Thursday, April 23, 2015

Iran, Yemen, and US History in the Middle East

(photo credit: New York Post)

What follows is a conversation with "Mr. Smith", a former Army intelligence member. readers may recall that Mr. Smith have me the interview last year regarding Bowe Bergdahl.

He has some insightful, and alarming, commentary regarding the current military situation in Yemen, our history in the region, and our dealings with Iran.


Me: Please describe briefly the military actions which have been going on in Yemen recently, and the backstory behind them.

Mr S: Yemen has been at critical mass for roughly half a decade now. And long before that it served as a crucial counterterrorism (CT) logistical and operational base. Yemen was, of course, the location of one of Al Qaeda's most brazen attacks on America when AQ attacked the USS Cole at the port of Aden. While the brooding conflict in Yemen has never really stopped, it increased in intensity over the last 2-3 years. You could point to our departure from Iraq, the "pivot" to Asia, and any number of historical events that lead us to lean away from supporting the Yemeni government. 

Me: So prior to this, we were very involved with the Yemeni government, for counterterrorism purposes?

Mr. S: Next to the KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) they were the biggest ally we had, in my opinion. While we never retracted support, and in fact maintained a heavy intelligence presence in the country, we seemed to not really care about our second largest partner's, in the global CT fight, own internal security issues and how they impacted our operations. not only in the Arabian Peninsula, but the Horn of Africa, and our anti-Piracy efforts. 

Which is why the KSA backed the Saleh presidency and then Hadi's rule when he took over after Saleh went to KSA for medical treatment. That's when the Houthis, the "southern insurgency", and AQ in Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), took to fighting the Yemeni government in earnest. Had we been more concerned we could have sent a few thousand troops to shore up our base there and ensure Sana'a didn't fall. But Obama was letting the Arab Spring take over and this included a Yemeni Revolution in 2011. I mean "take over" to mean not doing anything about it except giving tacit support to populist movements which came with deleterious effects.

During this time I had a close friend in country who was tasked to gather what we call "force protection" information. When the Yemeni uprising started, our ability to collect tactical intelligence in the city was shut down for a while. I can't say for certain when or if we started up again, but I assume we did at some point after he left, he told me the last four months of his tour were pretty boring.

Me: "Force protection"- i.e., information used to provide protection to US personnel?

Mr. S: Yes, it's a blanket way of saying tactical intelligence instead of saying it. Primarily meant to determine threats to US forces, operations, and allies. Beyond that it gets into more offensive human intelligence work which requires a bit more approval.

So all this is occurring while the Shi'a are gaining power in Iraq and Obama leaves al-Maliki (former Iraqi PM) to his own devices. Even Slate put it at Obama's feet. Bottom line is, nothing is happening in a vacuum and Iran is behind the scenes pulling a lot of strings, playing the long game that it's very good at. Before our withdraw they were involved in Iraq. But the IRGC-QF lead the Shi'a insurgency in Iraq and leads its militias now. They've been instrumental in harming their military and political opponents in Iraq. Maliki allowed Iraqi Police and Army to segregate, he purged it of Sunni officers, the Sunnis began to get frustrated especially after they helped defeat AQ in Iraq, the predecessor to ISIS. Maliki also allowed the MEK to be attacked, the MEK was and is an anti-Iranian force/political movement that Saddam used against Tehran during the Iraq/Iran War and all trough the 90s. We put them on a terror list a while ago, took them off after we invaded. 

Me: Not to interrupt your narrative, but is there a connection between Iran and ISIS?

Mr. S: There is, to some degree. Michael Weiss & Hassan Hassan wrote about the connections that Iran had with Ansar al-Sunna's (which became AQI, then ISIS) founder, Musab al-Zarqawi. I highly recommend their book "ISIS: State of Terror" to get a good background understanding of what ISIS grew from and where it got support from but also who its original targets were. 

Iran plays a game with the Shi'a Arabs. Stands up for them in Lebanon, Israel, Syria, but assists Sunni groups when it feels they're beneficial and those Sunni groups murdered thousands of Shi'a in Iraq. Iran wanted instabaility in Iraq and it got it in spades when we effectively left Iraq alone to it's own devices. 

So 2011, Arab Spring is in full swing in Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Bahrain, Qatar, you name it. In Yemen, Bahrain, and Qatar that meant "oppressed" Shi'a and many Iranians working as migrant workers for the GCC. This really started to come to a head when KSA backed the Bahrain government.

They weren't all Shi'a. Much of Africa's uprising was Sunnis who weren't in power. Same thing that happened here in the US in Ferguson and other places. Out of power minorities sense an abuse of power (like NYC and North Charleston) and they take the streets. Instead of government responding with civil order protection, Middle Eastern governments responded brutally. So in some cases it was legitimate uprisings, in others, I imagine there's an Iranian dirty hand at work, all trying to unseat KSA as the major power broker in the Middle East. 

After the KSA intervention, things did settle and were settling down except for Syria. Assad did what dictators do" He sparked greater unrest among the Sunni population this time. Those same Sunnis were the ones who were pissed off about the rise Shi'a power in Baghdad and they saw the Syrian regime's efforts as more of the same. So, the Sons of Iraq, the former insurgents against us who became our allies against what was then Islamic State of Iraq (former Al Qaeda in Iraq), now turned to ISIS, Al Nusrah, and the other Sunni insurgent groups in Syria and Iraq.

Me: It sounds as though you're describing a continuous domino effect, propelled by US actions in the region.

Mr. S: Yup. 

Sadly, we caused it when we invaded Iraq. But there was a way to stop it. so long as we could prevent Iraq from becoming a sectarian government, which it did when Obama abandoned it. I was in Iraq in 2005-2006 before ISI and Zarqawi attacked the Golden Mosque in Samarra which ignited the civil war. The Iraqi Army was doing just fine after we rebuilt it and started integrating it. So there was a template for success even in hard times. 

So all in all the Yemen fight is continuing around our SOF and intel guys who are not equipped nor tasked to support the Yemen government. Their main mission was to attack Al Qaeda and they did that primarily through drone strikes. The Yemeni government was fighting a well entrenched insurgency/civil war on basically three fronts: southern rebellion, Houthis in the north, and Al Qaeda in the west. 

