Friday, May 27, 2016

Trump is becoming just another Republican

Brad Plumer characterizes Donald Trump's as "just Mitt Romney's energy policy with more exclamation marks." The notion that Trump will represent some break from GOP orthodoxy on policy issues is rapidly evaporating.

In this campaign, Trump has shown very little interest in policy. Other than his simplistic off the cuff pronouncements like his wall on the Mexican border, the Muslim immigration ban and his novel idea that the U.S. should default on its debt, Trump has said very little of substance about actual issues. Now that he is presidential nominee and thus the leader of the Republican parties, he is going to get a lot of GOP flunkies who can write policy papers and press releases for him. Those flunkies are going to write stuff that reflects the standard party stances, even if they Trump it up with a bunch of bravado and exclamations. So long as what they write doesn't contradict whatever Trump happens to be saying at the time that the document is released (Trump doesn't seem to care about contradicting stuff he has said in the past), the Trump campaign will probably sign off on it. Thus, Trump will evolve into a candidate with standard GOP positions on all the big issues, just with more open bigotry and outrageous comments.


The Turkish government is pissed off because a U.S. soldier was spotted wearing a YPG patch on his uniforms. The YPG is a Kurdish militias that is fighting ISIS in Syria, but which Turkey accuses of being a military arm of the PKK, a Kurdish political party in Turkey that has been labeled a terrorist organization. Confused? It's pretty confusing and it gets a lot more confusing than this if you dig into the world of Kurdish militias and all their initials. But the Turkish government is a little nuts when it comes to anything Kurdish.

Anyway, take a look at the offensive patch:

Outrageous, right! Wait, still don't see it? Click the image to make it bigger.

Did you see it? It's on the arm of the guy to the left. Here's a blown up image:


Except that patch doesn't say "YPG" and the insignia is a little different from the YPG's official symbol. That symbol has a red star on a yellow background. That's because the patch in the above photo is actually from the YPJ, not the YPG. The YPJ is an all-female brigade  established by the YPG in 2012. The YPJ has gotten some positive press in the international media over the past few years because of their effectiveness and symbolic value in fighting the misogynist Islamic State. (The YPJ, however, is not to be confused with the YBS, which has an all-female Yazidi fighting unit that has also gotten some press).

So what's the deal with a U.S. soldier wearing the patch of a foreign militia? Apparently, special forces typically swap patches with the troops they are embedded with to build trust.

Anyway, to summarize: a U.S. soldier was photographed with a YPJ patch on his arm. The YPJ was formed by the YPG and the YPG is connected with the PKK. The PKK is Turkey's public enemy #1 and (partly at the urging of Turkey) has been branded a terrorist group by a bunch of countries, including the U.S., prompting Turkish protests. But the bottom line is that Turkey sees connections between the PKK and every other Kurdish group, including several that are de facto allies of the U.S. in the fight against ISIS. No one other than Turkey has an automatic distrust of the Kurds and there are a lot of different Kurdish groups, some of whom happen to have interests that align with other countries, including Turkish allies like the U.S. So the Turks are just going to have to deal with getting their feathers ruffled now and then.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

de facto

Why is Raqqa often referred to as "the Islamic State’s de facto capital"? In what sense is it merely "de facto" as opposed to a real capital. That is where they govern the Islamic State from, right? It's what the Islamic State calls its capital, right? What else does it take to make a regular/non-de facto capital?

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

They're coming for your guns because if we told you what they are really proposing you might actually agree with it

This isn't all that surprising. Any time any kind of gun regulation is considered, the NRA takes the position that the proposal, no matter what that proposal may be, is the first step towards confiscation of all privately owned firearms. The premise behind that argument is that the proposed regulation itself is not enough to motivate NRA members. That's why the organization has to resort to a slippery slope argument. If the proposed regulation was offensive to NRA members on its own, there would be no need for the organization to argue that it will inevitably lead to something else.

We all recall how South Africa was completely destroyed by of that boycott movement

Tom Friedman Unit starts his column with this:
Israel has recently been under intense criticism on the world stage. Some of it, like the “boycott, divestment, sanctions” (B.D.S.) campaign, is a campus movement to destroy Israel masquerading as a political critique.
I don't think that Friedman's opinion is all that important, but his characterization of the BDS movement is relatively widely held, at least in some circles. So what is the actual evidence that BDS is a campaign to "destroy Israel" as opposed to a campaign to criticize the country and to ultimately force it to adopt different policies?

I want something more than nutpicking (or maybe that's all there is?) I am just trying to get some idea why so many anti-BDS people see the movement that way--if there is anything more to it than just a knee jerk reaction by partisans against anything they view as "anti-Israel."

