Monday, February 13, 2017

It's a tough world out there: and now a drumbeat for war on Iran.

Papa Heinlein promised us interesting times during what he forecast as "The Crazy Years." And boy are we in it.  I'll have more, later, about Heinlein's creepy-on-target prescience. But today, let's focus on International affairs.

= The scariest thing ==

Of course the thing to dread is misuse of the powers of the state, either turning them against us or else spasmodically flinging them about in ways that do us harm… perhaps even more harm than the Bushites did with their loony Iraq Wars. Maybe even existential harm. It’s not untoward to imagine the very worst -- as I did in The Postman -- when some of the men being appointed over our armed forces are as gung-ho about using them as were George W. Bush’s pack of raving neocons.

This article suggests that “the one connective tissue between all the people (Trump) is choosing, whether it's Flynn or Mattis, or any of these guys. They all want to attack Iran in some form or another. And so do the Saudis.”

Now, in some ways, this is just standard Republican dogma. The Bush family was, and remains, little more than a cadet branch of the Saudi Royal House. (See pictures of GWB holding hands with the Saudi King and kissing a prince on the mouth.) Yes, the first Iraq War served Saudi purposes to a T. 

The second, under Bush Junior, had unexpected side effects, dramatically enhancing Iran and a Shiite axis that’s allied with Moscow. Subsequent GOP saber rattling at Tehran is supposedly aimed at correcting that mistake.  

To be clear, I do distinguish between Gen. Flynn and Gen. Mattis. The latter may prove more mainstream and possibly much more sane than Mr. Trump currently bargains for. Mattis might, indeed, dig in his heels when the president starts attempting an Erdogan-style purge of the Officer Corps.  He has already forced a change in Trump’s adolescent fixation on torture. We can hope. 

== The Iran-Moscow Great Game ==

Okay, so Donald Trump has packed his cabinet with saber-waving Iran haters. Men who never mention Riyadh in their jeremiads against terrorism -- or in Muslim travel bans -- ignoring the blatant fact... that those terrorist attackers who actually harmed us have nearly all been rooted in the Saudis, not Iranians. Why should they mention such inconveniences, when the Saudis were recent masters of the GOP (before Moscow snatched the reins) and still business partners of Rupert Murdoch.

In fact, as Obama and anyone sensible knew, Iran is a complex and highly educated society, with half the populace so eager to join the democratic world that they could plotz. See Children of Paradise: The Struggle for the Soul of Iran, by Laura Secor.) 

Fostering that transition was a sought-after benefit from the Iran nuclear deal, but also deeply feared by the Iranian theocrats, who have done everything in their power to quash their people’s rising secular-western movement.

Why do you think they rattle their own sabers, at us? Indeed, the mullahs would like nothing better than for histrionics to pour from Washington, driving more of the Persian polity back into their arms.

Then why do it? For domestic consumption. And to bolster the Saudi cause (which has included the spread of hate-fest madrassas all over the world, which created both Al Qaeda and ISIS.)  

But there’s more. Nothing delights Donald Trump’s best pal — the Kremlin — more than the U.S. driving someone else into their growing anti-western alliance. That axis now includes Edogan of Turkey, Assad in Syria, many elements of the Shiite regime in Baghdad… and the mullahs in Tehran. When Trump and his team screech at Iran, you can be sure Putin will be chortling with glee, as this helps to eliminate reformers in Tehran and will cement his alliance with the mullahs.

Indeed, that is probably the very reason why – on Moscow’s orders – there are so many Iran haters sweeping into Trump's cabinet. That plus the alluring fantasy of taking Iranian oil off the world market and driving prices above $100/barrel. Yum!

The Saudis are watching all of this, and despite their dream of higher oil prices, one has to wonder… are they truly silly enough to be glad that Trumpists are waving sabers at Tehran? And get the Persians back to work on their bomb?

Not if the princes are half as smart as their publicity flacks claim. Alas, like most inheritance lords, the Princes are likely much less bright than they believe. If they have three brain cells among them, they would see that driving the Iranian people into the mullahs’ arms, and driving the mullahs into Putin’s, will not ultimately go well for them. But a secular democratic Iran (Obama’s goal) would be harmless to Saudi interests. Are the Saudis perhaps wringing their hands with uncertainty?

One is tempted by schaedenfreude, to enjoy their pain at having created this situation, when they were the puppet masters with strings into the Bush White House. (Today those strings lead to Moscow.) Still, the Saudis have it in their power to prevent all this, by one simple means. Stepping up to finance what they prevented for 70 years, peace between Israel and the Sunni Arab world. 

They could do this, though it would take real imagination and grit (and a lot of cash.) And it would transform the Middle East, making it a safer place… yes, for them, as well.

== Ponder extreme up- and downside possibilities. ==

Try this exercise. Map our best and worst case scenarios. The best we can hope for, from a Saudi alliance is some slight tempering of the Wahabbist propaganda, teaching millions of young Sunnis to wage terror on the West. Ain’t much, and I doubt that Trump will even ask for that.

The worst? If we walk away from Riyadh? Nothing. Their era of relevance is over, since America recently (under Obama) achieved practical energy independence. Indeed, without the press or politicians noticing, we have withdrawn all our carriers from the Persian Gulf. Because it simply isn’t our “lifeline” anymore.  A strategic victory of stunning magnitude – that's gone unnoticed.

So. What is the upside, if we make friends with the Iranian people and work with them to render their mullahs impotent? Spectacular benefits, huge. Picture what the Ayatollahs fear. Prosperous middle class Iranian women in... pants? A vast, educated middle class taking charge of their own fates? Oh, how the mullahs wanted Trump! (Note that this upside is completely unavailable in Saudi.  There is no such secular-yearning, vast middle class over there, eager to join us in modernity, as there is in Iran.)

Oh, the downsides of turning the Iranians back into a raving, bomb-building theocracy are just as large, in the opposite direction. But expect no such complex thinking in this White House.

The picture I just painted… is so sad. Both Bush presidencies, puppeted by Riyadh, and a Trump regime puppeted from Moscow, actually helping the Iranian mullahs by yelling at them.  And they call these “strong fathers”?