By the time anyone cared to notice, it was too late and Iran was backing a winning team, the Houthis.

Me: So, Iran is supporting the Houthis, and other governments in the region are sending military forces to fight in Yemen.

Mr. S: Iran is supporting the Houthis and I doubt they're supporting anyone fighting them. They are probably giving tacit support to the southern insurgency, though that's just a guess on my part.

Iran's goal is to create chaos for KSA and since KSA backed the Yemeni government (kind of in our stead). That's why KSA had to do something to finally counter the Iranian backed Houthis, the same way it did in Bahrain. Iran plays the silent hand very well, they don't like forcing themselves out in the open, which is why the announcement of the ships being sent to Yemen was such a big deal. 

Think about Iran's rather abrupt change when KSA started bombing Yemen. That followed Iraq's retaking of Tikrit, initially with Iranian support, but with our air power assisting. Then the Iraqis kicked the militias out and back to Sadr City/Baghdad and their Iranian handlers. 

Something to keep in mind are the GCC's. Qatar was effectively challenging the KSA for the mantel of "Mr. Money Bags" when it comes to Sunni groups who aren't too damn crazy but want to attack Iranian influence agents and Iranian-backed governments. Which is why Qatar is so invested in Syria. But Qatar shares oil and natural gas fields with Iran, who accuse Qatar of not staying on its side of the Gulf a lot. 

Me: What's the importance of the recent US/Iran talks on this situation?

Mr. S: The talks are probably the last thing on Iran's mind now. They've survived this long with sanctions and will continue to do so in the future should they stay in place. Which is why I believed the Cotton Letter was a blessing for our side in all this. It forces Iran to consider that Obama didn't have the final say and sanctions weren't going to be lifted without Congressional approval. 

The nuke talks are, in my opinion, window dressing. Obama/Kerry care more about them than Iran does... a la Clinton/North Korea, same thing will happen. 

I think the talks were a way to make Israel an outcast. It's no secret Obama has no love lost for Israel, certainly not Netanyahu. But there was always this talk of Israel attacking Iran somehow. I think the talks were a way for us to backhandedly distance ourselves from any potential Israeli actions. 

Me: To give Israel the impression they'd be on their own if they attack.

Mr. S: They would be. All her Western allies would be party to a deal with Iran. So any preemptive strike by Israel, no matter the method, makes them an unsupported aggressor.

Me: It's fairly well-known that Iran wanted sanctions lifted immediately as part of the talks. Cotton's letter told Iran that wouldn't happen without Congressional approval. What changes do you think Iran made, or what would they have liked to do but weren't able to, as a result of the fact that the sanctions wouldn't be lifted as they desired?

Mr. S: They would probably demand aid, which we seem more than ready to give them. We're so ready for a deal as if we're the ones who need it so badly. All the while, Iran couldn't care less about the deal. All in all, I think we made concessions on the nuke talks in exchange for encouraging KSA to back down for Iran to pull some support from Houthis, so long as Hadi agreed to power sharing. 

I think Iran was more than willing to risk seeing if we'd shoot at one of its ships or even board it. 

Maybe we did it as a way to get more time at the table to regather our strength but seeing how weak we've been in these talks so far? I doubt it. 

Me: What do you see happening in Yemen within the next, say, 90 days? And what should we be watching out for?

Mr. S: Well, I have no idea. It'll depend on what's on those Iranian ships and if we're willing to hold a line against them. Imagine USA/USSR at START II and if we had troops on the border or Afghanistan and Reagan had said "if you invade, we step in". Those nuke talks disappear and it'll be a shoot out. 

But now we have Ambiguous Obama and I have no idea what orders our Navy has been given. Nor if there's any coordination with the KSA led coalition and its vessels in the waters around Yemen. 

It'll also depend on the Houthis and if the Yemeni President, Hadi, can convince them to give up the fight and turn on Al Qaeda... but that means fighting a well established Iranian influence. 

It could play out that the deal is done and Iran gets everything it wanted while the civil war in Yemen dies down. Iran could just as easily pull the plug on the Houthi machine and either let them wither on their own or tell them to stand down for another day, thus giving us the appearance of peace while Iran now has little-or-no sanctions and we have a few years to figure out what to do next. 

Meanwhile, it won't stop building it's influence arms in Iraq and the GCC states. Forget forcing Iran to recognize Israel. Make Iran stop supporting insurgencies.

Me: Would you consider it an accurate assessment that Iran's position in the Middle East has strengthened in the last five years?

Mr S: Oh most definitely. Like I said, long game with a silent hand. 

What would be interesting is, if we get a Republican in office in 2016 who doesn't abide by the agreement. What then...

Me: Can you think of any way in which the Obama administration's policies haven't benefited Iran in some way, or at least, been more beneficial to Iran than previous administrations?

Mr. S: Nope. Even in Afghanistan, Iran is filling out the void. Luckily, we have India there to counteract some of that, but its not going to be enough and the farcical "pivot" to Asia Obama pushes meant that he wasn't going to care about Iran's efforts in the ME.

Our foreign policy is so bi-polar even we don't know how to address what is going on. But like I said on Twitter and others have said, so this isn't an original thought of mine, there is a coming regional war between Sunni and Shi'a. Israel and Jordan may be the only safe places in that whole mix when it happens. 

Me: Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Mr. S: Watch the Gulf and listen for what Iran may be doing in Iraq. All of that will be connected to see what more they can get at future talks, but also done to see how far Obama will tolerate Iranian aggression. 

Me: Thank you for your time!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

On Police Militarization, You've Got It All Wrong

Douglas Adams once made a joke about computer operating systems in the 'Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy' series:
"... it is easy to be blinded to the essential uselessness of them by the sense of achievement you get from getting them to work at all. In other words ... their fundamental design flaws are completely hidden by their superficial design flaws."

