sunset from behind the wire

sunset from behind the wire

Monday, May 25, 2015

We do it for Them

Memorial Day is the time that we set aside to remember those who have fallen in war that others may live. The day brings to mind why those brave souls put themselves in harm's way. Irrespective of whether or not blood of warriors was betrayed by politicians, the sacrifice that they made is worthy of memory as is their motivation.

They did it for our homeland, our children, grandchildren and their examples provide the grist for a life of duty and sacrifice.

Photos of three of my grandsons at the Blueberry Farm (near where they live). I've harvested blueberries with the kids, that inevitably make their way into pancakes, for a few years now. Defending them and their future - It's one of those things that we do.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

In Search of Modern China

Context and Precedence: A buddy of mine called me last night and invited me to his place in China. He lives in the penthouse of a high rise in Shenzhen (PRC where they fly the Chinese People's Republic flag), across the harbor from Hong Kong (PRC turf where they fly the Hong Kong flag). I usually stay at his place when I visit Southern China because (a) I'm cheap and he offers; (b) It's nicer than local hotels; (c) did I say that I'm cheap? The invitation set off a discussion of where China is going. I thought to share it with a bit of background.

About twelve years ago, I helped him move from the US to China, where he set up a series of businesses. The first made wooden doors. From there he moved to making large plastic palm trees that light up (earning him the nickname: The plastic palm tree king of China) then a  plastic injection molding factory, which he sold. Now a company that makes surfboards. 

He's almost 50 now, making him a bit long in the tooth, but he has come a long way. From being a white American who spoke no Chinese to an ex-pat who speaks rather good Chinese. There have been bumps along the way. He was taken hostage by organized crime once, got sick and experienced the wonders (and horrors) that are a Chinese ER room, and has had a series of Chinese girlfriends, none of whom worked out all that well. Whenever he gets into trouble, he calls me to bail him out, which I do reliably. As a result, I don't feel bad taking advantage of his hospitality, using one of his cars and drivers as if it's my own, and spending the night on Kowloon side at the Intercontinental on his account when I go to "town"(HK).

These days he quotes me liberally where he once thought that I exaggerated horribly and practices what I preached. 
  • The only way to become a millionaire in China is to start out a billionaire.
  • Chinese politics is akin to two chameleons making love.
  • If you have Chinese business partners, the only way they will be content is if you set things up to allow them to steal 10% from you. (because if they can't, they will presume that you are stealing from them and they will be distressed)
What is happening in China? 

He believes that China is tipping on a plunge into a recession, which would create VAST and predictable turmoil with the public, that has grown to expect the average 10% growth rate (1980-2011) and a diminishing growth rate since then. The Chinese government has maintained its legitimacy by promising economic progress. If the promise seems broken, it's hard to know how China's masses would react, but they will not react well.

I suggest that Chinese leaders in the one-party-system will become more nationalistic and aggressive to deflect attention from economic disappointment. In China this is horribly dangerous. Explaining why that is the case takes more room that I am inclined to use on this blog. Those of you who know me can call me on the phone if you want a greater explanation of why I feel that's bad. I'm not a doom-sayer when the Chinese are involved. I've had experience with them. It's bad but they will manage it. What it means for the USA is something else all together.

During the American/European 2008-09 financial crisis China announced a $586 billion stimulus package, almost 13% of GDP, in 2008. But unlike the U.S. stimulus in 2009, which was part of the federal budget, much of China's extra spending was channeled through state-owned banks and local governments. What ensued was a credit boom that has now left a large overhang of unsold housing, surplus industrial capacity and questionable debt. However in China, things work differently than they do in the US and I argue that it didn't hurt them. The housing supply that exceeded the demand is slowing and softening. China's economic predicament resembles America's: It needs a formula for sustainable growth that doesn't depend on repeated bursts of artificial stimulus, whether by deficit spending or prolonged easy credit.

Territorial Expansion based on Military Capabilities

The Chinese military's technical and numerical expansion is unabated. They plan to land men on the moon in the next decade and return them safely to Earth (as a demonstration of technical expertise). As the US contracts, China expands. My buddy and I agree that the social cost of Chinese expansion (increased military spending, etc.) will be offset by territorial gains. Those gains are obvious in the South China Sea but Taiwan is the jewel in the crown.