 "Even the power of the presidency has considerable limits inside US borders. It’s the rest of the world I’m more concerned about, because it may look very different very quickly with Trump stomping around. If he continues this “America first” claptrap, regional powers like Russia, China, and Iran will grab the chance to expand influence, including militarily. The European Union may fall apart, and the far right may continue to make advances across Europe." 
                         - former world chess champion Gary Kasparov (@Kasparov63)

== A rough world ==

Here's one area where I kind of agree with Donald Trump.  Our News Media aren't very smart. 

Oh, they try hard to champion truth!  In fact, only scientists are so badly maligned, by the fact hating right. Still, so caught up are even our best reporters, in breathlessly reporting the latest Trumpian lie volcano, that they cannot step back and counter it all with big picture perspective.

Take the gigantic setback to Russian policy that happened when Vladimir Putin's pal and viceroy in the Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, was ousted by pro-western protesters on 22 February 2014, and thereupon he fled the Ukrainian capital city of Kiev. Just three years ago, it was the worst setback to Moscow's hegemonism since the collapse of the USSR. Moreover Putin himself laid that whole event at the feet of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

How dumb of the press and the democrats to let the right call Obama and Clinton "feckless victims of Putin-cleverness," when theirs was the far greater coup!  Rather, Putin called them clever, machiavellian devils and he railed about the west having "stolen" Ukraine... yet our press made almost nothing of it, playing up Putin's subsequent nibble-backs of Crimea and the Donbas, feeding the calumny that Obama was "feckless" or "impotent." 

Putin attributed Obama with plenty of "feck." Go look at a map. Compare Crimea (which was never Ukrainian in the first place) to the huge Ukraine, and tell us your "feckless" narratives. 

== Demographics is friendlier to our nation of immigrants ==

Yes, the puppet strings from the Kremlin are disturbing. Only there is solace to be found in basic reality.

Lacking an empire, the prospect of a Russian titan, that seems so attractive to Trump supporters, may hit a wall. A demographic wall. 

"Without remedial action, Russia’s population could shrink to 113 million by 2050, a decrease of more than 20 percent from today’s population of 144 million." 

While the picture has grown slightly better, the last two years, Moscow's priorities (according to this report) aim at other perceived problems, like reviving the appearance of superpower status:

"Russia is in the midst of a massive military spending boom. Many of the increases in defense spending, the news agency reports, are in the “black budget”: expenditures authorized by Putin but not publicly announced, often due to opaque national security concerns."  And "...military expenditures have increased by a factor of 20 since Putin became president 15 years ago, and defense and security now account for some 34 percent of Russia’s budget. That is nearly double the proportion of the U.S. budget." 

Well, that is one way to hold onto Siberia, in the face of a resurgent China. Still, it makes one wonder about the cult of Putin idolatry on the American right. 

Sure he's smart. And good looking. And testosteronic. And one of the few "strongmen" who seems actually strong. So? I suspect another somewhat admirable trait that no one else seems to figure on. I think there's a chance that Vladimir Putin is sincere, and still loyal to the things he swore devotion to, at age 18.

No, I don’t blame him. I blame an American cult-of-the-strong-father that lets itself be talked into slavish admiration for a Slavic regime whose arms buildup is aimed -- along with thousands of nuclear weapons -- directly at us.

=====     =====      =====

Addendum: Sorry but it has to be said again, our news media are dumb! They zero in on the stupidities of the "Muslim Immigration Ban"... fine.  They show the recent lie spewed by the Trump White House - that terror attacks went under-reported (there are no actual examples.) Fine. But do they connect the dots?

Dig it. The Trumpists are terrified someone with guts will say "What terrorism?" 

Seriously, our parents in the Greatest Generation suffered more losses in any single week of WWII than we have across decades of "Islamic Terror."

 If there's a case for increasing the vigilance of "vetting," then fine: we'd all love to see your plan. Tracking exit status of visa holders is long overdue, for example. Obama was already doing all of that.

 But to issue screeching, blanket, ill-considered directives that take all our departments by surprise, banish legit Green Card holders and leave babies unable to get surgery? Justifying it as an "emergency"? After President Obama reigned over the safest period in the history of the republic?

Now you can see why DT had to rail that there really is more terrorism!  It just went unreported!!

Alas, when this narrative collapses, there will be left for him just one option. And we are counting on our skilled professionals to beware. To catch it in time.

A Reichstag Fire.


Further Addendum:  “Russia and the United States have effectively switched roles in Afghanistan: In the 1980s, American CIA officers supplied weapons to anti-government rebels who were fighting the then-Soviet backed government and the Soviet troops supporting it. Today, 15 years after the American invasion, Russia has begun helping the Taliban against a weak American-backed government still supported by NATO troops and airpower.” - reports NPR.

Fox News and the alt-right media and the insane US Confederacy have talked millions of our fellow citizens into adoring Vladimir Putin and Moscow, shrugging off the thousands of nukes aimed at us, the repression of democratic neighbors, the meddling in our own elections… and now, interventions to assist the same Taliban that helped Osama bin Laden to attack us on 9/11.

Let’s be clear here.  The nation that helped make Donald Trump president and that is best buds with not only Trump but a dozen cabinet officers, is helping the Taliban to destabilize the flawed but elected government we helped to foster over there, at huge expense in lives and treasure. And yes, they are helping the Taliban to attack our men and women serving there.

Oh, the German newspaper Die Zeit also reported that Russia is recruiting mercenaries to fight abroad.

The 1860s Confederacy never got major allies in its war against the United States of America. This time, they have. And they conquered Washington. But you traitors will be remembered. The Union shall rise.


Tony Fisk said...

References to 'What terrorism?' and 'Reichstag Fire' are fairly well represented on my social media feeds. Whether that is true generally is another matter.

Anonymous said...

If America wanted a democracy in Iran then what happened in 1954?

> "achieved practical energy independence"

Really? Got some data points for that? Or are you running on empty, copying and pasting all the same points over and over?

Boy howdy look at all them imports! That's your independence? And a quick look at the American transportation section shows massive Carbon use. And how fares the collapse back to the marketplace failure that is the electric car? No? Not yet? Or how about the Strong Towns study showing the tax increase necessary to tread water in your "golden age of ``you'll need to car sit to get anywhere'' stroads"--533%--quite the predicament! Now, if it's not a predicament, then where's your data and math to support your position, and show where the Strong Towns analysis is wrong? Hmm?

Victoria Silverwolf said...

The bottom chart at this link offers a way at looking at the sharp decline in the number of terrorist incidents in the USA since the 1970's.

