Friday, April 5, 2019

The Rev Al Once Expounded on Architecture, Philosophy, Astrology [sic] and Math-a-Matics

The LA Times has noticed the Democratic candidates lining up to seek Rev Al Sharpton's political blessing (For Democrats, all paths to the White House run through the House of Sharpton) and seems to be silently screaming "no, please, don't!"
A glimpse at the guest list for the Rev. Al Sharpton’s confab here this week would surely astonish any New Yorker arriving in a time machine from the 1980s. Every major Democrat who has launched a White House bid has cleared their schedule to get in front of the Reverend.
Astonished? Oh, they've got that right.
But today, Sharpton’s approval is sought by political candidates far and near. The crusades he launched decades ago against police abuse and racist enforcement of drug laws — back when his issues were widely denigrated as fringe and his look ran to velour tracksuits, giant gold medallions and a pompadour the size of Queens — are now central to the speeches of almost every Democratic 2020 hopeful.

The lifelong preacher and political bomb thrower, the man New York mayors once did not want in their city, much less near their offices, says it is not he who has changed, but the nation’s politics.
The story hits the highlights of the Rev's long trail of trouble-making in New York during the '80s and '90s: the Tawana Brawley hoax, the firebombing of Freddie's Fashion Mart in Harlem that killed eight persons, and his instigating a mini-pogrom in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights.

But there is so much more. Especially the extraordinarily politically incorrect speech in which the Rev Al indulged just the day before yesterday. That alone ought to rule him out as an endorser of Democratic Party Presidential candidates, or so you would think.

Consider that gem of Rev Al rhetoric embedded above, which is from his '90s Afrocentrism period. He delivered it in a 1995 speech at Kean College, New Jersey.

I'd heard of that quote, but it is so perfectly stupid that it strains plausibility to think that even Rev Al really said that. And the reference to Trump makes it just too perfect. That had to be exaggerated if not invented, right? But then I found the audio.

If there are any Democratic candidates who have not yet kissed the Rev's ring, they should run, not walk, away.

Most Head Shakingly Bad Thing of the Week

2 Arkansas men don bullet-resistant vest, shoot each other - Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette

Ferris said he and Hicks had been on the deck drinking. Ferris was wearing a bullet-resistant vest. He told Hicks to shoot him, according to the affidavit. Hicks shot Ferris in the chest one time with a .22- caliber semi-automatic rifle. The bullet hit the top left corner of Ferris' chest. He said it hurt, according to the affidavit. Hicks then put on the vest. Ferris said he was angry about getting shot, and he "unloaded the clip" with the remaining five rounds into Hicks' back, according to the affidavit. None of the rounds penetrated the vest, according to the affidavit.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Former Afghanistan Hostage on Trial for Abusing his Wife

Caitlan Coleman is speaking now 

Today was the second day of testimony by Caitlan Coleman in the trial of her estranged husband, Joshua Boyle. See the details here.

Joshua Boyle is the weird Muslim-obsessed self-described "pacifist Mennonite hippie-child" from rural Canada who took his very young and very pregnant American wife on a walking tour of Afghanistan several years ago. They and their children ending up staying in Afghanistan and Pakistan for the next five years as the involuntary guests of the Haqqani network until they were rescued by Pakistani forces in 2017. See this post about their return to Canada.

Caitlan Coleman was eerily silent when they returned, saying nothing in press interviews. That was a clue. A few months after they returned, Boyle was charged with 19 counts of abusing her. The charges include assault with a weapon, sexual assault, and forcible confinement. The abuse took place both in Afghanistan and in Canada.

Caitlan's testimony is devastating, and if Boyle has a defense I haven't seen it. I recall that he put off a distinctly creepy vibe when he spoke to the news media back in 2017, but I couldn't have guessed the half of it.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

ISIS Defeat Ceremony Has U.S. Representation

Ambassador William Roebuck, U.S. Deputy Special Envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, attended the Syrian Democratic Forces' ceremony for the defeat of ISIS today in Baghouz, Syria.

I'm pleased to see he was wearing comfortable shoes and no necktie. A practical man with common sense.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Most Head Shakingly Bad Thing of the Week

Human rights lawyer, 50, branded Air India crew 'money grabbing c***s' in mid-air rant after being refused bottle of wine and twice being caught smoking, court hears as she admits being drunk on an aircraft - Daily Mail

Favorite part: The lawyer, who is Oirish.

"An international human rights lawyer who launched a shocking tirade on a plane where she spat at a flight attendant has pleaded guilty to being drunk on an aircraft and assault ... The business class passenger demanded to speak to the pilot after cabin crew denied her another bottle of wine due to her level of intoxication."

"The lawyer, who is Irish, will be sentenced at Isleworth Crown Court on April 4 after magistrates said the offence was too serious for them to deal with."

"She was given three bottles of wine with breakfast 'immediately after takeoff' but began to complain when she was refused more. Miss Smith said: 'She got up from her seat and began swearing and shouting. She was shouting that she was a 'f****** international lawyer' and telling them to 'f*** off'.' She also shouted: 'You f****** arses, you f****** Indian money-grabbing c****.' Burns then went into the toilet to try to light a cigarette before she was given a verbal warning three hours into the flight, the court heard ... She shouted: 'I have done so much for you f****** Indians and f****** Pakistanis, you should be grateful to me.' A cabin supervisor, Dastur Pervin, tried to intervene but she was also told to 'f*** off', shown the middle finger and assaulted, Miss Smith said ,,, After landing at Heathrow she was arrested on suspicion of racially aggravated public order, common assault and drunk and disorderly and taken to a west London police station."

