Against Identity Politics

James Baker III nor Andrew Young are neither of them men whose politics I much feel close to, but I can't disagree about this.
The U.S. finds itself increasingly divided along lines of race, ethnicity, gender, religion and sexual identity. Countless demagogues stand ready to exploit those differences. When a sports reporter of Asian heritage is removed from his assignment because his name is close to that of a Confederate army general, political correctness has gone too far. Identity politics practiced by both major political parties is eroding a core principle that Americans are, first and foremost, Americans....

The country faces a stark choice. Its citizens can continue screaming at each other, sometimes over largely symbolic issues. Or they can again do what the citizens of this country have done best in the past-work together on the real problems that confront everyone....

Floodwaters don't distinguish between Republicans and Democrats. Nor do rotting bridges discriminate between whites and blacks. This is an important and easy area to emphasize common interests. Political leaders should prioritize and provide tangible policies that benefit Americans. They are long overdue....

Alexis de Tocqueville, the 19th-century French diplomat who identified strengths in the American experiment, admired the resiliency of the system the Founding Fathers devised. He wrote in the first volume of "Democracy in America" that "the greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults."...

Americans must, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said during a 1965 commencement address for Oberlin College, learn to live together as brothers and sisters. Or, we will perish together as fools.
The piece is padded out with plenty that I can and do disagree with, but this much of it is quite right.

Spies & Mercenaries

Erik Prince's proposal to privatize the war in Afghanistan has several drawbacks, one of which is that I don't think it can possibly bring about a successful conclusion to that war. All the same, this article in Politico is ridiculously unfair to Prince and his efforts. It's fine to be against doing this, but be reasonable.
[Prince] insists contractors should not be stigmatized as “mercenaries,” even though he is proposing armed civilians in conflict zones—the classic definition of a mercenary.
I don't know about 'classic,' but there's an in-practice UN definition of mercenaries that does not include contractors.
Instead, he says they are like the Flying Tigers, the popular name of the 1st American Volunteer Group that flew against the Japanese in 1941–42. Here is where his analogy takes a nosedive: The Flying Tigers were not mercenaries.
Prince: 'Contractors are not mercenaries. They're like the Flying Tigers.'

Proposed rebuttal: 'Nonsense! The Flying Tigers were not mercenaries!'

QED, dude.

In fact, the Flying Tigers were contractors paid by the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company, with kill bonuses from the Chinese government. Thus, Prince is right in his analogy, more or less.
Rather, they were U.S. military pilots who took off their uniforms to fly as civilians, so that FDR did not have to declare war. Once war was declared, they flew as American fighter pilots once again.
That's a war crime, by the way: perfidy. It also made them legally spies that could be shot on sight.
That’s hardly the same thing as contractors being paid, often exorbitantly, to fight a war on our behalf.
Except that they were contractors, paid a fairly decent sum for every kill.
Where will these mercenaries come from? According to Prince, all will be “brave Americans” who are “former Special Operations veterans.” More sales talk. To keep costs down, he will probably have to outsource to the so-called Third World, where military labor is cheap.
So, we're just to assume that he's lying about that? Because that would be a closer parallel to the Flying Tigers than you wanted to allow (some being no longer active duty). Also, the fact that they are citizens of a nation that is a party to the conflict is why they're contractors and not mercenaries under the UN rule.
When I was in the industry, I worked alongside other ex-special forces and ex-paratroopers from places like the Philippines, Colombia and Uganda.
You know who trained those ex-special forces from the Philippines before they were "ex"? American Special Operations forces.
But do we want Filipino, Colombian and Ugandan mercenaries fighting our wars for us, their way?
That is literally why we trained them.
Prince assures us that nothing will go wrong. To avoid Nisour incidents in the future, he wants to place all mercenaries under U.S. military law, known as the Uniform Code of Military Justice. However, this resolves little. Take, for example, jurisdiction: What happens if a Guatemalan mercenary massacres an Afghan family while on an American contract?
That is exactly the sort of issue that a Status of Forces agreement addresses. The government of Afghanistan would have to agree to terms, and those terms would establish these details.