Still against Twitter

A very minor point that Paul Campos makes in his recent post is this:
Twitter in particular seems like a terrible medium for any kind of exchange of views. It’s apparently the cyber-equivalent of getting real drunk before getting into an argument.
I honestly don't understand why more people don't think that, especially in this age when the presumptive Republican nominee for president, a man whose campaign is based entirely on badly-thought-through zingers posing as policy proposals, which are often communicated by tweet.

A long time ago, I made that very point about Twitter. But despite the fact that I one wrote a whole post against Twitter, the service is still popular. And that is why I still refuse to set up a Twitter account for myself. Well, that and the fact that some yo-yo out there already took my preferred handle. He hasn't even twatted for more than three years ferchristssake! How could he/she do that to me?!?!?!?!

A-hem, anyway, that is why I have taken a principled stand against Twitter--at least as a way to write about politics.

Art of the Deal

South Sudan's1 rebel leader Riek Machar thinks that Donald Trump might be able to resolve that country's civil war. I say we should let him try. Send Trump to Juba and give him a chance to show off his allegedly brilliant negotiation skills.

1- Sadly, Ross never caught on.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Crazy turns

I'm no aviation expert so I certainly have no idea what I am talking about, but is it possible that the abrupt turns that Egypt Air Flight MS804 supposedly made just before it disappeared was just the movement of a fragment of the plane after it exploded? Maybe the bit with the transponder didn't shut off when the plane split apart and the weird last-minute movements air traffic controllers noted were just the position of the transponder as it flew away from the wreckage and then plunged into the sea?

That's assuming that the plane exploded and I have no idea if that's the case.

To Americans "Vietnam" is a war, not a country

I wonder how long it will take before a U.S. President can visit Vietnam without the war hanging over the whole visit like a cloud. Presidents can go to Germany, Japan, Italy, or Austria without much thought of World War Two. (Although it does come up sometimes, as it will when Obama visits Hiroshima on his current Asian trip. But for most Japan trips, the war is barely mentioned in the coverage).

Monday, May 23, 2016

OMG, Palestinian rights might infect the platform!!!!!

Fifteen people will write the official party platform of the Democratic party before the convention. Hillary Clinton has appointed six of them, Bernie Sanders appointed five, and Democratic Party chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz appointed the last four. A single one of those fifteen, James Zogby, has written stuff in favor of Palestinian rights in the past. So naturally, this is the headline--apparently the only headline in any major news source to come out of any of the 15 appointments.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me thrice, I must be in the NRA

Trump told the NRA membership that Hillary Clinton is the "most anti-gun" candidate to ever run for office. Which is funny because just in the last election NRA President David Keene called Obama the "most anti-gun president in modern times." And that was four years after the NRA called Obama the most anti-gun candidate ever who would ban guns.

And yet, after seven years of Obama as president guns are still legal. How many times can NRA members fall for this stuff? Will they ever get to a point when they remember they have heard this stuff before and maybe shouldn't take what is said at NRA meetings that seriously?

State of Emergency

These temporary states of emergency are such a joke. Of course, France is under a threat of a possible terrorist attack in the future. It always has been and always will be. There's no real justification for "temporarily" suspending civil liberties because of some impending threat that is always impending. You might as well not ever give people the full range of rights, which means they are not really rights at all.

I'm really glad that the U.S. has no legal mechanism for that kind of state of emergency. Of course, we do have a de facto state of emergency system. After 9/11, the government effectively stopped honoring some civil liberties. It rounded up a lot of Arabs and Muslims with almost no basis, and the courts ended up giving the government a lot of leeway that it would not have gotten before 9/11. But I think it is better to not have a formal mechanism to suspend rights and this country benefits from the illusion that civil liberties apply even in times of crisis. We can all look back and condemn Japanese internment, even though I have little doubt this country would do it again under sufficiently similar circumstances. The condemnation itself strengthens our commitment to civil liberties in times that the nation is not under stress.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Happy (Belated) Sykes-Picot Day!

Yesterday was the one hundredth anniversary of the date the notorious secret agreement was signed, So the old scapegoat for all that is wrong with the Middle East is getting some attention again. Don't get me wrong, the colonialist carving up of the region definitely was a major contributor to current problems, but you could also say that about a lot of other things too.

I'm a map person. I can't read an article about how territory is divided without trying to find a map. The thing that always struck me about the S-P agreement is that, for the talk about how it set down the modern borders of the Middle East, the map of the lines in the agreement are pretty different from modern borders.

(click image to embiggen)

Sure, I can see how the lines were influential on the eventual borders. But just by looking at this image, it is pretty clear that the agreement was far from the final word on where things ended up. So put me in the Cook-Leheta camp. Sykes-Picot was a big deal, but not the only deal.