Trump in Mexico: “We Didn’t Talk About The Insane Parts”

 

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I’m honestly not sure who is more demeaned by a “Trump pinata” 

 

So, Trump’s Mexican visit was basically what you’d expect from mutual bluff-calling between a couple of dopes: awkward, pointless, and irrelevant. I’m sure there will be some pundits saying that “Trump appearing to be a statesman could convince voters!”, doing that thing we’re they are the ones convincing people of the appearance but pretending it occurs naturally. Politico already is! But still: I think it’ll be a blip on the campaign, and his attempt at coherence on immigration tonight is far more important. Because, contra the high-level discussions, it isn’t about “hardening” or “softening”; it’s about having a policy at all. He has never had one beside a few grand gestures.

That’s the only thing that should be talked about vis a vis his Mexico excursion (except maybe his bizarre and again wildly intemperate and unpresidential desire to mix it up with Vicente Fox just this morning). Because there have been only three things about which Trump has been even slightly consistent on.

  1. Mass deportations (though maybe not)
  2. A big beautiful wall (spoken like a moron)
  3. Mexico paying for wall (which is ludicrous)

So, today?

Mr. Trump said the two did not discuss the issue of forcing Mexico to pay for a border wall — one of the signature promises of his campaign.

Mr. Trump said the subject of a border wall came up, but not who would pay for such a massive construction project.

They talked about issues, except for one of his signature promises, probably because both sides realize it is completely fucking insane. That’s the only important thing: Trump can’t even talk with foreign leaders about any of his beliefs because they are completely divorced from reality and easily among the stupidest things a major political figure has ever said. This isn’t what anyone should call “Presidential”.

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Remote Control ISIS Weapons: Probably Not Good

WaPa

While the advantage of remotely operating a direct-fire weapon such as a machine gun or sniper rifle is obvious, remote weapons can also make small bands of insurgent groups seem stronger and better equipped. The report covers one instance in which Kurdish troops attacked an Islamic State remote-controlled sniper rifle, losing men in the process while the shooter remained protected in a bunker nearby. Instead of using men to protect the remote weapon, the Islamic State instead tied up dogs around the system.

Experts are increasingly impressed and worried with the level of technological sophistication of tele-weapons used by militant groups in Iraq and Syria, especially ISIS. Mowing down Kurdish fighters with a remote-operated gun protected by dogs seems like a perfect combination of ISIS’s patented brutality and technological sophistication.

But really, it’s only the dogs, and the relatively crude-but-successful nature of the operation that make it any different from the way violence is changing, and becoming more remote and even automized. It’s one of the main issues of our day, and I don’t think it will ever be possible to have a real discussion about it, since we rush forward, and any attempt to say we shouldn’t have a weapon is lost in a deafening drum circle of retrograde chest-thumping.

Look for example at the Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System. Even just the name makes it sound like a bad idea, but saying “this will protect the lives of Marines”– which could very well be true!– makes its deployment essentially a done deal. It needs human control now, but that’s just the first step.

 

This is the Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System, or MAARS for short. It's an unmanned ground vehicle that can be outfitted with a medium machine gun or a grenade launcher.

This makes me uncomfortable. Image from Tech Insider

 

There will be a point one day soon when robots will make the kill decision, algorithmically. I’m not a person afraid of a robot takeover, but I am apprehensive of them making what are essentially moral decisions. I’m also concerned that adopting higher and higher tech makes it impossible for us to condemn it, and keep it out of the hands of even worse actors. But barring high-level political action, I don’t see this as a road off of which we’re going to veer.

The Killing of Abu Muhammed Al-Adnani and the Future of ISIS

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Image from The New Yorker.

In her New Yorker story on the purported death of ISIS spokesman and strategist Abu Muhammed al-Adnani, Robin Wright gets an interesting quote from an ISIS expert.

Hassan Hassan, the author of the Times best-seller “ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror,” described Adnani as one of a small handful of leaders left from among the organization’s founding fathers. “This means that the transition to the second and third tiers of the group is already well under way. And this could affect the direction of the organization and how it operates,” Hassan told me. “Those leaders who grew up within this organization are more attuned to the local dynamics, so the decapitation of such leaders could, in fact, inject a new life into the group. That said, the Islamic State is already shaped and well defined by those founding fathers, strategically and ideologically, so these new leaders have little wiggle room to make a change, but this is more possible than before.”

This is the central dilemma for ISIS, and the ISIS-inspired and affiliated groups, as it moves forward and struggles with AQ for the mantle of jihad. After all, they became so powerful because of their unrelenting dedication to violence, which is incredibly attractive to people, and always has been. It offers a sort of purity, and an elevation above petty morality, etc. It’s Fight Club with a glossy religious patina and a sort of medieval escape fantasy. But that’s not always successful, which is something that Adnani should have learned. As the Soufan group points out, he had an example in his mentor.

