Brad Taylor Brad Taylor, Author Wed, 19 Sep 2018 18:25:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Five Fast Facts from the Singapore Summit Tue, 12 Jun 2018 20:10:36 +0000 The summit in Singapore between the United States and the DPRK is over, and there is a lot of discussion in the press, to say the least.  Here are five takeaways that I saw: The word “historic” has been used quite a bit about the meeting between Kim Jong Un and President Trump, but truly, [...]

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The summit in Singapore between the United States and the DPRK is over, and there is a lot of discussion in the press, to say the least.  Here are five takeaways that I saw:

  1. The word “historic” has been used quite a bit about the meeting between Kim Jong Un and President Trump, but truly, the only thing historic about it was that the president of the United States attended. Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama all had a standing invitation to meet with their respective counterpart in the DPRK and all refused because they didn’t want to legitimize the regime.  Trump decided it was time for something different.  He may be right, but the results of this meeting were neither historic nor groundbreaking.  Everything stated has been said before, stretching back decades.  The first bilateral meeting between the United States and North Korea occurred in 1993, and the statement produced after that meeting reads pretty much like the statement from last night, substituting the words “nuclear-free Korean peninsula” for “denuclearization”.  The 2005 six-party talks discussed “security assurances” for the DPRK along with a much stronger wording of denuclearization. Saying more was gained at this meeting than ever before is simply not true. In the end, the fact remains that we’ve been here before.  This fact doesn’t make the effort futile – and I applaud the attempt – but we shouldn’t be hyperbolic about what was accomplished.  Right now, Kim Jong Un finally achieved the legitimacy that both his father and grandfather failed to earn while they were in charge.  It remains to be seen if Trump’s gamble will pay off.
  1. Trump has declared that all sanctions will remain in place, which is a good thing, but the ink hadn’t dried on the page of the joint statement before China began crowing that it was unprecedented and that the United Nations needs to begin removing sanctions as a show of good will toward the DPRK’s agreement to abide by UN resolutions.That is something to watch, because the United States can declare sanctions will remain in place, but if China disagrees, the sanctions are toothless.  We don’t do business with the DPRK – but China does, and if they allow goods and services to flow, the sanctions are just words on a page.  My analysis is that China and the DPRK talked about this in advance, and had already agreed to state that – no matter what happened – it was a huge success and it was time for sanctions to end.
  1. Surprising everyone – to include US Forces Korea and South Korea – Trump stated he was ending joint war-games on the peninsula because they were too expensive and provocative. In effect, he’s given up security for some unnamed concession in the future.  Yes, they are expensive, but so is Bright Star in Egypt, Cobra Gold in Thailand, Flintlock in Africa, and the Black Sea Rotational Force in Poland.  We don’t conduct exercises for show, we do them for interoperability, and we just gave that away for little in return.  The truth is the money spent has a much bigger impact for the DPRK, because every time we have an exercise, they duplicate it in a show of force, which is something they can’t afford.  It drains the DPRK piggy bank much more than ours, and looking at this as some individual transactional approach is misguided.  If Reagan had looked at costs alone, the SDI initiative would never have come about, and with it, the bankruptcy of the Soviet Union as they tried to match it.  Now, if we attempt to bring the exercises back, the DPRK will scream that we were dishonest, and we’ll end up right back where we were with twitter tirades and DPRK “dotard” statements.  Worst case, we should have at least held something as hostage for the pausing of the exercises.  This one really puzzles me on multiple levels.  How can a president tout spending billions on rebuilding the military as an accomplishment, then say a single exercise designed to ensure our ability to fight and win is too expensive?  And what happened to coordinating with our allies?  Just two weeks ago, Secretary Pompeo said there was no daylight” between the US and South Korea with respect to the summit.  Tell that to the South Korean Minister of Defense, who, upon hearing Trump’s statement, said, “At this current point, there is a need to discern the exact meaning and intent of President Trump’s comments.”
  1. The joint statement signed at the end of the conference said nothing about formally ending the Korean War. This is surprising to me because that was a central premise to the Panmunjom declaration in April, 2018and this joint statement goes out of its way to mention repatriation of war dead.  Formal discussions for ending declared hostilities is a natural extension, and would seem to be an easy win for both sides, and something to work toward in a show of good faith.  It’s puzzling that this was dropped completely from initial discussions, as both parties had mentioned it prior to the meeting.
  1. The biggest challenge to denuclearization may possibly be on OUR side, as the DPRK has seen what a different administration can do to a previous nuclear deal (Iran).  President Trump pulled out of the JCPOA ostensibly because it didn’t address ballistic missiles and Iran’s meddling in other country’s affairs, and only dealt with the nuclear issue.  Kim will (rightly) think that if he makes a deal on nuclear weapons with the executive branch, what’s to stop the next administration from saying it was a horrible deal because it didn’t address his chemical/biological weapons, artillery fan in range of Seoul, human rights abuses, etc, etc.  Thus, if he’s smart, he’ll demand a treaty instead of an agreement, and that may be a long sell in our polarized Congress – just as the Iran deal would have been – with some demanding the treaty should address chem/bio, conventional threats, and human rights abuses.  That would be a non-starter to the DPRK. In the end, it may not be Kim that declares it must be a treaty, but the president’s own party. One of the reasons given for pulling out of the Iran deal was precisely that it wasn’t a treaty – with Senator Tom Cotton going so far as to mail a letter to the Mullahs of Iran giving them a lecture on how congress works.  It’s going to be hard to say with a straight face that a deal codified solely by the executive branch is the way to go after all of the rhetoric in the past from the Iran deal, but a treaty may be a bridge too far.

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The Syrian Conundrum Part Four – Rinse and Repeat Sun, 15 Apr 2018 16:25:26 +0000 After the latest strikes in Syria, President Donald Trump tweeted, “Mission Accomplished!” Besides the obvious subliminal baggage of using the same term that President George W. Bush used early on in a war in which we’re still embroiled fifteen years later, what, exactly does that mean? What “mission” was accomplished? And I mean beyond the [...]

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After the latest strikes in Syria, President Donald Trump tweeted, “Mission Accomplished!” Besides the obvious subliminal baggage of using the same term that President George W. Bush used early on in a war in which we’re still embroiled fifteen years later, what, exactly does that mean? What “mission” was accomplished? And I mean beyond the partisan divide. Beyond the left shouting that President Trump was “wagging the dog” to detract from his lawyer’s office raid and FBI Director Comey’s upcoming blistering memoir, and the right shouting that the strike was a stroke of strategic genius that reset every element in the Middle East.

Speaking of wagging the dog, let’s just put that to bed right up front. Yes, President Trump has had a string of bad press, but he didn’t use chemical weapons in Syria. Assad did. And the very fact that both Britain and France were willing to strike unilaterally should completely lay to rest the idea that President Trump was executing solely for personal benefit. To do so stretches the bounds of credibility.

Even given the strike was done because of the heinous actions of the Assad regime, what, exactly, did it accomplish? The answer, unfortunately, is very little. The strike was designed for one thing, and one thing only: to deter Assad from using chemical weapons in the future. The administration has stated repeatedly that it has no interest in regime change, and in fact stated it was withdrawing all US troops in the very near future just one week before the strikes occurred. If there is one lever to deter Assad from doing anything, including using chemical weapons, it is to threaten his survival – and we’ve already given up that card.

Understand, I’m not saying we should conduct regime change, because that answer would entail a wholesale invasion of the country with ground forces, and follow on stability and support operations just like we did in Iraq. Those saying we can just kill Assad with missiles are making the same mistake Obama made in Libya – namely turning the country into a terrorist mecca – only this time, all of the armories that would be looted contain WMD, and we most certainly don’t want Sarin nerve gas to fall into Jihadists hands. Thus, if we want to conduct regime change, it will require securing those chemical sites and stabilizing the country. Very few in the United States would think that was in our best interests, but the fact remains that Assad’s existence is the only lever that will prevent him from using chemical weapons in the future.