This bit of humor best describes my attitude toward the rhetoric made about 'police militarization' in the modern day. The superficial arguments- mostly having to do with the sort of equipment police officers are using more regularly, and the extensive use of SWAT team raids- totally overshadow the deeper, more conclusive arguments on the subject.

I should note, for those unfamiliar with my blog, that I was also an ardent advocate of Indiana's legislation to explicitly authorize the use of deadly force by private citizens against police officers ("Outrage In Indiana", Parts One, Two, Three, and Four). The reader should bear this in mind while reading my commentary.

Spend any time perusing Twitter or Facebook, and you will inevitably see pictures of police department armored vehicles, officers with AR-15s clad in equipment vests and helmets, with captions describing this 'new' 'domestic army'. I admit, such pictures can be shocking; and, as a friend recently described to me, "if I see a cop in a 'traditional' uniform on my street, I don't think twice; but if I see a cop on my street in military-style gear, I start to wonder if I ought to be concerned".

The fact is, some armored vehicles (aside from their usefulness in stopping bullets) also make excellent towing vehicles, which is a fairly common task to which they are put by police departments which have them. Police departments often get them for a bargain price, by buying them used from the military as surplus, or for free through federal grant programs (more on that subject later).

Equipment vests with pockets began in law enforcement as a way to relieve the lower back pain associated with a career spent wearing a heavy gun belt around the waist; lower back pain is the most-common medical complaint of retired police officers. On a related note, the increasing use of BDU-type fatigue uniforms reflects the need for police chiefs to cut costs: They are cheaper to replace regularly than "traditional" uniforms (and uniforms must be replaced often) and don't require dry-cleaning. It goes without saying, dry-cleaning several uniforms per week for several hundred police officers gets to be expensive.

AR-15 rifles in law enforcement have an interesting origin: Some of the earliest adopters of the AR-in-every-patrol-car practice were some college campus police departments, who convinced leftist college administrators to authorize their purchase with the fact that .223 ammunition penetrates walls and bodies less than most pistol ammunition, presenting the lowest possible risk to bystanders if deadly force were needed.

All of this, however, sidesteps the principal reasons law enforcement need and want these tools: Armed criminals are increasingly more belligerent and brazen toward the police, a trend which has grown since the 1960s (and which also spawned the "Officer Survival Movement" of improvements to weapons, training, and knowledge which has saved countless police officers' lives, and described by Massad Ayoob, an integral member of that movement, in this response to a letter to the editor of American Handgunner magazine). Patrol cars do a terrible job of stopping bullets; traditional police pistols and shotguns have limited range and ammunition capacity when confronting well-armed criminals; and so forth. As one police chief put it:
"Everything we've done has been in response to what the criminal element already has," he said. "We've been trying to keep up with the Joneses since I've been in law enforcement. This is just another tool in the tool box to assist police."
I would be remiss if I didn't point out that the same failure of logic which assigns foul motives to the police, based on the appearance of their tools, pervades the gun-control argument. "Assault Weapon" laws are based on the same cosmetics- banning guns because they "look dangerous", regardless of whether or not they really are "more dangerous".

In that spirit, using the sensible gun-rights belief that the offender, and not the inanimate object, should bear the brunt of the blame, let's discuss the real police militarization going on in America today: The change in the mentality of police officers.

Once upon a time, cops thought of themselves as comprising a "Thin Blue Line" separating the vast majority of the public from a relatively small criminal element. While the "Thin Blue Line" is still a common reference in law enforcement circles today (see photo at top, courtesy of Wikipedia), I don't see this as being the case anymore.

Today's police officer is surrounded on all sides by those who despise him (or her). He is made to enforce increasingly absurd and invasive laws, passed by legislatures which are attempting to interpret "the will of the people" (and that "will" is an increasingly schizophrenic one, at that). One set of the public demands officers be "TOUGH ON CRIME!" while another set sees even the most justified use of the most minimal force as "POLICE BRUTALITY!" (One Youtube video, which garnered international attention, depicts the latter perfectly: Two Hamilton, Ontario police constables use the most minimal force possible to arrest a screaming, flailing girl while surrounded by bystanders claiming "police brutality". Luckily, one officer had the presence of mind to (unnecessarily) explain himself to the bystanders). Officers are constrained in how to do their jobs by often-impractical regulations devised by local politicians who have no police experience, and second-guessed by self-serving administrators for even the most sensible actions while on duty. Private persons and business owners complain about police officers being seen in their neighborhoods, but then cry angrily when the police are late arriving to a call.

People complain about the taxes they pay (I am one of them), but also complain when the police department doesn't have the resources to combat every problem it faces. This, naturally, prompts police administrators to seek whatever money they can get in the form of federal grants- which are often grants for exactly the sort of equipment people use as proof of police militarization!

And then, of course, is the ever-present threat of absurd lawsuits by those seeking more money than they would otherwise ever see in their lifetimes.

So, who exactly would take this job? The answer, in the worst case, is a person of fundamentally weak character, who sees police authority as a way to gain instant respect. Typically, police agencies are good at spotting this type of individual and denying him employment; however, departments which have difficulty filling hiring needs often have no choice but to hire anyone who meets the minimum requirements of the job.

Add to this the modern trend of law enforcement agencies to place an absurdly high premium on physical fitness. While it's desirable to have some physical fitness standards (after all, nobody wants an overweight cop to suffer a heart attack on duty), some departments have set standards so high that only a narcissist who spends every waking hour thinking about improving his physique, or showing it off, could meet the standards. Likewise, the requirement by many agencies that candidates have a college degree or military service, thus selecting from two small-ish pools of applicants. Once upon a time, the principal qualifications for a career in law enforcement were good observation skills, good eyesight, common sense, and reliability. Today, it's pushups and (any, regardless of how worthless) college degree.

Is it any wonder, then, that a person who sees law enforcement as a stepping stone to immediate glorification, and sees himself as a smarter, better-bred Adonis (especially when surrounded by a bevy of willing "badge bunnies" to confirm this belief), when accepted into a job which, in many cases, is a very high-paying job with, perhaps, the best retirement security of any middle-class job today, considers himself superior to the public? Or that this individual, when confronted by the opposition on all sides I described above, takes on a (pardon my plain English) "fuck you, I'm better than you" mentality toward them?