Of course, there is the big 9/11 spike, and a few other incidents that resulted in many casualties. (Oklahoma City, the World Trade Center bombing, and the contamination of salad bars by cultists in 1984 -- who ever talks about that one?) But the overall trend is clearly downward.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Victoria
Interesting article - sensible and well reasoned - but have you read the comments!!!
The actual numbers seem to have been blowing right wing hats off

donzelion said...

Dr. Brin - wrote the following before your 'onward' call, took a phone call myself, and am glad to see that I haven't interrupted your writing with my lengthy notes.

re Bush/Bandar's relationship & blackmail -

“I will NEVER let your enemies see this tape we have of you, on my yacht, drunk and doing a goat. You can count on me, as long as our friendship lasts!”
LOL, if you haven't I'll offer another endorsement for 'Black Mirror' touches on subjects nearer and dearer to your heart than the fate of the Middle East quite skillfully.

"Panama & Grenada were the chest thumping Vietnam reliminators"
Nobody watched Clint Eastwood's Grenada movie. The Vietnamese were a real army, and banishing Vietnam required something more photographic.

More important, the cold war ended. Cuts were slated before Iraq '91, but how much? 30%? 80%? Democrats had majorities in Congress. Panama and Grenada proved special forces/marines could bring down nasty governments without using the full military might. No, another demonstration was needed before Americans would squarely endorse 'dual containment' (focusing on Iraq, Iran, N. Korea as credible threats to be contained) - a plausible theory rendered absurd by Bush Jr.'s 'axis-of-evil.'

"Iraqi oil was REMOVED from the market, raising prices for the Saudis."
Iraqi oil was removed. Prices rose for about 12 months, then after 18 months resumed the downward trend. Saudi excess capacity took up the difference, but the calculation was standard cartel economics: with Saudi preeminent in OPEC, OPEC could never effectively raise prices in the '80s - '90s environment, but with Iraq+Kuwait, the trend was unlikely.

Intelligence people calculated the losses of Iraqi oil, the gains of Saudi oil, the existing incentives, and the probability that reversing the invasion would result in further price declines (assuming demand remains stable). Their numbers and methods were pretty spot on. They're pretty good at that.

Bush's people calculated the probabilities of an American boom at some point if oil prices steadily fell - and identified who would benefit (Texas would be hurt, Detroit would benefit). Their numbers were also apt - but failing to protect Texas cost them dearly.

"Bush had only to let Schwarzkopff go 50 miles north of Basra and most of the Shiites would have been saved and ecstatically thankful and loyal to us."
So were the people of Beirut. Until a handful of them blew up our marines.

"The “quagmire’ excuses for Bush Sr. are hogwash. No need to go to Bagdhad."
Indeed, not unless troops move 50 miles north of Basra...

Bear in mind, I disagree with Bush's decision. I respect the professionalism of much of his cadre, but disagree with their choice.

Many of the sorts of people who have argued that "but-for internationalist meddling and UN mucky-mucks, we'd have removed Saddam and the world would be better for it" - tend to be the same people who prove liars and cheaters elsewhere. They wanted America to have a free hand in Iraq and sidelined the voices of caution and prudence. When we did, things didn't turn out so well (but billionaires made fortunes).

"As for China, preventing their people from becoming westernized believers in democratic law is the top priority. Joining Putin’s anti western arc is tempting."
Doubtful they'll embrace Putin, so much as a profitable status quo. But we'll see.

donzelion said...

As for this post...

"Not if the princes are half as smart as their publicity flacks claim."
I sincerely hope I'm not being listed as a publicity flack! Gads...

"...they would see that driving the Iranian people into the mullahs’ arms, and driving the mullahs into Putin’s, will not ultimately go well for them."
Haven't conducted a poll, but most are worried primarily about paying the bills. They've drawn down half of their $1 trillion war chest so far to keep the desal going and the lights turned on. They're busy taking out bonds, shutting down major projects, and hoping things change. Their people (quietly), don't hate Iran, and are tweeting and making music videos about how silly Saudi men can be. Another faction is busily bombing Yemen all to hell.

"Are the Saudis perhaps wringing their hands with uncertainty?"
Yes, certainly, but Iran doesn't rank in their top three highest priorities. Mostly. There are some Wahhabis who want Washington to nuke Iran. There are some Americans who want it too. Everyone's got a crazy fringe.

"Still, the Saudis have it in their power to prevent all this, by one simple means. Stepping up to finance what they prevented for 70 years, peace between Israel and the Sunni Arab world."

I see I've failed to convince you that they really can't be blamed for the first portion of that, at least not until the '70s when they nationalized Aramco and actually had financial means to do much more than buy shiny cars. Bear in mind that both wings of the Hashemites (Iraqi and Jordanian) attacked Israel (and Jordan's Arab Legion was the only credible Arab force that attacked and took land which Israelis wanted to defend in '48). Hardly Saudi stooges.

Eric said...

Hey Anonymous, 'practical energy independence' means exports of energy equal or exceed imports. If you look at that site and compare exports to imports, you'll see that exports in 2015 exceeded imports.

David Brin said...

Victoria thanks that link is very interesting. Of course left wing terrorist incidences in the 60s and 70s were vastly more numerous but not aimed at creating mass casualties. Especially telling: "According to the GTD, the number of terrorist incidents in the U.S. has declined markedly since the 1970s, when the most active groups included left-wing extremists such as the New World Liberation Front and the Weather Underground Organization." And "Since then, the pattern of terrorism has changed. Although there are fewer attacks than before, and those causing casualties are more infrequent, we live in fear of devastating attacks that can claim hundreds or even thousands of lives."

David Brin said...

Eic, seriously? I answer locumranch sometimes because he is interesting. This Anon guy just screeches like a junior high school 'jock' with a bloody nose. The ululations aren't worth glancing at.

donzel, I am broadened by your arguments. Still, in 148 the Arab Legion behaved like an army at war, not a jihad bent on extermination. They actually took prisoners and had war aims that intended at leverage for negotiation. Nasser and the others did not. I'll concede that the Hashemites weren't pure as snow. They should have 'disappeared' Hitler's Pal, the Grand Mufti, instead of letting him scream Nazi slogans on radio, putting them in a corner.

Ahcuah said...

OK, you win. I'm convinced that I need to reread "The Postman". I've taken it off my bookshelf and moved it to my nightstand. ;-)

TCB said...