In April of 2017, after a Sarin nerve gas attack, we struck an airfield precisely to deter him from further chemical weapon’s use. At that time, I wrote a blog saying that the strike would succeed, and that Assad would be insane to use chemical weapons again. I was wrong. By the administration’s own statement on the current strikes, just weeks after that attack, he used chlorine gas. We did nothing. Since then, he’s used chlorine gas multiple other times, with no response from the international community. Why are we so surprised he used chemical weapons again? In fact, I’m pretty sure it was he who was surprised at the response. After all, we’d let him get away with it on multiple other occasions. What he learned from our 2017 strike was not to use Sarin, but that using lesser chemical agents, like chlorine, was okay, because those garner no response. And even after this latest strike, all we’ve taught him is that he’s safe. Make no mistake; if a situation occurs – like the problem he had in Douma – where chemical weapons will prove decisive, he’ll use them again. The tradeoff is something he’s willing to make.

Douma was the last rebel holdout in the suburbs of Damascus. Assad, with Russian help, had bombed that place with conventional munitions until it was a shell. Hospitals, schools, homes, it didn’t matter what he did, the rebels remained defiant. Until he used chlorine. Shortly after that attack, they were loading up buses and evacuating. He achieved his objective, and all he got in return was a few missiles lobbed his way against targets that were specifically chosen not to affect his hold on power or involve any danger to his allies like Russia or Hezbollah (Iran). A tradeoff he’s more than willing to make in the future.

One of the fears from this strike is that it will escalate into World War Three because Russia will now retaliate in defense of Assad, but that’s absurd. Yes, there’s most definitely a risk if we’d harmed any Russian elements, but we made sure that the targets were clear of such things. Because of it, there is absolutely no reason for Russia to do anything – and they won’t, because they’ve won. Assad is in power, and anything they did against us would jeopardize his ability to remain so, because it would bring us deeper into the conflict. Why would they respond when the administration has publicly stated its desire to completely withdraw? Retaliating against us goes against their best interest, and if anything, Putin is a chess player. The most Russia will do is yell during UN meetings, but even that is a weak jab, given its use of nerve agent in the United Kingdom to kill a double agent. Currently, the world is not very tolerant of Russian statements against retaliation for chemical weapons use, and Putin knows it.

So what can we do if/when Assad uses chemical weapons again? Another airstrike? Rinse and repeat what we did before? We struck three chemical weapons related sites during the latest attack, but by the Pentagon’s own assessment, Assad still has the ability and the stockpiles to use chemical weapons again. Even if we hit them all, chlorine gas isn’t that hard to manufacture. It’s not like Sarin, and it’s a dual-use chemical. Basically, it’s concentrated, weaponized bleach. So what’s the point of striking more suspected chemical facilities? It would only make us look ineffectual and weak to supporters of the Syrian regime–which I personally believe we do to a certain extent inside Syria. But there is something we could hit. It’s something that would mean a great deal to the Assad regime, and would touch upon the regime change theme in a way that would resonate with him. We could strike his means of delivery – meaning absolutely destroy every airfield and air asset he owns.

Assad doesn’t really have an edge when fighting on the ground. Force on force, he’s not much better than the various rebel groups – especially now, after years of conflict honing the battle edges of his enemies. It’s the very reason he used chemicals in Douma. He couldn’t win a conventional fight in that suburb. His only edge is air power – the vaunted barrel bombs – and he uses them with impunity. It’s also the means by which he’s delivered the last few chemical strikes, including the two that caused our retaliation. If we threatened to destroy that, using the chemical weapons rubric as our rationale, it would also threaten his regime, because he cannot win without air power. I believe that would alter his calculus.

This strategy is not without risk, however. Russia has placed elements at every airbase in Syria, precisely as a hedge to get us to hesitate against striking them, so the escalation calculus would be high, but not as high as everyone thinks if Putin believed we were serious about the threat. He doesn’t want to go to war with the United States anymore than we want to go to war with him, and if he believed our resolve was iron clad, he’d pull his men before an imminent strike. Hell, we could call Putin on the phone and tell him we’re about to strike to mitigate the risk – just like we did before the April strike of 2017. It’s not like Assad can hide an airfield, no matter what the Russians told him. The most he could do would be to evacuate his men – which is fine, because that’s not the target.

The key, though, is to telegraph that threat. Our purpose is not to attack, but to deter future chemical weapons use. Thus, we’d have to be specific. The UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, stated that President Trump told her that the US was locked and loaded if they used another chemical weapon. This is meaningless. We should be specific on the threat. Telling Assad we are prepared for another round just signals that we’re going to repeat strikes one and two, which Assad would be more than willing to absorb. Deterrence is based on a credible threat against something the targeted country holds dear, along with the will to execute that action. Which means stating the threat up front and projecting the resolve to execute.

In the end, these limited strikes do nothing to justify the phrase “mission accomplished”, but they could, if we threatened something Assad valued in a future strike. The administration’s shown a willingness to use force, which is half the equation. The other half is to target something Assad values – and his air power is a direct line to his ability to maintain his regime. In the same way chlorine is a dual-use chemical – something that’s used for legitimate purposes as well as a weapon – so is his air power. We could threaten that because of his use of air platforms to deliver chemical weapons, and in so doing threaten his regime without overtly stating that is our goal.

Let him figure it out – I’m willing to bet he does.

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Another tragic shooting, and the same tired arguments. Why is that? Sat, 17 Feb 2018 00:38:01 +0000 After the Las Vegas Massacre, I wrote a blog for After the tragic events in Florida, I thought it was appropriate to post it again here, on my website.  Not to start a debate, but to show where the debate now stands and why nothing gets done.  There are sensible gun safety regulations I [...]

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After the Las Vegas Massacre, I wrote a blog for After the tragic events in Florida, I thought it was appropriate to post it again here, on my website.  Not to start a debate, but to show where the debate now stands and why nothing gets done.  There are sensible gun safety regulations I would support, but honestly, because of the partisan world we live in, I have no faith in the opposition to offer anything that would prevent the tragedy that occurred, instead using the tragedy to attack law-abiding gun owners.  From October 7th, 2017:

Gun control is the hot topic of the day, and as usual it’s devolved into entrenched positions where many people supporting the Second Amendment will not give an inch, no matter the proposal. Why is that?

Do people who own firearms really believe that everyone should have the right to legally modify an AR platform so that it nearly duplicates the cyclic rate of a military assault weapon?

I had this conversation recently with a friend of mine, a former special operations soldier, who now makes a living providing firearms instruction to police SWAT units. As for me, I own two AR platforms, several pistols, shotguns and other rifles. I’m also a former special operations soldier, a member of the National Rifle Association, and support and defend the Second Amendment. We both agreed that bump stocks should be illegal.

Previously, bump stocks were simply toys that allowed recreational shooters to pretend they were firing an automatic weapon on the range. Because of the bump stock’s firing system, it isn’t inherently accurate, and the wasting of ammo using it relegated it to a gimmick. That was before the massacre in Las Vegas.

Bump stocks are no longer a gimmick. Accuracy became irrelevant when the target set was a crowd of 22,000 concert-goers in an open field in Las Vegas, where 58 people were shot dead and nearly 500 were hospitalized when a gunman opened fire last Sunday in the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Fully automatic weapons are currently prohibited without an enormous expenditure of time, effort and money. Any mechanical device that is designed to enhance the cyclic rate of fire of a semiautomatic weapon to duplicate that capability should be illegal – and should include devices separate from the bump stock, such as hand cranks.

I imagine the majority of gun owners would feel the same way, although I’m sure I’ll get hate mail from some.

After some vacillating from members of Congress about studies and research, the NRA finally issued a statement Thursday that called on the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives “to immediately review whether these devices (bump stocks) comply with federal laws.” The statement added: “The NRA believes that devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations.”

Why did the NRA and staunch Second Amendment defenders in Congress not immediately call for making bump stocks illegal after the deadly rampage in Las Vegas Sunday? Why the equivocating when the issue is pretty clear-cut?

The answer is that gun owners see the fight in zero-sum terms, believing that the other side doesn’t care about preventing another Las Vegas, but instead wants to attack firearms ownership however it can. There is no faith in the intentions of gun control advocates, and for good reason.

The blood hadn’t even dried in the streets of Las Vegas before the de facto leader of the left, Hillary Clinton, tweeted about a suppressor bill currently in Congress. Immediately, the Twittersphere took up the charge, proclaiming that if the killer had used a “silencer,” the death toll would have been exponentially worse.