Does this describe all police officers? NO. Not by a long shot. I've had the great fortune to know quite a few excellent police officers, both current and retired, and learned a great many things from them. It does, however, describe exactly the sort conditions which create the sort of cop we are concerned about: The officer who sees himself as a master of, rather than a servant of, the public.

Leave it to a science-fiction TV program (namely, the remade Battlestar Galactica) to sum up this mentality succinctly (in an allegory to Posse Comitatus):

"There's a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the people tend to become the enemies of the state."

That sentiment, that the people have become, in some way or another, "the enemies of the state", is at the heart of the police militarization debate. That, and not the tools of the trade, is where the debate ought to focus.

While I recognize that much of this change was spawned by the War on Drugs (and I am, at least partially, an advocate of some drug legalization), I don't think it wouldn't have happened without it. Stated differently: Had there been no War on Drugs, some other social "war"- on pedophiles, or on gangs, etc.- would have made an equal contribution. The court decisions chipping away at civil liberties, the overuse of SWAT team raids, and other factors, would still have been present.

So, what to do about all of this? At the risk of sounding trite, the public's demands on elected officials created this mess, and public apathy toward government affairs (to paraphrase Plato) has allowed it to worsen. Only a change in public demand and attention will fix it. Anything short of that would be mere window dressing- in other words, more of the superficiality I described above. Since the public "cleaning up its act" isn't likely to happen any time soon, I may consider moving to Indiana.


(As an aside, I really like this video, this one, and this one, of police officers dealing well with civil libertarian open carry "advocates". While I generally support open carry, some of these people really are an embarrassment to the gun rights movement, though the guys in the last video are doing it the right way.)

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Tax Reform Act of 2013: The Deeper You Dig, The Worse It Gets

This week, Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, released a proposal for tax reform.

I want to make a plea to the reader, at this point: In any discussion of tax policy, there is an urge to gloss over the details of any proposal, in favor of one's own preferred tax concept; some thought to the effect, "It isn't (insert preferred tax plan), so who cares? It isn't real reform". Most readers of this blog are either supporters of a low-rate flat tax, or Fair Tax. I'm a flat-taxer; I'd love to see our tax code reduced to several hundred pages. That said, I ask the reader, for the moment, to banish any thought regarding the "optimal" tax code and focus solely on what is in front of us: this bill. Let's focus on what's 'on our plate'. Failure to do so will mean missing the important details in this legislation.

I can't possibly cover the entirety of the proposal in a blog post. The discussion draft of the bill (PDF) is roughly 1,000 pages. The summary (PDF), to which I will refer, is almost 200 pages. I encourage the reader, if interested, to read them and draw one's own conclusions.

To sum up this bill briefly: I'm shocked it's been introduced by a Republican, especially one like Dave Camp, who has been extensively involved in advocating against the IRS' attack on conservative groups. This reads like a Democrat tax bill. It accomplishes the liberal tax agenda, while using extensive doublespeak to call such changes 'reform'.

Let's pick through the important points, section by section.

First, the bill proposes to simplify the current seven tax brackets, ranging from 10% to 39.4%, to three brackets: 10%, 25%, and 35%. Anyone in the previous 15% bracket would have their rate reduced to 10%; the 28%, 33%, and 35% brackets would be consolidated into the new 25% bracket; and the 39.4% bracket would be reduced to 35%. Not nearly enough of a tax cut, I agree, but it's something.

Or is it?

Read further, and one discovers that the new 35% bracket would disqualify the taxpayer from claiming most deductions. Translation: The effective rate, or "real" rate of taxation, would go up for top-bracket taxpayers. It's a tax increase, disguised as a small tax cut. Additionally, it would phase out the lower bracket tax advantage for higher income earners; meaning, as one's income increases, one gets closer and closer to paying a 35% flat tax, effectively, since eventually all income, not just income in the top bracket, would be taxed at the top-bracket rate.

Additionally, it proposes to eliminate the capital gains tax rates, and substitute with a percentage reduction from marginal tax rates. Translation: Capital gains would be taxed as regular income, albeit at a discount. It's still an increase in tax on capital gains- a purely Democratic tax goal (remember the Warren Buffet "I pay less than my secretary does" fiasco?).

So, how would a Republican get away with proposing this? By overshadowing it with a NEW AND REVOLUTIONARY! tax provision: "Modified Adjusted Gross Income", or MAGI. What is MAGI? It's like the old adjusted gross income (AGI), except that it also deducts charitable contributions and "qualified domestic manufacturing income" (QDMI).

What is QDMI?

Domestic manufacturing gross receipts would include gross receipts derived from (1) any lease, rental, license, sale, exchange, or other disposition of tangible personal property that is manufactured, produced, grown, or extracted by the taxpayer in whole or in significant part within the United States, or (2) construction of real property in the United States as part of the active conduct of a construction trade or business.

Translation: Income from manufacturing, retail, home construction, and rental businesses would be taxed at the 25-percent rate and still be eligible for deductions. Some might argue that this "stimulus" of key sectors of the economy is good for the economy. I call it "central planning".

Income that either is net earnings from self-employment (...) would not qualify as QDMI.

In other words, if you're self-employed in manufacturing, retail, rental, or construction, you don't qualify. This provision is merely a giveaway to those whose incomes are derived from "key sector" businesses- and that group is littered with Democrat campaign donors.

How much effect will all of this have on revenue? Hard to say, since the summary lumps all of these changes together into one (totally meaningless) revenue calculation, instead of addressing them individually.


On the flip side- regarding lower-income earners- the bill is very generous. It proposes to 'reform' tax benefits for families by eliminating head of household filing status and additional standard deduction, and consolidating several incentives into three: a larger standard deduction, a tax credit for single parents, and a new "child and dependents" tax credit, as well as a modification of earned income tax credit (EITC).

The new standard deduction would be $11,000 for single tax payers and $22,000 for married filing jointly. Single parents could claim an additional deduction of $5,500 without having to itemize deductions. However, the single parent deduction phases out by $1 for every $1 of income over $30,000. Translation: No incentive if your income exceeds $35,500.

