The data behind this essay (which can be read on Medium.com) is available for download here ===> OIL_TERRORISM_DATA_CSV_2001_2018.
The data behind this essay (which can be read on Medium.com) is available for download here ===> OIL_TERRORISM_DATA_CSV_2001_2018.
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
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).
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.
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.
By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; January 11, 2019)
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.
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.
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
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)
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.
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
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?
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.
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.
An example of a state-level anti-BDS law:
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:
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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:
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)
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.
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.
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.
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. economy, ABC 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
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
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.
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)
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
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.
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.
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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:
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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…]
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.
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.
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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.
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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.
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.
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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
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.
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.
The body of statutes often used to define a war crime are the Geneva Conventions, the 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 (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.
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.
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…
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.
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
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
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.
By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; November 2, 2018)
Americans, we are being conned. We have been trained by the political and media establishment to not see the forest for the trees. If we did, we might very well vote them all out of power.
Instead, we buy the myths they sell and reflect them back to the establishment every two years when we go to the polls.
And what is the biggest myth? That our growing partisan divide — which is real when viewed across all possible issues — defines our current political state of affairs.
Name almost any issue and you will most likely find Americans deeply split along party lines.
Transgender rights. Climate change. Gun control. Abortion rights. On every one of these issues, the rift between Americans seems irreparable. And none more so than on immigration.
The rhetoric by both political parties on immigration over the past few months has bordered on apocalyptic and has been mostly dishonest. The Democrats cry ‘Racism!’ — though, there is no deterministic relationship between racism and wanting to control a country’s borders. Conversely, the Republicans accuse the Democrats of cultural sabotage and treason — when, in fact, new immigrants from Latin America are among our country’s fastest growing population of new entrepreneurs.
Most of what is heard on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News regarding the migrant ‘caravan’ on its way to the U.S. border is tripe, creating far more heat than light — yet, this issue may well help determine the outcomes in a number of critical U.S. House and Senate races next week.
This country is so enormous and powerful, it can absorb the 7,500 migrants like the Borg assimilates entire star systems on Star Trek. Fox News’ Shepherd Smith got it exactly right when he said this week, “There is no invasion. No one’s coming to get you. There’s nothing at all to worry about.” Score one for the Democrats.
Sadly, the Democrats are just as mendacious.
A nation wanting to control entry and exit across its borders is not manifest racism. It is what countries are supposed to do. Since the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648, controlling one’s borders is part of what defines a nation-state.
But this issue is nonetheless going to partially define the 2018 midterm elections. It is unfortunate because, once again, Americans have been duped into thinking immigration policy is going to determine our country’s trajectory over the next few decades.
It will not.
Yes, immigration policy is important and, particularly as it relates to state-level budgetary pressures, sharp attention to our southern border should not be dismissed as irrelevant or used to slander the millions of Americans — both Republicans and Democrats — who believe stopping or slowing illegal immigration is a good idea.
The real purpose of the immigration debate, however, is that it feeds the current narrative that Americans are more divided than ever. While true on a superficial level, this narrative cloaks the true nature of the American political and economic system — a system best defined by a bipartisan, durable consensus among the political, media and financial elites regarding the nation’s policy priorities.
When researchers recently determined that the policy priorities of the U.S. are far more representative of economic elites’ interests over those of middle class Americans, what they are seeing is this bipartisan consensus among elites.
And what are these ‘policy priorities’?
As Mohandas Gandhi famously said, “Action expresses priorities.” And nowhere does his quote obtain more relevance than in the U.S. context.
And to know our country’s highest priorities, we need only look at how it spends our federal dollars (Figures 1 and 2).
Figure 1. U.S Mandatory Budget (2019)
Figure 2. U.S. Discretionary Budget (2019)
All told, our federal government has four priorities: (1) Social Security, (2) Medicare/Medicaid, (3) Defense, and (4) Unemployment Insurance and Income Security programs. In addition to mandatory and discretionary spending, there is a third federal spending category: interest on the national debt. According to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the U.S. will pay $363 billion in interest on the debt in 2019, or about half of what we spend on the military ($727 billion). By 2026, interest paid on the debt will double.
In total, the mandatory and discretionary budgets come in around four trillion dollars, with mandatory spending accounting for 70 percent of this spending. For the remaining $1.19 trillion in discretionary spending, the military eats up 61 percent of the budget, and when discretionary veterans’ benefits are added, it comes close to 70 percent.