This is absolute hogwash, as everyone who has a modicum of knowledge about guns knows. To us, it’s a window into the true agenda. Hollywood would have you believe that a suppressor renders the bullet whisper quiet. That is simply untrue.

The shooter was four football fields away from his victims, and the sound everyone hears on the videos is not the explosion of the gunpowder, it’s the noise of the bullets breaking the sound barrier, something the suppressor does nothing to muffle.

In fact, the average suppressor simply lowers the gunfire to hearing-safe levels, but it’s certainly still loud (full disclosure: one of my AR rifles is suppressed). The fact is that suppressors would not have increased the death toll in Las Vegas, and Clinton knows it or should know it – even if her minions do not.

And yet Clinton used the tragedy of Las Vegas to further her agenda of attacking anything pertaining to firearms instead of working toward a solution to prevent a future mass casualty event. Gun owners see this, and instead of encouraging dialogue across the divide, it simply stiffens their will to resist.

Make no mistake, among ourselves gun owners are the first to decry the heinous use of a firearm. But when faced with the clearly partisan and cynical use of every event to further an overarching agenda, we close ranks reflexively – even over something as simple as the bump stock.

Gun owners are not evil. But we do fear the hidden machinations of the people espousing “common sense solutions” – especially when the proposal in question is anything but. If we as a nation truly want to work together to prevent tragedies like Las Vegas, the first requirement is trust in the good faith of the other side, and as Clinton just illustrated, that trust isn’t there.

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Transgenders in the Military? Please stop the Hyperbole – It’s Not About Equality. Sat, 29 Jul 2017 21:36:08 +0000 President Trump’s tweet on transgender personnel serving in the military has generated enormous controversy, but – besides the incredibly idiotic way it was announced (I’m sure PACOM now has a staff duty officer whose sole function is to look at Trump’s twitter feed for “I’m going to war with North Korea”) – the actual issue [...]

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President Trump’s tweet on transgender personnel serving in the military has generated enormous controversy, but – besides the incredibly idiotic way it was announced (I’m sure PACOM now has a staff duty officer whose sole function is to look at Trump’s twitter feed for “I’m going to war with North Korea”) – the actual issue is being buried in the weeds of emotion.

First off, even though I’ll be tarred and feathered with the following slurs, let me say upfront I’m not homophobic. I’m not transphobic. I don’t wish any ill will to the LGBT community at all, but I agree with a prohibition against transgender personnel enlisting in the military, and it’s solely based on the purpose for which the military is designed: To fight and win our nation’s wars, period.

Before I’m castigated as a bigot, my issue is a simple one: The transgender enlistee requires medical care after enlistment. Gender dysphoria is a medical condition. Plain and simple. It doesn’t make one any less of a human than someone diagnosed with high blood pressure or a curved spine, but it does require medical care. Beyond the hyperventilating about discrimination or hate, that fact – like the above-mentioned maladies – is a reason for disqualification.

In the past, the US military had one purpose: To defend our nation. The individual voluntarily succumbed to the greater national good. If the individual benefitted, it was secondary to the cause of the nation. Now, certain individuals have eclipsed the purpose for serving, and the military has assumed a secondary role of some cultural touchstone whereby serving is an individual right.

Why should someone be allowed to enlist, knowing that the enlistment will entail medical costs due to mental health management, hormone treatments, and other procedures up to and including gender reassignment surgery – not to mention the lost work productivity for all of the above? Why is that fair to the millions of others who wish to serve who also have a medical condition? Or even a non-medical condition, such as being a single parent or having a wrong tattoo? Why is it fair to allow a transgender to enlist – knowing the medical costs on the other side from the time of enlistment – when someone with high blood pressure cannot? That’s treatable. If he or she is otherwise fit to serve, why not enlist him or her, and begin treatment?

In an extreme example, why not let someone in with cancer? Why couldn’t John McCain, in an earlier life, have shown up to Annapolis with a brain tumor? After all, in hindsight, we know what he’s capable of. Why not treat it, and let him serve? Going further, as the military is looking for the best and the brightest, what if Lance Armstrong had enlisted right after winning the Tour de France? He takes his entrance physical and finds he has testicular cancer. Why should that be disqualifying? We know on the face that he’s capable of serving. Let him in, treat the cancer, and let him serve. That’s hyperbole, of course, but it makes my point. There is no overwhelming reason to incur the costs of medical care for any individual, and because of it, the military has a cut-line of medical restrictions for enlistment. In the words of Spock – the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Unless, of course, you have a vocal lobby in congress. Then the military mission becomes secondary an individual’s “right” to serve.

I hear a lot of talking heads saying “we need whoever can best serve. We’re cutting our recruitment base when we discriminate”, but that misses a banal truth: The military is built on medical discrimination, and that discrimination is based on its mission. There is a reason you don’t see any soldiers taking the oath of enlistment from a wheel chair, and it’s not because the military hates handicapped persons. It’s because the military is not a social construct. It is a war machine, and it is designed to close with and kill the enemy, period. There are hundreds of different medical conditions that prevent one from serving, and saying we’re losing out on recruits by banning transgender personnel is a red herring. Why not say the same about flat feet, like they did in 1941?

At the start of World War Two, the United States had a population of 133 million people. At the end of World War Two the Army was about eight million strong. Today, the US population is over 300 million, and the Army has fewer than 500 thousand soldiers. The recruitment argument holds no weight. The bottom line is that emotion has taken sway over common sense. It is not the military’s job to create a position for the individual to self-actualize – especially if that self-actualization entails medical treatment at taxpayer expense. I feel for the transgender community, but no more than I do for the person with a hyperthyroid disorder or asthma. Neither can enter the military, but one has a political lobby that treats this as a civil rights issue. It is not.

Yes, there are transgender personnel who have served honorably while hiding their condition, just as there are thousands of soldiers who hide other medical conditions to serve, but that is not an argument to alter the enlistment standards. I know of a soldier who wanted to be a pilot, but found out he was color blind, which was a disqualifying condition for pilot training. He joined the Army instead of the Air Force, and then, after joining Special Forces, he learned that color blindness was also disqualifying for becoming a free-fall parachutist. He decided to hide it, ripping out any reference to colorblindness from his medical records and going to extraordinary lengths to pass the color vision tests over and over again. He succeeded for over a twenty-five year military career, but he would be the first to tell you that we shouldn’t drop color vision as a discriminator for HALO status. It’s there for a reason, as he discovered on a harrowing night jump.

The fact remains that gender dysphoria is a medical condition, and that diagnosis requires medical treatment the same as a host of other disqualifying medical ailments. A recent RAND study is routinely held up as showing that the medical costs incurred by transgender enlistments is negligible – a veritable drop in the bucket to the overall defense budget – and that may be true, but it’s also irrelevant. The same could be said of the majority of ailments currently proscribing one from serving. (Which also begs the question, if it’s so negligible, it’s proof that so few transgender are serving that the recruitment argument is meaningless. Why are we pole-vaulting over mouse turds for such a small minority?) Should we now simply drop all medical discriminators? Or is it just the LGBT community that gets the benefit? Why can’t someone with high cholesterol get in? Sure, they’re at risk for heart disease, but it’s treatable – and the cost would be negligible when compared to the overall defense budget. What about vision tests? A person disqualified from serving due to poor eyesight that could be fixed simply by a Lasik procedure? Why don’t we let all of them in, and give them the procedure – something that’s a hell of a lot cheaper than gender reassignment surgery? That, too, would be a drop in the bucket when compared to the overall defense budget, but do we really want the military to be in the business of fixing every problematic medical condition so that every single person who wishes to serve gets the ability to do so? Sooner or later, it’s no longer a drop in the bucket, and it’s a Pandora’s box that doesn’t need to be opened for the simple fact that it is unnecessary. A single day lost or a single dollar spent due to gender dysphoria is one too many, and it’s patently unfair to others who wish to serve but are denied that ability due to a medical condition outside of their control.