Al-Adnani was one of the few surviving members of the original group founded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Long before the declaration of a caliphate, the Islamic State’s previous iterations—such as al-Qaeda in Iraq—were among the most violent and effective terror groups in Iraq after the 2003 U.S. invasion. Al-Adnani was a trusted associate of Zarqawi, whose manipulation of media and spectacle of public savagery would be imitated by al-Adnani as the Islamic State exploded onto the global scene in 2014. Over the last 14 years, al-Adnani has been front and center as Iraq, and then Syria, became the stage of unrelenting and escalating terror. He had been imprisoned both by the U.S. in Iraq and the Assad regime in Syria. As with other infamous terrorists, the arc of al-Adnani’s terror history was long, and bent towards massive suffering and destruction. His death will not bring about the end of the Islamic State. Nonetheless, it marks a significant loss for the group and removes a leading actor from the terror stage.

Zarqawi, of course, was brought down by the revolt against his methods. It’s the difference between him and the leaders of AQAP, which made sure to not alienate the locals, and tried to make grievances dovetail. ISIS is more powerful, with more foreign fighters, and were able to subjugate the territory under their control much more rapidly than AQI. That’s made a difference, but as they start to lose ground, it obviously won’t be permanent.

This is the crossroads for ISIS, as they move toward what Hassan calls “second and third-tier leaders”. If these leaders, especially ones around the world, move toward an “think global, act local” sort of jihad, they will be largely indistinguishable from AQ affiliates. If they continue to act as the caliphate, and ignore local concerns– the biggest one being “we’re concerned that you’re burning alive anyone who looks cross-eyed”– then they’ll never gain the local support they need.

That’s why I think the ISIS model is ultimately unsustainable. If it moderates, it loses adherents, the wild-eyed passion-filled radicals who seek a glorifying fire. But if it stays like this, it will never be able to gain actual local footholds other than through domination, which won’t last. That isn’t to say this isn’t a dangerous model; there will always be people emulating it in smaller and smaller cells, trying to pick up the mantle of “the real ISIS”. That is a global danger that could hit literally any community. I think that’s what is next for ISIS: a gradual splintering, and a new phase of terrorism.

Trump in Mexico and Rubio on the Ineffability of Life: Campaign Quick Hits

 

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Outreach! 

 

Trump in Mexico

I’ve always thought that one of the worst aspects of being the leader of a country that wasn’t America was having to meet with every mouth-breathing midwest governor who was once called “Presidential material” by David Broder. They’d want to burnish their foreign policy cred, so they’d travel to the Czech Republic for a meet-and-greet where they’d discuss the “bilateral cooperation and trade opportunities between Oshkosh and the good people of Czechistan”, mouth fumbling over “bilateral”, clearly the first time they’d ever pronounced it. But the foreign leader couldn’t say no, because what happens if Scott Walker wins, you know?

It has to be even worse with Donald Trump, whom every single person outside the US (except for Nigel Farage and Hungarian neo-nazis) knows will be an absolute disaster, and a repulsive one at that. What do you say when you meet him? Well, that’s what will be on the mind of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto today when he meets with Trump, who accepted at the last minute a long-standing invitation.

On the one hand, this could be a disaster for Trump. It’s pretty clear he has never really studied the issues of trade or immigration, his two main topics regarding Mexico, and obviously has no clue about any other topics of concern the two countries might share (indeed, he is probably ignorant to the idea that there could be topics other than “stealing our jobs” and “sending rapists”). And the country is pretty hostile to him.  There is a good chance this turns out poorly.

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Congress Finally Steps Up on Yemen, Saudi Arm Sales

 

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A Saudi airstrike in Yemen. Image from mintpressnews.com

 

 

Far from the ISIS-inspired headlines of Syria, Saudi Arabia has pretty calmly and easily been engaged in an endless series of war crimes in Yemen. Its policy had always been to keep Yemen weak, but not in total chaos. A kind of war madness has led them to abandon the second part of that. They are far from the only antagonists in the horrific dissolve of the nation, but they are the most powerful, and they are flexing that power in terrible ways.

And they are doing it with arms and support from the US. It is US-made planes dropping US-made bombs on hospitals and schools, with a ferocity that has led a normally-placid UN to try to stop them. From raw self-interest, this is a terrible policy for the US. From a human level, it is a nightmare.

Finally, nearly 60 congresspeople are trying to at least slow down the arms funnel, as Foreign Policy reports.

