 2012.  Clinton also improved as a percentage of 65+ voters over those who voted for Obama in 2012, though Trump won that demographic by roughly 10%.

Issues

The country continues to become more liberal as demographics change.

The vote on immigration this election was almost evenly split.  That is a dramatic improvement over the negative view of immigration a decade ago.  74% of Americans now believe that there should be a path to citizenship for undocumented workers.  61% oppose building a wall.

Large majorities of all voters support more aggressive actions on gun control including expanded background checks, keeps guns out of the hands of those with mental health issues, barring those on no-fly lists from purchasing guns, tracking gun purchases in a national database, banning the sale of high capacity ammunition clips, and even restricting the sale of assault-type weapons.

65% of voters are concerned about climate change and believe it is a real issue.

60% support same sex marriage and LGBT rights.  A majority also oppose “Freedom of Religion” laws.

Where We Go From Here

There are a number of issues that could easily derail a Trump presidency.  The basic challenges remain that he is deeply inexperienced AND that he has chosen to surround himself with others who can only be generously classified as outsiders.

He was certainly elected to “shake up” Washington.  But Washington isn’t going to welcome change.  The same is true with the rest of the world.

So here’s my list of the challenges that Trump is going to have to navigate to survive his first term and get re-elected in 2020.

China, Russia, Iran, Israel, and ISIS

The One China policy has allowed Taiwan and China to peacefully coexist for decades.  Trump upset that policy with one phone call.  China’s response was to grab some of our stuff.  Escalation is not a good formula here.  Trump is already talking about killing the TPP.  That agreement was crafted to provide the other Pacific Rim countries an alternative to accepting China’s trading rules.  If China controls the rules of trade in the Pacific, they will also have tremendous economic leverage over those countries.  That will make it more difficult for the US to oppose Chinese aggression in the region.  What will Trump do if China threatens Taiwan?

It would be great to have better relations with Russia.  But Russia has been aggressively expanding its sphere of influence in border countries by intervening in their elections and annexing territory.  What is Trump going to be willing to give (or take away from) Russia that will cause them to change their behavior?  Trump is in dangerous territory if it turns out that there were contacts between his campaign and Russian hacking during the election.  Trump is also in dangerous territory if ongoing Russian hacking expose the inner workings of the Trump administration in the same ways that it exposed the inner workings of the Clinton campaign.  What leverage does this give Russia?  Russian reactions to the assassination in Turkey could lead to a military escalation early in Trump’s administration.  Turkey is our NATO ally.  How will the Trump administration respond?  Trump also has real estate holdings in Turkey.  How will Trump respond to actions that threaten some of his properties?

Trump has said that he will move the US embassy to Jerusalem.  That move would signal the end of any two-state solution.  It will also give Israel free reign to continue their economic and military persecution of Palestinians.  How will the Trump administration respond to an Israeli crack down on a Palestinian uprising that resulted in a large number of Palestinians being killed?  How will a Trump administration respond to an increase in military actions by Israel’s neighbors in reaction to a brutal military crackdown of a Palestinian uprising?

That leads naturally to Iran.  Israel has every right to fear Iran, and Iran has every right to fear both Israel and the US.  Iraq used to be the balance to Iran, but our invasion of Iraq upset that balance and caused Iran to start their nuclear weapons program.  They’ve stopped that development because of their interest in joining the global economy.  But if Trump figures he can get a better deal and is also seen as a close ally of Israel, this whole deal could come apart.  What will Trump do to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon?  What will Russia, Iran’s close ally, do if the US or Israel take some aggressive action against Iran because of their resumed nuclear program?

ISIS will continue to attack around the world.  He has been curiously silent, for example, after the Berlin attack.  After Trump’s inauguration, I predict that his named properties will become targets.  This isn’t planned, but random.  How is Trump going to respond?  The reality is that there is little he can do.  He can attempt to bomb them, but if anything that will only increase the domestic terrorism that is now the bulk of ISIS action.  He will fail to be effective and ultimately voters will hold him responsible.