Three important points regarding the changes to tax benefits:

1) The new child tax credit contains the most obvious doublespeak in the whole bill:
To reduce waste, fraud, and abuse, a taxpayer would be required to provide his SSN, but not an SSN for the child or dependent, to claim the refundable portion of the credit.

Read that sentence again.

The proposal eliminates the one safeguard against fraudulent claiming of the credit- the requirement to provide a child's social security number. In other words, it claims to "reduce waste, fraud, and abuse" by eliminating the requirement to reduce "waste, fraud, and abuse". Doublespeak is an old Democrat standby.

2) This "reform" costs the taxpayers $1.22 TRILLION over ten years (combination of reduced revenues and increased outlays, excluding the changes to EITC). Another trillion dollars of spending on, essentially, a welfare program- another Democrat tax proposal.

How does the bill address this expenditure? By taxing the rich more, of course (another Democrat tax goal). Specifically, by phasing out personal deductions for income above $250,000 (part of the flattening of the top bracket I mentioned above). This phase-out would decrease outlays or enhance revenue by $987.2 Billion over ten years.

3) The proposed changes to EITC are thoroughly absurd. It proposes to convert EITC into a credit against payroll taxes (remember the Democrats' ill-conceived payroll tax holiday?), as well as a refundable credit against employers' payroll taxes. You read that right: The low-wage employee (with at least one child) can get a portion of the payroll taxes paid by the employer.

Consider the impact of this: If you are an employer struggling to make a profit (as so many employers are, these days), you can avoid the necessity of giving your low-wage employees a pay raise (which would increase your payroll taxes as well) because they'll get more money by claiming a credit against the payroll taxes you've paid. Translation: It's a subsidy for keeping wages low, giving Democrats an opportunity, down the road, to claim for the umpteenth time that employers are "greedy" for not paying "a living wage". Machiavellian- and a stock-standard Democrat scheme.


On retirement savings accounts: The bill proposes to eliminate certain kinds of retirement accounts to streamline tax-privileged retirement options. That, in itself, is a reasonable goal.

The problem? The changes proposed will increase revenues by an estimated $228.4 Billion over ten years. Translation: $228 Billion in new tax revenue from changes in retirement account rules. Taxing private retirement accounts will, naturally, increase dependence on government retirement- Social Security. This is another Democratic tax policy goal.


On corporate taxes: There's big news here: A top rate of 25%. This is good, in comparison to the current highest-in-the-world rate of 35%. This will get a lot of folks enthusiastic about tax reform.

This is, of course, another standard Democrat ploy: Give a big positive to conceal all the negatives.

In this case, greater tax burden on energy producers, which will cause energy rates to "necessarily skyrocket" (to quote then-Senator Barack Obama). Elimination of the 50-percent expense rule for refinery costs and advanced mine safety equipment. Translation: Instead of being able to deduct 50% of the cost immediately from taxes, these (enormous) expenses would be deducted from taxes over the service life of the equipment (a period of many years). This means a large additional tax burden on already-struggling coal mining and fuel refining businesses- another Democrat end-goal.

Farms, by Democrat design, are also struggling, and have been for decades. This bill would eliminate the immediate expense rule for fertilizer, adding to their tax burden.

Logging is also a severely-struggling business. Democrats hate logging, which is why this bill changes the rules on timber cutting to treat it as ordinary income instead of capital gains- meaning, a huge tax hike on the logging industry.

Also, "environmental remediation costs", such as asbestos removal, would have to be expensed over a period of 40 years. Until 2012, the costs could be deducted from taxes in the current year. We already know President Obama is using the EPA to target businesses. This "doubles-down" that power, by eliminating the immediate tax break for expenditures demanded by the EPA.

Democrats can't resist taking a swipe at the natural gas industry, either. Like the proposal to eliminate the percentage depletion rule for property where oil and natural gas are extracted, and repeal of the passive activity exception for oil and gas properties.


So, let's review: a "tax reform bill" which raises taxes on upper income earners while purporting to lower their taxes; which will likely push more low-income earners into the (currently 47%) pool who pay no taxes; more government 'stimulus' of certain sectors of the economy; a trillion-plus-dollar increase in welfare spending via the tax code; almost a quarter-trillion-dollar additional tax burden on individual retirements; and greater tax burdens on logging, mining, farming, and energy production.

It must be said, most of these deductions would be eliminated, if we were actually transitioning to a flat income tax code. But "flat income tax" denotes a very low, universal rate. Camp may call this bill "flattening" of the tax code, but it isn't, except for "flattening" the top bracket to generate more revenue.

I think Chairman Camp ought to change his party affiliation.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Bowe Bergdahl: The Real Story (Interview)

I don't normally do interviews- in fact, I've only posted one interview previously. And I am normally skeptical of the "confidential source" interview, especially when the "confidential source" is claiming to 'blow the lid off' of some conspiracy theory.

However, this is not a conspiracy theory. While I realize the subject matter will be unpopular with some readers, I believe this is a story which needs to be told.

This is an interview with "Mr. Smith", an active-duty U.S. Army intelligence specialist who has asked to remain anonymous. He should be known to many of my Twitter followers. His bona fides have been confirmed publicly by some "big-name" Twitter users with impressive military credentials. He brings to the topic the refreshing viewpoint of, as he puts it, a soldier who is "not an officer, who actually works in the field and doesn't do pretty slide shows". This pragmatic viewpoint is revealed by the nature of his comments: He has no problem relating the facts, no matter how uncomfortable they may be.

What follows is the interview, edited only to put it into a readable format and to protect "Mr. Smith's" identity.


Mr. Smith: A little more of my background is needed so you know where I'm coming from.

At the time of Berghdahl's "capture" I was acting as a liaison with Afghan officers partnered with our command in Bagram.  In large part because I was awake and many Americans were not, since in my field we operate off of human time and not the time the unit typically operated on. So I had known them and we benefited from their insight. In addition to that, I was responsible for setting up oversight of an informant network to support offensive operations. 