At the end of the day, we need to remember the mission of the military. The LGBT community has turned this into a crusade, but it doesn’t alter the facts. The military is not built to serve the individual, but the other way around. The individual serves the military – and by extension, the nation. It is a shame that an accident of genetics caused someone to be transgender, and thus disqualified, but no more so than my friend’s genetic abnormality with color vision. His desire to be a pilot in no way translates to our nation’s obligation to let him become one.

The transgender community is estimated at 0.6 percent of the US population. The rate of disqualifying high blood pressure in the typical age for enlistment, per the American Heart Association, is 9 percent. Where is the outrage over the nine percent with hypertension? A completely treatable condition? Why does the fraction of a percentage of the transgender community have a cudgel to pound, as if that population somehow holds greater sway than the millions of others with treatable medical conditions?

Take away the emotion, take away the tweets, take away the hyperbole on both sides of the aisle, and you’re still left with one immutable fact: A transgender individual has a medical condition that requires treatment, and that, in and of itself, is disqualifying. It has nothing to do with gender, bigotry, or intolerance, and everything to do with the mission of the US Armed Forces. The mission is what it is, and bending the security of the nation’s defense to placate a vocal minority is not enhancing our ability to prosecute it.


Before I get the question: If transgender personnel are currently serving in good standing based on a prior decision by the Secretary of Defense, then they remain, getting whatever medical treatment was promised by that decision. It is not their fault they came out based on a promise by the SECDEF, and a promise is a promise. This blog is solely focused on future enlistments for the reasons I described. For the uninitiated – In 2016, Secretary of Defense Carter stated that transgender personnel could now openly serve, but future enlistments would be on hold until a study could determine the impact. That study is currently underway, and this blog is solely input into the future enlistment question, not retroactively rescinding a decision – and thus punishing – those already serving.

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The Syrian Conundrum Part III: Crossing the red line…Again Sun, 09 Apr 2017 23:37:29 +0000   To say the least, the Tomahawk strike on Syria has caused a great amount of chatter throughout the world, but most of it is misplaced and some is outright outlandish. I thought I’d weigh in, not in a partisan way, with an agenda, but simply to clear the air a bit. So here, in [...]

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To say the least, the Tomahawk strike on Syria has caused a great amount of chatter throughout the world, but most of it is misplaced and some is outright outlandish. I thought I’d weigh in, not in a partisan way, with an agenda, but simply to clear the air a bit. So here, in no order of precedence, are the primary questions being asked:

Who did the chemical strike in Syria?

The minute I heard that chemical weapons had been used in Idlib, the first thing I thought was, “That makes no sense whatsoever. It has to be the rebels.” Assad, for all his faults as a dictator and a murderous thug, is nothing if not a survivor. Two days before the attack, President Trump acknowledged this. Both his secretary of state and his ambassador to the UN said that his removal was no longer a goal of US policy. For Assad, this is a win-win. Through Russian and Iranian help, he is slowly but surely winning the civil war in Syria, and without outside interference, the endstate is preordained. What, on the surface, would cause outside interference? A horrific act, such as the use of chemical weapons.

So why on earth would Assad do such a thing? It doesn’t make sense. For one, chemical weapons are designed for a specific reason. Yes, they kill, but they do more than that. They deny terrain, block approaches, generally make areas uninhabitable, or instill terror that forces the other side to capitulate. Unlike a bomb that just explodes, they present a problem that has to be resolved long after the strike. It’s why they were invented. In this case, the weapon used did none of that. It wasn’t even in an area with a concentration of rebels. A conventional bomb could just as easily have been used. But it wasn’t. So why on God’s green earth would Assad choose to use it, knowing the outcry that would be engendered, and knowing President Trump’s chosen policy position?

One possibility is he didn’t do the strike, but someone inside his orbit did. Someone who was now antithetical to his desires, and knew the strike would cause massive repercussions that might cause his downfall. I thought about this for a bit, but found it far fetched. Assad officially turned over all of his WMD after the 2013 Obama fake “red line”, which means any he kept behind would have been under serious lock and key. A dissident regime member would need a significant number of like-minded men to load, arm, and use a WMD from an aircraft. The weapons would be kept separate from the usual ordinance, with significant restrictions on their withdrawal, and even more on having them loaded on an aircraft. So, you’d have to have an enormous conspiracy of high level members of the regime who a) knew where the weapons were secretly stored, b) had the ability to get them out to use secretly, and c) hide such a thing from an entire strike package of pilots and planners. It’s much more than a single aircraft, and it just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

Another possibility is it was a rebel strike (or a strike on a rebel chemical facility, which is what Russia is claiming). Initially, this held water with me. It’s the only thing that makes sense, given the state of play and the fact that the weapons’ use held no extra value to the regime. A conventional bomb would work just as well, and the downsides to chemical far outweigh any upside. Two things overcame my doubt: One, every intelligence service on the earth (outside of Russia and Wikileaks) states it was the regime. Admittedly, I’ve heard this over an over for the last few days, but still thought, “That doesn’t make sense. Am I falling for a narrative to uphold a strike?” In fact, the alt-right conspiracy theorists are saying just this thing – that it was a “false flag” attack perpetrated by the “deep state” (so American “cuckservatives” did the attack? I can’t keep up…) to engender a response. For them, the term “false flag” is a catch all that’s been used for everything from the Murrow Federal building to Sandy Hook, with 9/11 in between, so I had a little cognitive dissonance when I found myself agreeing with them. But as the saying goes, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean someone isn’t out to get you. So what’s the proof that it was the regime?

This strike held something different: It was Sarin nerve gas, and that is not easy to manufacture, and even harder to stabilize and weaponize. The only other time Sarin was used was also by the regime, in 2013. Since then there have been several more chemical attacks in both Syria and Iraq, but they were of a lesser variety, using chlorine or mustard gas, both of which are far easier to manufacture than Sarin. Sarin is a killer of the first order, and is something that requires a state capability to produce and weaponize. You can’t make it in a bathroom, unlike mustard gas.

The fact that Sarin was used implicitly implicates the regime. But maybe it wasn’t Sarin? Maybe anti-Assad forces are just calling it that because they know the repercussions. I’d believe that but for two reasons: 1) As I said above, there have been multiple chemical attacks in this war since the 2013 attack, and none of them have been called Sarin. They’ve all been called chlorine or mustard, so it doesn’t make sense that everyone in Syria would suddenly start calling THIS attack Sarin. 2) Multiple autopsies, both from inside Syria and outside, have stated that the gas used was Sarin. This leads to the conclusion that it was, in fact, Sarin, which leads to the ultimate conclusion that it was the regime. No two-bit rebel group – not even ISIS – would have the capability to manufacture the weapon in question. Which means it was from the regime.

At the end of the day, as idiotic as it appears, it has to be the regime. It’s Occum’s razor here. So why do it? My thoughts: As I said in a blog from 2013, after watching what happened to Qaddafi when he turned over his WMD, Assad would be stupid to do the same, and I didn’t think he would back then. From that blog:

If anything, Assad has looked at the past and realized one of the few things keeping him in power are precisely his chemical weapons.  One of the primary – and smart – reasons we haven’t conducted “regime change” with him like we did with Qaddafi is because we’re afraid of those weapons ending up with a bunch of fanatical jihadists.  If he relinquishes his weapons, he loses that edge, and as I said before, his survival is the only thing he holds dear.  In fact, I’m sure he’s looking at recent past history.  Under President Bush, we convinced Qaddafi to give up all of his WMD capability, verified by international inspectors.  Fast forward ten years, and President Obama is launching airstrikes to remove him, regardless of the jihadist rebels and regional chaos that would follow his fall.  Assad knows full well that if Qaddafi had kept his WMD, there would never have been any NATO airstrikes because the west would have feared the consequences.  With the WMD out of play, the west could pretend to be humanitarian by dismantling Qaddafi’s regime, and then allow the country to fall into chaos without worrying about the aftermath.  After all, it’s way, way over there and not something that can affect us.  Throw WMD in the mix though, and we’d spend a little more time debating the outcome before slinging missiles.  No, if Assad’s learned anything, it’s keeping his weapons (and using them), only garners a potential pinprick, but giving them up guarantees his eventual fall.