The article closes with a shot at Prince's patriotism for seeking work from the UAE and China, just to ad an ad hominem on the end of a terrible argument.

I still think Prince's approach can't possibly work, but good gracious. Isn't it enough to criticize it on its logistical and practical problems?

Emergency Service

Not that any of you need the reference, but here it is anyway.

What's a Brigade Between Friends?

DOD confesses it's got a few... more... troops than it has previously admitted deployed in the 'Stan.

Legendary Swords that Exist

Some nice pieces among these.

Cobb County Grows a Headache

Cobb County has always been my least favorite part of the Atlanta metropolitan complex. It grew up fast and early, in advance of some better practices for urban sprawl, and became a hideous nest of traffic and multi-lane roads. These roads are barely functional on the best day, and depend for that function on traffic cops. So, of course, it's important to have traffic cops who are widely respected and trusted.
It was a mere traffic stop, but the driver was clearly nervous — telling the police officer that she was worried that if she moved her hands, she would be shot.

Then the cop, Greg Abbott, tried to assure her: “But you’re not black. Remember, we only shoot black people. Yeah, we only kill black people, right?”
My guess is that he meant that as a disarming joke, as his lawyer claims, but man.

An Interesting Letter from World War I

Wandering around the internet recently brought me to Beachcombing's Bizarre History Blog, where the author's focus is on such things as books that have been lost to us, forgotten kingdoms, things he can't figure out, rogue researchers, weird wars, and so forth. A recent post includes the text of and discusses a newspaper article from 1915 about a German soldier who asked his sister to write to the family of a dead British soldier he found on the battlefield.

A bit of the letter:

Frankfort-on-Maine. It is a very sad matter I am writing you. My brother sent home a letter from the front and begged me to write you. He stands in the west, and it was in his first letter since the hard fights there. My eldest brother was killed last year at Ypres, so that I know how glad we were to hear any details of his death. I think you have already heard that Lawrence B. Merson, whom I believe to be your son, did not come back from the last fight. We were enemies, but pain and mourning are uniting us. So thought my brother, too, for he wrote everything about your son he could find out. I just will translate to you: 
‘We led the way to our position, and found there a dead Highlander, who had a deep wound above the right eye, probably by a thrust of the bayonet. We found the following objects: book of payment, mark of distinction, a small sketch, and an instrument against the gases. The dead Englishman had his gun with the bayonet at (and there were spots blood on it) his right side. He was Highlander, with a kilt and bare knees.’


AFG (Still?) Hot

Newly published today, a mortar team covers its own position with rifles while sending rounds downrange. Not very far downrange.

UPDATE: Footage is from 2009, only just reposted yesterday. See comments.

Tex Update II

Image from 5 Bravo.

Tex writes this afternoon to say: "Really good here thx, grocery store to open tomorrow." Hopefully we'll have her back soon.

UPDATE: Tex notes in an additional message that internet restoration is not necessarily going to be soon. They don't have cable out where she is, so it depends on the power company. No guarantees that will happen fast given the scale of the disaster.

Transgender Treason

The NYT deserves some credit for publishing this piece. I'll even forgive the use of Manning's preferred pronouns and titles in this case, as it probably makes the message easier for the intended audience to hear. Though I might generally be willing to go along with whatever someone wants to be called, if they ask nicely, in this case I think the only appropriate thing is to show scorn for the traitor. But the audience would reject the whole argument on the basis that it was 'mean,' I guess, though this is someone who deserves scorn and disrespect to the highest degree.
Perhaps the NYT's audience will understand why a bit better after reading these facts.

When Ms. Manning transmitted 750,000 secret military records and State Department cables to WikiLeaks in 2010, she not only jeopardized continuing missions and disrupted American diplomacy. She also put an untold number of innocent people’s lives in danger.