Will the US back Taiwan or will it fold? The Chinese are betting that we will fold. They've seen our leadership who are emblematic of American internal decline, and feel that they can get away with it.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Fishwrap: The Week in Review

Feminizing Boys

Boy Scouts of America has announced a ban on water gun fights and a limit on the size of water balloons allowed at their summer camps. "Pointing any type of firearm or simulated firearm at any individual is unauthorized,” states the group’s 2015 manual. "Water guns and rubber band guns must only be used to shoot at targets, and eye protection must be worn."

As for water balloons, they must now be "no larger than a ping-pong ball" and must be biodegradable. It's not your daddy's boy scouts anymore.
The change is not sitting well with many, including Andrea Tantaros, who said on "Outnumbered" today that this is another instance of the "feminization of boys."

It's All About the Weather

Charles Krauthammer scooped me this week because he laid out everything that I was going to say: Ramadi falls, North Korea announces new nuclear missile and the President gives speech to the  Coast Guard Academy on climate change (the weather) being the greatest threat to our national security.

Never in my life as an American administration been so woefully wrong on every single issue that confronted it. A broken clock is right twice a day, but the Obama Administration can't even manage that.

On North Korean Missiles and Nukes

The US and India judge that Pakistan has developed a nuclear warhead for its Ghauri intermediate range ballistic missile. The Ghauri is interesting because Pakistan bought its first Ghauris from North Korea, where they are named the NoDong. North Korea sold the technology base so that Pakistan can make Ghauris. The North also provided missile engineers and warhead artificers to assist Pakistan in fielding this missile and adapting it to Pakistani requirements. Pakistan provided nuclear enrichment centrifuges to North Korea.

The prudent judgment for policy formulators and warfighters is to presume that North Korea has nuclear warheads for its three firing units of NoDong ballistic missiles, as the Commander of NORAD testified in the video clip above.
It's also likely that Iran has copies of those warheads in the same way that it has NoDong ballistic missiles. The US never talks about THAT. It would tend to derail Obama's signature legacy deal with Iran...

Political aspirant, Hillary Clinton, seeks to maintain the Obama record of mediocrity. Carly Fiorina appeared on the Hough Hewitt show. Hewitt asked her what questions she would ask Clinton. Fiorina said (among other things), "I would ask is why were you willing to peddle a fiction about Benghazi starting as you stood over the bodies of four murdered Americans and for a month after that?" But at this point, what difference does it make?

At least Hillary isn't lying to us by telling us that her administration will be the most transparent in history. There are some whoppers that even the progressive mavens in the mainstream media would choke on. I'm sure that Chris Matthews feel that old tingle running up his leg, though.


Crouching Tiger - Hidden Dragon

Context: America buys almost all of its routine consumer goods from China. We no longer have the capacity to compete with them through domestic production. If you shop at Walmart, Target, Home Depot or Lowes, you are buying products made in China. It's hard not to. I do it too.
China no longer buys American debt because it's "junk paper". We now buy our own debt. Thank you Federal Reserve.
Blogging friends, what are YOU willing to give up in order to stand up to China? Or should we stand down?

The News: Yesterday, the Chinese navy warned a US Navy P8 surveillance aircraft eight times to depart Chinese airspace. The P8 replied that it was flying in international airspace, as it overflew the South China Sea islets where China is building runways and basing infrastructure using dredges. 

The warning apparently came from Fiery Cross Reef, which is now an island with an airstrip that can accommodate any Chinese military aircraft. Fiery Cross Reef now hosts a control tower and an early warning radar system, the latest additions to the runway and other infrastructure construction projects.

Yesterday's warning episode is the second Chinese provocation this week. Earlier the Chinese announced fishing restrictions for the entire South China Sea. The Chinese maritime authorities do this every year, ostensibly to conserve sea resources and to assert Chinese sovereignty in the South China Sea.

Southeast Asian states annually protest the Chinese announcement. Their fishing fleets ignore the Chinese declaration, but also try to avoid Chinese patrols. China lacks the military capabilities to enforce its orders in the Spratly Islands, but its intentions are clear. It will enforce its declarations and will deploy the necessary capabilities after the island infrastructure is ready. In that regard, China also is building a second air base on Subi Reef. They intend to fortify the area and the support infrastructure will lead to an assertion of control once they're ready.

Many of the ships in the Chinese fishing fleet are presently armed. That practice is expanding and will soon apply to all Chinese flagged fishing boats. This makes them (small) warships capable of enforcing Chinese fishing rights in addition to commercial vessels.