Conflict of Interest, Deal Making, Obamacare, Infrastructure, Tax Reform, and Republicans

Trump has a serious conflict of interest problem.  There are no indications that he is going to take steps to effectively insulate his business and his family from the potential benefits that would accrue to those businesses from his office.  Even worse, he also needs to insulate himself from the APPEARANCE of conflict regarding foreign contributions.  Just one example is the fact that he owns hotels.  Every time someone employed by a foreign government stays in one of his hotels, he is in potential violation of the constitution.  Congress and the American people will let him slide for a while, but he is taking grave risks against some future event that will paint him as corrupt.  I’m not sure how many of those events he is going to be able to survive, since he was elected to clean up the corruption.

Deal making is also going to be very difficult for him because that’s not how government business is done.  Deals are done politically, not financially.  It is ok to trade influence.  It is not ok to trade money.  There are a large body of regulations which prohibit favoritism in government contracting.  Trump could easily run afoul of these laws in his attempts to personally negotiate the country’s business.  The difference here is that, rather than a political backlash, he will get sued by whatever corporations felt that they were disadvantaged by one of Trump’s deals.  How many of those suits will have to occur before Congress decides that they have had enough?

It is going to be very difficult to replace Obamacare.  Collin Powell famously said of Iraq, “if you break it, you own it.”  The same is true of Obamacare.  If Republicans repeal it without a plan to replace it, even if that repeal is delayed until after the 2018 elections, the exchange structure could easily collapse.  If that happens, millions of people will either lose their insurance, or see their premiums rise dramatically.  This could easily turn into a daily drip-drip-drip of bad news, much like the financial collapse of 2008.  That bad news and the inability of the Trump administration to do anything about it, will result in a big 2018 backlash and the beginning of the end for Trump.  He will say that he did what the voters elected him to do, but voters are going to blame him because he promised to make it better.

Trump hired a budget hawk for his OMB director.  This budget hawk is going to have to figure out how to fund the massive infrastructure bill that is the foundation for Trump’s jobs program.  It is going to be very interesting to see how this plays out.  The infrastructure bank idea is an invitation to crony capitalism and will only work in big urban areas where investors have an opportunity to monetize their projects.  It isn’t going to help those vast under served rural areas where many Trump voters live.  The cuts to other federal spending that would be required to pay for this, if it isn’t financed through debt, will result in MORE job loss and hardship for those rural voters rather than less.  Their life will get harder, unemployment will go up, and they will vote for a different change in 2018 and 2020.

Tax Reform will be another give away to the rich.  This may turn out to be the least controversial of the programs that Trump takes on.  But it is also fraught with danger for Trump.  If Trump voters weren’t already sensitive to a cabinet filled with billionaires all getting big tax cuts, they will be.  If Trump hasn’t divested himself from his businesses, you can bet that the benefits that his family gets from Tax reform will be front page news and Trump’s hypocrisies will dominate social media.

Republicans are the most interesting piece of this puzzle.  Just as they rallied around Trump as it became obvious that he was going to win, they will abandon him if he appears to falter.  They will determine if they can mold him in their image.  When that fails, they will see if they can maneuver him politically to carry out their agenda.  When that fails, they will see if they can trip him up and get him out of the way, so that they can replace his agenda with theirs.

Summary

I will be surprised to see Trump complete his term.  I think that foreign intrigue will reveal his fundamental weaknesses and terrify voters.  Hopefully, we will avoid a conflict.  If not, it will go badly.  If he avoids foreign conflict, he will fumble Obamacare and the repercussions will cost him at least his senate majority in 2018.  The house will eventually impeach him for conflicts of interest and the post 2018 senate will confirm that impeachment making him the third president to go through an impeachment trial, and only the second one to lose.

I would prefer that this not be the script for the next four years, but Trump is sowing the seeds of his own destruction as we speak.  He is not taking the steps to insulate himself from potential conflicts of interest.  He is secretive and combative rather than transparent.  He trusts in his own ability to communicate with the public directly, but the public will soon be able to see for themselves whether the results match his promises.  He is picking fights with his intelligence agencies which makes him even more vulnerable to bad information.  His cabinet of outsiders will likely agree with him rather than oppose him.