Me: I think most readers are familiar with the official account of Bowe Bergdahl; in what way does your account differ from the well-known account of him?

Mr. S: So on 30 June he was at his outpost, not on the main FOB itself. From what I remember what was passed to us was he was a part of a platoon at the OP working with Afghan National Security Forces (Police or Army)

The bottom line was he was not well respected among his unit. I have a friend now who basically says "what round [indicating he'd like to shoot him] for desertion". And that's basically what it was. I'm sure you've heard of the story that he wasn't captured but pretty much went with the Afghans right?

Me: I have heard something to that effect, yes, but I wasn't sure whether it was true or not.

Mr. S: Well go back to him not being respected. He was disgusted with his deployment which was not very exciting. He was also known to not be a very patriotic person. Not everyone in the military is, but we're also not all Bradley Manning.

If there's one thing I could say to sum up Bergdahl, it's that he is to the infantry what Bradley Manning was to the intelligence corps. Minus the homosexuality, both were sour on the US, the war, their rather ultra comfortable lifestyle growing up and were running away when they joined the Army.

Me: I see. So, for lack of a better way of expressing it, you think it was youthful discontent and bad judgment which caused him to leave, as opposed to some other motive like, for instance, being an Islamic convert?

Mr. S: Yeah, because there's the fact he was drunk as all hell that night. As far as being a convert, he wasn't very religious, by accounts of his company or his parents if you look at their side of things. Most disaffected youths aren't very religious.

Me: Do you think he would have done it sober?

Mr. S: He probably would have actually put up a fight if he was actually captured. What happened that night is what teenagers do when they want to piss off their parents after being told what not to do. He was off duty and went to drink with his Afghan buddies who he had grown closer to according to more than one report. He left a note behind and in it was his send off. So he threw a plan together at somepoint to leave. I think getting drunk might have been liquid courage. But there’s still the possibility he was just stupid and getting drunk with the wrong crowd… but again, leaving his weapon behind? Head scratcher…

Me: Do you think the reason he hasn't been repatriated is because it's known that he went willingly? As in, "why bother 'rescuing' someone who went voluntarily?".

Mr. S: I know the vast majority of people, after those first few weeks, in RC-East at that time did not want to go hunting him down because they felt he was a deserter. And frankly, I think that's why no serious effort has been made to get him since that time. Lots of questions surround his “capture” and commanders nor politicians should be willing to risk lives on a possible deserter.

Me: Are you familiar with any attempt to recover him?

Mr. S: There were several operations conducted immediately afterwards because we did not know if he was a deserter or if he was legitimately a POW. Let me share a quote from one of the people who was there:

"Solely responsible for destroying the campaign plan of a BCT and derailed two months of election prep. and that says nothing about all the other shit that got delayed by the ass hole."

One guy calls it a "walkabout" and I'd agree.

Me: How did he destroy the campaign plan? By deserting, or something else he did?

Mr. S: By deserting. We take DUSTWUNs, the code we give to missing US personnel, seriously. So basically for two months things shut down to look for Bergdahl. In the heat of fighting season we had to shift offensive operations, projects, plans, to look for a guy that may not have wanted to be sought after. 

I learned the night/morning he went missing we had a bead on him. Those Afghans I liaison with came to me with some information. We knew that day, less than 12 hours after he went missing the Haqqanis had him, and we knew exactly what they were going to use him for but there was some fear he would be publicly executed. So the military put everything into finding him.

Additionally, SPC Brandon Steffey was killed in action on 25 October 2009 on such an operation. Steffey was a Combat Tracker Dog handler who was on his way to follow an alleged trace on Bergdahl when he and his CTD (also KIA) were struck by an IED en route to the location of the trace. There are probably more but my buddy remembers this mission he and SPC Steffey were on.

Me: So, contrary to the belief by some people- the "Bring Bowe Home" people- who believe nothing was done to retrieve him, in reality thousands of troops were involved, in some way, in looking for him.

Mr. S: Troops? Whole brigades were told to cease all operations and start to immediately pound the doors from Kabul to Kandahar. Then there's the cost of the airframes. UAVs and helicopters were literally flown to the breaking point for a solid two weeks after that. Every Kiowa, Apache Longbow, and Blackhawk was broken for about a month because of that. They had to take them down to avoid serious airframe damage. We basically surged every feasible aircraft into RC-East for 2 weeks and broke a lot of them.

I personally took a tip and guided a UAV around the Afghan countryside. Nothing came up from it. But there were plenty of operations launched because there were "spottings" of him and every Afghan knew we'd pay for his return. About a week after it all happened is when we started hearing stories about his "capture". Ultimately people got tired of chasing a ghost that everyone was learning had left his weapon, his gear, body armor, and much of his supplies with the Afghans he was partying with that night. 

Now I've drank with Afghans too so I'm not going to say he's wrong for it because I’m not a hypocrite. But he was wrong for not having a gun on him, which should say a lot about the circumstances surrounding the event. Everyone always has their gun on them when you’re at an outpost like that.

Me: Do you think it's even possible to find him now, or is he lost for good?

Mr. S: We know is probably in Waziristan, Pakistan.  We kept running tabs on tips and hints at his wearable after the immediate 2 weeks. Every scent we got in my field I had to run it up to the intel chiefs and operations immediately and our teams covered that part of the border where he would of crossed at. There were very few hits on his transport. But we think he was in Pakistan within a day or two. 

Will we "find" him? Possibly if we're allowed to capture guys... but that's another story. We're not capturing anyone anymore and all missions are Afghan partnered, which means going after a missing American isn't a priority for them. Furthermore, we believe he's in Waziristan and well... Obama risked a mission to get UBL but not Bergdahl. Because the Haqqani network is good at hiding itself and they own that region of Pakistan. So getting an accurate location on him will be hard. Any chance we have of recovery of him will likely come from some exchange. That's if he's still alive after we've killed a few Haqqani leaders. They might have killed him already.

Me: As a final word: if you wanted to tell the "Bring Bowe Home" group something else, to make it easier for them to swallow (since they have a lot invested emotionally in this), what would it be?