Sunday, March 3, 2019

New Passport, Washington Grand Jury, Is Something Happening With Julian Assange?

Yes, that's the Julian Assange update theme song, in reference to the lightest-skinned person to ever come out of Australia.

Assange has been squatting in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012 to evade extradition to Sweden in a rape case, charges which reportedly have now been dropped.

In September, Assange received a new Australian passport after several years without a valid one.

And now, we know Assange is the target of an active Federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia, AKA the Rocket Docket and the Fed's favorite jurisdiction for trying national security cases.

Does he really plan to spend the rest of his life in that Ecuadorian embassy? He's been an unhappy - and litigious - guest, so I don't suppose Ecuador would be sorry to see him leave.

The Swedes dropped their case against him after only six or seven years, but I doubt that he can wait out the U.S. government so easily. Meanwhile, he isn't getting any younger. He might as well come out and face the music.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

However it Ends for the ISIS Bride, She Did it Her Way

A photo shared by Hoda Muthana on her now-closed @ZumarulJanna Twitter account

The Program on Extremism at the George Washington University issued a report last year on the phenomenon of American foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq. Read it here: The Travelers, American Jihadists in Syria and Iraq. It mentions Hoda Muthana and has some general remarks about the American women, comprising eleven percent of the travelers, who went there to join ISIS.
In November 2014, 20-year-old Hoda Muthana (kunya: Umm Jihad) left her hometown of Hoover, Alabama, for Syria. Prior to her departure, she was active in the community of English-speaking IS supporters on Twitter and other social media sites, and continued her online presence after arriving in Syria.

-- snip --

Despite the small sample size, American jihadist women travelers help shed light on Western women’s participation in jihadist networks. The three women above, alongside others in the sample, defy conventional stereotypes about how and why women (especially Western women) participate in jihadist movements. Although many presume that female jihadists are duped into participation, and motivated by the personal pursuit of love or validation, their contributions and motivations for engagement vary as much as their male counterparts. Though often relegated to support roles, women’s more “traditional” efforts as the wives and mothers of jihadists are not necessarily passive either. American women were committed to the jihadist cause and decided to travel on their own accord. They also appear to have played significant roles in their respective jihadist organizations. Muthana highlights the role of Western women in networks of online jihadist supporters, Nasrin served in a critically important and understaffed non-combat position (in a hospital), and Mansfield may have been more directly involved in operations.

Where does Hoda Muthana go from here? Will she manage to fight the State Department and get her day in court on the matter of birthright citizenship? The complaint filed on her behalf makes some fascinating points, and I would not count her out. All we know for sure is that she has no caliphate to go back to after five years of living the ISIS life. She made her own decisions, and soon she'll have to own up to what she's done.

And now the end is near, and so she'll face the final curtain. My friend, she'll say it clear, she'll state her case, of which she's certain. She's lived a life that's full, and traveled each and every highway. And more, much more than this, she did it her way.

Regrets, she's had a few. But then again, too few to mention. She did what she had to do, and saw it through without exemption. She planned each charted course, each careful step along the byway. And more, much more than this, she did it her way.

Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew, when she bit off more than she could chew. But through it all, when there was doubt she ate it up and spit it out. She faced it all and she stood tall, and did it her way.

She's loved, she's laughed and cried, she had her fill, her share of losing. And now, as tears subside she finds it all, all so amusing. To think she did all that, and may I say, not in a shy way, oh no, no not her, she did it her way.

For what is a woman, what has she got? If not herself, then she has naught. To say the things she truly feels, and not the words of one who kneels. The record shows she took the blows, and did it her-er-er-er way.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

New U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Survived a Vehicle Ambush in 2008

Photo from DOS publication

Our new Ambassador to Armenia was sworn in this week, and please see Diplopundit's post here: @StateDG Perez Swears-In Career Diplomat Lynne Tracy as US Ambassador to Armenia.
On August 26, 2008 gunmen ambushed FSO Lynne Tracy’s vehicle in Peshawar, Pakistan, riddling the car with bullets. She survived the attack.

She then remained at post for the rest of her tour in what was one of the most vulnerable and highly threatened posts in the Foreign Service. Somehow, the public image of diplomatic posts remains completely out of whack with the reality, no matter how many such incidents occur, so I'm happy to see attention paid to Ambassador Tracey. 

For details of the ambush see page 43 of Political Violence Against Americans (2008) which has diagrams as well as the above photo. The photo captured the CG's vehicle reversing out of the kill zone at high speed and taking a 'Tuk-Tuk' auto rickshaw along with it.

While you're at it, browse the whole library of PVAA reports and then compare and contrast with the next movie or TV representation you see of embassy life.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Law Suit Filed on Behalf of ISIS Bride

Social media incitement in the Spanish Civil War

I seriously think we can get a lot of insight about the foreign fighters who joined ISIS, and what to do about them now that they want to be repatriated, by looking to the historical example of the foreign fighters who joined the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War.

They even had great female propagandists who riled up the troops, the most famous of whom was Dolores Ibárruri – La Pasionaria – who did all her work with just a microphone and a radio broadcast. What new levels of incitement she might have achieved with a Twitter account!