Turns out, I was right, but having the weapons hidden does him no good. He needs to let folks know he has them, as that is the one thing that will give us pause on his overthrow. He needed a small strike to show that he did, in fact, have such weapons even after he said he’d given them up, and with the early assurances of the new administration saying he was not a priority, he decided to let the secret slip. He was putting the world on notice that he does have WMD, and if we overthrow him they will fall into the hands of the chaos left behind. The only counter-balance to Russian and Iranian attempts to prop up the Assad regime was/is the United States, and Assad had a moment in time when the administration stated that he was no longer a target. Given that pause, he wanted the world to know he HADN’T given up his WMD, and his downfall would cause those to be unleashed in terrorist hands. For him, it was a bulwark to protect his regime, and he read the backlash for what it would be – a limited strike – but also knew the back-room chatter in places that matter for his survival would completely change. Now, removing him would involve significant repercussions beyond just quibbling over who would be in charge after his fall. It would involve containing a clear and present danger to us, and in this gambit, Assad more than likely succeeded. Violent overthrow of his regime is now something that will give us pause, so as loony as it seems on the surface, there is some strategic logic in Assad’s strike.

Or, maybe he’s just batshit crazy. Either way, the above will play out.

What did our retaliatory strike gain?

On the surface, the strike did little to the Assad regime, so little, in fact, that aircraft were taking off from the same airfield we hit less than 24 hours later, but this is shortsighted. The strike did two things – and both of them are game changers. One, it showed that the US is willing and able to use military force for a transgression involving chemical weapons. I said this in 2013, namely that you can’t create a redline and not enforce it. Chemical weapons are unlike others. Some say that it’s ridiculous to go haywire over chemical and then sit back while conventional munitions slaughter – and there is some credence to that – but allowing chemical munitions to be used without repercussions is allowing an expansion of sanctioned violence that is antithetical to the world order. To the layman, it may make little sense that we care whether someone is killed with a bullet or suffocates to death by neurotoxin, but there is a difference, just as there is between dying in battle and getting burned alive on video by ISIS. The fact remains that there is a world order, and that order is predicated on precedence. Allowing these attacks to continue sets precedence for any other two-bit dictator out there. This strike put a much-needed marker down.

Two, on a bigger geopolitical scale, it showed that the United States is willing to use force, period. That, on the surface, should be a given, but with Obama’s missed redline in 2013, it’s most certainly not. Telling someone in a bar that if they bump you one more time, you’ll hit them, is a hell of a lot different than actually getting bumped and making a choice. At that point, you have two responses: Hit them, or not. When you don’t, you tell everyone else in the bar that your bluff was just that – a bluff. Whack them in the head and everyone else sees the blow – and that everyone else is North Korea, Iran, Russia, and every other state that wants to bump us. Trump just put them all on notice that the bump WILL engender a response, and the response of the US arsenal is a pretty heavy thing to go against. Make no mistake, the strike was limited, but the calculations now going on in every seat of government – both friendly and enemy – is wildly different from three days ago. All of Trump’s isolationist rhetoric on the campaign trail just went flying out the window, and the world took notice.

What does this mean for the outcome of the civil war in Syria?

Very little. I hear the pundits on TV breathlessly claiming that the strike has altered the calculus of Russia/Iran/Assad, but that’s not the case. The goal, pure and simple, was to prevent Assad from using chemical weapons in the future, and in that, it will succeed. Assad would be a lunatic to use them again – but if I’m correct, he got what he wanted out of the strike. The world now knows that he DIDN’T give up his WMD, and if he falls, so do the chemical weapons stockpiles. The strike will in no way bring him to any negotiation table – especially if he still has the support of Iran and Russia – and will not lead to more involvement by the United States. It’s not, as some have stated, mission creep whereby we’re now obligated to put boots on the ground to get rid of him. Three days later, Trump’s primary policy remains – defeat ISIS – and I don’t see that changing with the dynamics in play involving two other state systems. At most, we did what we set out to do – namely, we won’t tolerate the use of chemical munitions – but the slaughter will continue with little substantive changes to our strategy.  This strike was a one-off, unless Assad does something heinous – and he’s not that stupid.

Was the strike legal?

Yes, it was. Quit your damn bitching, Tim Kaine. Where were you when we went into Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Sudan, or Libya? Oh wait, those were under democratic administrations. That must be why they were legal.

What could happen that we didn’t anticipate? What’s the second or third order effect?

There is a wild card, and that’s the rebel’s use of chemical munitions. Having seen the reaction from Assad’s attack, it would definitely behoove them to use whatever chemical munitions they have in a true false flag attack. It won’t be Sarin, but on the world stage, that may not matter. Now that we’ve sent the signal that further use of chemicals will engender a broader response, the world may see a separate attack of chlorine or mustard, and expect a United States response. Trump – who, by his own admission, relies on gut instinct – may feel forced to initiate a response before the evidence is in – especially if the attack was against coalition troops instead of civilians. American SOF breathing foam out of their mouths as they die will be hard to ignore, and the easiest target for a rapid response – in fact the only target – will be the regime. Even if there are civilian casualties, both the Russians and the Chinese demanded an impartial investigation for this attack, and it’ll be hard to say the next time, “We’re going to wait for proof on this one” when the last time you just pulled the trigger. Trump will risk looking weak, which is something he cannot stand. That, in my mind, is the biggest risk for mission creep – especially if the only proof you have of rebel use is your own intelligence agencies. It’s going to be hard bringing that evidence to the world stage when just a few months ago you were disparaging them by saying, “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had WMD.”

Finally, a caveat:  Whenever one tries using logic to explain war, one finds that war has a logic all its own.  As with all the TV pundits, take what I’ve said with a grain of salt.

UPDATE – 9 APR – Yes, not less than thirty minutes after posting.

I made fun of the alt-right with their homogenous adherence to “false flag” attacks, because they’re really loony, but this – from the left -takes the cake.  What if Putin smuggled in Sarin nerve gas to kill civilians precisely so that Trump could attack, and thereby alleviate suspicion about a Putin/Trump nexus?  YES!  You’ve solved it.  It only cost every shred of credibility you could possibly ever own, both in this world and the next.  This is some absolutely batshit stuff, and I’m worried about what I’ll see next.  Independence Day was only a movie, wasn’t it?

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Some fast facts on NATO Thu, 19 Jan 2017 23:34:37 +0000 Lately, there’s been some discussion about NATO and its member nations not paying their fair share, leaving the American public believing that the United States is getting screwed making up the shortfall. It’s not that clear cut. With the transition between Commander's in Chief, I thought I'd clear the air a little bit, and describe [...]

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Lately, there’s been some discussion about NATO and its member nations not paying their fair share, leaving the American public believing that the United States is getting screwed making up the shortfall. It’s not that clear cut. With the transition between Commander’s in Chief, I thought I’d clear the air a little bit, and describe exactly what the cost is with NATO since both the outgoing commander in chief and the incoming seem to use the numbers to drive up interest. Bottom line up front: We don’t spend a single dime more because of a NATO member nations’ shortfalls.

President Obama has stated repeatedly that NATO member nations must pay their fair share, saying as far back as 2014, “To its great credit, Estonia stands out as an ally that contributes its full share…And Latvia and Lithuania have pledged to do the same…So this week’s summit is the moment for every NATO nation to step up and commit to meeting its responsibilities to our alliance. Estonia does it. Every ally must do it.”

More recently, our new president elect reiterated that he thought NATO was a bad deal. Previously, he said this on Charlie Sykes radio show: “The other thing that’s bad about NATO, we’re paying too much. We’re spending a tremendous — billions and billions of dollars on NATO. …We’re paying too much! You have countries in NATO, I think it’s 28 countries – you have countries in NATO that are getting a free ride and it’s unfair, it’s very unfair.”

Before that, on ABC, he said, “We pay so much disproportionately more for NATO. We are getting ripped off by every country in NATO, where they pay virtually nothing, most of them. And we’re paying the majority of the costs.”

This makes it sound like if Germany doesn’t pay a dollar on their defense, we pick up the slack, adding up to “billions”, but that’s incorrect, and it’s confusing to the general public.

First of all, it’s not “billions and billions”. Direct expenditures on NATO – things like office space, salaries, etc – are based on Gross Domestic Product, so yes, we spend more because we have a greater GDP, but our total expenditure is around 685 million a year. A far cry from “billions and billions”. And every country in the alliance spends what’s required for direct expenditures. Nobody is in arrears. We aren’t making up some country’s slack because they missed a rent payment. So what are we talking about?