These budget priorities have defined the American political consensus since 1964, when LBJ passed his Great Society legislation with bipartisan support.
For all the heat generated in today’s partisan political environment, when it comes to the major elements of the federal budget, the establishment wings of both parties couldn’t be more bipartisan and cooperative with each other.
On an 85 to 10 vote, the U.S. Senate passed the Trump administration’s bloated 2019 defense budget with the help of 38 Democrats. Only two deficit-hawk Republicans, Rand Paul (Kentucky) and Mike Lee (Utah), and Democratic Senators Dianne Feinstein (California), Kirsten Gillibrand (New York), Kamala Harris (California), Ed Marley (Massachusetts), Jeff Merkley (Oregon), Ron Wyden (Oregon) and Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts) voted against the defense authorization bill. Independent Senator Bernie Sanders (Vermont) also voted against the bill. It is not a coincidence that four of the eight Dem./Ind. Senators who voted ‘No’ are likely to run for president in 2020.
Knowing the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee will need substantial support from the party’s progressive wing, the Democrat’s Senate leadership likely released its prospective presidential candidates to vote against the defense authorization bill to enhance their viability in 2020.
The result was similar in the House, with 139 Democrats joining the GOP to pass the 2019 defense authorization bill.
It is not a mystery why Congress can muster up so much bipartisanship when it generously funds the military or Social Security or Medicare/Medicaid. It isn’t just the political elites who are bipartisan — the American people are equally unified on these issues.
You wouldn’t know it by watching the news or reading a newspaper. But it is true — the American people are unified on the nation’s biggest budget priorities (though there is evidence that progressive Democrats and some libertarian Republicans are prepared to tear down the existing consensus).
One of the fundamental mistakes made by political scientists and pundits when they observe the significant and growing partisan divide in the U.S is this: they generally treat all issues as equal, which makes Americans look like they disagree on most everything.
If one were to quantify the opinion gap between partisans across all of these issues, the reasonable conclusion would be that Americans are deeply divided (see Figure 3).
Providing assistance to the world’s needy — a 43-point gap. Government assistance to the unemployed — a 34-point gap. Environmental protection — a 32-point gap.
But what is more interesting is where Americans tend to agree, regardless of party affiliation: Defense spending — a 19-point gap. Medicare — a 10-point gap. Social Security — a 7-point gap.
Figure 3. Where do Americans want to cut federal spending? (Pew Research, 2017)
Figure 3 shows how public opinion is nicely aligned with where Congress places its budgetary priorities. But doesn’t that argue against the conclusion that elites drive public policy more than mass opinion?
The 2014 Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page research study I’ve cited many times in my work demonstrates that the strongest causal arrow goes from elite opinion to public policy outcomes. Gilens and Page, in fact, address this criticism in a reply to their critics, published in 2016 in The Washington Post. In their study, even when mass opinion strongly correlated with elite opinion, there was still enough of a difference in elite opinion to show its more significant influence on public policy.
Regardless, the current bipartisan consensus on military, Social Security and Medicare spending is real, it has driven this nation’s budget priorities at least since the mid-60s, and it serves — not accidentally — the long-term interests of economic elites.
And this latter point gets at why the partisan divide con is hazardous to our democracy.
Political scientist Michael Parenti observed over 30 years ago that “the state is more than a front for the economic interests it serves; it is the single most important force that corporate America has at its command.” But to control that force, control must extend to the mass populace that possesses the potential through the democratic process to constrain corporate America’s power over the state.
Where Parenti gets too deep into gooey socialist dogma, a more temperate understanding of the American economic system recognizes the significant self-interest economic elites have in propagandizing their policy preferences to the public, particularly to voters. More covertly, especially when the policy status quo is already in corporate American’s favor, there is a strong incentive to distract the general public so they won’t disrupt the status quo through the voting booth.
Migrant caravans. A #MeToo take down of another media executive. Fake news. Shadow banning on Twitter. What does Melania’s jacket say again? Russia. Russia. Russia. Stormy Daniels.
The con is that we are fighting our political battles over issues that pale in importance to issues such as military spending, an inefficient and costly health care system, or keeping Social Security and Medicare solvent.
But hasn’t health care been one of the biggest election issues over the past 10 years?
Yes, and it resulted in Congress passing Obamacare in 2009 (along strict party lines), but even its most ardent supporters recognized the program’s flaws and uncertainties would make it vulnerable to dismemberment should the GOP take back control of the government (which they did in 2016— though they failed to subsequently repeal Obamacare!).