But, back to our present day social media inciter, Hoda Muthana. Her father filed a lawsuit on her behalf requesting injunctive relief to prevent the government from ruling on her lack of birthright citizenship without due process.

Hoda Muthana Lawsuit by on Scribd

It comes down to a battle of the letters. Mr. Muthana waves that 2004 USUN document with its all-important employment termination date of September 1, 1994 – just a month short of his daughter’s birth – and the USG replies with its 2016 letter that informed Muthana the U.S. Government was not notified of his loss of diplomatic employment until after his daughter’s birth.

The letters are brandished in paragraphs 21 and 25:
21. Utilizing his daughter’s birth certificate, Mr. Muthana applied for a passport for his minor daughter Hoda Muthana in 2004. After receiving this application, officials from the United States State Department initially questioned whether Ms. Muthana was eligible for a U.S. passport, based on their records showing her father’s diplomatic status remained in effect until February 6, 1995. In response, Ahmed Ali Muthana provided the government with Exhibit C, a letter from the United States Mission to the United Nations, signed by Russell F. Graham, Minister Counselor for Host Country Affairs, and addressed to Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, which confirms that the diplomatic status he had due to his employment at the U.N. was terminated prior to the time of Ms. Muthana’s birth. The United States accepted this documentation and issued Hoda Muthana the requested passport on January 24, 2005. Exhibit D. The United States also later renewed Ms. Muthana’s passport on February 21, 2014.

25. On January 15, 2016, the United States issued a letter addressed to Ms. Muthana at her parents’ residence, purporting to revoke her passport under 22 C.F.R. 51.7 and 51.66. Exhibit D. In the revocation letter, the government again acknowledged that her father’s diplomatic position ended on September 1, 1994, but now asserted for the first time that because the U.S. Permanent Mission to the United Nations, Host Country Affairs Section, had not been officially notified of his termination until February 6, 1995, she was not “within the jurisdiction of the United States” at the time of her birth, and therefore not a United States citizen pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

Notice the dates in para 25. It was in 2016, during the Obama administration, that the State Department revoked her passport because it had concluded she was not a citizen at the time of her birth. (Here’s a headline you'll never see: “Trump agrees with Obama, Alabama woman not a citizen under 14th Amendment”)

So then, the father was well aware of the USG’s position on the matter of his daughter’s lack of U.S. citizenship long before this became a news story. It turns out he was not entirely forthcoming when he released that 2004 USUN memo to the news media earlier this week; he could have also released the 2016 letter in which the State Department informed him that it did not end his diplomatic status until it was notified that his employment at the Yemeni UN Mission had been terminated, which notification occurred after the birth of his daughter Hoda.

And then there is the separate matter of whether or not Hoda Muthana expatriated herself, assuming she was in fact a birthright citizen, by her act of joining the ISIS caliphate. The complaint addresses that matter indirectly in a footnote on page ten:
Birthright citizenship may be revoked under 8 U.S.C. § 1481 for “formal declaration of allegiance to a foreign state or a political subdivision thereof.” However, none of the circumstances set out in § 1401 is facially applicable to the facts of this case, as ISIS is not and has not been recognized as a state by the United States, or any country. And, Ms. Muthana’s actions do not meet the definition of treason as required by the statute. Apart from § 1481, counsel is not aware of any statutory process to revoke recognized birthright citizenship.

Facially applicable? I suppose that refers to something of or pertaining to surface appearances. Well, below the surface I don’t think that argument works at all.

Of course we didn’t diplomatically recognize the ISIS caliphate. So what? It didn’t need our recognition. It declared its own sovereignty, as do all states, and it operated as a full-fledged state until it was militarily destroyed.

We also didn’t recognize the USSR as a state until 1933. Nevertheless, if a birthright U.S. citizen had moved there and declared his allegiance to the USSR before 1933, we would surely have revoked his citizenship.

Count 8 of the complaint also goes to the issue of expatriating acts:
As United States Citizens, Ms. Muthana and her minor child have the right to return to the United States under international law, and the United States government has a vested interest in assisting U.S. citizens who flee armed conflict on foreign soil.

Ms. Muthana and her young son have succeeded in escaping ISIS-controlled territory; however, they are still located in an area of Syria which is riddled by conflict and violence. Since 2011, “fighting in Syria has killed an estimated 465,000 people, injured more than one million, and forced about 12 million people - or half the country's pre-war population - from their homes.”

Although Mr. Muthana’s daughter has at times been in the company of ISIS fighters and present in ISIS-controlled territory, there is no evidence to suggest that she has taken part in any armed combat or hostilities.

Armed combat, no. But she certainly did take part in hostilities in that she incited others to violence. Furthermore she must have been in the company of ISIS fighters more than just occasionally since she married three of them, the first one only a month after she arrived in Syria. And it is a huge understatement to say she was merely "present" in ISIS-controlled territory when she had to scheme and plot to get there from Alabama without her family's knowledge, and she stayed there five years, leaving only after it collapsed.

What about her acts and words during her time in ISIS territory? See the UK Guardian article of last Sunday:
[She was] Once one of Isis’s most prominent online agitators who took to social media to call for the blood of Americans to be spilled.

- Snip -

Her experience in the so-called caliphate tracks the arc of Isis’s shocking rise and precipitous collapse over five brutal years. Muthana fled her home and took a flight to Turkey in November 2014 after several months of planning, which she kept secret from her family.