We will face a challenge as a country too.  That’s because Trump will try to blame his failures on others.  We have to be vigilant to prevent Trump and his followers from using domestic turmoil to distract us from his administration’s failures.  He should have every opportunity to prove me wrong, but if he fails, he alone should be held responsible for the consequences of his failures.

 

The Enemy Is Us

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

big pogo

I’ve spent some time writing about the absurdity of Trump.

Now I’d like to spend a little time digging into the two fundamental dangers of his campaign.

First a couple of basic assumptions.

Trump is NOT a conservative in any conventional sense of the word.

Though he managed to capture the Republican Party nomination, his views do not reflect very much of what could be considered Republican Reagan-inspired orthodoxy. He ran against that orthodoxy and the “elites” who represent the Republican establishment.

Trump did not create the pool of white disaffected conspiracy-theory addled voters who support him. He has just become the most recent populist to capture their attention by calling out the establishment, regardless of party, who failed to deliver on the decades of promises that this group feels were made to them.

Conspiracy theories are part of our DNA. They were the source of legend and myth. They are independent of party. Conservatives have been the group that has recently brought them into politics in a dangerous way.

The danger of those who believe in self-serving conspiracy theories is that they are easy prey for those who may seek to turn them against the very institutions that provide them the only opportunity for relief. The best example is the past 8 years of Republican obstructionism. That obstructionism prevented passage of a more robust jobs creation program based on the big infrastructure investments that both candidates are talking about in this campaign.

That obstructionism was based in part on the effective campaign to delegitimize Obama. Though there was no basis in fact for any of those claims, Republican leadership became enablers of this strategy through their silence. As a result, significant percentages of Republicans still believe that Obama was born in Kenya and is Muslim. This made it much easier for House and Senate Republicans to effectively grind government to a halt for six years.

This same scorched-earth policy is being created for Clinton. She’s an historic liar, she should be jailed, she is too ill to be President, and the only way that she could be elected is if the elections themselves are rigged.

The fundamental concern of those unhappy with the direction the country is taking is that government is not working for them. The danger of this conspiracy-dominated strategy is that it erodes faith in the fundamental institutions of government rather than just the party that is in charge. Those fundamental institutions are what are SUPPOSED to work for all citizens. When a significant percentage of the citizens feel that not only elected representatives, but government itself is biased against them; the seeds for violence are being sown.

That brings us to a second danger. That is violence and the extremist in our society that advocate it.

Just like we have always had a segment of our society that believes conspiracy theories, there is also a segment of our society that supports violent overthrow of the government. These segments are also typically racist, nationalist, and libertarian.

The difference is that the hate speech associated with these groups was always relegated to the political fringe. Until recently, political leaders across the political spectrum rejected this bigotry outright.

Over the past eight years, racial hate speech has crept into the mainstream political conversation under the guise of political criticism of an African American president.

In this campaign; racial, religious, and even disability hate speech has been used by Trump. His excuse is that it is “straight” talk. He claims to take pride at speaking off the cuff and rejecting political correctness. His enablers add that he can’t be expected to show the sort of sensitivity that “professional” politicians display.

As a result, the violent extremists are moving from the lunatic fringe into the political mainstream. Right wing tribalism now provides them a cover to spread their hate and lies. Within the Republican Party, you can talk about topics that would have been embarrassing even during the Bush II administration. You need no better example of this legitimizing of the radical right than the appointment of Steven Bannon as Trump’s campaign manager. This guy has been one of the champions of the alt-right. His past history alone would have disqualified him from being involved in any previous Republican campaign. Now he is able to pass with barely a whimper.

Regardless of the outcomes of this election, we are dealing with a new reality. This reality is pick-up trucks with Confederate flags and rifle racks in the cab. It is open carry red-necks looking for confrontations at Black Lives Matter rallies. It is a rise in terrorist acts inspired by white supremacist groups rather than ISIS. It is a full-throated attack on the pluralism that is at the core of our democracy. It is a return of the cancer of white supremacy that has plagued this country from its founding.