What defines Obamacare as much as anything is that it doesn’t substantively address the many of the problems in the current employer-based health care system, while it protected pharmaceutical companies from genuine price competition, and did little to reduce the administrative costs generated by private health insurance companies.
Obamacare is the type of health care reform you create if you want to protect the vested interests that dominate the U.S. health care system: pharmaceutical companies, health insurance providers, physicians, hospitals and the government.
Don’t ever forget this fact — Obamacare was originally a Republican idea.
Why did the Democrats fail to truly reform the U.S. health care system when they had the chance in 2009? Because they really didn’t want to reform it. Obamacare focused on the margins where it could have an impact on the uninsured. For the rest of the health care system, Obamacare’s impact has been minimal.
It is not hyperbole to suggest that establishment Democrats are heavily influenced by their big campaign donors from the health care industry.
In that regard, it is disheartening to look at the biggest U.S. Senate candidate recipients of pharmaceutical PAC money during the current election cycle. Of the Top 20 recipients, 13 are Democrats (see Figure 4).
Figure 4. Top 20 Senate candidate recipients of pharmaceutical PAC money (2018 election cycle).
Despite what our good-spirited Republican Representative Steve King (New York) calls the ‘greatest health care system in the world,’ the U.S. health care system is inefficient, too costly, and produces inferior health outcomes. We don’t even have the best health care system on the North American continent.
Unfortunately, recent history offers no evidence that voting for Democrats will do anything to change that fact.
But that is exactly why the partisan divide con is so corrosive — because voters actually believe there is a significant difference between establishment Democrats and establishment Republicans on health care. There is not.
It is not just health care system where the status quo has become so entrenched that it is now nearly impossible to reform.
Where Bill Clinton gave us the concept of the never-ending campaign, George W. Bush and Barack Obama gave us the never-ending wars. Demonstrating in retrospect a certain degree of moderation when compared to his successor, George W. Bush kept our number of military ground wars and occupations down to two (Iraq and Afghanistan). Ah, those were the days.
Obama, on the other hand, jacked that up to seven (Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan) and Trump would clearly love to add Iran and Venezuela to that list.
The Obama administration’s lust for bombing Muslims, while feigning its commitment to peace, is a deadly example of how the partisan divide conworks: (1) Convince Americans of your party’s virtue (and the opposition party’s lack thereof), (2) enlist your media allies to promote this false posture, and (3) sit back and wait for the votes to roll in (and possibly even win a Nobel Peace Prize along the way).
I’m not even singling out Obama here. The same outcome would have happened had Hillary or John or Mitt been president. When it comes to war, it doesn’t seem to matter anymore who sits in the White House — which, of course, is why the partisan divide con is so important to status quo elites. There are no consequences anymore for bad policy outcomes since they can be drowned out in a sea of partisan rancor and recriminations.
The good news, therefore, is that when you go into the voting booth on Tuesday, your vote will not carry the burden of deciding whether this country will continue its never-ending war policy. That policy is already established and locked down. I mean, if killing 40 Yemeni children on a bus field trip is not enough to get the U.S. to stop its involvement in the Saudi/UAE war on Yemen, nothing will.
Bipartisanship is a double-edged sword. It is obviously helpful during the legislative stage when garnering votes is critical to a bill’s passage. It’s also important to a program’s survival once it is in place. Without bipartisan support at the start, a yo-yo effect can occur where a program is repealed or weakened once the opposition party takes over control of Congress and the presidency, only to come back again when the other party regains control once more (think: Obamacare).
The downside to bipartisanship is that it can be used to preserve the status quo at times when change is most needed. In other words, bipartisanship can make the system less responsive, particularly when the consensus reinforces or promotes the interests of power elites (think: defense spending).
This is a lesson for climate change activists who are calling for the fundamental reorganization of the energy economy. By failing to build a broad, bipartisan coalition they all but ensure any climate change legislation that does pass, assuming the Democrats take control of Congress next week, won’t survive should the Republicans subsequently return to power.
The frequent cry heard among strong partisans, Democrats and Republicans alike, is that they’d love to more bipartisanship in government, but it’s the intransigence of the other side that prevents it.
That simply isn’t true. As this essay has identified, the overwhelming majority of federal spending today is supported by a bipartisanship consensus. Apparently, Republicans and Democrats can get along too. And they’ve being doing for a long time, all the way up to today.
