Bring the troops home

News alert: I agree with a decision President Donald Trump made! I have opposed almost every thing he has said and every action he has taken as president, so I think it’s important to recognize when I agree with him. Let me qualify it by saying that I think Trump made the decision precipitously and is executing on it in a reckless and foolish manner. But I agree with the bottom line that American troops should be vacating Syria and Afghanistan completely and in the near future.

I’m one of the few people who agree with Trump. The U.S. envoy to the coalition fighting ISIS, Brett McGurk, resigned in protest over Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria. Even the most stalwart of Trump supporters, Lindsey Graham, gave the president the harshest of criticism by invoking his nemesis Barack Obama, saying to Trump that “I believe you are on course to make the same mistake President Obama made in Iraq.” Surprisingly, Democrats are also criticizing Trump’s dovish decision, with the Speaker of the House-to-be Nancy Pelosi calling it a “Christmas gift to Vladimir Putin.”

Granted, it was a knee-jerk decision based on a phone call with President Erdoğan of Turkey rather than in consultation with Trump’s national security team but it was the right decision. Granted, he should have carefully planned the withdrawal with the Pentagon and in coordination with our coalition partners before tweeting that “it’s time to bring our young people home” from Syria and considering the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. But as a principle, I think the withdrawal of American troops from the greater Middle East is long overdue.

I understand the arguments against doing so and even agree with them to some degree. Yes, there are still thousands of ISIS fighters in Syria but I agree with Trump’s assessment that “on Syria, we were originally…

It would be naive to think that ISIS could be completely eradicated, no matter how long American troops stayed in Syria. Proponents of our presence in Syria would say that we should wait until the conditions are more favorable for a withdrawal but they neither say what those conditions would look like nor offer objective benchmarks that would identify when the conditions have been met. And while they might be able to tinker around the edges to provide some temporary help in isolated situations, it’s also naive to think our troops could have any significant positive impact on the clusterfuck of overall conditions in Syria long term.

The situation in Afghanistan is much the same in terms of the outcomes we could expect. We have been there for seventeen years now and the security situation has been relatively stagnant for well over a decade. Russia got bogged down in Afghanistan for twenty years before they were smart enough to withdraw. Let’s not waste more years there than Russia did because we’re too proud to admit we did not win a war. We have not been able to eradicate the Taliban in seventeen years and we wouldn’t be able to do it in seventy years. As in Syria, staying in Afghanistan any longer would not have any significant positive impact on the overall conditions there either.

So mark my words—President Trump is right to order our troops to withdraw from the greater Middle East. He should listen to his own national security team for advice on how to do it rather than succumbing to the whims of other autocrats. But one way or the other, he should bring the troops home.

It’s spawning season for the common Politicianus localis here. The species is parasitic in the adult form as it attaches itself inextricably to its food source (the American dollar) and becomes very difficult to eradicate. But it’s a real pest during spawning season in Irvine because you can see the larvae sprouting out of the lawns by the thousands, making the street side very unsightly. The larval form is about 2′ x 3′ but completely flat, typically displaying colorful red, white, & blue lettering. Fortunately, most larvae do not survive to become fully fledged politicians and they will be gone from the lawns by the end of November.

The conservative Resistance

While it’s true that congressional Republicans like Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan consistently provide political cover to president Donald Trump, don’t assume that conservative Americans are a monolith of support for him. When you see criticism of Trump on social media, you’ll also see his supporters leaping to the conclusion that the critics could not possibly be conservative. They refute the criticism by calling the critics “Dumbocrats” or “libtards” rather than responding to the substance of the criticism.

But there are plenty of conservative icons who strongly oppose Trump. And when you see someone you’ve never heard of complaining about the president, they might very well be conservative too—they might even be Republican. Before you dismiss my point as “fake news” simply because I’m progressive, research how the following notable conservative minds feel about Trump:

I came up with this long list of conservatives and Republicans who are part of the Resistance off the top of my head. A little investigation will uncover plenty more widely known people on the Right who criticize Trump. And for every famous conservative on this list, there are millions of everyday American conservatives who are appalled by the actions of president Trump. So before you pop off at his critics assuming that they are hating on Trump only because Hillary Clinton lost the election, stop and consider the possibility that they are very much like you ideologically (other than not being in the thrall of Trump).

The care & feeding of immigrant children

The separation of children from their parents at the border has been dominating the news cycle recently. It has resulted in a great deal of exposure of the plight of these children. It’s important to be aware of what goes on inside the brains of children separated from their parents.

Many people are already doing a good job making Americans aware of what these immigrant children are going through. So I found it interesting when a letter from a paramedic at the Texas border revealed another side to the immigration issue. Lee Whitt shined a light on what it’s like for him and his colleagues to care for these children on the border. This letter helped me to recognize that the rank & file at the front line of this crisis should not be thought of in the same light as their leadership in president Trump’s administration:

The issues he raises have been reported in the media but I encourage you to read Whitt’s post anyway because his anecdotes really add important color to the narrative. The media have corroborated that the people working directly with these children are doing a yeoman’s job with the minimal resources they have and under the challenging constraints their leadership have imposed on them. I think Americans should give more recognition to them and the heartbreaking work they’re doing.

I also agree with Whitt’s statement that “I could care less what you think of President Trump but where I draw the line is when we start taking down innocent people and painting them as villains in an effort to destroy someone else.” The irony is that president Trump is the chief person I see taking down innocent people and painting them as villains. His rhetoric explicitly painting immigrants as an infestation of MS-13 gang members, drug dealers, murderers, and rapists is meant to dehumanize immigrants and stoke xenophobia.

So take a minute to look away from Trump’s divisive and heartless actions and recognize the people at the border caring for the immigrant children Trump has detained in their hands.

