All posts by NuQum

The advice to Republicans remains: Nominate more women

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; January 12, 2019)

A year ago I wrote an article on the dearth of female Republicans in national elected office, particularly the U.S. House. [The original article is here.]

The article’s gist was that if Republicans don’t nominate more women against incumbent Democrats, the party’s decline (starting in the 2018 midterms) will be precipitous.

The GOP lost 40 U.S. House seats in 2018 (one seat in North Carolina is still to be determined).

In the 115th Congress, there were 21 Republican women. In the new 116th Congress there are only 13. In comparison, the number of Democratic women in the House went from 64 to 89.

If trends continue, half of all U.S. House members will be women by 2032 and not one will be a Republican.

Of course, that will never happen, right? The Republicans will adjust, right?

Do Republicans realize it is an empirical fact that women are widely viewed as more honest, empathetic and trustworthy (see Figure 1)? Do Republicans understand that, if those attributes become central to vote decisions in the future, their party is screwed?

Figure 1: Public opinion on gender differences in political leadership

Source: Pew Research

Why is the number of GOP women in the U.S. House dropping?

Perry Bacon Jr. from FiveThirtyEight.com highlighted last year some of the barriers preventing more Republican women from winning elections and staying in office, not the least of which is that Republican women tend to be more moderate (or are perceived to be more moderate) than their Republican male counterparts. And as Republican voters have drifted right ideologically, women Republicans have found it more difficult to survive the nomination process. Likewise, a significant percentage of incumbent Republican women (usually moderates) have voluntarily left office knowing their re-election chances were increasingly doubtful.

Other possible reasons for the GOP’s lack of elected women include:

(1) The Democrats being viewed as the party of women’s rights,

(2) There are more Democratic women with the backgrounds typically associated with political careers, and

(3) The money is more likely to flow to Democratic women running for office than it is to Republican women.

While all of the barriers are potentially true, they do not dictate that Republican women will vanish from the political landscape.

Successful parties adjust to changing electorates. The Democrats moved to the right under Bill Clinton and the Republicans will inevitably adjust in the current political environment.

And even if the Republicans don’t move towards the center, its not like there aren’t strong conservative women out there capable of running for Congress. This is not a supply problem. The GOP has an old, white men leadership problem.

What holds the Republican Party back from nominating more women is a Republican hierarchy that fails to appreciate the competitive necessity of introducing more diversity into the party’s primary races.

To be sure, simply nominating women is not, in and of itself, a solution to the GOP’s gender (and diversity) problem. For the sake of argument, let us assume in the 2018 midterms the GOP had nominated a woman in races where there was a male nominee,And assume also that this would have added one percent to the GOP’s vote total in those races. Across the 435 U.S. House races in the 2018 midterms, that would have changed the outcome in the GOP’s favor in only six House races (CA21, FL26, ME2, NJ3, OK5, VA7).

New York Representative Elise Stefanik calls the GOP gender problem a “crisis”

Former head of candidate recruitment for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, resigned from that position after the 2018 midterms out of frustration that the Republican Party, by policy, does not get involved in the primary process (unlike the Democrats).

Stefanik will instead work through her leadership PAC to recruit, train and cultivate women GOP candidates during the primary races.

“If that’s what Elise wants to do, then that’s her call, her right,” NRCC chairman Tom Emmer (R-MN) told Roll Call last November. “But I think that’s a mistake. It shouldn’t be just based on looking for a specific set of ingredients — gender, race, religion — and then we’re going to play in the primary.”

But Republican leaders like Emmer, thinking Stefanik’s efforts represent a capitulation to identity politics, are actually ensuring identity politics’ role in electoral politics.

For Republicans, the first line of defense in combating the divisiveness of identity politics is to have leaders drawn from all backgrounds. Now is not the time to become more white and more male.

To do that, Republican leaders and voters alike need to understand that photos like this one from a 2017 Republican press conference in the Rose Garden don’t just create bad optics, they represent a losing brand of politics.

Grumpy Old White Men Celebrating the Repeal of Obamacare in the Rose Garden (Photo credit: CNN)

 

Just as Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi cannot be the face of the Democratic Party much longer, Mitch McConnell and Lindsay Graham cannot be the brand leaders for the Republicans anymore.

Nikki Haley. Mia Love. Joni Ernst. Elise Stefanik. Kristi Noem. Kirstjen Nielsen. Kim Reynolds. The talent pool is out there for the Republicans. Seek their counsel. Learn from them. Put them in leadership positions so they are part of the GOP’s public face.

And it’s not about gender or youth. Bernie Sanders is not young yet still relevant. It is about fitting in and being able to lead within the current zeitgeist.

And this environment trends female and puts a premium on empathy, trust and honesty. And that does not necessitate the systematic exclusion of men, who are fully capable of such qualities. But it does mean the Republican Party must address its gender crisis.

Wake up GOP. Listen to Elise Stefanik.

  • K.R.K.

Is radical Islamic terrorism linked to oil wealth? An initial empirical look

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; January 11, 2019)

[DATA ANALYZED IN THIS ESSAY ARE AVAILABLE HERE ===> QUARTERLY_TERRORISM_DATABASE_EXPORT]

A little over a week ago I caught up on some YouTube podcasts to which I subscribe. One of my favorite podcasts — along with The Jimmy Dore Show and the CrazyRussianHacker) — is MoFreedomFoundation, a channel (and website) started by author Robert Morris dedicated to current affairs, international politics and ‘pro-sanity propaganda.’

“We promise to do a better job covering these issues than any cable news channel” is the MoFreedomFoundation’s pledge.

Not hard to do, unfortunately.

The Hypothesis

Morris’ latest podcast — “Islamic Terrorism is Over” — was particularly interesting and inspired me to do a quick data analysis to see if I could confirm (at least tentatively) his central hypothesis:

Since 2014, as oil prices have declined, the financial sponsors of terrorism — oil-rich Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia and UAE — have seen their cash reserves decline and have therefore had less to use for funding terrorist activities (e.g., ISIS).

Here is the MoFreedomFoundation podcast spelling out that hypothesis and the empirical data supporting it:

“Almost three years ago I predicted that due to falling oil prices radical Islamic terrorism would quickly start to fade away — and that is exactly what happened,” starts Morris. “It was always Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states that funded all that death and destruction. Now that they have less spare money, everybody else gets less.”

As Morris points out, this is not a thesis heard too often in the mainstream news media. Why?

“Every media and government organization in the world profits from fear and they really don’t want to document the fact that one of the biggest justifications for their budgets is in the process of disappearing.”

In fairness, I have heard or read this argument a few times recently within the climate change activist community where a number of researchers and journalists are using the link between oil money and terrorism to justify a more rapid transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Author Nathan Taft, from the Fuel Freedom Foundation, writes: “When you pay at the pump, your hard-earned cash isn’t just going to oil companies — it also fills the pockets of terrorists and hostile regimes that harbor dangerous ideologies.”

There you go. When you fill up the Volvo, you aren’t just preparing for a two-hour drive to Aunt Velma’s, you’re helping finance the car bomb industry — in case you need another good reason not to visit Aunt Velma.

When ISIS controlled meaningful amounts of territory, it also controlled oil and gas fields, where it was able to generate significant revenues for their activities.

But we know from leaked U.S. State Department documents from 2009 that Saudi Arabia was — and likely still is — the “world’s largest source of funds for Islamist militant groups such as the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba.”

According to the report signed by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.” The report also identifies Qatar, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as other significant sources of terrorism funding.

Keep in mind, the Saudi incentive for much of its terrorism funding is in keeping Iran’s hands full. ISIS was causing Iran to bleed resources in order to keep afloat the Bashar al Assad regime, one of the few Iranian allies in the region. Likewise, ongoing Saudi support for Islamist militants in Yemen fighting Houthi (Shia) forces compels Iran to dedicate resources to that war than they might otherwise prefer to use elsewhere.

[There is actually little evidence that Iran has a major financial or military commitment in Yemen. At least, nothing compared to what Saudi Arabia and UAE are committing.]

Even as Saudi Arabia appears to be working to stop the flow of money to Islamic militants, the country openly finances the philosophical training ground for such militants through their support to a worldwide Wahhabi education system.

Saudi Arabia is both the arsonist and the firefighter.

The Data

So, the Morris podcast prompted me to pull together a couple of data sources to test the “Cheap Oil Stops Terrorism” (COST) hypothesis.

First, we need valid and reliable terrorism data.

While in the past I have used the Global Terrorism Database (GTD), compiled by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) at the University of Maryland, College Park, I was intrigued by Morris’ use of a database maintained by the anti-Islam website TheReligionOfPeace.com (TROP).

Morris describes the website well: “TheReligionOfPeace.com website claims to provide a comprehensive list of terror attacks across the world, (though) the vast majority of the incidents come from active war zones like Iraq Syria and Afghanistan.”

The website is “one of the most bigoted and anti-Islamic news sources you can find,” concludes Morris.

Yet, oddly enough, the TROP database strongly correlates with the terrorism death and incident counts in the GTD. Therefore, for this brief analytic exercise, I felt comfortable sticking with the TROP data.

Figure 1: GTD Terrorist Incident and Death Counts since 1970

Source: National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism

 

Along with the TROP database on terrorism deaths, I obtained oil price data (and other economic data) from the online data repository (FRED) maintained by the Federal Reserve (St. Louis). Figure 2 shows the terrorism death counts and oil prices (West Texas Intermediate Price Index, 1994 = 100).

Figure 2: Terrorism Deaths and the Price of Oil (2002 to 2018)

Sources: TheReligionofPeace.com; Federal Reserve (St. Louis); NuQum.com

 

Like the GTD database, TROP shows three terrorism-related death spikes from 2001 to 2018 (blue line). The first, of course, is 9–11 (on the far left of the chart). The second is prior to and during the 2006 Iraq War surge. And the third spike occurs with the rise of ISIS in Syria starting in 2014.

The red line shows how oil prices have varied since 2002. They rose rapidly and consistently immediately after 9–11 and peaked right before the 2008 world financial crisis. Prices fell to near 2002 levels, but recovered over half of its losses from the financial crisis by the Autumn of 2014, only to decline again to near 2002 levels (in constant terms) by early 2016. Oil prices had been recovering since then, but have fallen precipitously since October 2018.

WTI is selling for $51.45-a-barrel as of 2:00pm (January 11, 2019). WTI crude was just over $100-a-barrel in 2014.

Testing the Hypothesis

Sometimes the eyeball test is all you need. And, in this case, it helps but isn’t quite enough. What jumps out to me are three distinct periods where terrorism deaths and oil prices appear tightly (and positively) linked.

The first is from early 2002 to July 2007. After that, the two series move in opposite directions from late 2007 until late 2010, when they start moving in the same direction again. As ISIS became a significant factor in Syria in mid-2014, an extreme spike in terrorism deaths occurs and is not reflected in oil prices. However, after the initial noise generated by ISIS, around late 2014 the two series move in a strong lock-step fashion until late 2015.

To more formally test the relationship between terrorism deaths and oil prices, I estimated a simple linear regression model (I also tested a Poisson regression model — which is more appropriate for count data — and found similar results to the linear model. For simplicity of interpretation, I am reporting the linear model here).

Along with oil prices, I included statistical controls for serial autocorrelation (terrorism deaths lagged by one time period) and the expected impact a strong world economy might also have on the cash reserves of oil-producing Gulf states. Though originally collected at the monthly level, the data in the following model are at the quarterly level.

Other variables tested but found to be insignificant predictors of worldwide terrorism deaths were: Number of U.S. Troops Deployed to Iraq/Afghanistan/Syria, OPEC Oil Production, OPEC Oil Supply, U.S. Dollar Value Index and U.S. DoD Terrorism/War-related Budget.

Methodological Note: Including a lagged dependent variable, as I did, can sometimes soak up significant explanatory variance causing other independent variables, that may be still be significant predictors of terrorism deaths, appear insignificant. For the exercise here, however, I was comfortable with that risk given that oil prices remained statistically significant across the various tested models despite the presence of the lagged dependent variable. I am therefore confident in saying: “Oil prices and terrorism deaths are significantly and positively related (in this time period).”

The linear model tested was a follows:

The parameter estimates and statistical tests shown in Figure 3 were generated in the SPSS software package. The ‘Model Summary’ table indicates 74 percent of the variance in terrorism deaths can be accounted through our simple three-variable model. Not bad.

The third tables shows the parameter estimates and indicates that the oil price variable (WTI PRICE INDEX lagged 4 quarters) is significantly and positively related to terrorism deaths (b = 2.27, p = 0.028). In other words, for every 1-point increase in the WTI crude oil price index, there are 2.27 additional terrorism deaths per quarter. Keep in mind that the WTI Oil Price Index ranged between roughly 100 and 1000 points during this period with a standard deviation of 172. A one-standard-deviation increase in oil prices therefore could result in 390 additional terrorism deaths.

Also note that lag structure for oil prices. Apparently, it takes four quarters (one year) for an oil price level to impact terrorism deaths, suggesting this is the length of time between a decision to sell oil assets, distribute funds to militant groups, and operational activities by the militant groups.

Figure 3: SPSS-generated linear model estimates

Do we really believe oil prices are closely linked to terrorism levels?

Honestly, I was very skeptical going into this statistical exercise, despite the strong anecdotal evidence (such as the 2009 U.S. State Department Report) and the visual evidence from the time-series charts.

I still believe the relationship is more complicated than oil price and the amount of discretionary money in Saudi pockets. For one, while the Saudis are still almost entirely dependent on the sale of oil for their cash reserves, there are other investments in their portfolio (which is why I included worldwide GDP growth in the model).

Geopolitical strategic interests, independent of oil prices, also drive Saudi money (and the money of other oil-producing Gulf states) into the bank accounts of Islamic militants.

The Saudi’s still perceive Iran to be its biggest strategic threat and, for that reason, a better specified model explaining terrorism deaths should include year-to-year measures of the intensity of the Saudi-Iranian conflict. I this exercise I have not accounted for that major factor.