Here is what an enduring bipartisanship consensus looks like when viewed from the public opinion perspective. Figure 5 shows levels of public support for cutting Social Security and Figure 6 shows such levels for cutting national defense. As the charts show, since the mid-1980s, public support for cutting Social Security has never exceeded 20 percent, regardless of party identification. This is why cutting Social Security is the third rail of national politics.
Figure 5. Public support for cutting national spending on Social Security.
Figure 6. Public support for cutting national spending on national defense.
Defense spending is somewhat more complicated. Since the 1970s, Democrats exceeded 50 percent support for defense spending cuts during the Iraq War in the mid-2000s and came close to that level during the Reagan administration. Nonetheless, as a whole, a majority of the American public has never exceeded 45 percent in desiring cuts to defense spending. It is safe to say, large cuts to defense spending are not going to occur anytime soon.
The partisan divide con is engineered to make Americans believe they are being offered substantive choices when they go into the voting booth.
Americans are not.
Unfortunately, in addition to a political establishment that has mastered the art of the irrelevant policy difference to ensure their own re-election, the news media has also learned how to profit from emphasizing partisan policy differences on status-quo-friendly issues.
And those that profit most from the status quo — economic elites — are more than happy to let Americans believe a migrant caravan out of Honduras is the most important issue facing Americans today.
It is not.
By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; October 28, 2018)
Megyn Kelly was fired by NBC because she was an unapologetic conservative on a network at war with conservatives, at least the Trump variety. That’s my opinion, at least.
But few in the media explain her firing that way.
NBC cited Megyn Kelly’s insensitive ‘blackface’ comments as the proximate cause of their ending the network’s relationship with the mercurial TV host. The New York media critics were quick to reference Kelly’s mediocre TV ratings as the more substantive factor. And still other media snarks suggest Kelly’s dishonest attempt to pose as an ‘apolitical’ morning show personality was doomed from the start.
“The truth is, I am kind of done with politics for now,” Kelly told the audienceon her NBC morning show’s first day.
Initially, the TV ratings for Megyn Kelly Today were underwhelming — certainly not what corporate NBC expected when it signed Kelly to a 3-year, $69 million contract.
“[NBC News Chairman] Andrew Lack made the mistake with Megyn Kelly [from the beginning] with the decision to hire her to an anachronistic celebrity contract in the mistaken belief that star quality could turn into ratings gold,” said Andrew Tyndall , a television news analyst and consultant, told The Wall Street Journal.
When Kelly impolitely asked Jane Fonda about her extensive history with plastic surgery, the critics were quick to jump on Kelly’s weak celebrity-interview skills. Even Fonda’s surgery-mutilated face had enough elasticity left to show her disgust with Kelly’s ‘inappropriate’ line of questioning.
The awkward Fonda interview was great television, even if there wasn’t much of a home audience to see it.
Month’s later, in response to Fonda’s continued complaints about how she was treated on Megyn Kelly Today, Kelly’s petulant response to Fonda’s complaints revealed the real story.
“If Fonda really wants to have an honest discussion about older women’s cultural face, then her plastic surgery is tough to ignore,” opened Kelly’s rejoinder. “When she came here, however, again to promote her film about aging, I was supposed to discern that this subject was suddenly off-limits.”
Then the conservative, flame-throwing Kelly re-emerged from hyper-sleep:
“I have no regrets about that question nor am I in the market for a lesson from Jane Fonda on what is and is not a appropriate. After all, this is a woman whose name is synonymous with outrage. Look at her treatment of our military during the Vietnam War; many of our veterans GIs called her Hanoi Jane thanks to her radio broadcast which attempted to shame American troops. She posed on an anti-aircraft gun used to shoot down our American pilots. She called our POWs hypocrites and liars and referred to their torture as understandable. Even she had to apologize years later for that gun picture. But not for the rest of it, by the way. She still says she is not proud of America.”
Kelly, whose demeanor during interviews can change from breezy to combative as quickly as she tilts her head, is a master-class practitioner of the ambush interview: let the guest talk at first; once they’ve burned through their prepared talking points, ask a loaded question; get the interviewee off-balance; and spend the rest of the interview hammering on a small set of conservative talking points while taunting and pestering the guest into oblivion. While the technique rarely enlightens audience, it often makes for great (though sometimes too cringe-inducing to watch) television.
Kelly’s Fox News interview with Malik Shabazz, National President for Black Lawyers for Justice, during the 2016 Republican Convention is a textbook example of her interviewing style:
As Shabazz explained his views on racial bias in the country’s criminal justice system, Kelly offered this follow-up question: “Do you believe white people are inherently evil?”