She settled into the Syrian city of Raqqa, then one of Isis’s two main hubs – the other being Mosul in Iraq – where she married an Australian jihadist, Suhan Rahman, the first of her three husbands.

Rahman was killed in the town of Kobanî, and soon afterwards Muthana angrily tweeted: “Americans wake up! Men and women altogether. You have much to do while you live under our greatest enemy, enough of your sleeping! Go on drivebys, and spill all of their blood, or rent a big truck and drive all over them. Veterans, Patriots, Memorial, etc day … Kill them.”

For many months in 2015, her Twitter feed was full of bloodcurdling incitement, and she says she remained a zealot until the following year. She now says her account was taken over by others.

And this:
That same day [as the “kill them” tweet], she tweeted out a photo of her ISIS husband’s bloodied body:

“I’m the most content I have ever been in my life. … And never think of those who have been killed in the cause of Allah as dead,” according to the UK’s Daily Mail.

And then there was the tweet in which she urged the taking down of President Barack Obama:

“You can look up Obamas schedule on the white house website. Take down that treacherous tyrant!”

That's some very high level of hostility, and all at the service of ISIS when it was at its gruesome peak.

Today, she says it was all a big mistake and we should welcome her back. Not coincidentally, today the caliphate has been destroyed and its fighters largely annihilated.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

More Documents Released in the ISIS Bride Case - Citizen or Not?

Muthana's tweet one month after arrival in Syria

After arriving in the ISIS caliphate in November 2014, Hoda Muthana went by a few different names on social media, including @AhlulDhikr, @ZumarulJannah, and Umm Jihad. You can find that passport bonfire tweet and more details at the Counter Extremism Project, which tracked her online activities for some time.

Did Hoda first make a copy of the inside page before she burned her passport? Because you never know if you might want a replacement passport some day.

And was that passport valid in the first place? Yesterday, the State Department released a statement that Hoda is not a U.S. citizen, despite being born in the U.S., because her father was a diplomat with the Yemeni Mission to the UN when she was born in 1994.

But today, her father released a 2004 document from the USUN that states he ceased to be a member of that Yemeni Mission one month before Hoda was born, which, if true, means she has a claim on U.S. citizenship. That document was used to obtain Hoda's first passport in 2004, at age ten.

That 2004 memo from the USUN may not fully answer the question of whether or not Hoda's father was a foreign diplomat when she was born. First of all, it has to be verified. Then, what exactly was the father's status after leaving the Yemeni UN mission? Did he retain his diplomatic passport and visa? Was he employed by another diplomatic mission of the Government of Yemen, say, its New York City Consulate? Doesn't Article 39 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations recognize immunity for a “reasonable period” of time between the end of an assignment and the diplomat’s departure from the country? What if he doesn't depart?

Furthermore, citizenship at birth aside, didn't Hoda Muthana in effect expatriate herself when she joined the ISIS caliphate?

There is an expatriation law explainer online that is generally supportive of Hoda's claim to citizenship, but also sums it up this way:
In a nutshell, the Supreme Court has repeatedly insisted that the Constitution requires expatriation to be based upon some voluntary, affirmative renunciation of citizenship or pledge of fealty to another sovereign – and not simply a punishment imposed by the state.

Can’t we reasonably conclude from Hoda Muthana's own words and actions that she did just that? That she voluntarily renounced her U.S. citizenship and became a loyal subject of, and an activist for, the ISIS caliphate? Or can she take back those words and actions now that ISIS has been destroyed and she’s changed her mind?

Historical side note-wise, there might be a pretty good precedent for how to treat foreign volunteers after a failed war: how were the U.S. citizen volunteers in the Spanish Civil War repatriated after the collapse of the Spanish Republic? Some of them never got back. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Plot Twist in 'ISIS Bride' Repatriation Case

"Alabama woman" according to CNN, but by way of Yemen

Well, well, well, it looks like the latest ISIS bride will not be coming back to sweet home Alabama, despite her claims to now regret the social media work she did for the caliphate. It appears that she is not a U.S. citizen, and is therefore someone else's problem.

'ISIS bride' Hoda Muthana is not a US citizen: Sec. Pompeo
In her first television interview, the 24-year-old Alabama woman who spent four years as an "ISIS bride" told ABC News she felt shame hearing the tweets she posted when she was part of ISIS and wants to return to the U.S. with her 18-month-old son, who was born under the terror group.

But in a statement, Pompeo said she "is not a U.S. citizen and will not be admitted into the United States. She does not have any legal basis, no valid U.S. passport, no right to a passport, nor any visa to travel to the United States."

Muthana was born to a Yemeni diplomat in New Jersey and moved to New York and then Washington, D.C., before finally settling with her family in Alabama as a seventh grader, she said.

While children born in America are granted citizenship under the 14th Amendment, children of foreign diplomats are not because they are not under the "jurisdiction of" the U.S., according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Still, children of diplomats can apply for residency and then eventually citizenship, per USCIS.

Here's the official announcement. Apparently somebody is working at State despite the snow day.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Eight-Hour Government Shutdown Begins Tomorrow

Saturday, February 9, 2019

AOC Rolls Out the New Green Deal, Nuts and Bolts to Follow Someday

AOC using one of Eisenhower's National Defense Highways

My new favorite Member of Congress really needs to work on her very skimpy official website. It seems to have been ignored while her staff rushed that New Green Deal resolution out the door this week. At least for now, the resolution is still up on her website (read it here), which is something you can't say about the FAQ document that was released simultaneously with the resolution but then quickly withdrawn.