In  a sign that frustration is growing in Congress over Saudi Arabia, a bipartisan group of 60 lawmakers have signed a letter seeking to delay the Obama administration’s planned sale of $1.15 billion in arms and military equipment to Riyadh.

The proposed sale, approved by the State Department on Aug. 9, includes up to 153 tanks, ammunition, hundreds of machine guns, and sundry other military equipment. Congress has 30 days to block the sale, but the lawmakers appear irritated that the notification of the sale came in the middle of Congress’s summer recess.

“Any decision to sell more arms to Saudi Arabia should be given adequate time for full deliberation by Congress,” wrote the lawmakers. “We are concerned, however, that the timing of this notification during the August congressional recess could be interpreted to mean that Congress has little time to consider the arms deal when it returns from recess within the 30 day window established by law.”

Part of this is territorial and bureaucratic, of course: Congress is angry about being bypassed. But they absolutely should be. The loss of Congressional prerogative in foreign policy has been a slow-rolling disaster for the US, as it allows enormously important decisions to be shaped, essentially, by the will of one branch, which in turn is shaped by the will of one person. Even when I trust the POTUS, and respect their judgment, having the lives of millions come down to one “decided” is monstrous. Leaving everyone else to deal with the ramifications of those decisions is essentially undemocratic.

So there should be more letters like this, both for the sake of our democracy, and to help the people who are being brutalized and pummeled into dust with our munitions. Slowing down the flow of arms into the Middle East, and particularly to the combatants in Yemen, is never a bad policy.

Colson Whitehead’s Slavery Novel “The Underground Railroad”: A Ferocious History of the Present

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If you want to read a really insightful and incisive review of Colson Whitehead’s deeply disturbing and sneakily-complex new novel, The Underground Railroad, you could do a lot worse than reading Adam Gopnik’s review of a new book on the Attica uprising in last week’s New Yorker. In talking about the slaughter that ensued when the state police, national guard and (tellingly) other prison guards took back the jail from the nearly all-black inmates, Gopnik writes:

In a curious way, the psychology of the (almost exclusively white) troopers and guards, more than the ideology of the inmates, seems most haunting now, as part of the permanent picture of American fixations. The inmates were doing what anyone would do in their situation: having seen a protest turn unexpectedly into a revolt that was sure to be short-lived, they desperately improvised a way to keep their dignity and be heard, to avoid the worst punishment and get some small reforms. Their occasionally overblown rhetoric was the act of men who, stripped of dignity, try to reclaim it. But the troopers and guards retaking the prison were indulging an orgy of racist violence neither ordered nor wholly explicable. There was no need for them to conduct a massacre to reassert their authority. They had all the firepower; the prisoners were armed only with homemade knives; the guards had control of the yard within minutes. Nor were they, so far as anyone can detect, under direct commands to kill. In an American tale already known fully to Mark Twain, a white ethnic proletariat could distinguish itself as superior only by its ability to be brutal to a still more subordinate class of color. When its members were denied their exercise of this “right,” they turned crazy and violent.

If you want to learn more about the novel, look at any Blue Lives Matter Facebook group, flip to a Trump rally, or read some hot takes on Colin Kaepernick. These will tell you as much about Whitehead’s book as any discussion of the past, because, while it is meticulously detailed, and unflinching in its cruelty, Whitehead is describing an American obsession with race, with oppression, and with the assertion of might. The novel isn’t a metaphor for today– it isn’t secretly about Michael Brown or Garfield Park– but it is all the more harrowing because of that. It doesn’t need to be. The story barely changes.

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The Super-Racism Behind Trump’s “Appeal” To Black Voters

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Pictured: The Outreach Brigade

This has been Trump’s “pivot week”, a transparently phony attempt to pretend his campaign isn’t fueled entirely by white anger, and hasn’t been one long sustained howl designed to yodel bigots out of the woodwork. Hillary did a good job with her speech yesterday making sure that no one can forget that the alt-right misogynist racist part of his campaign isn’t just one aspect; it is the driving force. So Trump has pretended, of course, that the Democrats are the real racists.

This started last week when he asked black voters what they had to lose in voting for him.

“What do you have to lose? What do you have to lose? You’re living in poverty, your schools are no good. You have no jobs — 58 percent of your youth is unemployed,” Trump said on Friday in Dimondale, Mich., a mostly white community near Lansing. “What the hell do you have to lose?”

He’s also talked about crime, and how he would stop it so people wouldn’t get shot, and he would do so by making the police super-empowered, which might not be what the black community totally wants to hear right now, but regardless. Also, some African-Americans took exception to his idea that all their lives resemble area where even Robocops fear to tread. This is his outreach.

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