A Highlight From Washington’s Farewell Address

I was looking over Washington’s Farewell Address for another project, and I was struck by one section I found to be particularly prescient with regard to political parties and foreign influence:

“Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it. 

“It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.” (1796)

It’s Easy to See Espionage

Given the impeachment open hearings regarding Ukraine and a false conspiracy theory picked up by Republicans – that Ukraine (not Russia) was behind 2016 election meddling – it’s good to remind ourselves of just exactly what the Russians did in 2016. Here’s the famous indictment issued a year and half ago against 12 Russian hackers who stole documents from the DNC in 2016. Its 29 double-spaced pages, but reads like a short story. (And this is just the DNC hacking, not the additional meddling with fake news ads on Facebook and speeding conspiracies.).

Here’s the intelligence community assessment from January 2017. Full IC consent.

Or read the book The Perfect Weapon by David Sanger.

Or remember the Russian deep-cover spies who were exposed in 2010? The Foley’s? Juan Lozaro? How about Jack Barsky and his story?

Or read up on any David Ignatius novel. Or don’t read a novel, but remember the classic KGB espionage actions throughout the Cold War. Stealing the bomb? Another Los Alamos worker was identified just this week! Or throughout the rest of the struggle.

And Trump, and the horrible lack of judgement he uses in picking extremely vulnerable people to surround himself with (remember that Jared Kushner couldn’t even get a clearance because he’s so shady, until Trump ordered it) – he is vulnerable himself to witting or unwitting assistance to the Russians. Check this piece out – not that I think Trump is a full employee of the KGB, but what makes him an easy target and how would they do it? And don’t forget that Putin is a career KGB counterintelligence official.

All I’m saying is that it’s absolutely obvious to even casual espionage observers what the Russians did, why they’d do it, and how bad it is to have Trump in office along with the the horribly ripe (for the Russians) people he picks to advise him. Having a major political party have a cult-like atmosphere around their leader (Republicans and Trump) has to be a perfect dream for Russian intelligence.

The Essence of the Problem

As Fareed Zakaria wrote last weekend in the Washington Post:

The real issue is that the United States has become deeply polarized, and each side wants to believe the worst slander and lies about the other. And undeniably this phenomenon is far more prevalent on the right than the left.

As another commentator mentioned the other day, American politicians have ceased to look at members of the other party as “worthy adversaries” in the arena of bettering the country. Instead they are now demonized as “the enemy” or the “opposition” to be bitterly defeated no matter the cost to the country.

Notice the signs that were brought by the Republicans to the George Kent and Bill Taylor public hearings yesterday. Although it’s a standard congressional hearing practice, is that the conduct expected at something as serious as the impeachment hearings of a president concerning foreign policy and national security matters? They weren’t there to objectively get information from clearly patriotic and dedicated public servants. They were there to walk the party line in defense of the indefensible conduct of this president (who is damaging our democracy and national security). Not to mention the outlandish opening statement by Devin Nunes filled with lies and outrageous conspiracy theories.

Horrible partisanship consumes America’s politics, and the problem is far worse on the right than the left. This is the essence of the country’s problem.

Terminal Journal: Attacks on Saudi Oil Fields

A quick note from the terminal to write about the attacks this weekend on the Saudia Arabian oil fields. There’s been great reporting by The NY Times and Wall Street Journal, among other sources.

First, what happened. Drones were used to attack Saudi Oil fields, causing fires and damage and taking offline, at least for now, about half its production capability.

Who did it? The most likely culprit are Houthi rebels, based in Yemen and currently fighting the Yemeni government. The Houthis are backed by Iran, as they are both Shia, while the Saudis have been backing the government of Yemen, both because of its Sunni faith and because of their desire for stability on its southern border. A “proxy war” by Iran has been waged in Yemen in supporting the Houthis, while the Saudis have waged an overt war with a large bombing campaign and a devastating blockade causing the worst famine crisis in modern times. Needless to say, there are clear reasons why the Houthis would attack Saudi Arabia where it hurts. Unlike what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo states, there does not seem to be indication that Iran was directly behind the attacks (and hard to believe they would), but the Shia state has waged a war by proxy actor in Yemen supporting the Houthis, so they are indirectly involved.

So What? Well, Saudia Arabia’s economy and entire social contract with its citizens is based on oil. Any attack on those facilities would demand a response from any sovereign nation, let alone one that impacted half of its output. The attack shut down about 5 percent of the global output of oil, something that will have an impact on the global economy. Other oil-producing nations will need to make up that gap. Additionally, this is an attack that violates the sovereignty of Saudi Arabia, something that they will not look at passively (despite their current involvement in the sovereignty in Yemen).

What’s next? This attack was a a clear attack against the heart of Saudi Arabia’s economy and foundation of their economic state. They will respond, and it will most likely be a strong military response. Oil is at the heart of the importance of the Middle East, and this attack strikes at that importance. Andrew Bacevich writes about this foundation of oil in the Middle East in his book America’s War for the Greater Middle East. Thus, while Trump’s talk of the US being “locked and loaded” may be laughable, it is true that we have an interest in the stability of the region, in the oil that flows through it’s straits, and in supporting our ally (Saudi Arabia) in responding. We have been a large supporter of the proxy war already. We will see if this response is military related or not.