Mr. S: I'm still an innocent until proven guilty guy. I say he needs to come home but don't welcome him home as a hero. He's not. He did absolutely nothing to deserve that title. Had he wanted to come home I think we would have seen something a lot sooner... but we haven't, have we? His only value as a prisoner is as a propaganda tool which the Taliban has made good use of, so basically he's living rent free as a prisoner.

So to make it easier on them so swallow? Yes, he should come home. Yes, our government should do more to get him home. But don't expect the story to be one you should be proud of. 
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Shady Origins Of The Conservative Movement

I want to take you all on a trip back in time. The year is 1987, and "shall-issue concealed carry" is the law in only a few states. It was, by and large, a legislative non-starter- until Marion Hammer (later the first female President of the National Rifle Association) made Herculean efforts to get it passed in her home state of Florida. Her efforts paid off for all gun owners nationwide- the firestorm of concealed carry liberalization eventually led to the current situation today, where it is legal (in some fashion) in all 50 states, and the majority of US states have shall-issue laws.

It was a huge victory- which presented a problem for the NRA.

You see, there's a dirty secret to advocacy groups: If they win too much, they don't make as much money, since Joe Public assumes "they're doing pretty well, they don't need my twenty bucks" and fails to donate or renew his membership.

The NRA's membership rolls declined for a few years after 1987. Although the actual decline is difficult to determine, since the NRA's membership numbers have long been difficult to discern, author Emilie Raymond estimated a drop of about 700,000 members between 1989 and 1991.

The NRA needed a major loss to balance the scales.

Enter William B. Ruger- co-founder of Sturm, Ruger, & Co. (known colloquially as "Ruger Firearms"), and- ironically- advocate for banning "assault weapons".

In 1989, Ruger published a letter calling for a 15-round magazine limit "as an alternative to banning guns":

"The best way to address the firepower concern is therefore not to try to outlaw or license many millions of older and perfectly legitimate firearms (which would be a licensing effort of staggering proportions) but to prohibit the possession of high capacity magazines. By a simple, complete and unequivocal ban on large capacity magazines, all the difficulty of defining 'assault rifle' and 'semi-automatic rifles' is eliminated. The large capacity magazine itself, separate or attached to the firearm, becomes the prohibited item. A single amendment to Federal firearms laws could effectively implement these objectives."

Notice the line I have highlighted. The later 1994 Assault Weapons Ban used a complicated "features test" to define "assault rifle" by cosmetic features such as a carrying handle, protruding grip, forearm which surrounds the barrel, and so on.

The photo below is typical of many photos found around the internet, describing the absurdity of a "features test" for defining an assault weapon. (I got this photo here.) The rifle on top is an AR-15 (banned by the AWB); the bottom, a Ruger Mini-14 (not banned by the AWB). Both are semiautomatic .223-caliber rifles which can accept high-capacity magazines.

Ruger's company produced, among other firearms, semiautomatic .223-caliber and 7.62x39mm rifles, to compete with AR-15s, AK-47, and other such "assault rifles"- and, conveniently, the '94 AWB's "features test" banned most of these rifles- but not Ruger's rifles!

Now, I won't say Bill Ruger helped to write the AWB... but I will say that it's damned convenient that a) he called for a magazine capacity limit, which became part of the AWB; and, b) the AWB banned virtually all of his competitors- or would have, had it not been for the ingenuity of manufacturers designing gun parts to get around the AWB's limitations. Read Dean Speir's excellent, in-depth treatment of Ruger and the AWB here.

Ruger- also a long-time associate of the NRA (upon his death, for instance, he gave the NRA money and firearms for its museum, some of the exhibits being named for Ruger), had just handed the NRA the loss it needed to "balance the scales" and bring the memberships and donations back in.

The NRA had discovered a winning formula for making money: lose the war, but win some battles; look like the ever-fighting underdog, and people will donate money. While the NRA was losing the fight over federal gun laws, they were winning on a smaller scale by pushing for shall-issue concealed carry in state legislatures.

Further, if people believe their personal identity as a "true believer" is under attack from all sides- from enemies and "moderates" alike- they will donate even more money. Read NRA publications from the 1990s, and you will see this message oft-repeated. The NRA used gun issues "purity tests", for lack of a better term, to divide "true believer" gun rights advocates (of which I am one) from gun-rights "moderates".

Now let me bring you ahead in time to the current day.

The strategy of "losing the war, but winning some battles", "making your supporters feel like true believers attacked from all sides", is precisely the message of today's "conservative movement"- i.e., the Tea Party movement.

And a list of current and former board members of the NRA reveals a lot of familiar (and unfamiliar) faces in the conservative movement, including members of the American Conservative Union (ACU)'s board, an attorney for Tea Party candidates for US Senate, and on and on. Let me note that, while I am loathe to use a leftist resource like that particular website, it's about the only list of the NRA's board members available on the 'net. The NRA has, historically, avoided releasing the list of its board members. In fact, the last time it did so was at this link, which directed to a working web page as of January 2013, but which is now dead.

Let me advance a theory, which goes like this: The strategy of "making money by losing", perfected by the NRA in the 1990s, has been transplanted to national politics at large via the "conservative movement", which is managed from the top by many "old faces" in the NRA. These faces include, among others, both Grover Norquist and David Keene- prominent figures in the ACU; Cleta Mitchell, a prominent campaign finance attorney described by George Will as "... the most important Washington conservative not in public office...", who represented (among others) Christine O'Donnell, Sharron Angle, and Joe Miller; and a whole host of other interesting characters.

It's a pretty disjointed bunch, too, as this article from POLITICO describes. (The photo at the top of this post is borrowed from that article.) It references the same players I've mentioned above, but wearing their ACU/CPAC 'hats' and not their NRA 'hats'.

I want you, the reader, to consider this: The weeks and months ahead will be filled- mark my words- with stories about FreedomWorks, Senate Conservatives Fund, Heritage Action, and other "Tea Party" groups and their fundraising efforts. And those stories will follow the pattern I laid out above- losing important battles while winning small battles (think, 2010 and 2012 Senate elections, which were lost due to poorly-chosen "Tea Party-backed" candidates) to give the illusion of "winning battles but losing the war", and so forth.