Exactly why the FAQs were withdrawn we aren't told, but I wouldn't be surprised if Speaker Pelosi had a word with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez about the FAQs' unrestrained utopianism, especially the part about "economic security for all who are unable or unwilling to work."

You can read the initial version of her FAQs here, as published by NPR last Thursday as part of the Green New Deal resolution launch.

Here's the FAQ overview:
We will begin work immediately on Green New Deal bills to put the nuts and bolts on the plan described in this resolution (important to say so someone else can’t claim this mantle).[TSB comment: Presumably that “important to … claim this mantle” phrase was a drafter’s comment and not intended to be published. Evidence of the rushed nature of the document, or of sloppy staff work, or both.]

This is a massive transformation of our society with clear goals and a timeline.

The Green New Deal resolution [is] a 10-year plan to mobilize every aspect of American society at a scale not seen since World War 2 to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and create economic prosperity for all. It will:

· Move America to 100% clean and renewable energy

· Create millions of family supporting-wage, union jobs

· Ensure a just transition for all communities and workers to ensure economic security for people and communities that have historically relied on fossil fuel industries

· Ensure justice and equity for frontline communities by prioritizing investment, training, climate and community resiliency, economic and environmental benefits in these communities

· Build on FDR’s second bill of rights by guaranteeing:

· A job with a family-sustaining wage, family and medical leave, vacations, and retirement security

· High-quality education, including higher education and trade schools

· Clean air and water and access to nature

· Healthy food

· High-quality health care

· Safe, affordable, adequate housing

· Economic environment free of monopolies

· Economic security for all who are unable or unwilling to work

Lists like that are normally preceded by the words “Dear Santa.” That’s a huge pile of adjectives and abstractions for her poor staffers to turn into those mundane nuts and bolts that she promises will be worked out later, maybe.

Personally, I’m glad she didn’t wait for a bunch of facts to catch up with her excitement. Counterfactual performance art is what she’s good at, and is the basis of her considerable charm. Like the lovable Baghdad Bob, she stands superior to facts.

But I do have one complaint. Lay off Eisenhower and the interstate highway system.

From her resolution:
“Americans love a challenge. This is our moonshot. When JFK said we’d go to the by the end of the decade, people said impossible. If Eisenhower wanted to build the interstate highway system today, people would ask how we’d pay for it.”

AOC has said that before, but contrary to what she says, the old White men who wrote the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956 did, in fact, decide how to pay for it before they passed the bill. They did not just wish a national highway system into existence. Far from it. They assumed leprechauns would bring pots of gold to Capitol Hill, and that all the cars and trucks using the highways would be powered by unicorns.

Just kidding – they paid for it with new taxes. The bill authorized $25 billion from 1957 through 1969 to be raised by Federal excise taxes on fuel, automobiles, trucks, and tires. That new tax revenue went into a Highway Trust Fund that paid for 90 percent of construction costs, with the states required to pay the remaining 10 percent.

Hasn’t AOC ever wondered why she pays an 18.4 cents per gallon tax on gasoline at the pump? But, maybe she doesn’t drive.

By the way, that gas tax was only 3 cents per gallon when the highways were built. After Eisenhower, government got greedy for all that money, and now we pay a lot more. You can read about Federal and state fuel tax facts here.

Moreover, exactly how we would pay for the interstate highway system was explained right there in the full title of the law:
An act to amend and supplement the Federal-Aid Road Act approved July 11, 1916, to authorize appropriations for continuing the construction of highways; to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1954 to provide additional revenue from the taxes on motor fuel, tires and trucks and buses; and for other purposes; June 29, 1956.

Read about it here: National Interstate and Defense Highways Act (1956).

The legislative history of the Act shows that, of course, the main concern of Congress was about how we’d pay for it.
Between 1954 and 1956, there were several failed attempts to pass a national highway bill through the Congress. The main controversy over the highway construction was the apportionment of the funding between the Federal Government and the states. Undaunted, the President renewed his call for a "modern, interstate highway system” in his 1956 State of the Union Address. Within a few months, after considerable debate and amendment in the Congress, The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 emerged from the House-Senate conference committee. In the act, the interstate system was expanded to 41,000 miles, and to construct the network, $25 billion was authorized for fiscal years 1957 through 1969.

Back in that day, our legislators were serious. In our day, not so much.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Most Head Shakingly Bad Thing of the Week

Woman had her dog’s Xanax in her blood when she crashed into, killed cyclist, state says - The Oregonian Live

Witt faces manslaughter charges, and prosecutors allege she had at least 11 medications in her system at the time of the mid-afternoon crash, including her dog’s Xanax. She also had three empty beer cans, a handgun and a Taco Bell receipt from that afternoon, according to an affidavit.

“The defense provided the state with veterinary records showing that Ms. Witt’s dog was given a prescription for Xanax two days before the crash,” prosecutors wrote in the filing ... According to the court records, 11 of [the dog] Lola’s 20 pills were missing.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Open Borders: Where Bernie Agreed with Trump

There is such a thing as left-wing populism on the issue of immigration, both legal and illegal. When Bernie Sanders called open borders a "Koch Brothers proposal" which would make the poor in America far worse off, was he wrong?