In vain, he tried to redirect the conversation back to systemic racial bias, only to have her cut him off again with this prosecutorial gem of a question: “Do you use the term cracker to refer to white people?”
Exhausted by that point, Shabazz accused Kelly of deviating from the subject matter, prompting her to say, “No, I want the audience to know what you stand for?”
No, Megyn, you really didn’t want your audience to understand what this man stood for — had that been your motivation, your approach to the interview would have been entirely different. Your goal was to embarrass and shame him in your pursuit of entertaining the Fox News audience.
And you know what? Interviews like the one with Shabazz is what made Kelly the household name she became on Fox News. That is why NBC paid her $69 million to bring her act to their network.
In the right context, she is worth that kind of money.
Her ambush interviews made her rich and famous — her peers in the business were few. She could make Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly squirm when she threw her head-tilt-with-stink-eye-glare in their direction — and towards the end of her tenure at Fox News, she did that a lot.
But, of course, presumably NBC was hoping Kelly would leave the ‘conservative’ stuff back at Fox News. After all, she had just become public enemy number one among Donald Trump supporters for her sharp-tongued presidential debate question directed at the candidate regarding his past verbal abuse of women. As NBC signed her up for three years, she seemed genuinely unleashed from the ideological shackles imposed by the Fox News system.
The honeymoon didn’t last long. In fact, there didn’t seem to be any honeymoon period between Kelly and NBC. Her short-lived Sunday evening news program died as quickly as it was thrown together. Even a Vladimir Putin interview failed to generate ratings.
By the time Megyn Kelly Today was launched in September 2017, there were already industry rumors that she was over-bearing, aloof and roundly disliked by her NBC colleagues. Her latest book, after all, was titled Settle for More. In it, she basically admitted she can be a b*tch to work with and doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about other people’s fragile egos.
Its not like Kelly was hiding her personality traits from the NBC senior brass. They got exactly the person they thought they were getting — but they did believe the ‘conservative’ Kelly would be replaced by something more…centrist, even a little bit liberal.
Boy, were they wrong.
Kelly was only a few weeks into her morning show when she could barely stomach the cast of Will & Grace as they promoted their show’s pointless relaunch. Kelly was no phony that day. She didn’t care for the show to begin with and wasn’t going to sit there and mindlessly enable its comeback. Kelly oozed contempt and the Will & Grace cast did not appreciate it.
The Jane Fonda brouhaha would soon follow and the network by then was already leaking stories to the entertainment press that Kelly’s show was failing.
“Bad ratings.” “Her personality doesn’t work well with the morning audiences.” “Her talent doesn’t match her ego.”
Most new shows struggle with ratings at the onset. While Kelly was a big name in prime-time cable TV news, her fame did not necessarily follow her to weekday mornings. She would have to earn those viewers, as she did at Fox News.
In April, The Wall Street Journal reported that Kelly’s ratings were down 18 percent from what that hour pulled for NBC a year earlier, and down 28 percent among viewers aged 25–54, the most coveted morning show demographic.
Adding to the ratings decline was the difficulty Kelly’s show had in booking A-list guests, particularly after she infuriated Fonda, who was more than happy to use her fame and industry clout to scare away other celebrities from appearing on Megyn Kelly Today.
Yes, Kelly’s show was struggling for ratings.
“It averaged about 2.4 million viewers a day, while its direct competitor, ABC’s Live with Kelly and Ryan, leads the time slot with 3 million,” according to The Hollywood Reporter’s Marisa Guthrie. “Kelly’s show also was off 400,000 viewers from the (cheaper) show it replaced.”
That is normally a formula for a show’s cancellation.
However, networks actually care more about the ad dollars from a show, not necessarily its audience ratings. And, in that regard, Megyn Kelly Today was not failing at all. According to the ad spending tracker service, Kantar Group, in the first six months of 2018, Kelly’s show earned $65.8 million in advertising — a 26 percent increase over the year-earlier period, when that hour was hosted by NBC Today Show veterans Tamron Hall, Al Roker, Willie Geist, and Natalie Morales.
It is unlikely audience ratings alone are behind NBC and Kelly parting company.
So, was it really Kelly’s insensitive remarks about racism and blackfaceHalloween costumes that led to her demise?
Here is the exact quote of what Kelly said on her show about racism and blackface costumes:
“But what is racist? Because you do get in trouble if you are a white person who puts on blackface on Halloween, or a black person who puts on whiteface for Halloween. Back when I was a kid that was OK, as long as you were dressing up as, like, a character.”