According to The New Yorker, when the United States tried to locate “hundreds” of Afghans named in the documents and move them to safety, “many could not be found, or were in environments too dangerous to reach.” When pressed by a journalist about the possibility of redacting the names of Afghans who cooperated with the United States military, Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, reportedly replied: “Well, they’re informants. So, if they get killed, they’ve got it coming to them. They deserve it.”

Meantime, Mr. Assange gave a Russian Holocaust denier 90,000 of the cables. That man, who goes by the pen name Israel Shamir, delivered a trove to the Belarussian dictatorship, which then utilized the material to detain opposition activists. In Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe used a leaked cable detailing a United States Embassy meeting with opposition figures as pretext for an investigation into “treasonous collusion.”

Yet from the moment United States military prosecutors charged Ms. Manning with violating the Espionage Act in 2010, progressives have hailed her as a folk hero.
The charge itself was a gift from the Obama-era DOD. It should have been treason, with a side order of responsibility for recklessly endangering hundreds of lives -- an untold number of which may have been lost.

A Word on The Convention of the States

Tom Coburn writes:
The states created the federal government. They gave it a sphere of jurisdiction, over which it is supreme. That jurisdiction, however, is limited to the specific, enumerated powers contained in the text of the Constitution. All other powers—every single power not expressly delegated to the national government—remain vested in the states, or the people....

Don’t fall for the lie that the Convention of States Project is some conservative plot to impose their policies on the American people. The real agenda is exactly the opposite: to restore the power of the American people to decide public policies for themselves.
His kind words for the 14th Amendment, though doubtless unavoidable given the rhetorical project, strike me as at odds with the idea of restraining an overweening Federal government. The 14th's delegation of power to the Federal courts is one of the things most in need of restraint by any new amendments. The idea that the Federal courts would prevent states from violating basic rights was nice, and probably even needed at the time the amendment was proposed, but it became the vehicle for forcing state submission to every Federal whim in every single kind of case. Outright repeal of the 14th might not be appropriate or necessary, but some sort of adjustment certainly is necessary if Coburn's vision is going to be realized.

DB: Navy Collides with Building in Downtown Houston

"The ship was identified as an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer belonging to the Navy’s 7th Fleet."

Those do seem to be having some trouble lately.

Nor is this the worst water-borne event to come out of Harvey.

Smaller Government

Congress may not deserve its low ratings for a change.
An analysis by the Pew Research Center that looked at every piece of legislation that received final approval from Congress found this Congress tied for fifth most productive in the past 30 years.
Doing what, you ask?
...overturning Obama-era rules, using a little-known law call the Congressional Review Act.

The 1996 law gives this Congress a shortcut to overturn any rules submitted after mid-June of 2016. Before now, the Act had only been used once.... This Republican-led Congress, however, has shown no qualms about using the act to chip away at Barack Obama’s legacy. While Congress hasn’t been able to repeal and replace Obamacare, which Republicans have been promising for the seven years since it was passed, they have gotten rid of regulations around mountaintop removal for coal mining, a rule that kept internet service providers from using selling customers data to advertisers without their permission, and a Securities and Exchange Commission regulation that requires corporations to disclose payments to foreign governments.... President Trump promised repeatedly during his campaign to slash regulations, and Congress has delivered: While congressional “productivity” is high, regulatory activity is at an all-time low.
That's under-selling it. The regulations are an undisputed bright-spot in the Trump administration: for every new regulation they have proposed, they've killed sixteen existing ones. They have focused especially on Obama-era regulations intended to 'fundamentally transform America.' The economic benefits are real.
In a statement, OMB Director Mick Mulvaney boasted about how much the administration has been able to cut down on regulatory red tape and improve American prosperity.

“Government is using muscles it hasn’t used in a really long time, exposing and removing redundant and unnecessary regulation,” he said.

