James Mattis

President-elect Trump was so effusive in his praise of ‘Mad-dog’ Mattis!  Trump thought Mattis was a ‘tough guy’, a “true General’s General” (whatever that means), the “real deal” (Twitter, Small Wars Journal, NYT, Reuters, WP, NBC).  Mattis, however, seems not to think so highly of Trump–at least, not today.  According to a statement published in the Atlantic, Mattis (who tendered his resignation from the Trump administration over a year ago (BBC)) claims:

Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.

Trump responded to Mattis criticism by calling him “overrated” (Breitbart).

George Floyd

People have been protesting, rioting, and looting across the United States for several days now, sparked by the killing of a handcuffed Black man by a White police officer.  Obviously, many people believe this killing (and others like it recently) represents a deeper issue afflicting the country.  In response, the president has just threatened to deploy the military throughout the country to quell the rioting (whitehouse.gov, Fox, CNN).  Whether he can do this legally under the Insurrection Act, or is prevented from doing so under the Posse Comitatus Act, is currently a subject of some debate (CNN, NPR, Politico, Independent, The Drive, Forbes, CNBC, Law & Crime).  Also, whether the U.S. is heading toward martial law and, if so, for how long, is hard to tell, but there certainly seems to be less tolerance for protesting against police brutality than there was for protesting against social distancing.  In any event, it is difficult to imagine martial law resolving the underlying tensions behind the current protests.  People might be tear gassed back into submission for a while, but what will happen when the next spark comes along?

In contrast to the bombast and threats of the current U.S. president, the former one offered some thoughtful suggestions about working toward improving social justice in the country.

If we want to bring about real change, then the choice isn’t between protest and politics. We have to do both. We have to mobilize to raise awareness, and we have to organize and cast our ballots to make sure that we elect candidates who will act on reform.  (Medium)

A bit more work, I suppose, but it beats having tanks on the streets.

100,000 dead

The United States has now lost over 100,000 people to the COVID-19 virus (CDC, Johns Hopkins, healthdata.org, worldometers.info, ourworldindata.org, NBC News, NBC News).  While the US leads the world in total COVID deaths, it trails several countries in deaths per million (statista.com).  This latter comparison is murky, however, as it may represent a number of factors, including effectiveness of governmental response, demographics (age, health, etc.) of a country’s population, health system capability and effectiveness, and quantity and quality of testing.  Another factor is the method by which deaths are counted (BBC).  So, it’s difficult to know which factor, or combination of factors, is most to blame for the high number of fatalities in the U.S.  Still, despite any noise in the data, it is clear that the US response to the pandemic has been poor (The Guardian), coming late and arriving confused and disjointed.  A recent study suggests several thousand lives could have been saved in the US if the response had been timelier and better (Pei et al. 2020, The Hill, NYT).  In any event, no end to the pandemic seems to be in sight for the U.S., especially as it begins to ease its current restrictions and attempts to return to normal operations.  Such measures will obviously lead to more COVID deaths.  How many, though, remains to be seen.

QAnon

I just finished reading the Mueller Report.  At least, I read the parts that weren’t blacked out due to ongoing investigations.  I was at the local library, looking for something to read, and, well, there it was.  I found it interesting both for what it proved and for what it didn’t prove.  While it showed in great detail how much effort, venality, and malfeasance Trump invested in covering up his actions, it also shows how challenging it would be to prove his corruption rises to the level of criminal acts based on the evidence that could be allowed in a court of law.  On the other hand, it does show explicitly that Russians (likely with Putin’s knowledge and direction) ran a massive disinformation campaign in U.S. social media outlets designed to favor candidate Trump in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.  It also shows Trump’s obsession with minimizing the public’s knowledge of this election interference and discrediting the messaging of it (declaring any news about the Russian fake news campaign, ‘fake news’), and  an unwavering pattern of Trump currying favor with anyone whom he thought he could convince to lie to protect him and publicly excoriating anyone who dared to tell the truth about his activities.  Invariably, this behavior even ran counter to advice from his closest advisors.

I think the thing I find most interesting is that the Mueller Report comes in two parts.  The first part proves the Russian interference in the U.S. election and Trump’s efforts to cover it up.  Ironically, Trump spends substantial effort trying to get the FBI to publicly claim that he is not personally under investigation.  The ironic part is that he wasn’t.  Not until he tried so hard to circumvent the investigation.  Then, because of his interference, he was.  That’s part two of the Mueller Report.