Since the alliance was formed in 1949, there has been an agreement on what constitutes collective defense, but no firm guidelines – because they weren’t necessary. Prior to the 1990’s, each country voluntarily contributed upwards of 3.3% of their GDP on defense. By 2000 that number had slipped below 2% (Not too hard to figure out why – the USSR ceased to exist). In 2006, for the first time, NATO came up with a standard for membership defense spending, and in a nutshell, it was that each country would spend at least 2%. That’s what the disparity is about. Currently, only five countries in the alliance meet the threshold of “paying their fair share”, and that’s a travesty. I freely admit that those countries should be held to task with respect to building their defensive capabilities up to the point of the threshold for being in NATO, but it doesn’t mean we – as the United States – pay anything extra because they don’t. Basically, all this means is that they don’t contribute to the alliance like they should. That’s terrible, and should be corrected, but it doesn’t translate into the United States spending money to make up the shortfall. We don’t buy France new tanks when it refuses to do so out of its own pocket.

The United States spends more on defense than the next seven countries combined. Not just NATO countries, every country on earth. We don’t do that because a NATO member is slacking. There isn’t a brigade in the US Army that’s there because Germany failed to meet the threshold. We do it because it’s in the best interests of the United States. Saying we’re losing “billions and billions” of dollars because NATO members aren’t paying their fair share is disingenuous. If NATO ceased to exist tomorrow, our military would be the same size.

Make no mistake: I think President Obama and President-elect Trump are right to hold member nations’ feet to the fire. They should and do. If countries want NATO’s blanket of security, then they need to meet the commitments, and should PAY FOR THEM. I just wish they’d be more precise on what it costs America. It’s not a direct dollar exchange, but everyone seems to think it is based on the rhetoric.

As far as NATO being “obsolete”, two quick facts: 1) In 1995 Serbia was slaughtering every Muslim in Bosnia. In Srebrenica 7,000 Muslims were massacred while the United Nations stood by – with armored vehicles – letting it happen. Since nothing could be done with that worthless organization, NATO launched Operation Deliberate Force – an air campaign against Serbian forces. They stopped the slaughter and brought Serbia to the peace table (Something that degenerates like ISIS seem to forget…).

2) Article five – the backbone of NATO – states that an attack on any member nation is an attack on all. It’s only been invoked once in the entire existence of NATO – after 9/11. NATO went into Afghanistan because we invoked it. They did and continue to do good work. When talking about costs to bear or who’s “paying its fair share”, it would be good to remember that the sons and daughters of member nations killed in Afghanistan were solely there because the United States invoked Article Five.

NATO is old, but it’s not obsolete, and member nations most certainly should pay their fair share, but let’s be honest about the true impacts to America’s own defense budget.

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A Simple Primer on “NoFlyNoBuy”: It’s Complicated Fri, 17 Jun 2016 21:49:50 +0000 The NRA and the right are getting shellacked for apparently religiously protecting gun rights to the point that they’d rather allow terrorists to buy weapons than give one damn inch at anything smacking of gun control. It seems simple enough: If you’re on a no-fly list, you shouldn’t be able to buy a gun. I [...]

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The NRA and the right are getting shellacked for apparently religiously protecting gun rights to the point that they’d rather allow terrorists to buy weapons than give one damn inch at anything smacking of gun control. It seems simple enough: If you’re on a no-fly list, you shouldn’t be able to buy a gun. I mean, really, if the government thinks you’re so dangerous they won’t allow you to even enter an aircraft AFTER going through TSA security, why in the world would the NRA defend your right to own a gun? Unfortunately, just like banning “assault rifles” is not a simple as it seems, the issue is a little more complicated.

There are certain proposals for weapons purchases I have no issue with, but this one has significant repercussions. For instance, I have no heartburn with universal background checks. While I might be missing something, I just don’t see the problem with having to go through a background check to purchase a firearm (Yes, I know, I’ll now be blasted with emails and comments saying I’m a damn apostate). In the last year I’ve purchased three firearms: Two long guns and a pistol. For all three, because I went through a dealer with a Federal Firearms License, I had to go through a background check. It took about ten minutes in total. I’d venture that over 98% of gun purchases are made this way, so what’s the big deal with the final small percentage?

The reason I have no issue with it is because the background check runs against a repository of hard data, such as my felony record (if I had one), as proven in a court of law, with due process. And therein lies the rub: Including the terrorist watch list into the background check moves away from concrete data and into intuition, leaving due process behind.

First, the so-called “terrorist watch list” isn’t a single, consolidated list, but a compilation of lists from a plethora of different organizations with more than a million names combined. Each one of these organizations (FBI, DHS, CIA, DIA, etc, etc, etc) can nominate someone to be placed on the list, and the bar for doing so is ridiculously low. There is no due process involved. Buy a one-way ticket to Turkey? “Put him on the list”. You’d think I was using hyperbole, but noted conservative commenter Stephen Hayes actually had this happen to him. In fact, he never could get a concrete answer as to why he was placed on the list and could only come up with his one-way ticket purchase as the reason. He’s lucky, though. As a media personality, he had connections, and access to people in high places to get himself removed – even if it took forever.

Others aren’t so lucky – and there are plenty of them. For instance, a veteran of the US Air Force was detained in Turkey, and has yet to get off the list – or even be told why he’s on it – leaving him stranded overseas. He grew so frustrated he decided to take the government to court – and in so doing is highlighting the problem with the list: It’s very easy to get on, but damn near impossible to get off. Have a name similar to someone else? – You may be on the list. Buy a ticket to a country that appears “suspicious”? – You may be on the list. There are no firm criteria for being placed on the list, just the judgment of some nameless bureaucrat in the bowels of a three-letter agency, and its mantra is “better safe than sorry”. It’s so bad that even the ACLU – no friend of gun-owners to be sure – has been fighting for five years to declare the list as unconstitutional, and on this issue sides with the NRA.

The administration’s defense in the various lawsuits brought on by people wrongly labeled as terrorists has been that “travel”, in and of itself, is not a right, and therefore no American citizen has been infringed. Ignoring for a moment that the government doesn’t give a damn that restricting an innocent persons ability to travel can have catastrophic consequences – and has, with people losing jobs, missing deaths of loved ones, stranding families overseas, and forgoing medical care – tying a gun purchase to the list invalidates that argument. Whether people like it or not, the 2nd amendment is enshrined in the US Constitution. It is by definition an inviolate right of a US citizen that can only be abridged through due process in a court of law, in accordance with the 5th amendment. And THAT is where the argument lies.

Nobody – least of all me – is saying they want a terrorist to have the ability to purchase a firearm, but the question is bigger than a catchy slogan of “NoFlyNoBuy”. It’s about precedent beyond the 2nd amendment. We’ve already shredded the due process clause in the 5th amendment by even proposing this, but what about the 1st amendment? If, at the stroke of a pen based on some analyst’s intuition, we can tell someone they can’t buy a gun, can’t we go further? Why can’t we tell them they can no longer use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or any other form of free speech? In fact, what’s to stop the executive branch – and the executive branch alone, as nobody else factors into who goes on the list – from saying, “If you end up on the list, you can no longer practice your religion.” You’d say that’s ridiculous, but why? Radical Islam is a driving force behind the attacks, and the Internet is how people are being radicalized, so it makes sense. Screw the 1st amendment. In fact, why can’t the list be used to shred any of the planks in what’s known as the Bill of Rights? End up on it, and you give up your right against unreasonable search and seizure. Doesn’t that also make sense? If you’re too dangerous to be allowed on a plane, why should you get protection under the 4th amendment? Get on the list, and the FBI no longer needs a warrant to tap your phones or search your house. After all, if we’re worried about you buying a gun, shouldn’t we want to know if you already have one? You gave up all of those rights by purchasing a ticket to Turkey.