China is serious about its claim that the South China Sea is China’s territorial waters. The report that an early warning radar is now operating on Fiery Cross Reef means that air defense missiles and modern air defense radars will follow soon. After those systems are operational, China will station fighter/interceptor aircraft at Fiery Cross Reef, at least intermittently, depending on the weather. 

A number of nations claim control of this area, but China is the only nation with the muscle to militarize it to the extent necessary to hold firm control over it. China’s claims are bold and backed by concrete enforcement actions. Those enforcement actions are becoming increasingly more integrated and comprehensive. They mean that eventually transit of the South China Sea will be with Chinese permission. While other claimants and the US dither about international law, the Chinese are successfully asserting ownership of a vast sea area.

The Chinese are vulnerable in that they have asserted claims they cannot now defend. The US and Southeast Asian states prefer to rely on diplomacy and talks to settle disputes, which the Chinese leadership rejects as irrelevant. China will never compromise on issues of sovereignty.

Chinese leaders will send diplomats, who will be deliberately uninformed, to exploit the conflict aversion tendencies of the current US leadership and the Southeast Asians. None of them want a confrontation with China and they mistakenly ascribe the same attitude to the Chinese leaders. 

The Chinese People's Army's Navy (that's what they call it) is no longer a joke as it is turning into a blue water force that can contest US fleet operations anywhere within it sphere. Land based anti shipping ballistic missiles have been deployed and while their effectiveness is not yet known, present estimates rate it as good.

The Chinese have the measure of the USA and find it lacking. Within that vacuum, they are expanding and will back their expansion with military muscle, confident that the USA will back down like an obedient cur. They've seen our leader and have taken our measure. 

This piece concludes tomorrow with thoughts on China -- "In Search of Modern China".

Friday, May 22, 2015

ISIL, Ramadi and What it Means

We watched Ramadi fall to ISIS on prime time (and well within the 24 hour news cycle). The images of first-class American military equipment abandoned in its sheds and in military bases provide demonstrative evidence of failed policies and programs by multiple governments. Iraq is not Vietnam and the analogy ends with the images of trained and equipped forces running away. But the images resonate with the American psyche all the same.

A Mother's Thoughts

This week we saw President Obama giving a speech at the US Coast Guard Academy, stridently warning that climate change was America's biggest military threat. Obama needs to crawl back under his rock in Chicago. He and SECSTATE Hillary R. Clinton, presidential aspirant, made sure that Iraq would stay broken. They succeeded.

While I do not think that the ISIL movement in Iraq is "our war", we need to follow what is happening because it has much broader implications than a bunch of 'earth boys' running, gunning, and beheading in Iraq.

ISIL in Anbar Province/Governate is on the cusp of two threats. The most immediate is the violent breakup of Iraq as a result of fragmentation. Except for a few pockets of bypassed pro-government soldiers, the Islamic State has carved out a Sunni Arab canton in western Iraq. Fragmentation is always centrifugal. Thus in one scenario the Islamic State could make Ramadi a sub-regional power center that challenged Baghdad. 

If the Islamic State does no more than consolidate control of Anbar, it will complete the de facto fragmentation of Iraq. 

The Kurds already have their quasi-autonomous region. The Shiite Arabs have what is left. The one of conflict tends to focus on the northern oil fields and infrastructure, for now at least.

The second dimension of violent threat is centripetal, meaning the capture of Baghdad which constitutes the center of power of Iraq. The Islamic State shows no signs of consolidating its victory at Ramadi. Its forces are too few to build defenses. Their local commanders recognize that the best defense is a good offense, exploiting their forces’ mobility and the panic of the Iraqi government forces.

In this pursuit and exploitation phase, ISIL must take Habbaniyah, which remains in Iraqi government (Shiite) hands. If they bypass it and press the pursuit they might reach the outskirts of Baghdad if they can run the Iraqi government forces to ground before Shiite militias gather strength. ISIL will attack and neutralize, if not capture, Baghdad as part of the long range game plan. Otherwise the Islamic State would leave a Shiite rival power center intact. That creates a long term problem for them that they can remedy. The Islamic State does not recognize an entity known as Iraq. 

Iran is watching ISIL very closely. Should Baghdad fall, it would be an opportunity for the Republican Guard to come screaming out of the Iranian highlands and seize the city (on behalf of the displaced Shiite administration). Should that happen, don't hold your breath waiting for the Iranians to relinquish the city as readily as the United States did. Baghdad will become a satrap of Iran. I say Baghdad because Iraq really only exists on old maps in terms of national boundary.