Along with "what terrorism?" I'd like to add "what border problem?"

This nations borders (like most) were as porous as a cheesecloth for more than 200 years and we managed just fine. Mainly because it's a big country and getting here from anywhere is a pain in the ass, even if you really want to do it. (Flip side: we didn't worry too much about German prisoners trying to escape during World War 2 because if you never left Europe before, you have no idea how freaking big the US is gonna be...)

Check out this wee fact: Samuel Goldwyn, Hollywood mogul and the Goldwyn in MGM was born in Poland in 1879 and came to the US in 1899. He had sailed (alone) from the UK but when the ship stopped in Halifax, Nova Scotia, he heard that he might be sent back on arrival (I think immigration agents were sending people back if they had symptoms of disease or came from areas where it might be prevalent). So he left and walked 500 miles to New York City in January. Illegally.

Another wee fact: I gather that many if not most illegal immigrants from Latin America are Indian (why? because the people most likely to seek better opportunities or flee violence tend to be the lower economic classes, and the upper classes tend to be those with more European ancestry, even after 500 years). That's right, a lot of the people illegally crossing the border are the descendants of those who crossed and recrossed that line on the map millennia before there was a map, or a line.

I guess I just wonder if that wall is really there to protect me and mine, or does it merely serve someone else's purposes? Hmmmmm. Open borders used to be a point of pride in this country. Am I the only one who remembers that?

opit said...

"And get the Persians back to work on their bomb?" Really ? If you surf CASMII you will find lots of false stories vilifying people operating nuclear power systems with fuel and technical assistance provided by Russia - and stories of people, including Russia scientists - murdered by NATO/Mossad/ISIL hitmen. Just more of the narrative of warmongers, I'd say. There is a section front at Transcend Media on the fairytale of the Axis of Evil where proponents of disarmament ( especially in the Middle East ) are demonized as the 'real danger'. A more stupid risk assessment I cannot envisage than that of the people without WMD being watched while Israel quietly hugs it to itself.

opit said...

Marino said...

I think there's a chance that Vladimir Putin is sincere, and still loyal to the things he swore devotion to, at age 18.

he swore devotion to KGB, Fatherland and himself, not necessarily in that order. Nothing to do with Marxism, Socialism, the "cause of the working class" or anything else vaguely on the left. Unless a KGB operative who lived abroad had no grasp of the political evolution of the Western left. Your idea of Putin reenacting the October Revolution (exposed some posts ago) is...well, not believable.

If any, Putin is a Slavophile reactionary: not a Slavophile revolutionary believing that you may create democracy and socialism from ancient communitarian institutions from the Russian tradition bypassing capitalism (narodniks, later the SR Party), but a reactionary from the same culture that gave us Ochrana, the Black Hunderts and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. He's an existential enemy of the European Union and it's enough for me.

Anonymous said...

Brin is lost in his own stupid world. Bye-Bye San Francisco.

Oroville Dam Evacuation to Displace 200k People /AMTV (Youtube)

Extremely Close Footage -Lake Oroville Emergency Spillway Runoff

LarryHart said...


Open borders used to be a point of pride in this country. Am I the only one who remembers that?

No, but we're probably beginning to sound like "Back in my day, I had to walk to school through the snow, uphill in both directions!"

Catfish N. Cod said...

I managed to plow through the "strong towns" website referred to by our anonymous coward. It is a website that is far more self-congratulatory in its ability to message and oppose a paradigm than actually informative -- but its message appears to boil down to favoring dense, non-car-friendly urban centers and arguing that suburban sprawl is long-term unsustainable.

Fair enough. Sounds good. Worth doing. Hardly defeats the foreign policy arguments debated here, nor the fact that we have enough energy production at the moment to tackle such. And I certainly see urban renewal along those lines happening, in many places all over the country, blue and red zones alike. The suburban pattern was built on the assumptions of super-cheap oil; it makes less sense now and is starting to reverse. If the need to reverse faster arises we will do that. Not ready to panic.

Opit, on the other hand, isn't even wrong. The link provided argues that only complete avoidance of nuclear power entirely can guarantee nonproliferation, but what is the relevance of that?


Meanwhile, the most urgent need is to replicate and disseminate the results produced by Cambridge Analytica, the Big Data firm using the best in psych-science to microprofile and microtarget the entire adult population of the United States for Brexit, Cruz, Trump, and anyone who pays them enough --

"Combine our full suite of data-driven audience insight and engagement techniques with our unique and powerful Behavioral Microtargeting service that constantly learns, improves and delivers.

With Behavioral Microtargeting you’ll be able to anticipate the needs of your customers and predict how their behavior will change over time, so you can build services, products and campaigns they really love."

In other words, personalized psychological manipulation. As long as this is a high-cost service only available to governments, megacorps, and superPACs, we are all in terrible danger.

Someone needs to build a startup doing this and selling it as a high-volume, low-cost service so that everyone can see their personal data and every two-bit company and political campaign can fight on an equal basis. This needs to happen YESTERDAY.

Obama won his elections because Silicon Valley out-computed and out-databased McCain and Romney. Brexit and Trump won because they did the same to Cameron and Clinton. This is an arms race. This is the aristocracy's push.

Quite Likely said...

"If they have three brain cells among them, they would see that driving the Iranian people into the mullahs’ arms, and driving the mullahs into Putin’s, will not ultimately go well for them. But a secular democratic Iran (Obama’s goal) would be harmless to Saudi interests. Are the Saudis perhaps wringing their hands with uncertainty?"

A secular democratic Iran would be harmless to the Saudis? It would be a geopolitical disaster for them because such an Iran would be a far more appealing ally for the United States in the Middle East, and even more importantly the existence of a superior social model so close by would be an existential threat to the Saudi monarchy.

Jumper said...

On open borders:

We must volunteer to destroy our environment and turn the USA into an overpopulated hellscape, because of the past nostalgia about open borders.


Oh, also to create an economic boom so more capitalists can get rich and build their walled compounds because of all THOSE PEOPLE who are around more and more...

Now, if we could get a tea party moron to leave, for every immigrant arriving, I'd be okay with that.

Eric said...

My apologies Dr. Brin! I knew I shouldn't engage with anon. How do I deal with people like that who I actually know in real life, posting similar falsehoods on social media?