Speaking of the 4th amendment, two years ago that man-child Snowden exposed a plethora of NSA collection methods designed to thwart terrorists, and one of them set off a firestorm: Metadata collection. The left – the same ones screaming for the “NoFlyNoBuy” – went ballistic over the evil, “unconstitutional” storing of metadata, claiming it went against the 4th amendment, and yet the very intelligence collection they claimed was unconstitutional actually had due process in the form of the FISA court. If someone wanted to use the data, they first had to go to a court of law to prove probable cause. Now, when no such protection is even remotely in the room – when there is no due process whatsoever – they’re more than willing to remove a separate but equal plank of the Bill of Rights. Ironic.

The sad thing is that the issue has become nothing more than a partisan witch-hunt, twisting this horrific tragedy to gain political points. I applaud attempts to keep weapons out of terrorists’ hands, but just slapping an answer on a mechanism that’s bloated with inconsistencies, incorrect data, no oversight, and ripe for abuse is not the way to go about it. There is, however, a simple way to fix this: give the American citizen due process.

The republicans have proposed various amendments stipulating methods of due process, and the administration has rebuffed every one, even as its database grew with clearly innocent people. At one point, far from adjudicating why an accused person was on the list, the attorney general actually claimed in court the entire terrorist watch list was a state secret, and that he didn’t even need to confirm the man was named. That is fine by me when you’re dealing with Jonny Jihad from the Middle East, but when you’re talking about a United States citizen, that just doesn’t fly. No pun intended.

In our judicial system, we have a sacred concept of innocent until proven guilty. I realize that’s impossible with a terrorist watch list – as it’s precisely a tool to keep track of suspected evildoers – but there should be some type of due process before ending up labeled a terrorist. After all, when the FBI suspects someone is in the Mafia, they still have to go to court for such things as warrants to search a residence. Just because they suspect a citizen doesn’t mean he loses his constitutional rights, and it should be the same here. If the administration and congress wants to use the list to deprive a US Citizen of his or her rights, then it should have to refine and quantify how someone goes on the list, to the point that perhaps a court should be involved instead of just an analyst reading a flight manifest or learning a person stayed at the same hotel as a suspected terrorist. Right now, the administration’s answer is “The aggrieved can always bring suit against the government.” Huh? If some jack wagon puts my name on the list because I went to Morocco for book research, then the only way to get off is to hire a lawyer and SUE the United States Government? Ridiculous. How about put some due process on the front end and determine that placing me there was wrong to begin with?

Using the database for prevention methods is a good idea, but it requires hard work, diligence, thought, and non-partisan oversight, something that should have been done from the beginning when creating the list – and was done with the metadata. Maybe, instead of following “better safe than sorry” when we’re talking about depriving a US Citizen of his or her rights, we need to create a secondary list involving the judiciary. A US Citizen’s-only list. In order to get on it, the government has to prove you’re a clear and present danger – moving away from analyst intuition and flight manifests and into actual probable cause. Right now, out of the more than one million names on the terrorist watch list, the FBI is tracking perhaps a couple of dozen US Citizens who could be construed as presenting clear and present danger. They would go on the secondary list after proving to a “FISA”-like judge that they deserved it – and there is a structured form of redress if the accused chooses to fight the designation. Why is this thought so repulsive to the left? Am I the only one that thinks it’s ridiculous that the FBI has to go to court for a warrant to wiretap a known drug kingpin, but all it takes to be flagged as a terrorist is a nameless analyst’s intuition or a computer scanning flight records? Especially when the proposed endstate is an infringement on a person’s constitutional rights?

As it is now, leveraging a list that is completely secret and solely controlled by our intelligence organizations is about the slipperiest slope I can imagine. In fact, to show how quickly it can degenerate, federal law enforcement officials have already been accused of using the list to blackmail certain wrongly accused into being informants. “Sorry about mistakenly placing you on the list. Want off? Just go infiltrate that mosque for us.” Makes you wonder if it was a “mistake”.

If the storage of phone record metadata – with its use only allowed after a court order – was the end of the republic as we know it, how can anyone claim any less with this proposal as it stands now?

Yes, terrorists buying guns is abhorrent, but as the administration is fond of saying, let’s not lose who we are in our fight against them. Secret lists and sound bites alone are not the solution.

Update 23 June 2016

This is exactly what I was talking about above about political tap dancing:  Representative Jerrold Nadler tweeted this today:

“We must not use due-process as an excuse to support mass murder”.  Yes, a sitting congressman just demanded that the US Constitution be thrown out to prevent terrorist attacks.  Funny thing is, when the Patriot Act was being debated, he said this:

“This dangerous proposal would relegate our fundamental constitutional rights to the status of historical trivia.”

“It sets a frightening precedent,” he added.

So, the Patriot Act was a frightening precedent, but using a secret list with no oversight or due process to strip constitutional rights is perfectly okay?  Come on.

Update 18 May 2017

I should have just posted this video instead of writing the blog:

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Waterboarding – or “The Way I Can Show How Big My Balls Are on TV” Tue, 12 Apr 2016 03:22:55 +0000 I purposely don’t get into political debates on this forum, but I’ve grown a little weary of the current debate surrounding waterboarding and torture, as if the entire discussion was a referendum on who’s going to be “tougher” on terrorism. Today, the director of the CIA said he’d never allow his men to waterboard. From [...]

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I purposely don’t get into political debates on this forum, but I’ve grown a little weary of the current debate surrounding waterboarding and torture, as if the entire discussion was a referendum on who’s going to be “tougher” on terrorism. Today, the director of the CIA said he’d never allow his men to waterboard. From that came a bunch of talking heads opining about his comments – none of whom have ever heard a shot fired in anger, and all of whom seem to believe that being savage is, in some way, helpful to our national goals.

I’ve watched the waterboarding debate for months now, and I honestly think it shows a glaring lack of knowledge on the purpose of the technique. Succinctly, it’s designed to gather information, period. We didn’t do it because someone flew a plane into the twin towers, and we shouldn’t use it in the future because ISIS is lopping off heads. We don’t use enhanced interrogation techniques to be “tough”, which is something apparently lost on the current crop of political candidates. The entire discussion is bordering on the Twilight Zone.

In an interview, Donald Trump, the current front-runner, maintains that we “can’t win against ISIS” because they “drown people in cages and cut off heads”, and our hands are tied because we don’t use the same tactics. I watched that interview and wondered, what have we become? This idea is patently false and absolutely shows a complete lack of knowledge of the decisions a commander in chief should make. Ramping up our savagery will in no way increase our ability to defeat ISIS. All it will do is drag us into the gutter with them.

Every single time I hear someone say this – and make no mistake, it’s not just Trump – the first thing I want to ask is, “Will you hold the bucket? Will you pull out the fingernails? Will you place the electrodes?” Before you think I’m exaggerating what candidates have said, remember this: Trump’s said repeatedly he would do “a hell of a lot worse” than waterboarding. And then he always backs up his assertion with the atrocities that ISIS does, as if that justifies it. Which is ridiculous.

We didn’t used enhanced interrogation techniques because we wanted revenge. We wanted information. Period. I’m honestly still unsure in my own mind where I stand on the specific technique of waterboarding, as applied, because I know the extreme controls that were used to ensure the safety of the detainee. However, I will say, I still have my doubts – and by the way, I’m sick of the trope about “We do it to our own SOF forces. How bad can it be?” excuse. I have been through several different SERE schools, one of them the harshest and at the pinnacle of SOF. I have never been waterboarded. I’m not saying it’s never happened, just that it’s not something that “every SOF guy” goes through like the news would have you believe. Using ANY technique because the “other side did” is tantamount to admitting you have no idea how to win, and are participating in a tit-for-tat because you have no idea what serious military strategy entails. It’s literally like devolving into a gang-war between drug dealers and shows a strategic skill at the same level.

According to Trump, we can’t win against ISIS because we won’t lower ourselves to its savagery. In his words, we can’t “compete” because we aren’t playing by “their rules”.  Maybe he’d like to behead some people, I don’t know, but the notion is steeped in stupidity. He asks his massive rallies if Patton or MacArthur were alive now, how long would ISIS exist, implying that there are no military men today of their caliber. I have a news flash for him: We defeated the Nazi machine and the Japanese imperial army without resorting to their inhumane tactics.