In fact, this story-breaking has already started. Sen. John Cornyn went on Glenn Beck's program last week, describing FreedomWorks as "an organization that, that uses Republican on Republican violence, so to speak, to raise money. That’s why they exist. They don’t exist to run against Democrats. They use it to try to divide Republicans". See also Sen. Mitch McConnell's comments about SCF, along similar lines.

Remember what I said above: The use of "purity tests" to weed out all but the "true believers" and attack "moderates" (how often have you seen the term 'RINO' thrown around recently?), a tactic used extensively by conservative groups today, was developed by the NRA in the 1990s.

And, for the record: I am a former NRA member. I support Gun Owners of America. I support the Second Amendment Foundation, which has brought gun owners their greatest legal victories, namely, the Heller and McDonald decisions before the U.S. Supreme Court; I also support Jews For The Preservation Of Firearms Ownership (even though I am not Jewish). I am not just "pro-gun", I'm so blisteringly pro-gun that I make other, lesser-involved gun owners' eyes roll. One need only read this blog to see my unwavering support for gun rights.

I am a patriot. My country is being lost to unbridled socialism. The organizations and people I have mentioned here are helping the socialists win by interfering with the one and only tool we have to beat them- the Republican party. We are losing our rights, our institutions, our businesses, and our livelihoods, and these people are perpetuating this loss- while claiming to be the only movement fighting it!- in order to line their own pockets.

Shedding light on them is, to me, "work of national importance".

Sunday, November 3, 2013

I Am Not A Culture Warrior, But...

I am not a culture warrior. But if I were, I'd realize that the tactics the culture warriors have been employing are ineffective.

I'd see that TRUST is the most-essential building block of a relationship, and has been sorely lacking in relationships for a long time. We have a culture, today, full of people who are untrustworthy, and who are incapable of trusting a member of the opposite sex.

Young women have been led to believe that males all have the same character, and it's a rotten one; so, instead of evaluating a potential partner's character- since "men are all alike"- simply pick the best-looking douchebag you can get your parts on. Young women have been led to believe that good men are lame- and I'll talk more about this in a moment- so attempting to find a good man will be ultimately unfulfilling.

Young women have been taught that they are slaves to their sex organs- males are terrible creatures, and the only reason women want anything to do with them is because of the uncontrollable urge originating between their legs. Hence, a "relationship" is that state where a young woman can tolerate the man who satisfies that urge on more than a few occasions.

Young women have been taught that since men are untrustworthy and will eventually hurt them, they'd better prepare early on to hurt him back- through the family courts, through rumor mongering, and so forth- creating a state where the end of one of these sham relationships is seen as the beginning of a small war.

In essence, young women have been taught to act like perpetual victims- victims of society, victims of the male of the species, victims of their own bodies, and so forth. This, of course, serves a political end, since the progressive movement thrives on victim politics.

Young men, naturally, don't trust this creature, nor should they. Young men expect to be "victimized" by young women. They expect relationships to fail, and fail in a very nasty way; they expect to father children who will, later, be used by the young woman for her own financial gain, by exploiting him directly for money or by exploiting him through the family courts; and young men have been taught that young women "are all alike", and are all equally rotten, so just pick the best-looking bitch you can get your parts into.

Unless, of course, you're one of the young men who tries to be decent, and tries to accommodate this modern-day, fractured female of the species. Since it's impossible to be masculine around this victim of masculinity, the young man in question becomes a neutered shell of a man. He becomes "pussified", for lack of a better term. He wants a relationship, wants a family, and sees self-neutering as the only way to obtain what he wants.

TRUST is the element missing from all of this, and it is missing by design.

Consider the young woman in the photo above (photo from @DonnaBee511 on Twitter). She is a victim, but her victimizer isn't what she thinks it is. She thinks of herself as a victim of males. She has bought the lie I've described. She is, in fact, a victim of the culture of mistrust between the sexes. I pity her, because she will probably never know the wonders of a mutually-trusting relationship. When she proclaims "sometimes yes doesn't mean yes", she's really proclaiming "I don't know how to have a relationship, except by using my vagina to bargain for a temporary one".

"Sometimes yes doesn't mean yes" is a concept absolutely foreign to relationships where real, total trust is present. And this touches on another point- I feel sorry for the young men and women who will never experience the best sex a person can have, which is the sex you have with someone you trust implicitly, and who has earned that trust. Without that trust, sex is merely a game of quantity over quality; it is nothing more than "Insert Tab A Into Slot B". And it will only satisfy one's desires in the way food or drink satisfies hunger or thirst (to borrow a line from "A Stitch In Time", written by Andrew Robinson)- that is to say, only temporarily.

And for the real culture warriors, let me point something out: When progressives embarked on this culture campaign to erode trust between the sexes, they didn't invent any new tools to do it. They exploited the weaknesses in the culture which already existed. They exploited the fact that so many people were in life-long, rotten relationships because they'd decided who to marry when they were young, stupid, and horny. (We've all been young, stupid, and horny, so we can all relate to this). They exploited the rottenness of bad relationships- from which escape was exceptionally difficult- by pointing out the abuse in many of these relationships. In other words, the culture warriors' solution to this predicament is precisely what provided the progressives with the ammunition they needed. I am, of course, referring to the same culture warriors who think gay people marrying is the biggest threat to families today. Some of the best, most-trusting relationships I have seen are gay relationships, which is why I wholeheartedly support marriage equality.

If I had a teenager, I would advise them thus: Anyone who tells you sex is "no big deal" is wrong. Flatly wrong. It is something special, which is why you should only share it with someone who you trust, and who has earned that trust. And some day, you'll decide that one of those few people who is trustworthy enough to share yourself with, is the one you want to be with for life.

Of course, being my kid, they'd probably be smart enough to point out that the reason I came to this assessment is because of my extensive experience with untrustworthy people.

OK, kid, don't do what I did.