LarryHart said...


Arguing with trolls is really not aimed at changing the troll's mind, which is impossible. It's aimed at setting the record straight for anyone else listening in. So I suppose you should respond or not respond based upon how likely it is that the record needs setting straight.


Now, if we could get a tea party moron to leave, for every immigrant arriving, I'd be okay with that.

I've been trying to jump on the "Remove two regulations for each new one" bandwagon in ways that show the wheels have fallen off. Making proposals like "For every criminal you jail, you have to let two go free," or "For every cabinet appointee confirmation, you have to fire two more."

Zepp Jamieson said...

Flynn's resignation may be the beginning of the end for the Trump administration. The resignation itself is a tacit admission of improper communications with the Putin regime and a major breach of security.
Trump, by feigning ignorance, is now implicated, because he got a clear and direct warning about Flynn from the Justice Department three weeks ago, from Sally Yates. Yes, the same one he fired a week later.
Congress is already weighing the political balance between the possibility of maintaining the legitimacy of the Trump government, or being sucked into a black hole in which their patriotism and very sanity will be questioned. To them, the issue isn't whether he's good for the country or bad (most of them don't care) but whether they can maintain control or risk losing it for a generation or more.

David Brin said...

TCB we should have had standard POW camps for certain types of Germans… the submarine guys and other hardcore Nazis. A few of whom made it to the German embassy in Mexico City and then home to hero’s welcomes. I think they all died later in U Boats, so never mind.

opit I am puzzled just what you were objecting to.

Marino, I doubt very much that Putin didn’t swear allegiance to the Communist Party. He was a party member. That involved hundreds of hours of study and exams and retreats…

Sure, yes, he seems to be a Slavophile reactionary. I am merely offering a minority hypothesis that is still consistent with facts. E.g. that he has re-gathered dispersed national assets into central hands — of his oligarch pals, true. But chop a few dozen heads and the Soviet Russian Republic is restored.

Catfish I am glad you have the stamina to answer our anonymous sub-troll. (Sub because for all his screeching fanaticism and delusion, he is not actually “trolling.”) My ears just don’t have the stamina for the squeaky ululuations.

Philip said...

To your point on the Republican Congress "maintaining control or risk losing it for a generation or more."

The Republicans will maintain control of Congress through 2020 no matter who is in the White House. In addition, whether it's President Trump or President Pence, Republicans will have great influence over the nation's judiciary for a generation or more via appointments to SCOTUS and about 200 federal judgeships. That's the unfortunate reality we face. This will be true even if Trump is completely discredited and removed from office.

Dennis M Davidson said...

Sorry that post should have been made under

Antonym said...

There was word recently that the Trump Administration wanted to fire on an Iranian military skiff near Yemen, but was stopped by cooler heads. So, if Trump does pull some sort of reverse Gulf of Tonkin incident, provoking Iran into some sort of retaliation, does that mean we go to war? Maybe someone on this thread with a better understanding of the policies and procedures can game this one out for me: If the President declares war on Iran, but gets no support from either the public or congress, what happens? Does the President have enough power to tell the military to deploy, when the political blowback would be near instantaneous? What happens to a president who calls for war, but gets denied?


LarryHart said...


The president can't officially declare war. Only congress can do that. However, he can deploy the military as if we are at war, as has happened in every US military conflict since 1945.

matthew said...

It's right about now that I'm starting to really worry about Riechstag Fires and False Flag attacks.

The Flynn resignation shows that Trump knew of the potential for Russian blackmail and did not care until it became public knowledge. Just like in Nixon's time - it's the coverup that ends careers, not the unlawful action. Today the White House counsel said that Trump had been informed of Acting AG Yates' warnings regarding Flynn and the Russians. That answers the "When did he know" question.

Trump has got to see the trap headed his way. The Senate Republicans are moving fast to claim jurisdiction over the investigation in order to keep a lid on a call for a Special Prosecutor or Independent Commission. If they succeed in keeping the investigation in a committee that they control, then they win. If the investigation into Trump's Russian ties goes beyond the Senate (and they will, I think), then a Riechstag Fire is the best thing Trump can hope for to preserve his presidency.

I'm now leaning more toward Robert's "100 days" than my "no elections in 2020" prediction. Unless we get the Riechstag Fire before Trump can be nailed by his ties to Russia.

Oh, one thing I'm eager to see in the investigation - was Pence telling the truth about Flynn lying to him. If it can be shown that Pence lied too - then we might dodge Nehemiah Scudder and be left with Paul Ryan as president.

Latest call - 15% no elections in 2020 because Twittler/ 35% Civil War because the Army and Air Force are Confederates but the Navy stays Blue / 50% We Shall Overcome

donzelion said...

Quite Likely: "A secular democratic Iran would be harmless to the Saudis? It would be a geopolitical disaster for them because such an Iran would be a far more appealing ally for the United States in the Middle East,"

In terms of U.S. posture toward such an Iranian regime, you are assuming
(1) A 'secular democratic Iran' will be less hostile toward Israel and America than a theologically driven Iran.
(2) That democracies do not reward "saber rattlers" with power.
(3) That democracies favor other democracies over autocrats. In Iran in particular, America seldom has.

What evidence supports those assumptions? There is ample evidence that they are tenuous. From the perspective of a foreign power (and elites within that foreign power), a 'weak, dependent autocrat' is sometimes preferable to a vibrant democracy (far easier to control), even if the world would be better, on balance, with everyone becoming a vibrant democracy.

"and even more importantly the existence of a superior social model so close by would be an existential threat to the Saudi monarchy."
Similar arguments were made about the superior social model of a secular Iraqi democracy. The expectations of the 'democratizers' are not supported by evidence - not in the Middle East, nor in much of the rest of the world.

Should Iran emerge as a regional hegemon, the Saudi hand at home might actually be strengthened, rather than weakened. Indeed, Iranian aspirations toward hegemony played a substantial role in the original rise of Wahhabism, and Saudis along with it. Complexities abound.

donzelion said...

Matthew: "If [Senate Republicans] succeed in keeping the investigation in a committee that they control, then they win."

They've already won. For now. They already hold the three institutions of power in America. They already hold about 2/3 of America's state legislatures. Now, the question they face is "who wins more" - "who gets the spoils?"