Attacks like this involving drones and hitting economic infrastructure also represent an evolving modern type of warfare, something ISIS has used already and others are adding to their arsenal. Warfare is evolving, from cyber attacks like Stuxnet, Sony, and Russia and the 2016 US election, to drone attacks like this. But for the time being, it will be interesting but also concerning to see what the responses by Saudi Arabia, the Houthis, Iran, and the US looks like following these attacks against the Saudia oil fields.

Another shooting…

So sick of this country’s idiocy and utter lack of any change on guns. Yet another shooting, not to mention the lesser-told shootings this week in Mississippi and California, or any others yet untold. Does not deserve to be a right or in the constitution anymore, has no bearing today. A Wal-Mart today, a school other days, a movie theater or a concert or a restaurant or a workplace or a house or worship. Is this really America? Is this really how our people want to live? How sickening.

American Pride – Proud of What?

Just a thought. I’m a proud American. I am very thankful that I was born in this country as opposed to some of the other nations on earth – although being born here is simply by chance and I may have thought differently if I wasn’t white, male, and from the middle class. But at its essence, what should make a country great and it’s citizens proud? It can be assumed that this list would consist of people, culture, kindness, opportunity, safety, health and wellness, the physical landscape, good history, and more. It seems today that much of what is claimed to make America a great nation and it’s citizens proud deals with our military history, particularly the victory of the revolution and WWII. As rising West Virginia politician Richard Ojeda says, what’s so great about America, just that “we can whip your ass?” That’s not much pride to stand on.

So should I be so proud today, proud of where our country is at? Let me depressingly list some reasons why I struggle to be proud on Independence Day:

  • The situation at the border is despicable. Family separations, horrible conditions with failing health conditions, multiple deaths, overcrowding, and more (despite the fact that many of the migrants fit the legitimate definitions of refugees and asylum-seekers).
  • A culture of male dominance and female belittlement.
  • A disgusting idolization of guns that has led to a problem that no other western nation has and even the most violent of countries doesn’t struggle with. No conservatives, the constitution did not grant the right to have military-style assault weapons, but context matters none.
  • The only western country in the world to remove itself from the Paris Climate Agreement and a large segment of the population that ignores fact and is brainwashed by oil companies and those wishing to keep dying industries (coal) alive. And a country that has some of the most diverse landscape in the world with some of the most beautiful natural wonders, yet continues to slash Department of the Interior funding, advocates drilling in wildlife refuges, and chooses oil pipelines over Native American lands.
  • Refuses to recognize the race issue in this country and the horrible history of slavery and Jim Crow laws, which are still impacting Americans of color. Yes, the Civil War was fought over slavery; some argue states rights, but it was about a states right to do what – allow the ownership of other human beings.
  • A political system that is broken. In 2010, now Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell proclaimed that the single most important agenda item for Republicans was not some piece of legislation, not something regarding the financial crisis or the Afghan War, but ensuring Obama was a one-term President. Wow, very senatorial of him but mirroring our current political affairs.
  • An election process that uses an outdated electoral college system that applied to 1787 politics but has no bearing in 2019. In two out of the five presidential elections since 2000 the winner did not have a majority of the votes. Not very representative of the public.
  • A health care system that people think should be run via capitalism as opposed to being a right of citizenship. An emergency room visit for a life-threatening case leads to tens of thousands of dollars in bills put on the patient. Really? Should we be treated by for-profit doctors and hospitals, who at the end of the day prefer money over effective treatment? We have the best doctors working in the worst system.
  • A minimization of education and it’s importance to national success and security. When did public education become an enemy or a joke? When did universities start putting more money into college sports as opposed to intellectual advancement? A culture of “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” and non-education is helping to lead to worsening comparative test scores and educational performance by America on the global stage.
  • Ignorant and uneducated citizens have led to a large segment of the population believing (and deeply believing) false information. Fake news is real, but so many don’t know what is fake and what is not. It’s truly an epidemic.
  • So much more. Capitalism has made so many thrive in our country, but runaway capitalism without proper regulation has dramatically increased the gap between the richest and the poorest Americans.
  • Thinking we can spend more government money without increasing tax revenues coming into the government is just not mathematically possible, yet good luck on getting that to pass Congress.
  • A sizable portion of Christians (of which I am one) who ignore the Bill of Rights (of which I am not one) and think that government should regulate people’s lives in the way that they think that God would want.
  • Not to mention the disgrace nationally and internationally of our current president and the defamation of the office he is holding. Don’t forget, however, that 62 million people voted for him, so it’s not just him to be disgraced by, but ourselves as well.

It is unfortunate that on this Independence Day, while proud of many of our accomplishments as a nation, I am deeply disappointed in much regarding the current state of affairs. It is hard to be proud of something that is failing so many so badly. Hopefully up-and-coming generations will help right the ship that is sailing far off the course it was intended.