“In the first five months of this administration alone the net cost of our regulatory agenda has been less than zero dollars. Contrast that with the last five months of Fiscal Year 2016 when the Obama administration imposed almost $7 billion in costs on our economy through regulation."
Smaller-government efforts like this would never have been considered under the second Clinton administration. That's a fact worth keeping in mind as a partial counterweight to the criticisms, though many of those are valid.

Deforestation in Haiti: A Big Lie

Turns out one of the most commonly-told stories of environmental degradation simply doesn't check out. The actual forestation in Haiti is more than an order of magnitude higher than the 2% reported in the disaster stories: 30%, similar to the US or Germany.

"The Rise of a Moral Panic"

A good piece by a doctor of geography (to include culture and politics, he notes in his bio) on the irrationality attending our current debate.
The classic example of a moral panic involves a society losing its mind over witchcraft, as when more than twenty innocent people, mostly women, were hanged or otherwise killed following the Salem witch trials of 1692. In general, a moral panic concerns something that would be bad, perhaps horrific, if real, but whose reality is imagined or exaggerated to the point of social hysteria, and the popular reaction to which leads individuals and institutions to abandon reason, evidence, and common sense....

It should be obvious from history that uninformed or illiterate attacks on odious people like Gorka or Lord lead inevitably to uninformed or illiterate attacks on good people. Perhaps CNN dismissed Lord on a pretext, or perhaps it finally just no longer thought he was worth the trouble. And the Vitézi Rend is an obscure bit of knowledge, easy for dilettantes to posture over because so few others are equipped to challenge their “expertise.” The okay sign is a different matter. It is familiar, common, mundane. What does it say that so many repeat the myth of the “white power” sign? One possibility is that people have no confidence in their own understanding of the sign; another is that they acknowledge that it used to mean “okay,” but are willing to surrender such a common expression to extremists instantly when challenged. Both possibilities are disturbing, because they suggest that we lack the mental tools and strength to respond to this phenomenon. When pressed, we will sacrifice our culture and our way of life. Charlottesville demonstrated, at least for the moment, that we are not willing to cede control of our streets to white nationalism. But if we cede control of our rhetoric, of our intellectual spaces, and even of our ordinary language, the real battle will be lost.
Lord is a TV personality, and I don't watch television. I don't know that Gorka is an "odious" person, though; I've never met the guy, but I know a guy who knows him and who tells me that Gorka's been badly mistreated. The press hates Trump so much that they're looking to hate anyone associated with Trump, and if there are things they can misrepresent in a way that makes that guy look even worse than Trump, well, then that guy becomes a weapon against Trump.

That's a part of the irrationality that the author is rightly describing. Just this week, I noticed that the press was describing the transcript of the President's remarks as being that of his "rant." In addition, they left out a very significant piece of evidence contradicting the "moral panic" picture: the benediction by Alveda King, which was attended by a very warm reception from the crowd. The benediction itself is an appeal for unity and brotherhood not divided by things like race; the crowd's embrace of King and her message would seem to suggest -- at minimum -- reconsidering the panic that these are all 'racists' or even 'Nazis.' It is unclear to me if they simply cannot see the evidence that is right in front of their eyes, or if they are actively rejecting that it could be true or real, or if -- I should not like to believe, but it is possible -- they are actively suppressing exculpatory information in order to further the moral panic.

There is cause for concern about a rising confidence among true white supremacists. As noted here recently, I've seen a Klan flag being flown openly when I had never seen one in decades. It is right and proper to oppose such things, in a rational but committed fashion.

Nevertheless, one must avoid the irrational excesses that are becoming all too common. I meet Trump voters every day when I go out in the world around me. I buy gas from them, I have other sorts of businesslike exchanges, I overhear their conversations in line at the grocery store. This panic is out of order. The harm it is causing is worse than any potential harm from the handfuls of genuine Klansmen and Nazis scattered here and there across a vast nation.