"50% We Shall Overcome"
Fairly grim call. Only 50%? If you really believed your country had a 50% probability of collapse, you'd do well to make some friends you trust and setting things in motion to protect yourself. One aspect of the spoils they intend to extract will be hurting California & NY (and thereby, helping Texas and others).

Interesting premise, that the Navy/Marines would break with the Army/Air Force. Historically, armies have always threatened democracies more than navies.

donzelion said...

AtomicZeppelinMan: "If the President declares war on Iran"

LarryHart is correct: the President doesn't declare war.

If he does engage in actions tantamount to starting a war, the War Powers Act sets deadlines to report and obtain consent from Congress, but ultimately, Congress's power of the purse is the real tool to stop him. The thing is, once there are dead American soldiers by a foreign power's hand, it's awful hard to imagine Congress checking the President. About as probable as Republican electors refusing to back Trump in '16 in the Electoral College.

"Does the President have enough power to tell the military to deploy, when the political blowback would be near instantaneous?"
Theoretically, no he does not. Realistically, yes he does. Procedurally, it depends on how leaders in Congress wish to play it: they can stop the president if they act, but it's hard to get them to actually act, and next to impossible to get them to act quickly.

Bush Sr., in '91, bypassed the possible Congressional blowback by finding separate funding for a 'war' with Iraq. As it happened, Congress didn't actually wield the power of the purse to stop that war, but in theory, they might have.

"What happens to a president who calls for war, but gets denied?"
In 2013, Obama didn't exactly call for 'war' with Syria/Assad after Assad gassed Damascus - but did ask for authorization for the use of force. It wasn't forthcoming. That constrained budgets, making the fight against IS the purview of special forces and intelligence community (who get a separate budget line), rather than the full military (not that Obama ever intended for American troops to occupy Syria, or return to Iraq en masse).

opit said...

TCB Travel math says "The total driving distance from Halifax, Canada to New York, NY is 866 miles or 1 394 kilometers."

Zepp Jamieson said...

a Phillip:
In normal political situations, that would be most likely. But this is anything but a normal political situation.

opit said...

donzelion In 2013, Obama didn't exactly call for 'war' with Syria/Assad after Assad gassed Damascus - but did ask for authorization for the use of force.

That would be the gassing done with expired Turkish supplies usually credited to ISIS. There was no demonstrable proof Assad had gassed his own assets.

Dennis M Davidson said...

@Zepp Jamieson
You are correct. Our political situation is most certainly not normal. Our president is delusional, inexperienced, and impulsive. His most consistent contribution to our country right now is to heighten entropy in everything he touches. This makes predicting scenarios---such as war, civil unrest, impeachment, or status quo---more difficult to make. Sensemaking by way of predicting political scenarios is a natural response to the incompetencies of the Trump White House. However, because we are in unprecedented territory, we are not yet able to envision the changes that are headed our way.

matthew said...

@donzelion - I have a place to run to out of country if needed.

But I expect that my talents will most likely be utilized in some factory in Blue America, building stuff that moves other stuff at very lethal speeds. My chosen profession is one where technological innovation typically comes from the need to wage war.

My options based on my prediction forecast thus break down to:

15% run like hell / 35% build guns, rockets, jets, etc. / 50% March, write, etc. like MLK taught us.

David Brin said...

dozel you commit the usual error of thinking of Iran as a monolith instead of a very sophisticated and complex civil society. If the secularists ever succeed in fully shoving aside the mullahs, then it will be like our situation here, if we can end gerrymandering and election machine rigging. The tyrants will go kaput.

And yes, democracies are not perfectly peaceful. But they are lots MORE peaceful and rational, more of the time.

opit said...

David Brin The report back on the link I gave should not have led one just to the conclusion that the Axis of Evil routine was buffoonery, but that a nation which had not attacked its neighbours for centuries ( and was a Jewish refuge in WW II ) was not the most likely of threats - even to a nation which did that as a matter of routine.

LarryHart said...

From Robert Harris's novel "Conspirata", second of the ancient Rome trilogy about Cicero:

Cicero sighed and said, more to himself than any of us, "I wonder what men will make of us a thousand years from now. Perhaps Caesar is right--this whole republic needs to be pulled down and built again. I tell you I have grown to dislike these patricians as much as I dislike the mob--and they haven't the excuse of poverty or ignorance." And then again, a few moments later: "We have so much--our arts and learning, laws, treasure, slaves, the beauty of Italy, dominion over the entire earth--and yet why is it that some ineradicable impulse of the human mind always impels us to foul our own nest?" I surreptitiously made a note of both remarks.

Torn from today's headlines.

matthew said...

Trump is signaling the end of US support for a two-state solution in Israel / Palestine. Apartheid it is, then.

Disgusting and immoral. Israel is in existential danger from their own Right-wing fanatics.

LarryHart said...


Israel is in existential danger from their own Right-wing fanatics.

As is the United States. And Europe.

donzelion said...

Dr. Brin: I make no assumptions about monolithic nature of Iran (and not of shi'ism nor even of the Ayatollah system). Rather, I acknowledge that the Tom Friedman story of a liberal democratic peace (a modernized version of the Immanuel Kant story) is not supported by strong evidence. The correlations one does find involve numerous qualifications - democracies are not peaceful toward nondemocracies, nor are they actually any more peaceful than any other system until they take on constitutional safeguards. Indeed, until they erect several other peace of a fair system (and only so long as they maintain those safeguards), they can be more militants than their neighbors, rather than less.

matthew said...

Donzel - could I have references to back up your claims above regarding the behavior of democracies? Your assertions are at odds with other claims I've read and I'd like to evaluate the evidence given.

donzelion said...

Matthew: I did my own review of the literature as part of a 'democratization' research project in 2004 - too onerous to post here. Here's one link listing a number of citations, if that's what you're seeking, that offer conclusions rebutting the theory (whether Kant, de Tocqueville, or any other formulation) - 'initial given'. That particular article rejects the views of the 'contrarians' - but the debate remains ongoing and the evidence mixed.

One of the problems is that the mechanisms one uses to distinguish certain democratic institutions (e.g., the U.S. Electoral College is still 'democratic' for one reason, while the Iranian Council of Guardians is not) become problematic when extended to other countries - the results become quite arbitrary, depending upon whatever criteria one accepts as 'true democracy.' Since the task of determining whether 'democracies are more peaceful' is separate from the task of defining 'what is an actual democracy' - the research has been inconclusive. We're left with the task of defining 'what is helpful for a democracy' - a totally different question, which is where the literature was when I left it in 2004 (a task that had been undertaken in good faith given obvious policy needs at the time which, since then, are no longer quite so pressing).

donzelion said...