My hope is that this is the first step to finally confronting and rejecting bigotry and racism in this country as acceptable behavior by any citizen.



Trump is All In

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016

all in 2

Trump’s speech on June 13th destroyed any hope by Republicans that he would pivot to the center or temper his language in an attempt to appear more Presidential. That moderated Trump lasted for a minute or so into his prepared remarks.

Then the RealDonaldTrump returned to take advantage of this national tragedy. He doubled down on his agenda of bigotry and xenophobia.

In no uncertain terms, he claimed that the very existence of our country was at risk because of Muslim refugees, immigrants, and even American citizens. He not only reiterated his call for a “temporary” ban on Muslim immigrants but threatened “big consequences” for Muslims living in this country if they failed to report suspected terrorists.

In doing so, Trump aligned himself with the far right nationalist anti-immigrant European movements.

Trump promises to ban all Muslim immigrants until he is able to guarantee a “perfect screen” to eliminate all potential dangers that any particular immigrant might pose. The head of the FBI has already testified that such a screen is impossible.

The Orlando shooter was born in New York. His ex-wife felt that he was violent and bi-polar. Though she said he was religious, he did not regularly attend services. He at various times bragged that he was affiliated with al Qaeda and Hezbollah. Al Qaeda is a Sunni group. Hezbollah is a Shia group. They are mortal enemies and both oppose ISIS. What they and he do share is a violent hatred for gays. Though we may never know all of the details, a picture is emerging of a confused mentally unstable guy who had frequented gay bars and was mostly interested in killing gay people.

That didn’t stop Trump from blaming the killer’s family who emigrated from Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation in the late ‘70’s. Reagan was conducting a proxy war at the time by funding the mujaheddin including Bin Laden. During those same years, 40% of all Afghanis who applied were admitted to this country because they were fleeing Soviet oppression. To hear Trump tell it, this event would have been prevented if we had had the foresight to deny this particular family’s request for asylum 40 years ago.  If we had the opportunity to turn back time, we might also convince Trump’s parents that the world would be a safer place if they stopped at three kids.

To cap it off, in interviews conducted before the speech, Trump suggested that President Obama might have secret motives for what Trump described is Obama’s unwillingness to confront Islamic terrorists.  This is continuation of the conspiracy-laden warnings that Trump started in 2008 when he claimed Obama wasn’t born in this country.  It also ignores recent news on the ground that the Obama lead ISIS strategy has been working in Syria, Libya, and Iraq.  But facts have never been Trump’s strong point.

Whether the Republican Party likes it or not, Trump is determined to make this election a referendum on Trump. In no uncertain terms, he is asking voters to decide whether Latino and Muslim citizens are real Americans.

If Trump wins, he will have his answer and act accordingly.

Dangerous Territory

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016

trump cartoon

Let’s start by saying that there is no place in a democracy for violence.

It is the dark underbelly of our most cherished institution.  We are supposed to rely on our vote rather than the threat of violence in order to effect change.

That said, we have a history of political violence in this country.

The original Boston patriots were a violent group.  One of the reason the rest of the original colonies were reluctant to join the revolution was their fear that after defeating the British, the Boston militia would turn on the rest of the colonies.

The Jim Crow south was built on violence and intimidation.  A white minority imposed a social order on the black majority by taking away their votes and setting up a legal system that was rigged against them.  The latest version of that scheme was on display in Ferguson, MO.

The anti-war movement was galvanized by the Kent Massacre where unarmed students were gunned down by National Guard troops.  That single event did more than hours of news footage from Viet Nam to ultimately create the political will to end the draft and the war.

This time around, however, it is different.

MLK organized marches in the south for the specific purpose of raising awareness in the rest of the country to the institutional racism that governed the south.  The images of the peaceful protestors being attacked by police spoke far more eloquently than any speech about the injustice of racism.  Those protests also reflected a confidence in the how the country would respond when they realized what was going on.  Our government responded with civil rights legislation.