There is also a religious/ideological component to terrorism that is not considered here. As long as seemingly permanent U.S. military bases are sprinkled all over the Arabian peninsula, including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the region will be an incubator of anti-West militancy.

Still, there is no doubt in my mind that stagnant and falling oil prices are hurting Islamic militant organizations and I believe there is sufficient evidence, quantitative and qualitative, to support that conclusion.

If oil prices should rise again (and they will, at least until we stop using so much cheap Middle East oil), will terrorism rebound?

If Morris is correct, the U.S. military and security establishment is skeptical of terrorism’s resurgence moving forward:

“Almost two decades the Department of Defense and its enablers have been focused on Islamic terrorism. For years the metastasized military-industrial complex sent tons of money and personnel sloshing towards anti-Islamic organizations like the Gatestone Institute and Jihad Watch. Some of that still definitely goes on, but it came to a sort of symbolic end in January of 2018. That month saw the release of the new national defense strategy. To quote directly, ‘Interstate strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security.’”

Interstate strategic competition?

I wonder if that will cost as much to fight as it did to fight terrorists over the past 17 years?

Why do I even have to ask?

  • K.R.K.

 

Alan Dershowitz is wrong about the BDS movement and Rashida Tlaib

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; January 10, 2019)

I admire Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz and have for a long time.

Most recently, Dershowitz is one of the few Democrats (perhaps only) that sees clearly the inconsistencies and dangers intrinsic to the Democratic Party’s ad hominem obsession with the Robert Mueller-led Trump-Russia investigation.

For example, on whether President Donald Trump’s potential firing of Mueller would constitute an impeachable offense, Dershowitz says, “ “Firing the special counsel would not be impeachable offense, because it wouldn’t be a crime. The president would have authority to do it but it would be politically very damaging to do it.”

It is a direct threat to our democracy to criminalize political differences, Dershowitz argues objectively in his 2017 book, “Trumped Up: How Criminalization of Political Differences Endangers Democracy.”

So why does Dershowitz suddenly disabuse himself from his own beliefs when discussing the legality of anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) laws in the U.S.?

A growing number of U.S. states that are passing anti-BDS laws that, among their provisions, prevent states from investing in or hiring companies that refuse to engage in commerce with Israel and boycott Israel or persons doing business in Israel or territories controlled by Israel. The U.S. Congress is debating its own anti-BDS legislation.

For anyone unfamiliar with the BDS movement, here is summary:

BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. Among its tactics, BDS targets businesses and organizations deemed complicit in Israel’s known and alleged human rights violations against Palestinians. While Israel’s supporters charge the BDS movement as being inherently anti-Semitic and racist, BDS organizers contend their movement is comparable to the anti-apartheid movement which helped to isolate South Africa globally and end white rule.

In defending the legality of these laws, Dershowitz makes this distinction: “So long as these anti-BDS statutes do not prohibit advocacy of such boycotts, but focus instead on the commercial activities themselves — namely the economic boycotts — there are no serious freedom of speech concerns. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, not freedom to discriminate economically based on invidious classifications.”

BDS organizers respond, flatly, anti-BDS laws violate First Amendment rights. “A boycott is an important and powerful form of expressive association protected by the First Amendment. Speech in support of a boycott encompasses the practice of people sharing common views banding together to achieve a common end, a practice deeply embedded in the American political process,” according to a legal brief prepared by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Iowa.

“By this collective effort, individuals can make their views known when, individually, their voices would be faint or lost. The Supreme Court has held that economic boycotts are protected by the First Amendment. *NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co.*, 458 U.S. 886 (1982).”

At the risk of over-simplifying Dershowitz’ argument, his claim is that boycotts are not protected speech if they are premised on bigotry — such as anti-Semitism — instead of specific actions (e.g., human rights violations).

That is the strongest aspect of Dershowitz’ argument in support of anti-BDS laws.

“Americans of any religion have the right to support Israel, and most do, without being accused of disloyalty, just as Americans of any religion have the right to support the Palestinian cause,” argues Dershowitz. “It is both bigoted and hypocritical to apply a different standard to Jews who support Israel than to Muslims who support the Palestinian cause.”

But, in basically restating Israeli politician Natan Sharansky’s three D’s of anti-Semitism — delegitimization, demonization, and double standards — Dershowitz is implicitly acknowledging not all criticisms of Israel are rooted in anti-Semitism.

Yet, the entire BDS movement gets tagged as such by Dershowitz, as he claims its mission, by definition, is anti-Semitic.

Dershowitz writes: “Congress is considering legislation dealing with companies that boycott only the nation state of the Jewish people, and only Jews within Israel. To single out only the ‘Jew among nations,’ and not the dozens of far more serious violators of human rights is bigotry pure and simple, and those who support BDS only against Israel are guilty of bigotry.”

It is here where Dershowitz starts going off the rails.

“What is unacceptable (about BDS) is discriminatory actions, and nothing can be more discriminatory than singling out an ally with one of the best records of human rights in the world for a boycott, while continuing to do business with the worst human rights offenders in the world,” writes Dershowitz. “Many of the same bigots who support BDS against Israel, oppose boycotting Cuba, Iran, China, Russia, Venezuela, Syria, Saudi Arabia and other human rights violators. Legislation designed to end such discriminatory actions would be constitutional, if it did not prohibit advocacy.”

And, yet, according to Dershowitz, who in other domains of American law and policy understands the sanctity of political differences, wants to criminalize an economic boycott of our close ally, Israel.

In making his argument, Dershowitz ignores the fundamental difference between Israel and countries like Cuba, Iran, Russia, Syria and Venezuela (where the U.S. has imposed sanctions). The former is an ally. The politics often demand we hold our allies to different human rights standards than our adversaries.

That Saudi Arabia could be called a close American ally and also be one of the world’s worst human rights violators (infinitely worse than Israel) is shocking.

If there is a double standard at play, it is not the BDS movement targeting Israel, it is that we don’t put as much pressure on Saudi Arabia to change their behavior.

Criticizing and boycotting Israel for its treatment of the Palestinian people in the occupied territories is entirely rooted in politics. Such actions don’t delegitimize the State of Israel. They don’t demonize the Israelis. If anything, it contrasts the higher ideals of individual Israelis with the morally inconsistent actions of their government.

And, finally, the BDS movement is not engaged in a double standard. For one, there is nothing in the original BDS charter stating that what Israel is doing to the Palestinians is wrong, but if other countries are doing it to a similarly aggrieved group, fine. That would be a double standard. The BDS movement is under no obligation to address every human rights violation across all nations. The BDS was started by Palestinians to exclusively address Palestinian grievances with Israel. Period.

But because some BDS organizers and supporters are vocally critical of Israel yet silent (or even supportive) of other nations that commit far worse human rights violations, Dershowitz feels comfortable outlawing their specific goal of putting economic pressure on Israel to change its policies regarding the Palestinians.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib being sworn into the U.S House as it first Palestinian-American representative (Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images)

 

One of Dershowitz’ targets for this criticism is Michigan Representative Rashida Tlaib, who, to the best of my knowledge, has never voiced support for human rights violations in Cuba, Iran, China, Russia, Venezuela, Syria, Saudi Arabia, or any other country.

In fact, some Palestinian activists have complained that Tlaib is not sufficiently anti-Israel and had, at one point, accepted the endorsement of the political action committee J Street, an Israel lobby group opposed to the BDS.

Prior to the 2018 midterm elections, Ali Abunimah, a writer for The Electronic Intifada, wrote: “Rashida Tlaib is endorsed and supported by the liberal Zionist Israel lobby group J Street through its political action committee JStreetPAC.” [That endorsement was ultimately withdrawn when Tlaib stated her support for a One-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.]

Abunimah was particularly critical of Tlaib’s public statements about Israel during the 2018 campaign.

“We need to be honest about the dehumanization on both sides, frankly,” Tlaib told The Washington Post. “And more importantly, we need to be not choosing a side.”

“Is Tlaib serious that we should be neutral and not ‘choose a side’ when it comes to Israel’s brutal military occupation, colonization and apartheid in her parents’ homeland?” wrote Abunimah.

Though she is excessively anti-Trump, by any reasonable standard, Tlaib is no bigot or anti-Semite. [Palestinians are Semites, by the way, but that is an argument for another day.]

Nonetheless, Dershowitz uses her as his chief antagonist in promoting his transitive logic that the BDS is inherently anti-Semitic, therefore, if you support the BDS, you are anti-Semitic.

Dershowitz is engaging in the ‘guilt by association’ tactic that has become hard-coded into the national political dialogue.

Any suggestion Tlaib is an anti-Semite is an ugly slur unsupported by evidence. Its beneath Dershowitz’ otherwise clear-eyed perspective on American and Israeli politics to suggest as much.

  • K.R.K.

An example of a state-level anti-BDS law:

https://www.legis.iowa.gov/legislation/BillBook?ba=HF%202331&ga=86

The slow escape (and rise) of Saudi women

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; January 9, 2019)

No story has made my heart sink faster than the recent one about Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun — a Saudi Arabia teen allegedly fleeing to Thailand from her family (living in Kuwait) out of fear they would kill her.

At this point in the story, events are fluid and many facts are still unknown. The evidence we do possess is mostly a series of conversations between Rahaf and her Twitter followers, along with officials statements coming from the Thai government and the United Nations Refugee Agency stating, at least for now, support for her staying in Thailand until her case can be resolved.

 

In less than 48 hours of her first asylum plea via Twitter, Rahaf’s Twitter account has attracted tens of thousands of new followers. Whether Rahaf’s story ends happily is still to be determined.

Similar stories of Saudi women but did not end well have emerged in the past few years. Here are two of them:

Where is Dina Ali Lasloom?

Dina Ali Lasloom is a Saudi woman who sought asylum in Australia but was detained at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, Philippines on April 10, 2017, and deported back to Saudi Arabia, accompanied by two of her uncles, on April 11, 2017.

Below is the last known picture of Dina (see talking to her two uncles at the Manila airport).

The last known photo of Dina Ali Lasloom (L)

 

Her reason for trying to leave Saudi Arabia? In a self-recorded video, Dina says that she is seeking asylum and will be killed if forced to return to her family. In another video, taken by a Canadian tourist in the Manila airport while Dina was being detained by Philippine authorities, captures Dina screaming at a Saudi woman, who had accompanied Dina’s uncles.

 

According to eyewitnesses on Dina’s return flight to Saudi Arabia, she was covered by a blanket, her mouth taped shut, and physically resisting as her uncles forced her onto the plane.

Since returning to Saudi Arabia on April 11, Dina has never been seen again. A anonymous Saudi government official told Bloomberg that, upon arrival in Riyadh, Dina Ali was taken to a detention facility for women aged under 30 but did not face any charges. However, feminist activist Moudhi Aljohani, who says she talked to Dina on the phone while she was detained in the Manila airport, is less sanguine. “It is most likely that she is not alive,” she says.

The “Double Suicide” of Two Saudi Sisters in New York’s Hudson River

This next story is perhaps more chilling. On October 24, 2018, the bodies of sisters Tala and Rotana Farea, Saudi citizens living in Virginia with their family, were found along the banks of New York’s Hudson River bound together by duct tape in a way suggesting it was meant to hold them together but not bind them. According to New York City Police, there was no evidence of foul play as they concluded the deaths were part of a suicide pact.

Assuming the conclusions of the NYC Police are correct, it still begs the question, why would two sisters do such a thing?

Sources told investigators that the sisters once said they would “rather kill themselves than return to Saudi Arabia.” Their mother reportedly told local reporters that the Saudi embassy in Washington told the family they would need to return to Saudi Arabia.

Tala Farea, 16, and Rotana Farea, 23, were found dead in a New York river in October 2018.

 

As the sisters’ full story remains a puzzle, the basic outline sounds familiar to human rights observers that track the fate of Saudi women attempting to find asylum outside the Kingdom.

“Although there are no official statistics, anecdotal evidence from cases reported in Saudi media and from human rights advocates suggest dozens of Saudi women — some with their children — have attempted to flee abroad in recent years,” says journalist Aya Batrawy who has covered a number of these stories in her career.

Whether the stories of Rahaf, Dina and the Farea sisters represent a trend is difficult to say. If they do, these asylum cases are happening at a time when Saudi women have seen recent gains in freedom, including the right to drive, and the right to run and vote in local elections. That those gains occurred because of growing discontent among Saudi women is entirely possible as well.

The Data Paints a Bleak Picture for Saudi Women (and Muslim Women, in general)

As the anecdotal evidence of systematic abuse continues to emerge from Saudi women seeking asylum in the West, the quantitative evidence substantiates their stories.

As part of its annual computation of the Human Freedom Index (HFI’s), the CATO presents the “state of human freedom in the world based on a broad measure that encompasses personal, civil, and economic freedom.” Among the HFI’s many sub components is a Women Security Index (WSI) which is computed for over 170 countries and is based on: (1) the prevalence of female genital mutilation, (2) the gender bias in mortality, and (3) the inheritance rights of wives and daughters. The WSI ranges between 0 and 10 where ‘0’ indicates low security for women and ‘10’ indicates high levels of security.

Figure 1 shows the Bottom 15 countries on the WFI — the lowest index score going to Brunei (WFI = 0.0), followed by Egypt (WFI = 2.8), Mauritania (WFI = 3.4) and Sudan (WFI = 3.7). Saudi Arabia has the 12th lowest WFI at 5.0 (tied with Suriname and Pakistan).

The relationship of the WFI to a country’s dominant religious culture is strong. Fourteen out of 15 countries at the bottom of the WFI are predominately Islamic or have a large Islamic minority.

Figure 1: Women (In)Security Index 2017 (Source: CATO Institute, 2018)

 

Another quantitative measure related to women’s equality and compiled annually is the World Bank’s Global Gender Gap Index (GGI).

The Global Gender Gap Index is the combination of four components: (1) Economic Participation and Opportunity, (2) Educational Attainment, (3) Health and Survival and (4) Political Empowerment. The highest possible country score is 1 (equality) and the lowest possible country score is 0 (inequality).