It was the same thing Cesar Chavez thought about the impact of illegal aliens on his unionized farm workers. “As long as we have a poor country bordering California, it’s going to be very difficult to win strikes." See his 1972 interview with KQED News in which he explained the need for boycotts when growers can use illegal aliens as strike-breakers. Was he wrong? (Trigger warning: he doesn't just call them "illegal aliens.")

Hey, if Trump's brand of right-wing populism doesn't succeed, its left-wing counterpart might get a shot.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

The State of the Union, Past and Present

This year's State of the Union address was scheduled for January 29, but, given the current brawl between President Trump and Speaker of the House Pelosi, who knows whether - or where - it will be given.

But if President Trump is even half the internet troller he seems to be, I think he should tweet out highlights from Bill Clinton's SOTU address of 1995, in which Trump's predecessor deplored the violations of law and the public burdens of - in his words, words which are rarely spoken on Capitol Hill today - illegal aliens. There isn't much Trump could add to the clip embedded above.

Notice that Clinton got a standing ovation from those remarks. Say, were Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi in the audience then? I think they were.

Notice as well his reference to the Barbara Jordan Commission report, which had absolutely Trumpian recommendations. In particular, see its chapter on Curbing Unlawful Migration (starting on page 118), which concluded that "reducing the employment magnet is the linchpin of a comprehensive strategy to deter unlawful immigration" [page 128], and called for "restricting eligibility of illegal aliens for publicly-funded services or assistance except those made available on an emergency basis or for similar compelling reasons to protect public health and safety or to conform to constitutional requirements" [page 136] and "continued attention to improved means for identifying and removing criminal aliens with a final order of deportation" [page 149].

The report also called for scaling back family chain-migration, the prioritization of highly-skilled immigrants, elimination of the admission of unskilled workers, and elimination of the diversity visa lottery. It further recommended capping legal immigration admissions to only 550,000 per year, and refugee admissions to only 50,000.

President Trump could adopt that whole report as his present agenda.

Published This Week: Lessons of the Iraq War

The U.S. Army War College finally managed to publish that study of the Army in the Iraq War, which General Odierno had wanted to see before he retired. (See my previous post about that study.) It looks like exactly the bucket-of-cold-water he wanted it to be. Whether or not it will wake anyone up remains to be seen.

Here's Volume One, and here's Volume Two.

The bottom line is in CHAPTER 17, CONCLUSION: LESSONS OF THE IRAQ WAR, starting on page 639:
The Iraq War has the potential to be one of the most consequential conflicts in American history. It shattered a long-standing political tradition against preemptive wars. John Quincy Adams’s presumption that America should not go “abroad searching for monsters to destroy” was erased, at least temporarily. In the conflict’s immediate aftermath, the pendulum of American politics swung to the opposite pole with deep skepticism about foreign interventions.

In terms of geostrategic consequences, the war produced profound consequences. At the time of this project’s completion in 2018, an emboldened and expansionist Iran appears to be the only victor. Iraq, the traditional regional counterbalance for Iran, is at best emasculated, and at worst has key elements of its government acting as proxies for Iranian interests. With Iraq no longer a threat, Iran’s destabilizing influence has quickly spread to Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria, as well as other locations. As the conflict expanded beyond its original boundaries, the colonial creation that was the Iraqi-Syrian border was effectively erased. Bashar al-Assad, having misjudged his ability to control the Salafist foreign fighters that he gave safe haven for the better part of a decade, found himself threatened by the very forces that he had exploited to avert an American invasion―an invasion that in actuality was never forthcoming. Syria was plunged into a vicious civil war that devolved into a brutality only seen in the worst conflicts of the 20th century, resulting in a death toll that has topped half of a million, repeated use of chemical weapons, and the worst refugee crisis since World War II. Kurdistan evolved from a proto-state into a de-facto nation, a development that has created deep tensions with Turkey. The danger of a Sunni-Shi’a regional conflict, with potentially globally destabilizing effects, is now greater than at any time since the original schism. Zarqawi’s goal appears to be on the cusp of becoming reality.

The human and material cost of the conflict was staggering. Nearly 4,500 American military personnel lost their lives in the fighting, and another 32,000 were wounded―many of them grievously. More than 300 soldiers from other coalition nations also perished. Estimates on Iraqi casualties vary wildly, ranging from roughly 200,000 killed to more than a million. Monetary costs, for the United States only, are similarly hard to approximate due to the challenge in estimating future costs for veterans’ care and the interest on loans taken out to finance the war. There is no question that the war has been expensive, ranging even among the lower estimates from a cost of over 800 billion to nearly 2 trillion dollars.

At the same time, there are those who argue that the Iraq War, as well as the conflict in Afghanistan, represent historical aberrations with few germane lessons. Supporters of this position posit that conflicts involving COIN and nation-building sit far from the World War II style of traditional war” for which the Army typically has been held responsible. Such potentially existential conflicts are so much harder to prepare for, they argue, that investing time on COIN related tasks would be counterproductive, if not irresponsible. Adherents of the position that the Army should return to its “traditional” warfighting role also suggest that it is relatively easy to train “down” from high intensity conflict against other armies.