The anti-war movement protested the morality of sending kids to war who didn’t have an opportunity to vote on that policy.  Our government did eventually respond.  The war ended.  The draft was abolished.  The voting age reduced.

This time around, however, the presumptive Republican nominee for the office of the President says that he is going to deport 11M people who are here illegally and restrict and monitor the activities of Muslims.

We’ve always had extreme candidates run for President.  Strom Thurmond and George Wallace are just a couple of examples of candidates who supported legalized segregation.  None of these extreme candidates ever had a chance to become president.

Trump does.

When the potential President of the United States says that he plans to forcibly deport members of your family, how are you going to react?

When the potential President of the United States says that he plans to spy on your place of worship and keep track of your activities in a database just because of your religion, how are you going to react?

If you have trust in democracy and the courts, you may plan to vote for whoever runs against this guy in the fall; send them some money, or even volunteer to work on their behalf.

If you don’t trust that in the current institutions of our government, but you do trust in the decency of the majority of people in this country, you may take to the streets to peacefully express your opinion in the hopes that other voters will understand the depth of your concern.

If you don’t trust in the current institutions of our government and distrust the basic decency of the majority of the people in this country, you may get frustrated and angry.  That anger and frustration may drive you to confront those who you feel intend to harm you.  That’s when the fabric of society starts to fray.

We enter into very dangerous territory when groups feel as though the only choice they have is to physically confront those that disagree with them.  But what other way do we have to demonstrate to the larger population that Trump and his supporters are violent?

The dangerous territory is when this violence is used to justify violence.

The dangerous territory is when those who advocate violence are able to win an election because they claim that this tactic is the only effective response to violence.

The dangerous territory is when that violence is directed as a class of people whose only sin is who their parents were or how they choose to worship.

We’ve been in dangerous territory before.  Adams passed a blatantly discriminatory Alien and Sedition act in 1798.  The country tolerated slavery for 200 years and segregation for another 100 years.  The Justice Department under Wilson tried to create a list of all German aliens (sound familiar?).  4000 were imprisoned.  There was at least one documented incident of a lynching in Illinois. FDR interred the Japanese during WWII.  We had a massive clandestine domestic spying program.  We tortured suspected terrorists and are still holding some a decade later in a prison on foreign soil without any plan to try them.

We will survive this period too, but it will require work and will likely cause wounds that will take some time to heal.

 

 

Belgian Dip

Saturday, March 26th, 2016

 

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Donald Trump showed remarkable, if momentary, insight regarding the root causes of the recent terrorist attack in Belgium.

This all happened because frankly there is no assimilation

While this isn’t the only reason that ISIS targeted Belgium.  It is the primary reason why Belgian residents have been involved in the last two major ISIS attacks in Europe.

The unemployment rate for Belgians of North and sub-Saharan African descent is between 40 and 50 percent. Last year, the BBC reported that of Antwerp’s 2,600 police officers, only 22 are non-white. In 2011, Belgium became the first country in Europe to ban the veil nationwide.

Like most of Europe, Belgium does not provide a path to citizenship for their immigrant population.  Instead many Belgian born Muslim languish in a guest worker status with few jobs and few alternatives.  It should not be surprising that Belgium has supplied between 400-500 fighters in the Syrian war.

Belgium is also a mess politically.  They don’t have the public safety infrastructure to track the activities of these fighters when they come back home.  By comparison, the US has maybe a dozen residents who have left the US to fight in the Middle East and have returned.  The FBI has all of them under close surveillance.

In this country, however, assimilation does not face the same barriers, even for those who are here illegally.  The result is a US Muslim population that is generally well integrated into their communities and happy with their circumstances.

According to a 2011 Pew Research poll, only 20 percent of American Muslims surveyed would prefer to “be distinct” than to “adopt American customs.” Half say that many of their friends are non-Muslim. Almost 80 percent rate their community an “excellent” or “good” place to live.  Crime rates in Muslim communities are generally low and the children of Muslims, like most US immigrants, marry outside their community and are indistinguishable from any other US citizen.