As seen in Figure 2, the GGI and WSI are positively correlated (Pearson r= .62) and reveal Islamic countries (the blue dots) again cluster on the low end for both indexes.

Figure 2: The World Bank’s Gender Gap Index (GGI) and CATO’s Women Security Index (WSI) — The Relationship to Religious Culture

 

The World Bank has been computing the GGI since 2006. Between 2006 and 2016, only one country, Sri Lanka, experienced a significant decline in their GGI (-0.05). Figure 3 shows the Top 10 countries experiencing the most significant increases in gender equality: Nicaragua (0.12), Nepal (0.11), Bolivia (0.11), Slovenia (0.11), and France (0.10).

Figure 3: Changes in Gender Gap Index (2000 to 2016) (Source: World Bank, 2016)

 

Among Islamic countries, Bangladesh (0.07), Chad (0.06), Saudi Arabia (0.6), Yemen (0.6) and UAE (0.5) saw the most significant increases in gender equality between 2006 and 2016.

If the World Bank’s GGI is any indication, there have been substantive improvements to women’s lives in Saudi Arabia since 2006.

Political scientist James Davies once postulated in the 1960s that “revolutions are most likely to occur when a prolonged period of objective economic and social development is followed by a short period of sharp reversal.” Since called the “J-curve” theory, Norwegian political scientist Carl Henrik Knutsen has offered tentative quantitative evidence supporting one aspect of the J-curve theory: “Short-term economic growth rates systematically affect the probabilities of attempted and of successful revolutions. Regimes in countries that experience economic crises are at increased risk of facing revolutionary threats and of eventually being thrown out of office because of them.”

Whether this finding relates to the propensity of Saudi women to carry out their own smaller, personal revolutions is highly speculative.

What we do know, anecdotally, is that (young) Saudi women are routinely putting their lives at risk in seeking asylum outside the Kingdom. The most recent example (Rahaf) may have a relatively happy ending. Many most likely have not.

It is also impossible to disentangle the human rights issue from the diplomatic necessities of the U.S. and Western democracies. Saudi Arabia is too critical to world economic growth to expect political leaders to lead on the issue of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.

A long list of American notables — Barack Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton, an assortment of Bushes, Michael Bloomberg, John Kerry, Condoleezza Rice, Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, Tim Cook, and Bob Iger— lined up to meet the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman during his charm offensive in March 2018.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman © ordering coffee with former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg (Photo credit: AFP PHOTO / Saudi Royal Palace / BANDAR AL-JALOUD)

 

That fact is Saudi Arabia remains one the closest U.S. allies in the Middle East and will be for as long as the country needs their cheap oil (which might not be for as long as you think). Said President Donald Trump recently, “Saudi Arabia has been a great ally to me.” Sadly, the Saudi royals are not as great to their own people, especially Saudi women.

  • K.R.K.

 

The End of Empathy and the Locking of the American Mind

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; January 8, 2019)

We want to believe our every thought is the product of free will and from that foundation we self-select what thoughts we choose to share with others.

“Let me speak my mind,” we often say.

But do we? And even if think we do, are the thoughts we select from truly representative of our personal realities?

Deep down, we know a genuinely free mind is far too much work. It is simply not practical to be too open-minded and we can all think of times when we said something to sound polite or well-informed, even if we didn’t believe it or know what to say in the first place.

When recently asked if I liked the movie Green Book, my response was immediate: “I really enjoyed it. It was a very thought-provoking movie about racism in the 1960s.” (But it isn’t. It is the ‘See Spot Run’-level, nuance-free type of anti-racism movie I expect from Hollywood. Shallow and self-consciously important. I hated it.). But I still said I liked it — a lot.

[Side note: This is one reason why opinion survey results, particularly when related to personal attitudes and preferences, have to be analyzed with a healthy dose of skepticism. People don’t generally lie on surveys as much as they mold their responses to fit the moment.]

More broadly, we tend to believe things uncritically, especially things we don’t experience firsthand. We take others’ word for it, not because they are necessarily experts but because we are not. Or we deliberately ignore contradictory information just to maintain the peace in our head and within our social interactions.

Its a ‘go-along-to-get-along’ frame of mind. It’s social constructivism with hints of Marxism. The system causes us to think the way we think.

When our thoughts become speech, the words we use are often chosen for us by the people we socialize with, the media we consume, the churches where we congregate, and the schools we attend. The gentle tyranny of social norms and peer pressure consistently narrow our perspectives and therefore our potential for creative thought and expression.

If freedom of speech means the self-regulated articulation of ideas drawn from a narrow set of socially(elite)-determined alternatives, then, yes, we have free speech. But it is seldom interesting speech.

For society to function relatively smoothly from day-to-day, all alternatives cannot be available and debated at every moment. If the sign at my intersection says ‘No Right Turn On Red’ today, I expect to see it tomorrow too. A well-functioning, civil society has necessary boundaries.

But the dysfunction we see now in our political system is at least partly rooted in the scarcity of ideas we are exposed to at any given time. If most of our information comes from the AP wire and cable news networks, we are seeing but a thin slice of our world. The irony is that the Information Age’s social media-stoked period offers up fewer perspectives and weaker ideas than ever.

Every minute we spend on social media is a minute we spend with our head planted firmly up our arse. And I include myself in that ‘head-up-butt’ metaphor.

Some have argued that our ability to empathize is dying as a result. Whether through compassion fatigue, confirmation bias, or the over-simplification of social relationships, today’s young adults are showing less empathy than prior generations.

However, the issue may be more than just decreasing levels of empathy, but how individuals determine towards whom to extend their empathy.

Our ability to empathize independently may be the biggest victim of today’s social media obsession. We have to be told (typically by social elites and respected peers) who deserves our empathy and who does not. We may be losing the capacity to make that decision on our own.

This is why we witness these grotesque inconsistencies in whom some deem worthy of our protection and those who are labeled unworthy. In today’s partisan political world, a person can freely label Iran has the ‘world’s biggest supporter of terrorism,’ while calling Saudi Arabia a ‘trusted ally’. Never mind that the 9–11 terrorists were mostly Saudi and funded by a Saudi national. Never mind that ISIS and al Qaeda-aligned terrorists find their ideological roots in Saudi-sourced Wahhabism, not Shia Islam.

In an empathy-starved environment, diplomats can call Gaza Palestinians ‘terrorists’ for launching Katyusha rockets at Israel from locations near schools and hospitals, but when Israeli bombers allegedly shield their maneuvers by shadowing (and endangering) civilian airliners, that is legitimate ‘self-defense’.

Facts really stop mattering when others tell you how to think.

And this empathy deficit is not unique to Donald Trump, or his supporters, or neoconservatives. Liberals, progressives and left-right centrists routinely engage in the same behavior. In fact, it is the new normal for everyone.

When some believe that a conspiracy occurs when a presidential campaign operative, in pursuit of evidence of wrongdoing by an opponent, meets with a Putin-linked Russian lawyer, but are unwilling to hold the FBI accountable for using unsubstantiated, unvetted foreign-sourced opposition research to authorize surveillance of a presidential campaign operative, they are applying inconsistent standards.

When some are convinced crudely designed Russian Facebook memes can alter a presidential election, but ignore the culpability behind and potential impact of a false-flag disinformation campaign linking a Republican U.S. Senate candidate to the Russians, they are applying inconsistent standards.

The consistent use of empathy is hard work, made harder because we don’t generally experience national and world events directly and are dependent on others to educate us on these events. That is a fact driven by our natural limitations.

But that shouldn’t make us wholly dependent on others to interpret such events and to link them to larger constructs.

Yet, that is where we are today. We too often let others do our thinking for us. On the one hand, it makes getting through the day much easier. On the other hand, it can lead us into intellectual cul-de-sacs that may serve others’ interests more than our own. Inconsistencies and hypocrisies we would otherwise correct instantly are ignored, or even worse, embraced.

Why? Because we are told to do so.

Our current propensity for selective outrage and withholding empathy is damaging not just our democracy, but our society in general. It is almost passé to say that anymore. Still, we all know it and we literally do NOTHING about it.

Part II of this essay will discuss the importance of information diversity and how search engines (such as Google) and social media networks might benefit their businesses and society by more systematically introducing the power of random selection into their services.

  • K.R.K.

Please send comments and gentle insults to: kroeger98@yahoo.com

 

Things I’ve been told that might be true

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, January 5, 2019)

Over time I compile a list of assertions, statements, and rumors told to me by friends, colleagues, online stalkers and perfect strangers at the TGIF Friday’s bar in Princeton, New Jersey. Occasionally, for the claims I find particularly interesting, I even try to verify them. Here are five that I found most interesting and might be true:

Conditions in countries have worsened where the U.S. has recently pursued regime change.

This statement I heard at the TGIF Friday’s bar and was attributed to Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. It is a harsh indictment of U.S. military interventions…and hard to prove.

But…when I returned home I looked up the historical data from the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index (HDI) (see Figure 1 below).

Figure 1: Human Development Index (1990–2017)

Source: UNDP, Human Development Index

 

With any time-series analysis, where you establish the start and end points are critical to what conclusions are drawn. However, the three most recent countries in which the U.S. military has directly or indirectly intervened in pursuit of changing an existing regime — Libya 2011, Syria 2011 and Yemen 2015 — all have experienced significant declines in human development from the point U.S. involvement started to the present.

Even the two countries where the U.S. has had its most significant combat engagements (Afghanistan and Iraq), while they have seen an increase in their absolute human development index scores, their relative position worldwide has not increased significantly. Iraq, in fact, has gone from being ranked 114th in 2004 on the HDI down to 120th in 2017. Afghanistan’s HDI rank has moved from 170th in 2004 to 168th in 2017.

While there have been specific areas where the U.S. has improved conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan (e.g., access to education, particularly for females), the overall development measures have not witnessed substantive improvements.

In comparison, it is interesting that Iran — perhaps the one country the U.S. most wants to see the ruling regime fail — has seen dramatic human development improvements. In 2004, Iran ranked 90th on the HDI — as of 2017, the country now ranks 60th. This improvement has been aided by the Iraq War, the Obama administration’s rapprochement and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“The Iran Nuclear Deal”) in 2015. Sadly, Iran’s HDI score is most certainly going to decrease going forward given the renewal of U.S. economic sanctions against the country.

Overall, the assertion attributed to Sen. Rand about U.S. regime change wars is largely accurate.

Of its own volition, the U.S. military never leaves a country where it has stationed combat troops.

By definition this is true, since the U.S. military cannot independently make the decision to deploy combat troops, or decide to remove them once they’ve been deployed. That is a decision reserved for the Commander-in-Chief and the military’s civilian leadership. However, I cannot think of a single instance in U.S. history when the military led an initiative to get out of a country where combat troops were deployed. It just doesn’t happen that way — and maybe it shouldn’t. Per the Constitution, civilian leaders are supposed to lead defense and security policy, not the military. So this statement can be marked down as an absolutely true one.

Liberal academics are renouncing their U.S. citizenship and leaving the country.

This one I heard from a friend married to an academic. “How will we survive?” was my sarcastic response. He didn’t laugh either.

Unfortunately, I cannot find any evidence supporting the claim that PhDs are increasingly choosing to live in other countries, much less renouncing their citizenship. However, there is one interesting trend among Americans regarding citizenship. Since changes to U.S. tax law by the Obama administration, it has become more difficult for Americans to evade taxes by hiding money offshore.

The result has meant many Americans living overseas face an overly complex filing process at tax time, leading some to even renounce their citizenship in order to simply their life.

According to the Internal Revenue Service, in the first quarter of 2018, 1,099 Americans gave up their citizenship and more than 5,000 did so in both 2016 and 2017.

Among those thousands renouncing their U.S. citizenship are sure to have been some academics, so I cannot categorically dismiss my friend’s claim, who did in fact offer a specific story about someone so offended by the Trump presidency they chose to leave the country. But that is merely anecdotal evidence. For now, assume liberal academics are choosing to stay put.

Even under the most pessimistic assumptions about climate change, the U.S. economy is still expected to grow close to its current 10-year average.

In critiquing the last fall’s U.S. Government’s Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA2018), Michael Bastasch, energy editor for DailyCaller.com, highlighted one of the more speculative forecasts made in the NCA2018:

According to the NCA2018, “global greenhouse gas emissions is expected to cause substantial net damage to the U.S. economy throughout this century,” including a 10 percent hit to gross domestic product (GDP) in one extreme scenario where global temperatures exceed the pre-industrial average by 8°C.

This economic forecast, based on an extreme case scenario which few climatologists expect to occur (Representative Concentration Pathway [RCP] 8.5), has become a straw man for climate change skeptics. Never mind that any 80-year (!) economic forecast must be accepted with a grain of salt, the researchers behind the forecast recognize the extraordinary methodological challenges in linking rising temperatures to economic costs.

I would normally, therefore, be content scolding The Daily Caller’s energy editor for setting up an obvious straw man argument by taking out of context a single, speculative economic forecast from a 1,600-page report containing many more substantive conclusions.

Unfortunately, the climate change extremists in the mainstream news media jumped on the “10 percent hit on GDP” forecast with even more unrestrained relish than the climate change skeptics.

Climate change will severely affect the U.S. economyABC News (Nov. 24, 2018): “A newly released report issued by 13 federal agencies on Friday explains in great depth the potential consequences of climate change on the United States and warns that neglecting to take action could drastically impede economic growth over the next century.”

Mass deaths and mayhem: National Climate Assessment’s most shocking warnings, CBS News (Nov. 25, 2018): “An estimated loss of up to 10 percent gross domestic product by 2100. By comparison, that would be more than twice the 4.3 percent GDP loss of the Great Recession.”

3 big takeaways from the major new U.S. climate report, Vox.com (Nov. 24, 2018): “By the end of the century, warming on our current trajectory would cost the US economy upward of $500 billion a year in crop damage, lost labor, and extreme weather damages. This is almost double the economic blow of the Great Recession in the early 2000s.”