Matthew: As for the Salon article (a paraphrase representation of a Bloomberg source) -

"Netanyahu has interpreted Trump’s victory and vocal support during the campaign as a mandate to jump-start the construction of highly controversial settlements in Palestine."

Umm, whatever happened in U.S. politics, Netanyahu and his predecessors have never needed a U.S. endorsement of their settlement construction policies. The only U.S. presidents to take any meaningful action opposing the settlement policy were Carter (in the terms of the Camp David Accords) and GHWB (in the form of loan guarantee restrictions) - others tended to equivocate (e.g., Obama's claims that "this is not helpful" and refusal to veto the UN were statements of nonsupport - again, Netanyahu, as with Sharon before him, is testing to see if the U.S. will do nothing but whine).

Trump's latest statements seem to echo Bush Jr's exceptionally wimpy non-position (uh, hey guys, here's a roadmap to how you might build your own country, and perhaps you might want to take a look at it in case you get lost, just a bit of friendly advice and oh, by the way, here's another $10 billion to do with as you please, including in disregarding my road map...).

donzelion said...

Opit: "That would be the gassing done with expired Turkish supplies usually credited to ISIS."

"Usually credited to ISIS" by the Assad regime you mean. Nobody takes that claim seriously save the Russians, who have obvious reasons for doing so. Reports on the ground (from the Syrian Observatory), reports in the legit press, reports endorsed by US intelligence (and the UN ultimately) and by legit groups that have their own independent review process (Human Rights Watch, for example) concluded the attacks came from Assad's regime. They could all be wrong - error is rather common in the world of WMD. But the possibility of error is not the same as evidence thereof.

I'm unaware of any legit intelligence report linking the weapons to Turkey - that strikes me as unlikely at best, and more likely to be a faux news concoction. I have never heard of Turkey using sarin specifically, though I have heard of other complaints (more often, cluster bombs, systemic torture).

donzelion said...

Opit - to hedge a little, while the 2013 attacks are 'clearly' Assad's work, only 97% of the attacks as a whole (with over 100 instances) came from Assad. ISIS appears to have also used chemical weapons, albeit not the same sorts of weapons as were used in 2013 (which only the Russians dispute).

matthew said...

Thanks donzel, I appreciate the response.

The link appears to be broken, unfortunately. I'm led to support page for broken links.

donzelion said...

Matthew: Errant hypertext link. Here it is again. There's others available that are Googleable, but the scholarship is exceptionally extensive (this debate constitutes almost an entire field of social science, with many taking contrasting positions in the world of 'peace studies').

donzelion said...

Matthew: BTW, I would be misrepresenting the article's premise were I to suggest that he concludes that there is no connection between democracy and peace. Quite the contrary.

Rather, he produces a useful guide to the 'minority opinion' and attempts to rebut it - he's engaging with scholarship on this point (and then looking at a question as to the severity of wars - a corollary under the 'democratic peace thesis' that posits that democracies may go to war - but when they do, they rein in their warmongers - a contention that again hinges upon what one does and does not accept as a 'democracy' - his own analysis looks to libertarian instincts, but rejects 'weak/anarchic states' like Somalia as 'libertarian' - and would, by that measure, also exclude many Nordic states with 'democratic institutions' that engaged in prolific wars in various eras).

That is also my own position - a very attenuated "weak variant" of the democratic peace thesis. What matters is the form and substance, not merely the fact that "some" people vote some times for some offices. To my mind, the key is how a democracy handles its own minorities: when they do so under strong legal constraints, they're less likely to be warlike. When they do not, then all bets are off. Hence, the agenda of peace is served by ensuring protections of civil rights for all people - more so than tinkering with voter systems. That too is more of an unproven tenet of faith than a documented and demonstrable truth. And it colors my reading of the prospects of sousveillance - to me, this is a great challenge that is not yet resolved (it's one thing if watching the watchers reins in their abuses against "a majority" - then it's just another mechanism of majorities reining in their own rulers - but what about minorities watching the watchers? - who are habitually ignored by the majority).

Zepp Jamieson said...

If I might, I'd like to inject a link to an article that shows a leader with imagination and intellectual curiosity, just to show that, yes, they really do exist.
The Churchill library recently unearthed an 11 page essay on the likelihood of extraterrestial life, and Earth-like planets. It was finished weeks before he became the coalition prime minister.
You can read about it here:

Zepp Jamieson said...

dennisd wrote: "However, because we are in unprecedented territory, we are not yet able to envision the changes that are headed our way."

True that. Of course, it's in such circumstances that futurism flourishes. SF in the age of Trump may have no higher rate of accuracy at prediction than usual, but it will do a stronger job of capturing the zeitgeist of uncertainty, fear...and determination.

David Brin said...

Zepp re Churchill... wow!

Zepp Jamieson said...

I left a comment of my own on that story about Churchill, writing, "I love this. He certainly isn't the unblemished hero of my childhood, but he was, in many ways, still a great man. At one point in 1941, someone suggested to him that government funding of the arts be ended so the money could go to the war effort. His reply was, "What, then, are we fighting for?""
Did I get that vignette from you, Doctor, or was it somebody else?

Dennis M Davidson said...

Zepp: There's more information on Churchill's essay in Mario Livio's article in the 15 Feb 2017 issue of Nature. Thanks for the tip.

donzelion said...

Zepp: Thanks for the Churchill nod.

You made me smile tonight as I confront something pretty terrifying (on behalf of a client, one of those 'rapists and murderers' being threatened with deportation, now 8 months pregnant and terrified, her lawyer, sadly, a well-meaning novice in this field, but the best she can afford).

"I, for one, am not so immensely impressed by the success we are making of our civilisation here that I am prepared to think we are the only spot in this immense universe which contains living, thinking creatures, or that we are the highest type of mental and physical development which has ever appeared in the vast compass of space and time.”

Indeed. We'll endure much, and make better. 2017, even with Trump, is better than 1939 with Hitler. I'll try to meet some of those aliens a little closer to earth and make friends of them, or at least, make an illegal one a little less so if we prevail. ;-)

LarryHart said...