Yet politicians like Ted Cruz and Donald Trump call for bans on all Muslim immigration and increased internal surveillance of all Muslims already here include those that are US citizens.

A 2014 study found that Muslim immigrants in states that experienced more anti-Muslim hate crimes were less likely to intermarry with non-Muslims and learn English.

Our ability to peacefully assimilate Muslims along with every other immigrant demographic IS one of the major factors in insulating America from the domestic terrorism we see in Europe.

The net result of raising the level of Islamaphobia in this country is that our country becomes less safe.

Ted Cruz’s proposed response to Brussels would have a similar effect. The day of the attacks, he called for police to “patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods.” Asked what that meant, Cruz cited a program in New York that, according to The New York Times, allowed to the NYPD to designate “entire mosques as suspected ‘terrorism enterprises,’” and thus “collect the license plate numbers of every car in mosque parking lots, videotape worshipers coming and going, and record sermons using informants wearing hidden microphones.” What Cruz didn’t mention is that an NYPD official himself admitted the program didn’t yield a single terrorism investigation. What it did was alienate law-abiding Muslims. As a Newark-based FBI special agent noted, the program led “people [to] pull back cooperation” and thus impaired “our ability to have our finger on the pulse of what’s going on around the state.”

The New York police chief said that he had hundreds of Muslim officers on the staff and if Ted Cruz has a campaign stop in New York, part of the squad assigned to protect him will likely be Muslim.

Embracing peaceful Muslims in the same way we embrace any other peaceful immigrant population, is our strongest weapon against ISIS ideology.

Persecuting Muslims, treating every Muslim as if they were a terrorist and subjecting individuals to a higher level of scrutiny and regulation just because of their religion will re-enforce the ISIS message that the West really does want to destroy Islam.

 

 

 

 

Joe The Plumber 2016

Thursday, March 17th, 2016

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“You bet I liked it,” he told “Inside Edition” when asked about the rally. “Clocking the hell out of that big mouth.” Of the victim, he said: “We don’t know if he’s ISIS. We don’t know who he is, but we know he’s not acting like an American and cussing me … and sticking his face in my head. If he wants it laid out, I laid it out.” He added: “He deserved it. The next time we see him, we might have to kill him. We don’t know who he is. He might be with a terrorist organization.”

That was 78 year old John McGraw justifying his assault on Rakeem Jones during a Trump rally at the Crown Coliseum in Fayeville, NC on March 9.

There is so much wrong with this that it is difficult to know where to start.

But let’s start with the dangerous confluence of Authoritarianism and Populism that has become the Trump campaign.

Trump didn’t invent this particular type of appeal, nor is he even the first.  This particular philosophy has been growing over the past 25 years in western Democracies.

Le Pen in France dismissed the Holocaust as a “detail of history”.  Fortuyn was assassinated in the Netherlands in 2002, but his anti-immigrant anti-Muslim party has grown to become the second largest in the Dutch parliament.  The Swiss People’s Party, the Austrian Freedom Party, the Swedish Democrats, and the Danish People’s Party have all been gaining support.  Hungary is now building a wall to keep out immigrants because of the success of the Jobbik neo-fascist party in that country.

These parties are attracting radical right wingers because of their Authoritarian stands.  But they are also drawing center-left less educated men and the economically marginalized because of their populism.

What’s happening?

Long-term dramatic demographic, economic, and social change going on in western democracies.  The Great Recession is still being felt in much of the industrialized world.  Gender and sexual roles are also changing as the LGBT community gains rights and legal protection.  Globalization, immigration, and the aging baby boom left less educated elderly citizens fearful of being marginalized and left behind in countries that they felt they helped build.

In the 2011 World Values Survey, almost half of those in the US who didn’t graduate from college approved of having a strong leader unchecked by elections and Congress.  Normally we would only expect to see these sorts of results in countries like Russia who don’t have our strong democratic tradition.