After a few days of national media hyperventilating, an actual climate scientist pumped the brakes and pointed out how the ’10 percent GDP decline’ was unrealistic and did not reflect current thinking within the climate science community.

Univ. of Colorado climatologist Roger Pielke, Jr. noted that the ‘10 percent GDP decline’ prediction was based on a temperate rise scenario (+8°C) twice as extreme as any made elsewhere within the NCA2018.

The following chart is pulled from the original research paper the NCA2018 used to draw the ’10 percent GDP decline’ conclusion (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Direct damage forecasts (% of GDP) due to global warming

Source: Solomon, Kopp, Jina, Rising, Delgado, Mohan, Rasmussen, Muir-Wood, Wilson, Oppenheimer, Larsen, and Houser, Science 356, 1362–1369 (2017)

 

The ’10 percent GDP decline’ conclusion is derived from drawing an horizontal line from the last data point forecast (RCP 8.5) at the 8-decade time period (far right). As Pielke, Jr. points out, the RCP 8.5 global warming forecast is far outside mainstream expectations.

The far more reasonable takeaway from Figure 2 is that the predicted economic losses range from −0.1 to 1.7% GDP (at 1.5°C of warming), 1.5 to 5.6% GDP (at 4°C of warming), and 6.4 to 15.7% GDP annually (at 8°C warming).

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) produced the following graph (Figure 3) showing the recent predictions about the global warming through 2100, given different scenarios on how quickly humankind limits greenhouse gas emissions.

Figure 3: Projected global temperature change

Source: NOAA, 2014

 

The red line (A2) from the above chart is the temperature change prediction assuming the world does almost nothing to curb greenhouse gas emissions through this century. That scenario is already OBE (overtaken by events). The U.S. is no longer building coal plants and Europe is projected, at current trends, to transition to 100-percent renewable electricity generation by 2050.

The blue line (B1), on the other hand, shows the temperature change prediction under the scenario that the world experiences significant emissions reductions, though not necessarily due to aggressive climate change policies. In other words, the world will convert to renewable energy sources only as the economics makes them more profitable than fossil based energy sources. In this scenario, the world will be 4°C warmer (than the pre-industrial period) by 2100.

That is a realistic view of global warming and suggests, based on the economic impact research, that the U.S. GDP will be 5.6 percent lower in 2100 unless we (which includes China, India, and Brazil) address climate change more aggressively.

To put that in perspective: Let us assume today’s U.S. economy is re-denominated at $100 Trump dollars (annual GDP). If our GDP grows between now and 2100 at the same rate as the past 10 years (1.4 percent), the U.S. economy will be at $308 (constant) Trump dollars.

Shave off 5.6 percent due to climate change and the U.S. is instead at $291 Trump dollars. That translates to an annual average GDP growth rate of 1.33 percent between 2018 and 2100. Or, as a comparison, it would be like having an annual GDP growth rate slightly lower than what we averaged during the Obama administration (1.5 percent).

In other words, climate change is a slightly bigger threat to the U.S. economy than was Barack Obama.

I would never argue that losing 5.6 percent of our GDP is insignificant, should this occur. But experience tells me that economic predictions looking 80 years into the future are more notional than practical. A nation certainly can’t make multi-billion or even trillion dollar policy decisions today based on such phantasms. It would be irresponsible to ourselves and future generations.

Frankly, the news media’s promotion of the ’10 percent GDP loss’ narrative is doing the climate change movement a terrible disservice. Even a ten percent under-performance in an 80-year forecast (!) is little more than statistical decimal dust. It’s noise in the forecasting model. For love of God, you certainly don’t draw up public policies based on such predictions.

Furthermore, there is no risk in making such a prediction The forecasters responsible for it will be long dead. And the immediate professional reward is potentially huge.

It’s not fake news. It’s worse. It’s junk economics cloaked in legitimate sciencethat could irreparably damage this economy if the climate change extremists should ever gain control of U.S. tax and regulatory code.

Let us all take a deep breath and not do anything stupid to wreck the economy.

Since Trump’s election, job and economic growth has been strongest ‘red states’.

Any economic claim should be accepted with a grain of salt, as economic benchmarks, aggregation levels and time periods used to draw conclusions are often subjective and easily manipulable. Nonetheless, in the most recent Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) report, quarter-to-quarter GDP growth was significantly stronger in ‘flyover’ country (see Figure 4).

Figure 4: Percent change in real GDP by state (2018:Q1 to 2018:Q2)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA)

 

Of the ten fastest growing states between 2018:Q1 and 2018:Q2, seven were Trump-voting states (Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Montana and Texas).

The job growth data is a little more complicated. Since March 2018, year-to-year job growth was stronger in ‘red states’ than ‘blue states,’ according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) (see Figure 5).

Figure 5: Job growth by state

Source: hiringlab.org and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

 

But when the focus is on counties — and not states — it is the ‘blue counties’ (often suburbs) that are leading the growth in the ‘red’ states, according to an analysis conducted by the AP. Could it be the best place to grow the economy is from a highly-educated ‘blue county’ in a low-tax ‘red state’? Now that is real bipartisanship.

So which number is correct? They both are, but I would caution using county-level data to understand an economy. Tax laws and other policy tools that most significantly impact an economy are typically implemented at the national and state-levels. Showing that highly-educated and employable people tend to live in nice suburbs is not an interesting finding and says little about the impact of economic policy. State-level job and economic growth data, however, is more informative about how economic policy impacts an economy and according to the most recent data, ‘red states’ are outperforming ‘blue states’ by a healthy margin.

How we express knowledge is like hitting in baseball: We fail most of the time (myself included)

We can never take for granted any fact we read or hear in the news media. It is not that the news media always lies or propagates ‘fake news’ on purpose (though it does, and here is a possible recent example). It is the fact that even science, where objectivity is an inviolable standard, is not immune from political bias. By our human nature, we tend to use evidence that conforms to our expectations and too readily ignore contradictory evidence.

Maybe you can get away with that as president, but for the rest of us, that is not a good way to go through life.

  • K.R.K.

Comments and insults can be sent to: kroeger98@yahoo.com

 

The liberal international order gave us failed regime change wars - good riddance to both

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; January 3, 2019)

You know Trump has turned the world upside down when filmmaker and progressive activist Michael Moore takes the side of Secretary of Defense James Mattis, a consistent defender of current U.S. military interventions in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan (though admitting to Congress last year that we are not winning in the latter case), over a president attempting to extract the U.S. from at least two of those open-ended military engagements.

“I was just watching the stuff with Mattis and I really, I think maybe this is the first time I’ve actually been frightened for the country in these almost two years,” Moore said to MSNBC host Ali Velshi.

“Frightened, really?” asked a skeptical Velshi.

Supporters of the liberal international order, with whom Moore has apparently aligned himself as he tunnels deeper into his anti-Trump psychopathy, and its requisite regime change wars, find themselves on the defensive.

“The choice we face isn’t a tactical matter between war and diplomacy, debating which tool of statecraft best serves a common goal,” warns Bill Scher in a recent Commentary article. “It’s a choice between two deeply divergent worldviews: an interconnected, international order that elevates human rights standards, versus a nationalist derby where autocrats roam unchecked.”

Christopher R. Hill, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, argues that the U.S. military effort in Syria was prompted by our better angels and that pulling out too soon is relinquishing the country’s innocent citizens, particularly the Kurds who have fought bravely in fighting ISIS, to humanity’s worst actors (Assad, ISIS, Russia, and Turkey).

“No Middle East conflict is as complex as the one raging in Syria,” according to Hill. “The fight involves a government that is antithetical to Western values and a Sunni extremist insurgency that at one point captured the borderlands between Syria and Iraq and fought all the way to the gates of Baghdad.”

What Scher and Hill (along with other interventionists) fail to recognize however are these facts about the Syrian Civil War which work against U.S. objectives:

  • As the Arab Spring spread in 2011, the effort to overthrow the Assad regime was dominated by Sunni extremist groups, not pro-democracy moderates.
  • When the U.S. began to aid the anti-Assad rebels (presumably only the ‘moderate’ ones) in destabilizing the Assad regime, it effectively opened up the ISIS floodgate.
  • The rollback of ISIS began in earnest only after the U.S. stopped its two-front strategy of fighting both Assad and ISIS and allowed Assad’s forces to reorganize (with Russia’s help) and concentrate their efforts on fighting ISIS.
  • Assad’s pro-government forces (with Russia’s assistance and without U.S. regime change efforts) are capable of defeating the remaining ISIS and anti-Assad rebel strongholds in Syria (Hajin, Albu Kamal, and Idlib). Expect Assad’s forces to be exceptionally brutal in their suppression of the remaining ISIS and rebel forces.
  • Russia has a strategic interest in Syria : Its naval facility in Tartus — which happens to be Russia’s only overseas naval base. Russia was never going to sit back and let Assad fall. And that will remain true in the immediate future.
  • As heroically as the Kurds have fought in repelling ISIS and Assad forces from their home areas in northeast Syria, eventually they will need to negotiate a peace treaty with Assad and the Turks. The U.S. has never endorsed the establishment of an independent Kurdish state in Syria or Iraq and a U.S. withdrawal from Syria in the near future serves to accelerate acceptance of this fact and the start of substantive peace talks, hopefully soon.

Defenders of this country’s multiple ongoing regime change wars, like Hill and Scher, remind me of legendary New York Governor Al Smith’s term for idealists and reformers that thought their good intentions more than compensated their sub optimal policy results: He called them “Goo Goos.”

Cloaked in moral righteousness conferred when using terms like ‘human rights’ and ‘justice’, interventionists (like other idealists) too frequently fail to see the bigger, secular trends that undercut their country’s actual interests.

No better example of that dynamic can be found than Iraq.

Where once the military option was only exercised in defense of vital national interests, since George H. W. Bush’s 1991 Gulf War, increasingly human rights have been the public justification for U.S. military interventions.

Now a distant memory, a few of us still remember the challenge Bush Sr. had in selling a U.S.-led liberation of Kuwait (having been invaded by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq) to the American people.

Soon after the August 1990 invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, Bush justified a potential U.S. military intervention based on Iraq’s violation of international law. Iraq invaded a sovereign country without provocation or justification.

Source: Gallup Poll

Yet, U.S. public support for such an invasion lumbered around 20 percent, according to the Gallup Poll. So Bush tried a different justification: “It’s about oil.” But when that argument fell flat with the American people, the Bush PR team launched a far more sophisticated disinformation campaign designed to portray Hussein’s Iraq as the closest thing to Hitler’s Germany since…well, Hitler’s Germany.

In a October 1990 hearing, hastily organized by the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, witnesses to reported Iraqi atrocities in Kuwait were brought before the panel to share their stories.

Journalist Joshua Holland recalled one of the more dramatic stories: “A young woman who gave only her first name, Nayira, testified that she had been a volunteer at Kuwait’s al-Adan hospital, where she had seen Iraqi troops rip scores of babies out of incubators, leaving them ‘to die on the cold floor.’ Between tears, she described the incident as ‘horrifying.’”

The potency of the human rights angle is hard to ignore:

A decade after the end of the 1991 Gulf War, Christian Science Monitor writer Tom Regan shared a story about how his family responded to the Kuwaiti incubator testimony:

I can still recall my brother Sean’s face. It was bright red. Furious. Not one given to fits of temper, Sean was in an uproar. He was a father, and he had just heard that Iraqi soldiers had taken scores of babies out of incubators in Kuwait City and left them to die. The Iraqis had shipped the incubators back to Baghdad. A pacifist by nature, my brother was not in a peaceful mood that day. “We’ve got to go and get Saddam Hussein. Now,” he said passionately.

Amnesty International and independent journalists would later document that, while the Iraqis did loot Kuwaiti hospitals, the ‘babies dying on the floor’ story was entirely bogus — yet, it was a critical element in selling the invasion of Kuwait to the American people.

On January 9, 1991, three days before the Bush administration requested congressional authorization for using force to remove Iraqi forces from Kuwait, only 46 percent of the public supported a military invasion (47 percent supported continuation of economic sanctions). While not a majority or even a plurality, the public’s support for the military option was growing and Bush seized on the momentum and launched the air campaign on January 16th.

You might think that experience would immunize the American people from falling for such tricks in the future, but who are we kidding? Every war we’ve fought since Vietnam has been predicated, at least partially, on lies and fabrications told us by our government. If it works and nobody is ever held accountable, why stop?

Fast forward to today. Since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the U.S. has invaded Iraq again, replaced Saddam Hussein, installed a new government, and left Iraq (only to return in lower numbers). And what has been the BLUF (bottom-line-up-front) outcome of the billions financed by the U.S. Treasury to fight this regime change war?

Iraq is now a Shia-dominated client state of Iran.

That is not how it was supposed to end up.

But name a recent U.S.-led (or supported) regime change war that has worked out — or is working out — well.

Afghanistan?

According to now former Secretary of Defense James Mattis during congressional testimony in 2017, this was his summary of the situation in Afghanistan: “We are not winning in Afghanistan right now. And we will correct this as soon as possible,” he said.

Seventeen years and billions of dollars later and the Taliban is still not defeated? What evidence or assurance could be offered to cause any rational person to think the U.S. will ever win in Afghanistan?

Conservative radio host, Steve Deace, a well-known Trump critic from the evangelical right, calls the Afghan War “the greatest waste of money in U.S. history.” He’s not alone in that opinion.

If it were a private business venture, the U.S. effort in Afghanistan would have been defunded many years ago.

But this is what happens when a country socializes its defense and security functions. When the government starts something, it can always find a justification for never stopping it.

Where once the idea of privatizing national defense seemed absurd, now I’m not so sure.

At the very least, Trump’s introduction of chaos into the defense and security establishment’s decision-making apparatus should cause them to reflect more on how this country justifies its military interventions and the overwhelming evidence suggesting regime change wars never succeed, no matter how noble the intentions.