The latest best “seller” spy thriller

Why bother reading a long Tom Clancy novel when you can read USA v. Internet Research Agency (PDF) in only 37 double-spaced pages. This indictment of thirteen Russian nationals by special prosecutor Robert Mueller reads like spy fiction. But it’s a true story of the subversion of USA’s 2016 federal election by Russia and its American agents.

The part that caught my attention is the clause that says “defendants knowingly and intentionally conspired with each other (and with persons known and unknown to the Grand Jury) to defraud the United States.” The defendants are now in Russia and will never see the inside of an American courtroom on this matter. So why would Mueller indict them? The indictment lays the foundation of the crime out to the American people for later when Mueller charges the Americans who conspired with the Russian agents.

So who are the conspirators “known and unknown to the Grand Jury”? One thing you can be sure of is that the court filings Mueller has made to date are just the tip of the iceberg of evidence he has already assembled.

As we know, president Donald Trump’s disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn has already pleaded guilty of lying to the FBI and will cooperate with the Russia inquiry, as has a member of candidate Trump’s foreign policy advisory panel George Papadopoulos (PDF). Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort has been indicted on multiple related counts including conspiracy against the USA. And Manafort’s campaign deputy Rick Gates is close to a plea deal with Mueller.

The conspirators unknown to the Grand Jury are part of the Mueller iceberg we can’t see (yet). I think we will find that they are associates of the ones we already know about. They will likely include Donald Trump Jr. and president Trump’s senior adviser (and son-in-law) Jared Kushner, among other people involved in the Trump campaign or working in the West Wing. But there’s one key person who is centrally related to all of the aforementioned gang of crooks—the Fraudster in Chief, Donald Trump himself.

As fascinating as the USA v. Internet Research Agency indictment is, I’m really looking forward to its sequel. That will be the articles of impeachment against president Trump.

What good is the EPA?

President Trump recently proposed cutting the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) budget more than thirty percent but I have seen relatively little outrage voiced over these cuts. It seems that Americans are more concerned about the Supreme Court nomination and Trump’s ties to Russia. While they are both important issues, I expected a greater outcry about the environment since it will have a greater impact on Americans long after Trump’s nominee vacates the SCOTUS bench.

Then it occurred to me that Millennials have never known a time when the smog in LA was so thick that you could barely see the Hollywood sign from the Hollywood Freeway for the entire summer. And Baby Boomers are about the only Americans who remember the Cuyahoga River being so polluted that it literally caught on fire. So many Americans take the relatively clean condition of the United States for granted because it doesn’t seem as urgent an issue as it does to those of us who remember how badly polluted this country used to be.

But all you have to do to get an idea of what the environment could be like is to look at present-day China. It struggles with air pollution and photos of China’s water pollution show that its environment is worse than the USA ever was. But China’s central government does not regulate pollution like the EPA has for almost fifty years in the USA. So pollution goes on relatively unabated there.

Instead, capitalism has been the biggest driver of China’s pollution problems. The invisible hand of the free market generally works against a clean environment as it looks to maximize profits by minimizing the societal costs born by free enterprise. I’m as big a proponent of capitalism as the next American but I don’t deny that, although private businesses do not, the American people do bear the societal costs. And the societal cost of industry is pollution.

But as bad as I know from experience that pollution can get in the USA, it’s the least environmental concern younger Americans should have. They haven’t felt Global Warming sneaking up on them but they are the ones who will feel its impact the most in the future. Military experts say climate change poses a “significant risk” to national security, not terrorism. And although Global Mean Sea Level has risen 0.13 inches a year for the past couple of decades, that’s nothing compared to what we can expect in the years to come if we don’t curtail the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The rise of the oceans will accelerate to reach another two meters by the end of the century. Say goodbye to Miami, New Orleans, and much of Manhattan.

Yet president Trump has pledged to rip up the Paris climate agreement, which would likely lead to its demise. So it’s clear that the EPA will be getting no love from him either. Unless Americans protest cuts to the EPA, prepare for all of its good work to be undone and a slide back to the polluted states of America.

Two wrongs don’t make a right

I have not watched all of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing of Neil Gorsuch regarding his nomination by President Trump to be a justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) but I’ve watched a substantial amount of it. I’ve also read criticisms and statements in support of Gorsuch’s nomination. In my opinion, nothing that we know of disqualifies Gorsuch for the highest bench and there’s no reason for the senate to withhold consent to the nomination.

Nonetheless, many Democrat senators would like to prevent or at least stall his confirmation. For the most part, it’s because the Republicans refused to even allow a vote on President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland for the SCOTUS. I’ve already stated that the Republican senators’ refusal to consider Obama’s nomination was a dereliction of their duty to uphold the Constitution of the USA. But that applies equally to Democrat senators if they attempt to block Gorsuch’s nomination. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

For that reason, the senate should move to a vote on the nomination within a reasonable amount of time after Gorsuch’s hearing concludes. Democrats should not necessarily vote in favor of the nomination—they should vote their conscience. But unlike the way the Republicans treated Garland, Democrats should at least vote on the nomination. It is their duty and Gorsuch deserves it. Blocking the vote would only harm the Democrats in the senate.

The Democrats will face much more critical challenges in the future that they will need the GOP’s backing on. If the Democrat’s make blocking Gorsuch’s nomination an issue, the Republicans will simply make opposition to the Democrats automatic on future issues for purely partisan issues. It is likely that the senate will have sound, irrefutable grounds to impeach Trump before the end of his term as president but the senate will need the cooperation of the GOP to issue articles of impeachment. The senate will also need to deal with issues like health care, the budget, and immigration during the Trump administration. So I call on the Democrat senators to treat Trump’s nomination of Gorsuch in the same way they would have treated Obama’s nomination of Garland.