The country is partitioned based on ethnicity and faith. 

The lesson to the United States is an old one, that we forgot. "Never fight a land war in Asia." this point, what difference does it make? - Presidential Aspirant, and architect of Obama's failed foreign policy, Hillary Clinton

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Is Afghanistan Lost?

The comment of anyone familiar with history will say that of course it's lost. If the British couldn't hold it in successive wars, and the Russians couldn't hold it, what makes us think that our investment in time, treasure and lives would have a different outcome? 

When President Obama came into office, he declared that the war in Afghanistan was a "good war" and put his stamp on it. I chuckled at the time because war is a racket and I knew that Obama would turn tail and pull out as soon as we'd spent enough money lives in a worthless endeavor. I am not discounting the lives of Americans and Afghan allies. I simply point to the loss of Ramadi, Iraq and the Obama Administration's assertion "at this point what difference does it make?" --- and suggest that the same thing is happening in Afghanistan.

The litmus test for the value of a war is when the sons and grandsons of members of the US Congress, and possibly Chelsea Clinton and her ilk, are sent to the front lines in that war to offer up their lives for flag and country. Until THAT happens, lives and treasure will be freely spilled to no lasting effect...much like Viet Nam.

There are some who say that the long war in Afghanistan was a pay-back for the 9/11 terror attack. The only problem with that is that the attack was generated by Saudis and Saudi Arabia was our "ally" and oil supplier. We couldn't very well go there and root out the Wahhabists, who fulminated the attack and America wanted blood. So, Afghanistan was an acceptable limited conflict that worked until Big Army decided that it needed to be there in a Big way -- forever.

But I digress. On with the news.
On 18 May, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU), according to a statement released by Pakistan. The Director General, Inter Service Public Relations (ISPR), Major General Asim Bajwa, tweeted that the MoU includes intelligence sharing as well as complementary and coordinated operations and patrols on the respective sides of the border. 
The MoU and the coordinated border operations appear to update and amend the arrangements that existed between the US/NATO command in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They are positive developments, but signify no breakthrough in relations. They cover developments on the periphery of Afghanistan, when the fight has moved increasingly to Kabul.

Open sources attest to the steady progress the Taliban and their allies have made in executing attacks in Kabul. 

Insurgency and insurrection usually are centripetal. That means attacks in the capital are a critical measure for evaluating insurgent progress against the government. If the center does not hold, the insurgents win. The Afghan center – Kabul -- is not holding; it is slowly collapsing. 

Pakistan created the Taliban and militarily supported their initial take-over of Afghanistan. Therefore this is consistent with their moves going back to the mid-1990's. Pakistan is investing so it cannot lose, no matter the outcome. It has never stopped supporting the Afghan Taliban by providing a safe haven for the Afghan Taliban leadership during the past 14 years. The new arrangements with the Ghani government in Afghanistan are attempts to manipulate the Afghan government in Pakistan’s favor. This is a win-win strategy for Pakistan.

Inner-City Zombies

I'm sure that the residents of Baltimore, MD feel much safer now that the police are simply arriving "later" to take reports on crimes as murder, robbery and rape skyrocket. After all, it's the police that the zombies fear. Take that out of the equation and who owns the city? Who needs that thin blue line?

The sad reality is that cities, counties, and states get precisely the police departments that they want. In much the same way that businesses hire better people to make themselves more successful, some communities make that commitment as well. We can all quibble about what makes a "better" police officer but higher standards in hiring generally results in higher standards of conduct by those hired. Who doesn't remember the movie, Beverly Hills Cop, and the stereotypical differences between the fat, poorly groomed, sloppy Detroit cops working out of a run down building and the fit, well uniformed, highly educated Beverly Hills cops working in corporate-looking offices, equipped with the best gear? Stereotypes are only funny because we know they're true.

Police departments directly reflect the nature and will of their constituent populations. And since we know that politicians aren't out there on graveyard shift, picking up the pieces of their failed policies, they naturally expect the police to do it. Inner-city sewers like Detroit, Michigan; Fergusson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland are monuments to the political policies that encouraged dependency and bought votes -- that built them. Expecting police to fix them is unrealistic. Expecting that police officers will accept persecution from their elected leaders and still do a stellar job is laughable.

Crime rates will soar and the cops will simply follow procedure to the letter, thus bogging the system down. But a bogged down system won't lead to their indictments.