Libya? Syria? Iraq? Yemen? All fails. Afghanistan? If, after 17 years, the answer is still ‘to-be-determined’, that must be classified as a fail as well. And then there is Yemen. One million civilians now threatened by famine and diseases such as cholera because the region’s two greatest powers (not including Israel) — Iran and Saudi Arabia — would rather engage in a fruitless proxy war than meet at a negotiating table.

How about going back farther in time to Nicaragua? Forty years ago the Reagan administration was funding and training insurgents to overthrow Daniel Ortega’s Soviet-aligned government. And where are we now? Daniel Ortega is back in power and, if we believe recent American press accounts, is launching a brand new ‘reign of fear’ on his people.

If the U.S. can’t get it right in our own backyard, what are the chances we can engineer a successful regime change war in Iran ?— which, by many accounts, is our nation’s next great regime change project.

I’m sorry to say this, Joe Biden, but there is no urgent need to defend the liberal international order. Let it die.

  • K.R.K.

Comments and insults can be sent to: kroeger98@yahoo.com

Things we will learn in 2019

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; December 28, 2018)

Every year we gain new information that shocks our political and social system.

For example, in the year 2018, we learned that Donald Trump is subject to the same political laws of gravity as every previous president. The party of a president with approval in the low-40s is going to get clobbered in the midterm elections and lose around 40 U.S. House seats. [OK, maybe that was known before 2018, but given 2016, more than a few people wondered if perhaps Trump and the GOP had discovered a new formula for electoral success. In fact, they have not.]

We also learned that Donald Trump is not going to change. He’s is not rising up to the office’s status, as many would like, but in reality the office is conforming to him. And that is not a criticism or a compliment of the man. It is an observable fact, for better or worse.

And finally, in 2018, though shocking to some, it is still possible to end a U.S. military engagement. In the most recent case it is Syria, where the wailing outcries of the corporate, warmongering media has been met by Trump’s stone cold resilience to their emotional seizures.

History will record the Syrian civil war as a first-order humanitarian disaster exacerbated by an Obama administration that, in pursuing regime change, actively destabilized not just Syria but two other countries (Libya and Yemen), only to see hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians die in the process. The Bashar al-Assad regime is brutal and culpable in the vast majority of those deaths, but so are the countries that thought arming anti-Assad Islamic extremists was a good idea. An man of integrity would have returned his Nobel Peace Prize in the light of such results.

So, what are we going to learn in 2019?

The most significant revelation in 2019 will probably happen towards the end of the year: Donald Trump will announce he will not run for re-election in 2020.

After months of secret negotiations with the Robert Mueller team and investigators with the FBI’s Southern District of New York, Trump will walk away from the presidency in exchange for — at a minimum — the neutering of any current or likely investigations into his children’s business and political dealings; and, more likely, there will also be an agreement to minimize Trump’s own exposure to criminal prosecution after he leaves office.

It will be a tough pill to swallow for Trump’s most ardent supporters, but equally hard to accept for the political mob that will, figuratively speaking, demand his public execution (i.e., impeachment and Senate conviction).

For the good of the Republic, that will not happen.

Like the removal of U.S. missiles in Turkey as part of the deal to end the Cuban Missile Crisis, we may never know the exact nature of the Mueller-Trump deal. But the results will be observable to everyone. Donald Trump will walk away a one-term president, his supporters lionizing his Quixotic presidency and his opponents celebrating the end of their self-imposed, four-year nightmare.

But this is where the good news might end for the Democrats, however, as they will be forced to rationalize one of the core findings likely to emerge from the Mueller investigation: Pursing evidence on a political opponent’s possible illegal activities is not illegal, even if this includes making direct or indirect contact with Vladimir Putin-connected Russians.

A more complete discussion of the legal questions surrounding the Trump-Russia collusion story can be found here. However, here is a short summary of that essay:

There is no question, based on the known evidence, that the Trump campaign aggressively pursued what they internally believed to be their golden ticket to the presidency. Find Hillary’s missing emails and win the presidency.

[Clinton-haters assume there is something incriminating in the 30,000 missing emails. I do not assume that. When has either Clinton ever written something interesting or embarrassing— much less incriminating — in an email? Never, to my knowledge. They are too smart to be that stupid.]

But finding those emails was Donald Trump Jr.’s motive when he attended the Trump Tower meeting with a Putin-connected Russian lawyer. And that is what Roger Stone was doing when he was communicating with the hacker(s) Guccifer 2.0.

And why pursue the missing Clinton emails? Set aside the presumption that Clinton was involved in illegal activities that would have been revealed had the emails been released. [The Clinton’s prefer to engage in unethical activities for which there is legal cover.] Still, the act of allowing a private email server for work communications and then deleting the emails was a major set of missteps on Hillary Clinton’s part, and probably illegal (independent of any crime being revealed in the emails themselves).

It is a federal crime (a felony) to knowingly or unknowingly destroy evidence subpoenaed by a congressional committee. Furthermore, to premeditatively prevent or impair the ability of the federal government to possess federal records (e.g., work-related emails) in an effort to avoid public transparency laws (e.g., FOIA) is also a crime.

In a court of law would Clinton or her associates have been convicted of such crimes? Probably not, particularly if establishing motives becomes relevant to prosecution.

Nonetheless, it would have been a derelict of duty for the Trump campaign not to make the effort to find the missing emails.

Unfortunately, for the Trump campaign, they were so outside the established political system that they didn’t understand how such opposition research is normally done.

A professional, well-run presidential campaign would have farmed out the task of investigating Hillary Clinton’s 30,000 deleted emails to a friendly journalist and/or private investigative firm. That is what Fusion GPS did for the Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans. In compiling the Trump dossier on the Democratic Party’s dime, what Christopher Steele did was legal. Now, what the FBI did with the dossier in its effort to justify “spying” on the Trump campaign may not have been legal. Hopefully, someday a full accounting of what really happened within the FBI in 2016 will be brought to light. Color me skeptical, however.

That said, there is already evidence of the many legal landmines Trump operatives tripped over in their pursuit of dirt on Hillary Clinton. First and foremost, you do not lie to the FBI about the existence or nature of contacts with Russians. Roger Stone, the most experienced and sophisticated of the political shitmeisters employed by Trump during the campaign, was by most accounts the most aggressive operative in getting close to the Russians. He appears to have kept those contacts indirect (e.g. Wikileaks, Guccifer 2.0) and focused on ascertaining the existence of stolen emails, as opposed to participating in their theft, providing material support to the theft, or coordinating their release subsequent to the theft.

The latter three actions would be, quite likely, illegal…and, because he is a slimy shitmeister, Roger Stone knows that.

Don’t forget that Roger Stone, perhaps more than any single human, is responsible for George W. Bush winning the presidency in 2000. It was Stone who organized the protests outside Florida’s county election offices during the recount period. It was those protests that significantly slowed down the recount effort to the point where the election officials were destined to miss the court-imposed deadline; and, hence, had the entire issue passed up to the U.S. Supreme Court. We all know how that turned out. You can thank Roger Stone.

But what the Mueller investigation has revealed so far does not constitute a conspiracy-level of wrongdoing by the Trump campaign — and certainly not by the president himself. The public evidence simply doesn’t exist.

Even prior knowledge of Russia’s social media trolling activities would not necessarily constitute a crime.

In terms of concrete evidence about a conspiracy to manipulate the 2016 presidential election, all we have is speculation and conjecture. For example,

What if Cambridge Analytica, a data analytic firm hired by the Trump campaign, shared targeting information with the Russians? [That would be illegal.]

Or how about the Israeli data firm, Psy-Group, which had a cooperative agreement with Cambridge Analytica? What if they manipulated content on social media in a coordinated effort with the Trump campaign? [That would be illegal.]

And did foreign contributions end up in the Trump campaign coffers? [Not that such a thing would be unprecedented in American political history; but that would be illegal.]

All would be interesting facts…and, if true, possible elements of a conspiracy. But such evidence has never been offered by the Mueller team or the news media.

And that is where the Mueller investigation is likely to end: A lot of interesting conjecture short on proof. A few Trump associates will be indicted for mostly process crimes (George Papadopoulos, General Michael Flynn), and perhaps low-order conspiracy charges against Roger Stone (and possibly others) for coordinating with foreign agents the release of the Russia-stolen Democratic National Committee and John Podesta emails.

If you believe the Russians stole the 2016 election (and I offer empirical evidence Wikileaks’ release of the Podesta emails did have an impact), the final Mueller report is likely to be a big letdown.

Mueller is unlikely to reveal a grand conspiracy — certainly not on the scale still promoted by the establishment media. However, Mueller has opened the door into Trump’s business and tax activities that do significantly threaten his presidency (and, possibly, his freedom). That, far more than the ersatz Trump-Russia collusion narrative, is sufficient to scare the president into an early political retirement.

And, finally, perhaps the biggest reveal in 2019 will be how much the Washington establishment has lost control and may never get it back they way they’d like.

Trump is an invasive species, much like the python snakes taking over the Florida everglades. Once they’ve invaded, the damage is not only done, it is all but impossible to reverse.

Trump, himself, may not survive politically past 2020. But what he represents — imperfectly as he does — will not go away. Power centers independent of the political establishment are already emerging within D.C. that the current establishment leaders cannot control, at least not completely.

This is particularly the case for a Democratic Party, led by Rep Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer, that has offered no answer to the demands of the party’s progressive caucus.

Progressive Democrats have at least one model for how to impact Washington politics going forward:

For 10 years the Republican’s congressional Freedom Caucus has effectively marginalized the power of the GOP’s congressional leadership — despite, as a party, controlling Congress. The Democrats’ progressive caucus is likely to do the same to their leadership with one big, BIG difference. Where the Freedom Caucus never had a true field general — Sarah Palin could have been that person had she shown a capacity for self-improvement and offered more than just her charisma and marketability to the GOP base — the progressive Democrats have deep bench of charismatic and articulate leaders.

Most of the media attention goes to newly-elected New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but she is hardly the progressive’s only field general. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) is already running intellectual circles around party dinosaurs like Howard Dean, whose “grotesque smear” of Khanna’s stance that our military occupation of Afghanistan has run its course gives a good sense of how out-of-touch the Democratic Party establishment has become.

Ocasio-Cortez, Khanna and other progressive movement leaders is perhaps even more revolutionary than the Trump phenomenon. With the exceptions of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, no female politician in my lifetime has been the target of as many personal attacks in such a short period of time — including questions about her intelligence — than Ocasio-Cortez.

And, yet, she hits back twice as hard as she receives.

Here is her response to a DC Examiner columnist who thought he was clever calling Ocasio-Cortez a ‘bitch’:

 

While sometimes she gets her objective facts wrong (on usually minor details), Ocasio-Cortez makes up for it with a natural savvy for tactical politics that Bill Clinton would envy.

Ocasio-Cortez’ prompt responses to attacks are always mixed with “grace and wit”— which makes her very un-Trumpian — but pointed enough to discourage even her most prominent critics from pursuing an extended fight on social media.

And this hasn’t happened just once or twice. She does it almost every friggin’ day. She’s like the pride-leading, female velociraptor in Jurassic Park, when she targets you, there is nowhere to run. [My wife warns me that comparing the New York congresswoman to a carnivorous dinosaur is sexist and demeaning. I vigorously disagree and I’m sticking with the comparison…]

Source: Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment

And it is not just Ocasio-Cortez showing considerable fortitude amidst constant attacks. Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) are repeatedly trolled on social media by agents of Persian Gulf governments, often over their opposition to the Saudi-led war in Yemen and efforts to isolate Iran.

“Academics, media outlets, and commentators close to Persian Gulf governments have repeatedly accused Omar, Tlaib, and Abdul El-Sayed (who made a failed bid to become governor of Michigan) of being secret members of the Muslim Brotherhood who are hostile to the governments of Saudi Arabia and the UAE,” writes Ola Salem in a recent issue of Foreign Policy.

Source: REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Of course, none of those accusations have any merit, but highlight the challenges these women, and the progressive Democrats in general, are likely to face in the future.

It may be too soon to write the obituary for Bill Clinton’s New Democrats, but this new progressive surge feels somehow different.

The new Democratic establishment darling, Beto O’Rourke — another centrist Democrat posing as a progressive without ever voting like one— may not be enough to make Americans forget how disconnected the national party is from the issues discussed across most kitchen tables in this country.

The corporatist Democrats have had a good twenty or so year run, funneling money into the pockets of their core constituencies — Wall Street bankers, pharmaceutical executives, Hollywood, Silicon Valley, the defense industry, etc. — and using the divisiveness of culture war issues to distract average Americans from more substantive matters.

That is all about to change…in a big way…and that is the most important thing we will learn in 2019.

  • K.R.K.

Comments and insults can be sent to: kroeger98@yahoo.com

Reality is the real winner if the U.S. pulls out of Syria

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; December 23, 2018)

Leave it to Hawaii Democratic Representative Tulsi Gabbard to give a reasoned and thoughtful criticism of President Donald Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria.

“We need to get our troops out of Syria ASAP, but it must be done responsibly,” she tweeted son after Trump’s decision was announced. “Turkey will see this as an invitation to invade northern Syria, decimate our Kurdish allies and strengthen jihadists like al Qaeda, ISIS, etc., undermining our national security and causing more suffering.”

She followed up with another tweet:

“The underlying problem is that for too long our leaders have had no clear direction or objective when it comes to foreign policy. So without a clear mission and objective, it’s impossible to know whether any particular decision will help us achieve that mission.”

Many serious observers of the situation in Syria, like Gabbard, understand the urgent need for the U.S. to leave Syria but also realize the U.S. needs to do so in an orderly and deliberate manner so the Kurds are not completely abandoned and ISIS is not allowed to re-establish itself.

If Gabbard is anything, she is a realist. A personal quality seriously lacking in Washington, D.C.

Syrian government troops are already dashing eastward to fill in the void that will be left after the U.S. pullout, the first goal being to secure the oil and gas rich areas critical to financing Syria’s reconstruction efforts. If Trump has gifted Assad anything, it will be the revival of Syria’s energy revenue stream.