The authors of this study conclude that such positions are intellectually specious. Ironically, many of the same arguments were made before the invasion of Iraq and during the first few years of the war. As a result, precious lives and time were lost before the Army adapted to the character of the conflict and was able to regain the initiative. It is one of this study’s core premises that there are additional complexities in COIN that often do not exist in more conventional conflicts. Translating national political guidance into battles and campaigns that blend both traditional maneuver and deft political efforts that target the drivers of conflict is a complicated art. Leaders at all levels in COIN have to be able to integrate the fields of political science, culture, and regional history simultaneously with military strategy to achieve success. Long-term security force assistance, a staple of COIN, is difficult, dangerous, and frustrating. Peacebuilding, the process of nurturing reconciliation, building durable and tolerant institutions, and carrying out political and economic transformation are intensely challenging tasks. U.S. efforts toward this end in Iraq were inefficient, disjointed, and ultimately unsuccessful.

Given the consequences and the cost of the Iraq War, it is essential that the Army studies what went wrong and why. The Army must also capture the innovations and adaptations that produced tactical and operational successes. Above all, the United States must not repeat the errors of previous wars in assuming that the conflict was an anomaly with few useful lessons. This project was commissioned by the Army’s senior leadership in part because they believed the Army had spent the first few years of the Iraq War relearning the lessons of the Vietnam conflict. Hopefully, The U.S. Army in the Iraq War will help prevent that error from being repeated.

While the next war that the United States fights may be different from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, it would be risky to assume that it will be so different as to render the lessons of those conflicts moot. The character of warfare is changing, but even if we face peer or near-peer competitors in future conflicts, they are likely to employ a blend of conventional and irregular warfare—what is often called “hybrid warfare” or “operations in the gray zone.” The United States may not have the luxury of choosing the next war it fights. Our enemies are aware of the challenges we faced in Iraq and Afghanistan and will incorporate lessons that they have derived from these conflicts against us.

The failure of the United States to attain its strategic objectives in Iraq was not inevitable. It came as a byproduct of a long series of decisions—acts of commission and omission—made by well-trained and intelligent leaders making what seemed to be reasonable decisions. At one point, in the waning days of the Surge, the change of strategy and the sacrifices of many thousands of Americans and Iraqis had finally tipped the scales enough to put the military campaign on a path towards a measure of success. However, it was not to be, as the compounding effect of earlier mistakes, combined with a series of decisions focused on war termination, ultimately doomed the fragile venture.

It is for the efforts and immeasurable sacrifices of our Soldiers that this work is dedicated.

Above all, this history is meant to be a permanent record of their accomplishments and their willingness to give the last full measure of devotion for their own country and for the people of Iraq.

I'm struck by that sentence about the difficulty of "translating national political guidance into battles and campaigns ..." because I don't remember any coherent national political guidance ever being given. The War College is being too hard on its own institution. Maybe what we really need is a lessons learned study about the failures of the Washington DC foreign policy establishment.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

57 Million Americans Are Worse Off Than Furloughed Feds

Unemployed men in 1931 dressed better than almost anyone does today 

As direct-hire employees of the U.S. federal government, you and I have a rare good deal. Don't doubt it. Many of my fellow feds have never experienced the private sector, but over in the world of 'at will' employment there is no job security at all, and paychecks do not always arrive on time when liquidity crises occur. Almost no one in the private sector has defined benefits plans anymore, and pensions went away along with the industrial economy. The economic uncertainty some feds are now experiencing is the norm for quite a few of our fellow citizens.

I get it that people have sad tales to tell, but the plight of some federally-employed people simply does not have the political utility some think it has. Americans who live in the gig economy all the time are not likely to be moved.

Today 36 percent of all workers in the U.S. are in the gig economy, where there is no expectation of the kind of pay and benefits that federal employees can take for granted. And we can take it for granted, even if it is temporarily delayed.
"Gallup estimates that 29% of all workers in the U.S. have an alternative work arrangement as their primary job. This includes a quarter of all full-time workers (24%) and half of all part-time workers (49%). Including multiple job holders, 36% have a gig work arrangement in some capacity."

This works out to about 57 million Americans.

Gallup has a broad definition of gig work. Again from their report:

...the gig economy includes multiple types of alternative work arrangements such as independent contractors, online platform workers, contract firm workers, on-call workers and temporary workers.

About those defined benefit plans, they are very scare Outside the Beltway:
The percentage of workers in the private sector whose only retirement account is a defined benefit pension plan is now 4%, down from 60% in the early 1980s. About 14% of companies offer a combination of both types.

Meanwhile, the few employers that still offer traditional pensions - typically industries with a strong union presence, such as the airline and auto sectors – have been working overtime to cut deals to either reduce or eliminate their plans.

If you work for the government?

That's a different story. Traditional pensions are still offered by about 84% of state and local governments.

So count your blessings, and get a second job, just like so many others have to do all the time. Hey, they always need substitute teachers:
Fairfax County Public Schools has added a second hiring event for furloughed federal employees interested in substitute teaching positions. The event is scheduled for Tuesday, January 15, from 2 to 4:30 p.m. at the FCPS Administration Center, 8115 Gatehouse Road, Falls Church, VA 22042. The initial event, scheduled for Friday, January 11, is at capacity.

Don't turn up your nose at sub jobs. They're scheduled day-by-day, so are good for people who may be called back to work at any time, and any type of second job beats applying for unemployment insurance. The money you make is yours, whereas that unemployment benefit will have to be paid back after the shutdown is over, and to qualify for it in the first place you have to be seeking a new job – usually proven by going on three job interviews a week – whereas you furloughed feds aren’t, really, seeking another job.