The Republican Party didn’t create this gap between the emotionally disenfranchised and the “elites”, but they did give voice to those who objected to social and political change.  They become the “party of no” the day after Barack Obama was elected.  That immediately legitimized a whole set of conspiracy theorists who previously were forced to live on the looney fringe.  Fox News jumped at the opportunity to pander to this audience with a daily concoction of tabloid fiction that they claimed the liberal media refused to air.  Finally the Tea Party gave structure to what has become a political movement.  Now this same revolution has turned upon those who used anger and fear for political gain.  The new authoritarian populists are blaming their Republican Party leaders that they helped elect for the failure to stem the tide of social, demographic, and financial change.

The result is clear in the words of John McGraw.

Those who disagree deserve the beating that they receive.

Tolerance for gay marriage, sexual equality, and social diversity is condemned as “political correctness”.

Anyone of color may be a terrorist.  Those who are terrorists deserve to be killed.

Whether or not Trump is elected, he and his followers have articulated a new brutalism and intolerance, altering what’s speakable in American politics.

The chilling difference is that parliamentary democracies have many methods to limit the power of populist authoritarian parties.  In our representative two party democracy, the authoritarian populists may be able to take over the Republican Party.  Then that party will have to decide whether they are willing to trade all of their past principles for the opportunity to remain in power.  Those principles of sound government and fiscal responsibility have already been severely damaged by the actions of the last eight years.

More concerning, however, is how this angry violent bigoted xenophobic subset of the voting public is going to handle defeat.  I don’t believe that they are going to accept it graciously.

It is fascinating to consider that those who most fear the “enemy within” may in fact become the very instrument of destruction of the democracy that they claim they are protecting.

Caliphate

Saturday, January 17th, 2015

The recent Charlie Hebdo attack has again raised the prospect of global radical Islamic terrorism.

Unfortunately, the reaction in the US continues to be myopic and uninformed.

Here’s just a sample.

Network national security analyst KT McFarland blamed the shooting at Charlie Hebdo headquarters on France’s “really strict gun control” and “politically correct” policies that treat everyone equally. Echoing disdain for policies that treat everyone equally, co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck added that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio threatens the city’s security by demoralizing the New York Police Department and painting the NYPD with “a racist brush” when officers act on that principle.

Strategic analyst Ralph Peters cited the shooting to attack Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), invoking the recently released Senate Intelligence report on CIA interrogation techniques. Peters proclaimed that “these terrorists who did this monstrous attack in Paris are the people Senator Feinstein doesn’t even want to waterboard,” adding that the Obama administration is too “soft on radical Islam.”

Breitbart.com editor-at-large Ben Shapiro used the tragedy to invoke tired Benghazi smears of Hillary Clinton and President Obama, asking when they would “recommend we arrest the rest of the Charlie Hebbdo staff for inciting Islamic violence?”

Outnumbered hosts agreed that Americans “are being hunted” by terrorists, and network host Kennedy added that “I think the best thing that Americans can do is arm themselves.”

Ingraham blamed the tragic attack in Paris on France’s immigration policy, saying “the principle of multiculturalism and open borders… is pure insanity, a suicide pact.”

While wrong-headed partisan responses from conservative pundits is not surprising, these also continue a false narrative about why all of this is occurring.

Jihadist attacks to not occur because of there are too few guns in citizens’ hands. They did not occur because of political correctness. They do not occur because we are too soft or because there is too much free speech. Jihadists are not hunting Americans. They don’t attack because of our immigration policy or the immigration policies of any other western country.

Jihadist attacks occur because disaffected young men (mostly) are radicalized by an idea and inspired to sacrifice themselves and others to support that idea.

Jihadists have no monopoly on disaffected young men. There is a long list of young men who carry out murderous suicidal attacks in this country who are motivated by any number of other twisted ideas that have nothing to do with Islam. It is the same quirk in the maturation process of young men that armies through the ages have been able to take advantage of. They need a cause that they can commit themselves to.

If it isn’t something uniquely sinister in young Muslim men, what is it that continues to cause attacks from radicalized Islamic fundamentalists on western targets?