Concurrently, the Kurdish forces in northeast Syria are fast creating and reinforcing trenches and defense barriers in preparation for what now looks like an imminent Turkish offensive against the Kurds (which, if it occurs, will be an illegal act likely to be broadly condemned within the international community).

There was no reason to believe — even a week ago — that Trump was going to make this move in Syria.

“We’re not going to leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders, and that includes Iranian proxies and militias,” said National Security Adviser John Bolton said just last September, publicly acknowledging that the U.S. presence in Syria was now less a counter-terrorism operation than a strategic maneuver to contain Iran.

Specifically, U.S. troops in Syria, particularly those stationed at Al Tanf on the Syrian-Iraqi border and near Jordan, are impeding Iran’s ability to move freely between western Iraq and Lebanon.

Presumably, Iran, Bashar al Assad, Hezbollah and ISIS are the big winners in the U.S. pullout, and the Kurds and Syria’s Sunni majority are the big losers.

But as detailed by Joost Hiltermann and Maria Fantappie for Foreign Policy magazine, the intent of the U.S. occupation in northeastern Syria has never been about establishing an independent Kurdish state (in Syria and Iraq). The Kurds were never going to be the winners once ISIS was defeated (or near defeat, as in the current situation).

“ U.S. officials had long opposed any changes to the Middle East’s borders for fear of setting off an unstoppable domino effect,” they write.

Critics of Trump’s Syria pullout are merely manipulating the Kurdish plight to justify an open-ended occupation of one-third of Syria by U.S. forces. Long before the Trump administration, the Kurds knew the U.S. was never a reliable ally.

Trump just confirmed it.

Instead, Trump just forced a level of realism into Syrian Kurdish thinking that may, in fact, lead to a sustainable arrangement between the Kurds and the Assad regime (and perhaps the Turks as well).

Despite her disapproval of Trump’s pullout decision, Maha Yahya, Director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, notes that the pullout will force the Kurds to negotiate with the Assad regime.

That is a good thing, because there was never going to be an independent Kurdish state in northeast Syria, no matter how loudly critics of the U.S. pullout scream about how close we are to achieving it.

Reality may be the big winner in Syria after the U.S. pullout.

  • K.R.K.

(Send comments and insults to kroeger98@yahoo.com)

Bella gerant alii (Let others wage war)

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; December 21, 2018)

The spread of Trump derangement syndrome is worse than previously thought.

President Trump offers an eminently defensible idea, that even progressive Democrats support, and the D.C. Beltway establishment becomes downright dotty in the head.

Upon Trump’s announcement of his decision to remove U.S. ground troops from Syria within 30 days, a predictable din of disapproval arose from the GOP war hawks, foreign policy establishment, neoliberal interventionists, and the battlefield tourists in the Beltway press.

“President Trump’s abrupt decision to pull American troops from Syria…ends a low-cost, high-impact mission and creates a vacuum that will be filled by one of a series of bad actors — Iran, Russia, Turkey, Islamic extremists, the Syrian regime — take your pick, they’re all dangerous for American interests in the Middle East,” writes Washington Post columnist David Ignatius.

“Low cost” relative to the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions and subsequent occupations, perhaps. But it is precisely these small footprint, low visibility U.S. troop deployments — dozens of which are currently ongoing across the globe — that aggregate into significant budget (taxpayer) commitments and, more ominously, increase the probability the U.S. will get drawn into larger entanglements sometime in the future.

As recently as last February, at least 200 Russian mercenaries (if they were Americans we’d call them ‘contractors’) were killed by U.S. troops during a 4-hour skirmish in Syria’s Deir al-Zour region.

Even the slightest chance that another such event like that one could spiral the U.S. and Russia — the two countries with the world’s largest nuclear arsenals — into a broader conflict should chasten even the loudest chicken hawks in the U.S. Congress and Beltway press.

The Deir al-Zour battle alone should have been enough to start the process of removing U.S. troops from Syria.

But, alas. It was not enough for our warmongering class. Since they pay no price for our forever wars and reap many of its financial benefits, the mere suggestion of the U.S. leaving Syria is heresy.

“A lot of American allies will be slaughtered if this retreat is implemented,” warned Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse.

“Russia, Iran, Assad… are ecstatic!” declares South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham.

Never mind growing evidence that Russia and Iran, situational allies at best, have disparate motives in Syria (Russia wants stability and Iran wants to pester Israel to placate the home audience) that keep open the real possibility that the Russians might limit Iran’s influence once the U.S. has left.

Furthermore, the downing of a Russian military plane in September 2018 by the Syrians, killing all 15 on board, which the Russians blamed on the Israelis, has a had a surprisingly positive impact on Russian-Israeli relations. The tragedy heightened awareness by both that the Syrian conflict cannot be allowed to bring their two countries into a direct state-of-war.

Since the downing of the Russian plane, Russia and Israel are increasingly cooperating on issues related to Syria and Hezbollah, perhaps leaving Russia, not the U.S., better positioned to stem Iranian influence in Syria.

However, my favorite soulless platitude about Trump’s Syria decision comes from one of the reporters who pushed the ‘Iraq has WMDs’ story line in the Iraq War run up and now Bloomberg columnist Eli Lake. “Trump Courts Catastrophe in Syria,” his latest column starts.

As if things had been going so well in Syria for the past seven years. We passed ‘catastrophe’ about six years ago.

Sure, Syria has stabilized in the past two years. But that was after the Obama administration ended its neocon-inspired strategy of fighting both the Bashar al Assad regime and ISIS, and to instead, with marginal cooperation from the Russians, focus on ISIS alone. To the Trump administration’s credit, they built upon the Obama strategy shift and the result has been a significant contraction in ISIS’ strength.

Yet, it is fair for critics of the Syria pullout to note that ISIS is not exactly ‘defeated,’ nor is al Qaeda. As long as their energy source remains plentiful — U.S. troops deployed throughout the Middle East — they will have a healthy number of devotees and sympathizers, with many willing to die for the cause, inshallah.

But 4,000 U.S. troops in Syria is not what stands between the end of ISIS and the rise of a new Sunni caliphate. It never was and won’t be going forward. Stabilizing Assad’s Syria has been the more direct cause of ISIS’ steady decline, as loathsome as his regime may be.

Once the Syria decision is finalized, is Afghanistan next?

In re-crafting Trump’s original tweet announcement, columnist Pat Buchanan offers this clear-eyed rationale of the intended Syria pullout:

“ We are extricating America from the forever war of the Middle East so foolishly begun by previous presidents. We are coming home. The rulers and peoples of this region are going to have to find their own way and fight their own wars. We are not so powerful that we can fight their wars while we also confront Iran and North Korea and face new Cold Wars with Russia and China.”

And once (or if) Trump’s Syria pullout is finalized, eyes will turn to Afghanistan where the U.S. has been leading an occupation for 17 years. Trump has already indicated a desire to extricate the U.S. from that morass as well. And why not? After 17 years, the end game is not in sight. What will be different if we stay another 17 years? Probably not much.

After all, what has U.S. troop surges in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2017 reaped? Where previously the Taliban controlled 40 percent of Afghan territory, now they control 70 percent. In the business world that is called a bad investment. To the forever war crowd, its the justification for another surge — only a bigger, better one.

In the end, there is no significant U.S. strategic interest in Syria or Afghanistan. It is time to let others wage war in those conflicts — bella gerant alii. It is simply not our fight. It never was.

  • K.R.K.

Comments and insults can be sent to: kroeger98@yahoo.com

Tracking possible war crimes in Yemen

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; December 19, 2018)

With the U.S. Senate recently voting to end U.S. assistance in the Saudi-UAE-led war in Yemen, the symbolic gesture may represent a genuine turning point in the three-and-a-half year conflict.

…or maybe just more false hope.

The Yemen civil war, in which no resolution is in sight, is generally portrayed as a conflict between the Houthi militia in western Yemen, a movement affiliated with the Zaidi sect of Shia Islam, and forces allied with Houthi-deposed Yemen President Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, a Sunni Muslim re-elected president in 2012 in a contest where he ran unopposed and received 100 percent of the popular vote.

Figure 1. Religious Map of Yemen

Source: European Council on Foreign Relations

 

Layered within Yemen’s complex domestic situation, however, is a proxy war between Saudi-UAE-led forces and Iran, who backs the Houthis, though their level of support is disputed. But even this proxy war is itself embedded within a larger regional contest fueled by a U.S.-Israel-Saudi-led obsession with containing Iran’s growing (but limited) influence in the Middle East. The Israeli’s have a palpable and legitimate concern with Iran’s potential to control a continuous land-based supply route between Tehran and the potent and highly-trained Hizballah forces in southern Lebanon. The long-term posture of the U.S. occupation of Syria’s eastern provinces is, in fact, largely predicated on preventing this from becoming a reality.

From the Iranian perspective, their involvement in Syria in supporting the Bashar al-Assad regime, is a much higher priority than Yemen.

“Iran has an obtainable objective in Syria: protecting one of its few allies in the Arab world,” says Dr Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “Its goals in Yemen are far less defined.”

“Although both Syria and Yemen have been within the geopolitical radar of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) for at least the last decade, the former is much more important geostrategically as it constitutes a bridge to Hizballah and the Mediterranean,” says Dr Ali Fathollah-Nejad, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center. “Iran’s Yemen activities are primarily geared towards bogging down its regional rival Saudi Arabia.”

As such, the atrocities being perpetrated against the Yemenis are predominately owned by the Saudi-led coalition forces, which is why American and British complicity is so problematic.

The civilian toll in Yemen (as best we can discern)

Any attempt to measure civilian deaths and casualties resulting from the civil war is fraught with difficult and likely to be imperfect. Nonetheless, growing international attention to the conflict is bringing with it conscientious efforts to measure its social costs.

An effort to measure Yemeni civilian deaths by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), an independent group formerly associated with the University of Sussex (UK), is one such example.

“We estimate the number killed to be 56,000 civilians and combatants between January 2016 and October 2018,” says Andrea Carboni, an ACLED researcher who focuses on Yemen. ACLED further estimates that 2,000 Yemeni civilians are now dying each month largely due to malnutrition and diseases such as cholera.

The ACLED estimate of 56,000 deaths is significantly higher than previous estimates that have typically assessed the civilian death toll in Yemen to be around 10,000.

“One reason Saudi Arabia and its allies are able to avoid a public outcry over their intervention in the war in Yemen, is that the number of people killed in the fighting has been vastly understated,” writes long-time Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn. “The figure is regularly reported as 10,000 dead in three-and-a-half years, a mysteriously low figure given the ferocity of the conflict.”

Why 10,000 deaths wouldn’t be sufficient to inspire a public outcry is unclear, but regardless of the precise number, what is clear is the consistent attention now being placed on the Yemen civil war by the European media. [Sadly, the U.S. media can’t seem to break away long enough from their mostly dishonest Trump-Russia collusion narrative to actually cover the Yemen conflict with any depth.]

And as this light is being directed towards Yemen, more attention is being focused on the genuine possibility that war crimes have been committed by the Saudi-UAE-US-UK coalition.

What is a war crime?

The body of statutes often used to define a war crime are the Geneva Conventionsthe Hague Convention on land warfare of 1907 (concerning the Laws and Customs of War), and the 1998 International Criminal Court Statute.

Article 23 of the 1907 Hague Convention expressly states that it is forbidden:

(a) To employ poison or poisoned weapons;
(b) To kill or wound treacherously individuals belonging to the hostile nation or army;
(c) To kill or wound an enemy who, having laid down his arms, or having no longer means of defence, has surrendered at discretion;
(d) To declare that no quarter will be given;
(e) To employ arms, projectiles, or material calculated to cause unnecessary suffering;
(f) To make improper use of a flag of truce, of the national flag or of the military insignia and uniform of the enemy, as well as the distinctive badges of the Geneva Convention;
(g) To destroy or seize the enemy’s property, unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war;
(h) To declare abolished, suspended, or inadmissible in a court of law the rights and actions of the nationals of the hostile party. A belligerent is likewise forbidden to compel the nationals of the hostile party to take part in the operations of war directed against their own country, even if they were in the belligerent’s service before the commencement of the war.

Similarly, Article 147 of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention defines war crimes as:

“Wilful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, including biological experiments, wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement of a protected person, compelling a protected person to serve in the forces of a hostile Power, or wilfully depriving a protected person of the rights of fair and regular trial prescribed in the present Convention, taking of hostages and extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.”

Finally, in creating the International Criminal Court (ICC), the 1998 International Criminal Court (Rome) Statute formally established the ICC’s functions, jurisdiction and structure. Specifically, it empowered the ICC to investigate and prosecute four international crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression.

The “extensive destruction…of property, not justified by military necessity” constitutes a war crime according to the Geneva Conventions and Rome Statute and, in the case of Yemen, this would seem to describe the coalition’s attacks on Yemen, particularly its water and food infrastructure (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Number of Daily Coalition Attacks on Farms and Food-related Targets (March 2015 to November 2018)

The Laws and Customs of War allow for states to attack an enemy combatant’s economic and military infrastructure in order to degrade its military effectiveness. But the primary consequence of destroying a nation’s food production and distribution system is famine among the civilian population.

That is a war crime.

In an independent report submitted in October 2018 to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, London School of Economics and Political Science Professor Emeritus Martha Mundy, the report’s author, offered this observation:

“If one places the damage to the resources of food producers (farmers, herders, and fishers) alongside the targeting of food processing, storage and transport in urban areas and the wider economic war, there is strong evidence that Coalition strategy has aimed to destroy food production and distribution in the areas under the control of Sanaa,” wrote Mundy.

“Deliberate destruction of family farming and artisanal fishing is a war crime,” she concluded, citing the 1977 Protocol I additional to the Geneva Conventions, which, through International Humanitarian Law, protects objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population.

In building the report’s case, Mundy relied heavily on data from the Yemen Data Project (YDP), which has been tracking coalition military strikes and incidents in Yemen since 2016.