Ultimately, the investigation finds the evidence of criminal conduct inconclusive:

Because we determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment, we did not draw ultimate conclusions about the President’s conduct. The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that would need to be resolved if we were making a traditional prosecutorial judgment. At the same time , if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.

While thorough and exhaustive (and, a bit exhausting for those who find legal matters tedious), the Mueller report seems to be continually considering the realpolitik of whether Trump’s corrupt actions might be prosecutable.  Given the predictable out come of the recent impeachment trial involving the Republican-controlled Senate, this concern seems quite realistic.

So, where does this leave us?  The president has now dodged two opportunities for the legal system to curb his corruption.  His State of the Union Speech, also predictably, continued his platform of taking credit for economic trends started in the previous administration while blaming the previous administration for causing an economic downturn instead of an economic upturn–a claim, like most of his claims–easily disproved.

And, this is where things get scarier.  Not only does Trump run his administration like a mob boss and tell wild stories, he has a growing and devoted base that eats it all up.  The fringe seems to be growing.  We now have the ‘QAnon’ followers (AP, Business Insider, NYT (NYT), Wikipedia), who see the entire governmental structure as evil (with the Democrats playing the role of pedophilic Satan worshipers) and only Donald Trump able to stop them.  That should play well with a narcissist like Trump, who seems to have this view of himself already.  It should also play well with the Russians in the next U.S. election.  They now have both their audience and their message ready to go.  And, this time, they know they can get away with it.

MAGA.

A few rockets more

Somebody just fired a half dozen rockets at another military base in Iraq (Aljazeera, Reuters, DW, Time, The Times of Isreal, ABC), but no one is claiming responsibility.  It’s hard to imagine who would stand to gain from this attack.

We seem to have confirmation that the “imminent threat” posed by Qassem Soleimani being alive was more of a vague unease (Reuters).  According to U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, President Trump figured “there probably could be additional attacks against embassies.”  Who knows?  Coulda been.  Might still could be.  I hope the ‘cooler heads’ at Fox News will continue to prevent Trump from further escalation (Politico, AP).

And the poor Iranian people, who, for a few glorious hours, might have delighted in their government’s brilliant (and fortunate) response to the recent U.S. provocation, are back to protesting after getting confirmation that it was their own military that shot down the passenger plane (BBC) and that their own government made a lame attempt to cover it up.

It seems as if the U.S. and Iranian administrations are simply trying to outdo each other’s ability to tell silly stories.  Based on the level of protests, the Iranians currently seem to be ahead.

 

The U.S. response

So far, the year’s gone something like this:

The U.S. administration decides to publicly blow up the top Iranian military commander (The Hill, Vice News).

In response, Iran gives notice of coming attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq (CNN, USA Today, The Guardian) (a notice for which the U.S. tries to credit its “early warning system” (The Hill, Fox, Daily Wire)!).

The attacks cause minimal damage and Iran notifies the U.S. that this will be their only response (Forbes, CNN, The Guardian).

The U.S. backs down (CNN).

Both nations come away with domestic bragging rights.

A lovely start to the year.

But, what about that plane (BBC, NYT, Intelligencer, Aljazeera, National Post)?

The Iranian response

Iran has just attacked U.S. bases in Iraq in response to the U.S. assassination of Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani (CNN, Military.com, The Hill).  The U.S. president seems to be taking it in stride (“all is well…So far, so good!”).  Just as the U.S. did after its attack, Iran has claimed that it doesn’t want war and recommended that the U.S. not retaliate for Iran’s attack (Reuters).  This actually sounds pretty smart to me.  The U.S. can pass some sanctions or whatnot and gracefully back out with a win at this point.  They will have gotten away with a very reckless gambit if they do.  Meanwhile, Iran can buddy up to North Korea with wads of cash and find out what they know about building nuclear weapons (now that their nuclear deal is a fond memory).

It will be pretty horrible if Trump does the only thing he knows how to do and escalates the situation to appease his base.  Now that he’s sending thousands of more troops to the area, the Iranians will have even more targets to choose from (WP, Military.com).  What will that do to oil prices and the economy (CNN), let alone the poor troops being sent off on another fools’ errand?

And what’s with that plane that just crashed?  That is either horrible (if it was just another Boeing failure) or really horrible (if it was deliberate) (CNN, NPR).

Iranian strikes – map by CNN