For the record, the 47-year-old Kelly grew up in DeWitt and Albany, New York. I find it exceedingly difficult to believe that blackface Halloween costumes were prevalent or tolerated in upstate New York in the 1970s. But, if Kelly says so, I’ll take her at her word.
Nonetheless, while Kelly’s blackface observation was ill-considered and mildly insensitive, it was hardly a firing offense. Much, much more was behind her firing than that off-the-cuff remark — a remark I would sooner believe she premeditatedly planned in order to get herself fired.
When viewed in the show’s full context, Kelly’s ‘blackface’ comment didn’t fit well in the panel discussion. It was a needless remark and begged the question, “Why say that?” In fact, it felt almost rehearsed, as if she knew the comment would be provocative and she was waiting for the right moment to launch it.
And why would she do that? Conservative Megyn Kelly was miserable at NBC. She knew she had made a bad career move — which is probably why she fired her agent immediately after being dumped by NBC — and most likely wants to get back to prime-time news where her skills are still valued.
Arguing against my assertion that Kelly pre-planned the ‘blackface’ comment to expedite her own firing is her on-air apology the next day. Her eyes were puffy. She looked like emotionally drained. She didn’t look or sound like someone about to receive a generous golden parachute and the freedom to move on to something much, much better.
“I was wrong and I am sorry,” she pleaded to her studio audience.
It was her brand’s lowest moment ever.
For those of us that have watched Megyn Kelly Today on a daily, weekday basis, her show’s tone became darker and more openly conservative in the last few months. The show was still nothing like her Fox News program, but she began to incorporate her courtroom law experience more often into the show.
She was more combative, included more newsy content, and was becoming more like the Megyn Kelly from her Fox News days.
In the past year, Kelly has interviewed a man falsely accused of rape (which was a direct attack on the #MeToo movement), highlighted the unfair physical advantage transgender athletes often possess when they are allowed to participate in girls high school sports, and unceremoniously pounded anti-Trump actor Tom Arnold into dust for his alleged stalking of The Apprenticeproducer Mark Burnett.
The Fox News Kelly is now back, but what should be her next move?
There are three likely landing spots for Kelly: (1) Fox News, (2) CRTV, and (3) The Blaze.
Though one should never say never, it is highly improbably that Kelly would return to the network that made her famous. She tried not to burn bridges on her exit from Fox, but anytime a move like that is made, feelings will get bruised. Furthermore, the current Fox News prime-time lineup does not have an obvious weak link.
If Kelly were to replace Tucker Carlson, who is extremely popular among Fox News staff and executives, a mutiny might materialize. As for her replacing Laura Ingraham, that also seems unlikely. For one, Ingraham always seems one annoyance away from becoming an active shooter. If Kelly were to replace her, Ingraham would not go down quietly. Second, Ingraham’s later time slot would not be attractive to Kelly, who would prefer Hannity’s 9pm slot. And Hannity is still the big cheese at the network. The Israelis and Palestinians will agree to peace before Hannity and Kelly ever do.
Fox News is a bad fit.
Instead, Kelly might consider CRTV, a conservative media outlet founded by Mark Levin. But, again, there is a lot of bad blood between Kelly and Levin, particularly after her open hostility to Trump during the 2016 election. And their feud goes back even farther than that (see video below).
In contrast, The Blaze, a conservative-leaning network founded by Glenn Beck, may offer Kelly the best chance to start with a clean slate. Beck, in fact, has been openly and aggressively supportive of Kelly during the blackface controversy and it is well-known that Beck is looking for prime-time talent to lift his network’s TV service.
Beck is a measured speaker not prone to random thoughts. If he were trying to attract Kelly to his network, the first thing he would do is heap praise upon her from his broadcast pulpit.
Of course, The Blaze cannot pay Kelly anything close to NBC’s $69 million. But what the network can do is offer her an ownership share and total control over the network’s prime-time lineup.
Today, The Steve Deace Show sits in the most coveted weekday, prime time slot on The Blaze. A fellow Iowan, Steve Deace is smart and entertaining, but his show is re-purposed radio, not prime time quality.
To hire Kelly would be a bold move on Beck’s part and a risky one for Kelly, but she deserves to back on prime-time and The Blaze may be the best fit given Kelly’s past history with other conservative networks.
The political Megyn Kelly is coming back — and when she arrives— the prime-time cable news landscape will be more interesting for it.