Along with the ACLED, the evidence collected through the YDP’s systematic and comprehensive data collection may prove indispensable should the Saudis and its coalition partners be investigated for war crimes in the future.

The Yemen Data Project

The Yemen Data Project (YDP) is an independent, non-profit data collection project aimed at increasing the transparency over the conduct of the Yemen civil war.

The YDP collects military event data through open sources that are “cross-referenced with local and international news agencies and media reports; social media accounts, including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other video footage, and WhatsApp; reports from international and national NGOs; official records from local authorities; and reports by international human rights groups.” When independent reporting is unavailable, the data has been cross referenced with sources from opposing sides to the conflict as to ensure the reporting is as accurate and impartial as possible.

In YDP’s words, their data represents the “best current current understanding of incidents” in Yemen.

Characteristics of coalition attacks on Yemen

Many years ago I taught an introductory international politics class at The University of Iowa and one of its obligatory class segments covered the “laws of war.” As I always allocated the last 15 minutes of the class to an open discussion about the lecture topic of the day, this particular segment elicited strong opinions among students. Even the most marginal students seemed to have an opinion about how wars the acceptable rules of war.

From class to class, variants on these questions would inevitably emerge:

“How is that chemical weapons are unacceptable, but dropping atomic bombs (on Hiroshima and Nagasaki) is OK?”

“If you are at war with another country, aren’t you also at war with its citizens?”

“How can there be rules for war? It’s war!”

Unlike today’s educational environment, my classes in the early 90s made no attempt to suppress or censor ideas or opinions. The class debates were lively, contentious and open-ended, never ending in a broad consensus on what constitutes a ‘war crime’ or acceptable laws for war.

Differences of opinion were exciting in the day.

At some point during the class discussion, I would offer these quotes from U.S. Air Force General Curtis LeMay, best known for his role in planning and executing a massive bombing campaign against cities in Japan during World War II, in addition to his tenure as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force from 1961 to 1965:

“There are no innocent civilians. It is their government and you are fighting a people, you are not trying to fight an armed force anymore. So it doesn’t bother me so much to be killing the so-called innocent bystanders.”

“Killing Japanese didn’t bother me very much at that time… I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal…. Every soldier thinks something of the moral aspects of what he is doing. But all war is immoral and if you let that bother you, you’re not a good soldier.”

In no way did I endorse General LeMay’s views on civilians and warfare (in fact, I despise the man), but I shared the quotes as I felt he conveyed the fundamental argument (still made today) as to why civilians are legitimate targets in war.

Like it or not, ‘war crimes’ often depend on the eye of the beholder.

Had the U.S. lost World War II, the Allies’ fire bombing of Hamburg, Dresden and Tokyo would have defined ‘war crimes’ for generations. As it turned out, such attacks, at least from the Allies’ perspective, were just the realities of war.

Why should the war in Yemen require different rules?

Because human thinking has evolved since World War II, that’s why.

Two hypotheses about civilian targeting in the Yemen civil war

With over 18,900 military incidents between March 2015 and November 2018 in their database, the YDP offers the best open-source information available on the Yemen conflict. Along with the date and the time of day (daypart) of the incident, the YDP database also includes location and summary target information.

In analyzing this data, while I use the YDP’s data to reference the ‘target,’ it is dangerous to assume the intended ‘target’ for each incident. What we can assume, however, is that anyone on the receiving end of a coalition bombing attack felt like a ‘target’ and so that is how I define the term in the following analyses.

The guiding purpose in this analysis, therefore, is to describe the anti-Houthi coalition’s ‘targeting’ as part of the process in determining whether civilians were systematically targeted.

The YDP dataset alone, however, cannot discern the targeting intent of the coalition’s military leadership, but it offers one of the best open-source insights into this question: How would we know if civilians were systematically targeted by the coalition?

Short of possessing internal coalition communications and targeting process memos, we are forced to discern targeting intent through identifying patterns within the attacks. And to do that, we must start with hypotheses regarding the patterns we’d expect to see in the YDP data if the targeting of civilians was premeditated and systematic.

Let us start with a hypothesis, if true, would go a long way in exonerating the coalition from charges of targeting civilians.

H1: If coalition attacks against Yemeni civilians were incidental, their occurrence within the YDP data should be patternless, random events that otherwise track closely to the coalition’s non-civilian attack patterns.

And even if this hypothesis (H1) is rejected by the data and we find a pattern within civilian attacks, we may still find evidence that the coalition, while targeting civilians areas, systematically made an effort to avoid excessive civilian casualties.

Our second hypothesis addresses how the data might reflect that reality.

H2: If, in targeting civilian areas in pursuit of military objectives, the coalition attempted to minimize civilian casualties, we should expect coalition targeting of civilian areas to be concentrated on dayparts when civilians tend to be away from their homes.

Specifically, civilians tend to be at home in the evening, nighttime, and early morning hours and away from home in the morning, midday and afternoon hours. Did the coalition systematically try to avoid hitting civilian areas during dayparts when people tend to be home?

Let’s to go the data and see what we find…

Characteristics of coalition attacks on Yemen

Before testing our two hypothesis, let us describe the YDP data more generally.

Figure 3 (below) breaks out the targets of every coalition attack since March 2015 and finds that 35 percent of the coalition’s targets since March 2015 were military or security related, followed by ‘unknown’ targets (33%) and civilian targets (13%). Infrastructure targets (transportation and economic, etc.) accounted for 14 percent of all coalition targets.

Figure 3. Coalition Targets

 

Military and civilians targets were the primary focus of coalition attacks against Houthi forces between March 2015 and November 2018. And as seen in Figure 4 (below), the coalition attacks tended to occur at all parts of the day, though most occurred between midday and the early evening hours.

Figure 4. Coalition Attacks by Daypart

 

A mapping of coalition attacks (Figure 5) closely correlates with the tribal and religious clusters within Yemen, with the most intense bombing experienced in areas populated by the Zaidi (Shia) and Isma’ili (Shia) tribes in the Saada governorate.

Figure 5. Coalition Attacks by Governorate (March 2015 to November 2018)

 

The distribution of coalition attacks over time highlights two other major features of the Yemen civil war (see Figure 6). First, the number of daily attacks have generally decreased over time, going from about 20 per day between March 2015 and March 2017 to about 10 per day after March 2017. The second feature is a more dramatic decrease in attacks during a ceasefire period in May 2016.

Figure 6. Number of Daily Coalition Attacks (March 2015 to November 2018)

Besides the modest decline in the coalition’s daily attack tempo over the three-and-a-half years of the civil war, there are no other obvious patterns (e.g., seasonal) within the YDP data. However, the task here is to discerns patterns (or lack thereof) within the coalition’s attacks on civilian targets.

To do that, let us look closer at the YDP’s civilian target data.

Are Yemeni civilians being targeted by the coalition?

At this point, a brief understanding of what was included (and not included) in the YDP’s definition of a civilian target is helpful. Almost 75 percent of civilian targets in the YDP database were residential areas, followed by vehicles/buses (12%) and market places (9%). There were even 51 attacks on mosques, representing two percent of all attacks on civilian targets.

Figure 7. Sub-categories of Civilian Targets

Source: Yemen Data Project (Data covers period from March 2015 to November 2018) 

There are other civilian targets such as schools and medical facilities which YDP breaks out separately; though, those targets represent less than three percent of all coalition targets (see Figure 3 above).

My sub judice presumption is that, if civilian attacks are not the conscious result of military targeting, then their occurrences over time (‘accidents’ if you will) should be distributed randomly.

That is essentially the argument the Saudis have made when confronted by the international community about civilian casualties in the Yemen conflict.

In October 2018, after the Saudis had killed over 40 school children during an airstrike in August, Saudi Defense Minister Osaiker Alotaibi told an international investigatory panel that the Saudi-led alliance had a list of 64,000 civilian targets in Yemen that they would never attack, including schools and hospitals. Alotaibi stated further to the panel that previous civilian casualties were the result of “unintentional mistakes” and were not premeditated.

But in his testimony to the panel, Alotaibi also said the Houthis were putting civilians — including children — in harm’s way by using schools and hospitals as “refuges” for Houthi fighters.

Houthi representatives strongly deny Alotaibi’s accusation.

Regardless, if the Saudi ‘sloppy targeting’ defense is truthful, we should see evidence of it in the YDP data. Specifically, we should find the number of civilian attacks from day-to-day to be strongly correlated with the number of non-civilian attacks (primarily military/security-related targets); and, where they are not related, the variation in civilian attacks should be randomly distributed over time. Noise, in other words.

Figure 8 (below) plots civilian and non-civilian attacks over time, as well as the trend for each. Clearly, civilian and non-civilian attacks are correlated. Notice in both charts the three spikes in attacks between October 2015 and August 2016. Also, both show a similar downward trend in daily frequency.

On the surface, therefore, there is evidence to support the Saudi’s ‘sloppy targeting’ defense.

Figure 8. Number of Daily Coalition Attacks on Civilian and Non-Civilian Targets (March 2015 to November 2018)

But surface looks can be deceiving, and a more formal analysis was done to see if civilian targeting was, in fact, merely collateral damage resulting from an otherwise legitimate military targeting process.

To do that, I first regressed the number of civilian target events on the number of non-civilian target events and used the residual from that equation to represent variation in civilian target events unrelated to non-civilian target events. Subsequently, I conducted a residual analysis to determine if the model residuals were normally-distributed, random noise.

Figure 9 (below) shows that the variation in the number of civilian attacks not explained by non-civilian attacks (i.e., the residual) is not a normal, randomly distributed variable.* More importantly, we can conclude that the day-to-day variation in coalition attacks on civilian targets cannot be explained by the military necessities of non-civilian targeting.

*The Shapiro-Wilk test of normality was highly significant, indicating the data was not normally distributed.

Figure 9. Normal Q-Q Plot and Detrended Q-Q Plot of Unstandardized Residual from a Linear Model of Number of Civilian Targets Regressed on Number of Non-Civilian Targets

We have rejected our first hypothesis (H1) that civilian attacks by the coalition were merely the product of a legitimate military targeting process, but is there any evidence the coalition tried to minimize civilian casualties when they targeted civilian areas?

To answer that question, I looked at coalition attacks on civilian and non-civilian targets by daypart (early morning, morning, midday, afternoon, evening, night). It is reasonable to presume that any attempt by the coalition to minimize civilian casualties would involving striking civilian targets (typically residential areas) during a time of day when civilians would not be home: namely, the midday and afternoon dayparts.

In Figures 10 and 11 (below) we see evidence of exactly that.

Where non-civilian attacks have tended to occur in the early morning (11%), evening (15%) and night (13%) dayparts, civilian attacks have tended to occur at midday (19%) and in the afternoon (15%). This is consistent with the Alotaibi claim that the coalition has in place procedures to avoid unnecessary civilian casualties.

Still, approximately 28 percent of coalition attacks on civilian targets — most often residential areas — have occurred at times when people tend to be home (evening, night, early morning) — which translates into 688 separate and verifiable incidents (about one incident every other day) that the coalition attacked a civilian target at time when people will tend to be home.

Figure 10. Coalition Attacks on Yemeni Civilian vs. Non-Civilian Targets (by Daypart)

Figure 11 offers further evidence that the coalition may have preferred the midday and afternoon dayparts for attacks on civilian targets. Where civilian targets constitute around 13 percent of all attacks, they represent percent of between 22 and 25 percent of attacks in the midday and afternoon. This suggests the coalition may make an effort to minimize civilian casualties by conducing their attacks on targets in civilian areas at times when people tend to be at work, school or away from home.

This finding may not fully exonerate the Saudi-led coalition for possible war crimes committed against Yemeni civilians, but should the coalition partners face an ICC inquiry, it may offer at least partial exculpatory evidence.

Figure 11. Coalition Attacks by Target and Daypart

Final thoughts and next steps

What is most striking in the YDP data is the unrelenting consistency of the coalition’s operational tempo against Yemen. The bombers take very few days off.

Apart from the brief ceasefire period in May 2016, the coalition has unleashed almost 19,000 separate attacks on Yemen within less than four years (1,333 days). That works out to between 10 to 20 attacks every day.

And to what end? There is no evidence that the Houthis are going to relinquish power in western Yemen, and while there has been a slight decline in the coalition’s operational tempo since the Saudi’s assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, the coalition’s attacks show no sign of ending soon either. And as long as the conflict continues, the work of the YDP and other similar independent groups are going to be critical for the foreseeable future.

And who will be paying attention to this unfolding tragedy that the UN calls the ‘world’s worst humanitarian disaster?

With all due respect to the U.S. Senate vote condemning the Saudi’s actions in Yemen, don’t expect much more from the America’s greatest deliberative body. There are few Capitol Hill advocates for Yemen, which controls no major oil or gas reserves and is home to not one oligarch likely to attend Davos next year. Taken together, this all but guarantees Yemen will not stay on the front burner of Senate business.

Even the world’s news media organizations have taken a ho-hum approach to covering the Yemen tragedy, as they have been far more more preoccupied with the conflict in Syria. The U.S. media, in particular, continues to show little interest in Yemen. In an analysis by media journalist Adam Johnson, it was found that between July 3, 2017 and July 3, 2018, MSNBC (the number one cable news network in that period) dedicated “zero segments to the US’s war in Yemen, but 455 segments to Stormy Daniels.”

That pretty much sums up American broadcast journalism today.

With that backdrop, this article represents the first in a series of data analyses I will be conducting on the YDP data. Additionally, I will be augmenting the YDP event data with other data sources (such the temporal-geographic distribution of cholera cases) to further investigate the impact the coalition’s attacks have had on the Yemen civilian population.

Only with transparency will there be any chance to hold Saudi Arabia, UAE, and their coalition partners accountable for their actions in Yemen.

-K.R.K.

Atlantic basin tropical cyclones are increasing in frequency and intensity

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; December 12, 2018)

Nothing brings more hate mail to my inbox than articles I write about climate change.