And don't forget, there are three federal government paydays in January, so everyone had already gotten one check before the lapse in appropriations hit for some yesterday. That will help.

No one can tell how much longer the shutdown will last. Since Trump is passing on the Davos conference this year, that might suggest he expects it to go on past the conference dates of January 22-25. The State of the Union address is scheduled for January 29, and that seems like it would be a good time to wrap things up. Who knows? But I would not expect it to end before the SOTU.

Most Head Shakeningly Bad Thing of the Week

Flight delayed after passenger apparently tries to throw coins into engine - Shanghaiist

Twice before, elderly Chinese travelers have been caught throwing coins in a plane’s engine in a bid to earn some good luck towards having a safe flight.

TSA Sickouts Continue, Same as Before

As the Partial Government Shutdown of 2018-2019 extends past the first missed payday, there is lots of press attention being paid to TSA airport screeners calling in sick to protest (TSA Sickouts Worsen Daily), and some speculation that the screeners might quit en masse.

To which I say, what's new about that? Not much. It's the same old situation as before anyone missed a paycheck:
The Transportation Security Administration is a revolving door for more than 8,000 screeners at 10 of the busiest airports in the U.S., data obtained by Bloomberg Law suggest.

The TSA hired nearly as many agents at some sites as left their jobs between 2012 to 2016, according to information provided by the agency in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. The TSA doesn’t separate the data by why an employee left, so the numbers include those who quit, were fired, or retired.

-- snip --

The TSA employs a total of about 11,700 screeners at the 10 airports. The turnover rate across those sites ranged from 30 percent to more than 80 percent over the five years analyzed. Turnover among federal employees overall has hovered around 15 percent during the past three years, Hausknecht said.

Being an airport screener is just a terrible job, and high turnover is inevitable.

Will the churn of TSA personnel get even greater now that they have missed a paycheck - or, more accurately, have had their pay delayed until the shutdown is over? Maybe. And if so, will that make airport screening even slower and more erratic than it is already? Yes, probably. And finally, is there anything that can be done to resolve the Partial Government Shutdown of 2018-2019 anytime soon? No, not really.

One can only feel sympathy for those unpaid screeners. But I wonder if any of that sympathy will continue after the shutdown is over.

Friday, January 4, 2019

The Partial Government Shutdown of 2018-2019 Gets Real Next Week

No furloughed fed has missed a paycheck yet. That will start to happen on January eleventh, the first payday of 2019 (see this handy federal payroll calendar). Until then, all the huffing and puffing between Trump and the House leadership is just so much stage-setting for the deal they will eventually make.

Yet, people are worried. While browsing an article with advice for furloughed federal employees I came across a terrific 2015 study from the National Bureau of Economic Research about how furloughed employees coped with a loss of cash income during the last government shutdown, the one in 2013. Some of the figures on liquidity of the average employee astonished me.

From the paper's abstract:
Using comprehensive account records, this paper examines how individuals respond to a temporary drop in income following the 2013 U.S. Federal Government shutdown. Affected employees saw their income decline by 40% on average, which was recovered within two weeks. Despite having no effect on lifetime earnings, spending dropped sharply, implying a naïve estimate of the marginal propensity to spend of 0.57. This estimate overstates how consumption responded. To smooth consumption, individuals adjusted by delaying recurring payments such as mortgages and credit card balances. Those with the least liquidity struggled most to smooth spending and were left holding more debt months after the shutdown.

Here are the figures I found astonishing:
Prior to the shutdown, the median worker in the data held an average liquid assets balance sufficient to cover just eight days of average spending.

Moreover, liquid assets exhibit systematic changes over the pay-cycle. Just before payday, the median level of liquid assets is only five days of average spending. Indeed, a substantial fraction of this population barely lives paycheck-to-paycheck. On the day before their paycheck arrives, the bottom third of the liquid assets distribution has, on average, a combined checking and savings account balance of zero.

Think of that, the median worker in the data held an average liquid assets balance sufficient to cover just eight days of average spending. Do that many federal employees live paycheck to paycheck?

And the bottom line best advice for feds critically short of income:
This paper provides direct evidence on the importance of deferring debt payments, especially mortgages, as an instrument for consumption smoothing. Mortgages function for many as a primary line of credit. By deferring a mortgage payment, they can continue to consume housing, while waiting for an income loss to be recovered. For changing the timing of mortgage payments within the month due, there is no cost. As discussed above, that is the pattern for the bulk of deferred mortgage payments. Moreover, the cost of paying one month late can also be low. Many mortgages allow a grace period after the official due date, in which not even late charges are incurred, or charge a fee that is 4-6 percent of the late payment. Being late by a month adds only modestly to the total mortgage when interest rates are low, and mortgage service companies cannot report a late payment to credit agencies until it is at least 30 days overdue. Even if there are penalties or costs, late payment of a mortgage is a source of credit that is available without the burden of applying for credit.

The shutdown might be resolved before it comes to the point of deferring mortgage payments. Should the House agree to pass the El Chapo Act, for instance, that might let both sides call it a win. Or Trump might even bypass Congress and sell bonds, which is a current practice of the federal government to raise money for other purposes, or tax the billions of dollars in cash transfers to Mexico and Central America, something that could be done using regulatory authority.

So it might not come to that. But if it does, the home you own is your best store of value.