I'll try to meet some of those aliens a little closer to earth and make friends of them, or at least, make an illegal one a little less so

"We'll build a wall around earth, and make those aliens pay for it. SAD!"

This stuff writes itself.

TCB said...

A wall around Earth...? You mean like a Dyson sphere? Quick, someone write up the specs and shove it under Trump's nose to sign without reading it!

raito said...


You might want to check out the current case in Milwaukee, where a Syrian refugee is attempting to get his family here. I heard an interview with his lawyer yesterday. The court is asking the feds to supply some fairly specific information by Fri.

Catfish N. Cod said...

Zepp, that quote is a condensation. The full and correct quote is:

"The arts are essential to any complete national life. The State owes it to itself to
sustain and encourage them. Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the reverence and delight which are their due."

Dr. Brin: Someone else notices what's terribly wrong with the Jedi. I still think that the logical endpoint of the Star Wars saga is for someone (Rey?) to find a way to distribute Force-sensitivity and the associated training as far as possible, destroying the mystic monopolies entirely and rewriting the galaxy's destiny. Sort of like the last episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

That would be an outcome that made EVERYTHING actually worthwhile.

Zepp Jamieson said...

a Catfish N. Cod: They're far enough apart that I'm wondering if it's simply two different quotes from Churchill on the same topic. They're certainly consistent with one another.

PS: Not to be ethnic or anything, but does the N stand for "Nembwe"? My wife's cousin is a Nembwe on her mother's side...

donzelion said...

Raito: "You might want to check out the current case in Milwaukee..."

Thanks for the referral, but I'll pass on that one - I have a friend fighting the good fight in Wisconsin whose already monitoring it.

I only do this pro bono, only take 1-2 cases a year, only in the refugee/asylum docket, and only on referral from a pro bono firm that I respect. All the free legal service providers are completely overwhelmed.

Until you've watched a Russian grandmother facing deportation for shoplifting (she stole two sweaters from Marshalls valued at $20 or less for her grandkids; her public defender got her off on a guilty plea, but it triggered the immigration system's auto-deport provisions), you'll never understand how ridiculous the system is (and that was an 'easy' case). Every lawyer who has ever been in immigration court has seen worse. Meanwhile, people who've never seen the system at work are certain it's broken because they heard it was broken on Faux News and there was that Bowling Green Massacre and stuff...

donzelion said...

Catfish: re Jedi - I'm holding out hope that "Last Jedi" and its finale will ultimately amount to an existential review of the Jedi institution: "should we exist at all"?

'Force Awakens' offers one answer: nostalgia is fun (and lucrative). 'Rogue One' offers a different answer: no, the jedi are not necessary, and heroes can arise who do what must be done even at great cost.

Perhaps they will go in a direction like you suggest, amounting to, 'we're all jedi.'

LarryHart said...

re: Star Wars...

Only fans of a certain age remember this, but the original "Star Wars" was not about the Jedi. Oh, there was a certain amount of romantic imagery to give the film that sort of fantasy flavor, but the only actual Jedi in the film was Ben Kenobi, and he was an elderly man whose powers were limited to enhanced persuasive ability. The plot itself involved an adventure-seeking farm boy, a cynical mercenary, and their sidekicks rescuing a beautiful princess and then (as an almost incidental act of self-defense) defeating the Empire's ultimate weapon.

When the movie first came out in 1977, I had just recently seen a pirate movie with Robert Shaw and Beau Bridges called "Swashbuckler", and the plots of the two films were not all that different from each other.

What made Star Wars Star Wars was not anything about religion or philosophy. It was that the special effects were advanced enough that the audience could feel as if they were really watching laser battles between spaceships and giant space stations. The only function of the plot was to be interesting enough that "feeling like you were really there" was a worthwhile endeavor.

That plot wasn't about demigods. Even Darth Vader fought from a tie-fighter just like any other fighter pilot did, not with mystical powers. No, it was about a bunch of everymen stumbling into something important and almost-accidentally succeeding when they had to. We could use such heroes now, 40 years later.

raito said...


I didn't mean for you to take the case, just read up on the similarities. But you seem to already know about it, so all's fine.

As for Star Wars, I'm quite disappointed in the direction those stories took. In the original (LarryHart, what about long-distance choking?), the implication as that anyone could become a Jedi, with sufficient training. Then Lucas got all Joe Campbell and suddenly, it wasn't >you< who could be the hero. No, don't even try. Only the chosen ones could do that. Go back to your little lives, peasant!

And wouldn't a much better storyline have had the Jedi vs. the clones? Is it better to have a million of your 'best' (though their best wasn't all that good, was he?) guy, or to train each to their potential? That would have been a better theme.

LarryHart said...


LarryHart, what about long-distance choking?

Yes, I acknowledge there was evidence of supernatural Force abilities in the movie. My point is that they were very few and far between, and incidental to the plot. Vader didn't even kill the guy he force-choked, and the other military personnel treated him as a useful pet rather than a major player.

There was talk of an emperor (it is an Empire, after all), but nothing to indicate that the emperor was an even-more-powerful-Force-wizard. No, the question "How will the emperor maintain control without the bureaucracy?" was answered with "Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle station."

So yes, the Force was present in the movie, but the film itself was not about a conflict between demigods. It was about a group of everymen who did what needed doing at the right time.

Ioan said...

I've been reading up on Nassim Nicholas Taleb. You know, the statistician who came up with the concept of the Black Swan.

The end of the last article sums up why he thinks Confederates admire Putin and Trump. Judging from his twitter feed, it is clear that this is the reason HE admires Putin and Trump.

Unknown said...

It's also worth remembering that the final conflict in [i]Return of the Jedi[/i], the demigods were occupied solely with one another - the day was won in the end by the ordinary, everyday men and women and others of the Rebellion, flying their ships against the second Death Star without so much as a midichlorian in sight.

Sadly, the denouement focused so strongly on the young demigod and his dying father that this point appears to have slipped right past most moviegoers, and possibly past Lucas himself even as he wrote the script - his earthbound gods were pointless in the end. Only the strivings of the normal people, the "peasants", really mattered in the final analysis.

David Brin said...

Jonathan exactly. Though one person not in a spaceship made a difference. The wookie. Chewbacca captured an imperial walker, using it to gain access to the field generator, allowing Billy Dee Williams to blow up both the death star and the Emperor. Finis.