It’s the new Obamacare. Not open for debate. It’s the third rail of Democratic Party politics. Any criticism, no matter how minor, of the tactics or policy proposals generated by the activist community is unacceptable. And you will be called an uneducated, bucktoothed climate change denier — which was one of the more civil comments I received concerning my article on France’sYellow Vest protests.

What is it about climate change?

I write about Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez being the Democrats’ most charismatic and intuitive politician and compare her to John F. Kennedy…not a peep.

I declare the elections of Rashida Tlaib and Illhan Omar to the U.S House the most important election outcomes in 2018…not one hostile comment.

I call out the faux-outrage over Megyn Kelly’s ‘black face’ comment and rue her firing by NBC…and, again, nada.

But I suggest carbon taxes that disproportionately hurt low-income households are politically nonviable, and that climate change activists that drive BMWs and regularly vacation in the Maldives are hypocrites and probably frauds…and boom, here comes Mother Mary Joseph Rogers, and I get annihilated.

‘Your ignorance of the science shines through in every dim-witted, ill-informed sentence you burden on your readers,” wrote one of my more loyal readers.

“Blood is already on the hands of people like you who stand in the way of climate change justice,” wrote another reader. [Is there a word more chronically overused and misused than ‘justice?’ Climate change justice? What does that even mean? The word ‘justice’ has become a verbal tic for the progressive left. Similar to how teenagers say ‘like’ all the time. We need a new word. I nominate ‘fairness.’]

“You’re a f**king denier.” was the punctuated end to another email response I received.

Nice.

Unfortunately, for those critics at least, it is not possible to find one sentence I’ve ever written on climate change where I’ve denied its reality, its human origins, or the urgency of its mitigation.

Not once.

If anything, my analyses of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and International Energy Agency (IEA) public use data match closely to the forecasts made by mainstream climate scientists.

Case in point, my simple-model forecast for global temperatures (land and ocean) through 2100 is not optimistic. Using an non-dynamic (atheoretic) model where I assume the process generating past temperature anomalies will continue into the future, I forecast the world will pass the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) ceiling target of 1.5° C warming around 2050 and reach 3.0° C around 2100.

Figure 1. Land and ocean temperature index

 

It is impossible to look at the historical data in Figure 1 and not see a positive trend in global temperatures. Some global warming skeptics focus on the brief period between 1930 and 1945 where global temperatures increased more rapidly (almost 1.0° C in just 15 years) than they are now. Clearly, that represents recent evidence that natural factors (non-human related) do affect global temperatures in a systematic way. But the same evidence also demonstrates the temporary nature of the 1930–45 warming period and how it returned to ‘normal’ from 1950 to the mid 1970s.

And then global temperatures started to increase and have continued to do so up to the present. The infamous ‘pause’ between 1998 and 2012 was just that…a temporary pause.

Feel free to question the simplicity of my forecast model, but I do gain some satisfaction in knowing that my prediction of 3.0° C warming by 2100 tracks closely with much more sophisticated models, including ones published in recent IPCC reports (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Global Temperature Predictions

I thought this article was about tropical cyclones and hurricanes?

Critics of the recent IPCC report issued this fall noted that its authors admitted a degree of uncertainty in the conclusion that tropical cyclones (tropical storms, typhoons and hurricanes) have increased in frequency or intensity (energy) due to global warming.

Tweeting out at the release of the IPCC report, University of Colorado climatologist Roger Pielke, Jr. observed:

 

Pielke and his colleagues also recently released updated research on trends in hurricane damage in which they concluded: “Consistent with observed trends in the frequency and intensity of hurricane landfalls along the continental United States since 1900, the updated normalized loss estimates also show no trend.”

One of the problems with IPCC reports (and the recent U.S. government report on climate change) is that the reports’ executive summaries written for policymakers tend to sound more dire than the actual science detailed in these same reports.

That is the unfortunate outcome when science meets politicians.

Regardless, I am a bit puzzled why there is so much hesitation within the scientific community to declare that we are seeing a definite increase in the frequency and intensity of tropical cyclones (at least in the Atlantic basin). I realize, unlike me, climatologists such as Pielke have actual credentials. So when Pielke and his colleagues say there are no trends in hurricane damage, I take it seriously.

But I don’t see how anyone can deny that there are more frequent and powerful hurricanes in the Atlantic basin over the past thirty years.

Figure 3 shows National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) historical data on tropical cyclones in the Atlantic basin. It should also be noted that these trends are not significantly affected by the date I chose to start the series. I use 1964 as the starting date because that marks the beginning of NASA’s Nimbus weather satellite program in which the U.S. maintained continuous satellite coverage of weather patterns in the north Atlantic. I could have chosen 1960, or 1950, or 1857. It didn’t matter. The positive trends were consistent across starting points.

 

This significance in the increase in the frequencies of tropical storms, hurricanes, and major hurricanes is not marginal. The upward trends are strong, particularly for the number of tropical storms. By 2100, the Atlantic basin will experience around 26 tropical storms annually, compared to 15 today. The number of hurricanes will increase from about 8 per year now to 12 by the end of the century. Likewise, major storms will increase from about 3 to almost 6 annually by 2100.

Three more major storms in the Atlantic each year will be one of the tangible consequences of global warming.

So what should we do?

If we give Nancy Pelosi and Frank Pallone control of $4 trillion more dollars in the next 20 years, I guarantee most of it will get funneled to big, Democrat-aligned money donors. I guarantee it. And only then will the Republicans find Jesus on climate change so they too can get their friends in on the financial windfall.

What will be the most cost-effective way to address climate change? A prosperous, free market economy empowering people with good, private sector jobs to make the decisions necessary to meet the challenges of climate change. It will be household-level decisions that determine the extent to which climate change negatively impacts the U.S. and the world.

For example,

  • People need to start moving away from vulnerable coastlines, lowland inlets, riverbanks and areas vulnerable to wild fires. As we saw sadly in California, there is no fire-retardant building material that can always stop a massive wild fire from destroying a home. And low-income households in such areas may need financial help in that regard (so adding more taxes to their life does not sound like an idea that moves that all forward).
  • Insurance companies need to increasingly factor in the risks associated with climate change. That will be a powerful motivator for decisive action at a microeconomic-level.
  • Governments need to adjust zoning laws and building codes. Some graduate student should do a case study on how Oregon effectively limits housing and commercial development along its coastline.
  • Government debt— at all levels — needs to be reduced to help spur private investments in the new technologies that will transform the world’s energy economy (electric cars, battery storage, carbon capture and sequestration, smart grid energy systems, etc.).
  • To avoid the crucial mistakes Germany has made in moving too fast on renewable energy, the U.S. needs to increase (not decrease) the role of natural gas will play in the next 20 to 30 years as a transitional energy source as we wait for battery storage technologies improve.
  • If current levels are maintained in the U.S., nuclear power will provide critical power capacity to keep us on track to have near-100 percent non-fossil fuel electricity generation by 2050. Even so, we may end up envying those countries that have maintained an expertise in nuclear power plant construction as their transition to zero-emissions may occur faster and with lower average costs to consumers. Don’t be surprised if Pakistani, Indian or Chinese companies end up re-building the U.S. nuclear power industry in the latter half of this century. I’m sure they will be more than happy to build such plants in the U.S., for the right price.

What not to do?

  • Stop trying to further empower politicians and bureaucrats by giving them more of our money. They already have enough money at their disposal to address climate change. They just need better priorities (and they can start by ending a few of our current war entanglements). Besides, what major national problem has the U.S. government ever solved in the past thirty years? We are better off leaving Uncle Sam with a minor support role and let the private sector drive the transition to 100-percent renewable energy.
  • Don’t build out renewable energy capacities too soon, as a lot of that technology will be out-of-date just as it comes online. Furthermore, if too much of the build-out is done before critical battery storage technologies have advanced far enough to address renewable energy’s intermittency problem, it will increase energy costs, disproportionately hurting low- and middle-income households.
  • Stop using climate change as a partisan wedge issue. It is hurting the ability of the U.S. to address climate change in a long-term, effective manner. The consequences of this approach are clear: U.S. climate change policy yo-yo’s from one administration to the next. The Democrats take charge and implement their climate initiatives, only to have the Republicans reverse them once they take control. And, no, the Democrats are not on the cusp of a permanent electoral majority that will prevent the Republicans from regaining control of the government. A new generation of climate change activists therefore are needed that, on the one hand, are not dedicated to punishing corporate America (particularly the big oil and gas companies) and, on the other hand, are not bought and paid for by that same corporate America. They will need to be what was once called a non-partisan, independent policy advocate. They used to roam freely and in relatively large numbers around Washington, D.C. Now, they are all but extinct. For climate change to be confronted rationally, that has to change.

So, there you go. I solved the climate change problem just in time to catch the end of another Glenn Beck history lecture on Woodrow Wilson. It is amazing how much Glenn can come up with about our 28th president.

-K.R.K.

I am the original ‘snowflake’

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; December 11, 2018)

Stories like this are the red meat Fox News has built an empire around. An elementary school principal in a Manchester, Nebraska public school issued a memo to staff prohibiting all Christmas-related practices and symbols.

The memo (found here) started most inauspiciously:

It seems that I have stumbled upon a ‘big rock’ that I hadn’t anticipated. I know that you all are very kind and conscientious people. I know all of the things you’d like to do, have done, want to do are coming from such a good place. I come from a place that Christmas and the like are not allowed in schools…

Banned items listed in the memo included Santas, Christmas trees, “Elf on the Shelf,” singing Christmas Carols, playing Christmas music, Candy Canes and reindeer, homemade ornament gifts, Christmas movies and red and green items.

The banned item that drew particular attention was the candy cane, which, according to the memo, was shaped as a ‘J’ for Jesus and striped red and white to represent ‘the blood of Christ’ and the resurrection, respectively.

Never mind that there is no evidence that the candy cane originated as a Christian religious symbol, the principal’s prohibition left no opportunity for anything remotely scriptural to trickle into her school.

The conservative commentariat went nuts.

 

Appearing on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, conservative writer Mark Steyn observed about the Nebraska principal’s decision, “When the founders came up with the idea of the separation of church and state they didn’t want President Washington being the head of the church of America as the Queen is the head of the Church of England. That’s it. And like a lot of sane concepts, its metastasized into something utterly insane. And when you are actually banning two of the colors on the color spectrum, red and green, so there’s only orange, yellow and blue left, you are bonkers. You are nuts.”

Normally, I would be echoing these howls of outrage at yet another example of political correctness run amok.

Not this time, however.

Well, more accurately, my emotions are mixed on this story.

It is sad anyone has to say, “She was wrong to ban the colors red and green.” Obviously, the principal went too far. I hope there is no one defending thataction.

But…the issue cuts too close to the bone for me to dismiss this principal’s intentions out of hand. In fact, if you read the principal’s memo, she was clearly struggling with the decision and understood the impending crap storm she was going to unleash. But she did it anyway. And why? Because she understands one of the basic principles behind a public school education is that no child should be made to feel unnecessarily uncomfortable. Yes, children will be uncomfortable about taking exams or giving speeches as part of their school curriculum. But they should never be afraid of school because of their race, sex, or religious background.

And that’s not just some lefty, do-gooder speaking. Former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, of all people, once said as much while interviewing comedian Chris Rock, who had generated some controversy over a comedy bit where he said school bullies are an essential part of growing up. In Rock’s view, bullies teach us how to cope with life’s guaranteed challenges.

I couldn’t disagree with him more.

I’ve carried one of those traumatizing school experiences for more than 40 years now. The year was 1975 and I was in the sixth grade in Cedar Falls, Iowa. It was the last school day before the start of Christmas break and my teacher, Mrs. Parisho, who up to that day had been one of my favorite teachers ever, decided to kill some time before the end-of-school bell rang.

The whole event probably didn’t take more than 10 minutes.

A devout Catholic, Mrs. Parisho often talked about her Catholic school upbringing in Pittsburgh. She was good a storyteller who often used her childhood memories to kill time. As students, we had no complaints about that. We particularly loved hearing how strict school was in ‘her day.’ I don’t know why we loved those types of stories, but we did.

Unfortunately, on this particular day, her childhood Christmas story segued into a question she posed to each of us in her class: “What church do you go to?”

In the class of 20 or so kids, I am certain there was only one non-Christian (a friend of mine that was Jewish). And then there was me.

Raised a Unitarian — a religious community that professes its acceptance of all faiths — I was terrified about how I would answer the question as my turn was about to come up. Do I say ‘Unitarian’ and just hope nobody asks about what that means. Do I say ‘Methodist’ or ‘Lutheran’ and take the chance a classmate might say, “Hey, I go to the Lutheran church! I’ve never seen you at the Lutheran church!”

I went with ‘I go to the Unitarian church’ and prayed the bell would ring so I could get the heck out there.

The bell didn’t ring (bad news), but the class was silent (good news). I don’t think anybody had clue what a Unitarian was. Fine with me.

And then Mrs Parisho had to interject (why, I will never know): “Class, have you ever heard of the Unitarians? Kent, why don’t you tell us something about Unitarians? Do they believe in Christ?

I have no doubt she was being genuinely inquisitive about my family’s faith, not judgmental or dismissive. But her intentions didn’t matter. Not at that moment. I fumbled for an answer. I don’t even remember what I said. What I do remember are the muffled giggles and one lifelong nemesis then blurting out, “They’re atheists!” The barely audible laughing became deafening.

I was not and am not an atheist. But there was no point in entering into a theological discussion with a kid best known for bringing to school pages he had ripped from his brother’s Playboy magazines. My humiliation was complete and irreversible, anyway. I only could have made things worse.

When the bell rang, I ran to my locker and then home, feeling ill to my stomach the whole time. I didn’t immediately tell my parents about what happened. I may have told them years later, but I don’t remember doing so. What would be the point?

Long story short. I have no problem with keeping religious customs and decorations out of public schools. Its not a war on Christmas. Its just common sense.

If this makes me a snowflake, then fine, I’m a snowflake.

As for the Nebraska principal, she was placed on administrative leave soon after the story broke in the media.

I feel bad for her. She was trying to do that right thing for her students.

-K.R.K.