It’s the Caliphate, stupid

The Caliphate is an Islamic state led by a person who combines both political and religious leadership. This is not all that different from revisionist history preached by fundamentalists who claim the founding fathers intended to create a Christian nation.

This exploration of the Caliphate as the root of jihadism is based on some very thoughtful analysis published in a column by Canadian Columnist Gwynne Dyer.

The first question to ask is why is a caliphate at the root of this terrorist activity?

The answer is simple.

There is a civil war going on in Islam. Since Islam is a religion without borders, this war also has no borders. The vast majority of the casualties in this war are Muslim, but what gets reported in the west is when this war occasionally overflows into western countries.

The great Muslim civil war is about the political, social and cultural modernization of the Muslim world. Should the Muslim world continue down much the same track that other major global cultures have followed, or should those changes be stopped and indeed reversed? The Islamists take the latter position.

It has become a war because most Muslims across the world find modernization very attractive. Those who oppose democracy, equality, consumerism, etc. are a minority even in their own countries. They understand that the only way to preserve the way of life they feel is required of all devout Muslims, is to create a conservative Caliphate. This Caliphate can impose the harsh policies of Sharia law on the majority of the population who would not follow the fundamentalist interpretations of the Quran given a choice.

They use the west to recruit followers by inventing a narrative that says that modernization and western culture itself is a plot to undermine Islam. The main strategy to prove their point are attacks INTENDED to trigger a military response. The US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq established the jihadi movement as a legitimate political force. Decades earlier the same tactics prompted the same response from Russia in Afghanistan and Chechnya.

To the degree that these attacks also trigger mistreatment of Muslim minorities in other countries or acts that even the Muslim mainstream considers offensive (burning Qurans and public ridicule of Mohammed), the fundamentalists win.

So it should be no surprise that when ISIS declared that their intention was to create a Caliphate in northern Syria and Iraq, fundamentalist Muslim fighters from around the world poured into that region to help.

The second question is also obvious. What does the west do?

The answer to this question is more difficult.

The west cannot stop being an engine of cultural change. That is in our nature. So it will always be viewed by a fundamentalist minority as a threat.

The west also cannot stand idle while terrorists continue to attack. These are issues of security and law that demand a response.

But the west can’t continue to treat this ideology as a movement of rational people. This is similar to the challenges that the US faced with Japanese kamikaze attacks. How do you defend yourself against someone who is not only willing, but eager to die for their cause?

The solution lies in our own culture and our own values.

Our greatest asset in the United States in this conflict of ideas is the fact that our success as a nation is testimony to the power of freedom, liberty, and religious pluralism. If we compromise religious liberty in the name of defeating Wahhabis, we lose. We become who the Islamist said we were.

The best way to prove that secular society is preferable to an Islamist one is to prove that all human beings including Muslims prefer to live in these types of societies, over those ruled by Sharia and clerics, out of their own free will and not by coercion.

It may seem counter intuitive, but the best way to defeat this idea is to welcome Muslims who are willing to live by our laws into this country.

Just as the Wahhabists and Salafists use our freedom of speech to spread their message, we have to spread our message of freedom and liberty by demonstrating that western societies are able to walk our talk.

We also have to shut off the flow of money from Saudi Arabia that supports the spread of this fundamentalist ideology. We are finally in the position to do so because of the collapse of the OPEC cartel.

“We can’t kill our way to victory,” Adm. Michael Mullen famously said of the Afghan war.

We can’t spy our way to victory.

We can’t torture our way to victory either.

We can’t close the borders and expect to be safe.

We can’t silence the voices of those who disagree with us and assume that disagreement will end.

Ideas can’t be killed. But they can be defeated by a better idea. The current jihadi movement is built on a couple of lies. People live better lives under Sharia law. Western culture was created to defeat Islam.

We defeat jihadism by demonstrating that peace loving people live better lives when they get to decide for themselves how they would like to live.

We defeat jihadism by demonstrating that law abiding Muslims are more welcomed and free to practice their religion in the United States than any other place is the world.