According to Trump’s current doctrine, there is no way we could have won World War II unless we’d created our own gas chambers and flushed all of the German soldiers we’d captured through them. Or maybe we should have beheaded or burned alive every Japanese soldier we captured like they did to us. Can you imagine him running against Roosevelt in 1944? “We aren’t winning! We should be gassing every single German we catch! We can’t win this war unless we reduce the playing field to their level. We are TOO SOFT!” That isn’t hyperbole. It’s almost exactly what he said in an interview on ISIS. He literally thinks that because we don’t torture, ISIS is going home and “laughing at us.” It is the most ludicrous thing I have ever heard. Luckily, we didn’t have Trump in 1944. And when we were done, the defeated nations allowed us to work with them precisely because we were viewed as fair and just.

War isn’t based on a tit-for-tat response, and defeating ISIS has absolutely nothing to do with the level of savagery we can perpetuate against captured individuals, using a justification that they did the same. Nothing. Well, there is something. The people a president orders do such things are forever damaged. Of course, as the president is far removed from such action, he doesn’t have to deal with the fallout. Only the adulation from a bunch of other people far removed from the battlefield.

If you are one of the one’s cheering this doctrine, if you think that torturing terrorists is within our values, and wish it to happen, then by all means, go to the nearest recruiting station and sign up as an interrogator. You’ll be able to get your Johnny Jihad on at will if one of the one’s espousing this doctrine is elected. If you’re not willing to do so, like this guy, then don’t force it on another who only wants to serve a country with values enshrined by our founding fathers.

The problem with torture is that you never know if the guy you’ve caught is, in fact, Doctor Evil. You suspect it, but you don’t know. There have been plenty of times when captured ‘insurgents’ have actually been innocent. If the people espousing this doctrine had their way, we’d have tortured the hell out of them just because they happened to be on the battlefield. And before you accuse me of extending Trump’s doctrine – HE is the one who says it. He’s the one that says we should go “much worse”, not based on collection of information, but solely based on what activities our enemy chooses to use. He clearly doesn’t understand – or care – that on the battlefield, you don’t know what you don’t know. According to him, this guy from the Boston bombings would have been under the knife. Luckily, he wasn’t. Because you figure that out through interrogation – not torture.

Winning a war isn’t predicated on what atrocities you can inflict on the population based on what the other side does. Warfare is much more complex, and creating a platform of torture, as a method of success – to me – is something making me glad I retired from the military. All the candidates claim to support the veteran, without even realizing the damage they’re doing to the entire military with their wild boasts. I served in the finest military on earth – and that military wasn’t the finest based on satellites, tanks or ballistic missiles. It was based on values and a moral compass I was proud to uphold.

The next guy that enlists will not. He’ll be told that the intrinsic values espoused by our founding fathers don’t matter, that our very founding documents don’t matter, and that whatever the enemy does is how we’ll conduct ourselves. In essence, we’ll sacrifice our own moral code to the enemy we’re fighting based on an idiotic notion that such savagery should subsume rational strategic thought.

Guess what? It won’t help one iota in winning a war.

Update 12 April 2016

I’ve received a few comments via email and social media on this topic that basically assert that the writer has no problem with torturing known terrorists.  While I certainly don’t have any sympathy for some blood soaked savage, and would willingly send him to “paradise”, I thought maybe I should expand on the reality when making a statement about using “torture” on a “known” “terrorist”.  It’s a black and white statement, but the world isn’t black and white.

A. What do we mean by “known” terrorist? The truth is, outside of UBL or Zawahiri, we’re just guessing. For one, terrorist names are usually Kunyas they have chosen, and they are used both by evil doers and by normal citizens. Abu Bakr is used all over the place, and it’s almost impossible to determine if you’re holding THE Abu Bakr, or if the guy really IS a mechanic from down the street. For another, even with a real name, once it’s translated from Arabic to English, it gets somewhat mutilated, meaning you end up rounding up the wrong guy because of a bad spelling. The “hat guy” in Brussels had three different names – and was at one point confused with someone who’d actually blown himself up at the airport – before he was finally captured. We actually held a guy in GITMO for over a decade before we finally admitted it was a case of mistaken identity. How much certainty would one use to get to the “known” portion of the statement? 25% 50% or does it need to be 100%?

B. What does one mean by “terrorist”? What level is eligible for torture? Is it a guy you know has blood on his hands? Like the shooter in Paris? What about the guy who built the bombs but didn’t use them? Is he eligible? If so, what about the guy in Syria producing the fake passports that allow the terrorists entry into the country? He has done nothing violent, but without him, they can’t succeed. Is he eligible? What if the passport guy is actually a Russian mobster who’s selling passports to anyone who wants one on the deep web? He didn’t even know they were terrorists, but he accomplished the same thing as the dedicated guy in Syria. Is he eligible? Going further, what about a chemical engineer in Raqqa that’s simply teaching future terrorists to build improvised explosives? Does he reach the threshold? What if he was doing it against his will? What threshold should we use to reach eligibility for torture?

C. What are we defining as “torture”? Everyone has a different idea. Is it simply waterboarding? Or can we pull out fingernails? What about flaying the flesh and applying salt? Can we do that? What about applying a car battery to genitals? Is that too much? All of those techniques (including a much more harsh form of waterboarding) were used by the Japanese on us in World War II (and were convicted of war crimes because of it). What level of coercion is the limit?

Completely ignoring the moral dimension, a problem set still exists.  In the end, the ROE has to be strict, and all of those questions need to be written in stone. If they’re not, and it’s simply based on the man on the ground, we devolve into a land like the Lord of the Flies (or Abu Ghraib). We have a strict ROE now, in accordance with international law, and it’s simple: Nobody ever rises to the threshold of torture.

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Donald Trump, Gun Control, and the Lunacy of Fear Wed, 09 Dec 2015 01:05:58 +0000 In my hometown, a stone’s throw from my house, Donald Trump – on an aircraft carrier that actually helped destroy the tyranny of fascism – doubled down on his statement that all Muslims should be banned from entering the United States. If you’ve read my blogs, you’ll see that I understand there’s an issue with [...]

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In my hometown, a stone’s throw from my house, Donald Trump – on an aircraft carrier that actually helped destroy the tyranny of fascism – doubled down on his statement that all Muslims should be banned from entering the United States.

If you’ve read my blogs, you’ll see that I understand there’s an issue with Islam. The left doesn’t want to admit it, and the right wants to demonize it, which would be business as usual in our republic, but this proclamation is possibly the scariest thing I have ever heard. And, not surprisingly, the dumbest idea yet for combatting the very issues we face. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the various calls for gun control after any shooting, with all of the proclamations for additional laws completely disconnected from the attack in question.

This time I’d like to analyze the two together, using the San Bernadino attack that has spawned both:

As soon as the attacks occurred, demands came for closing the so-called “gun show loophole”, increasing background checks, and preventing people on the no-fly list from buying firearms. Which, all together, would have done nothing to prevent the San Bernardino attack.

If we had enacted ALL of those before San Bernardino, the attacks still would have occurred. California has some of the strictest gun control laws on the books in the United States, yet the guns were purchased legally, with a background check, outside of a gun show, and the shooters were not on the “no fly” list. None of those new calls would have prevented the tragedy. Which brings us to Donald Trump.

He proclaims he wants to ban all Muslims from entering in an effort to prevent terrorist attacks like San Bernardino, which seems to resonate, but what, actually, would that do? Like increased gun control, very little.

First of all, he clarified his remarks to say that American citizens would be exempt, and could return home. Guess what? Both the Boston Marathon Bomber and the killer in San Bernardino – the last two terrorist attacks on our soil – were US citizens. The ban he proposes would have done nothing to prevent the attacks – just like every call for more gun control.

Second, when asked on how it would be enforced, he stated that the customs official would ask the person attempting to enter. This is exactly what we on the anti-gun control debate stress: A criminal will not self confess to being a criminal. The only people who will obey the law are law-abiding citizens. Does Trump really think that an ISIS fanatic from Belgium, coming to the United States for mischief, is going to say, “Yes, I’m a Muslim. In fact, a devout one that has pledged fealty to the Islamic State. But I mean no harm.” How is the customs official supposed to disprove such a thing when the man simply says, “Muslim? Nope”? Ask the man for the twelve apostles? Ask him to prove he’s NOT a Muslim? Funny, just such a tactic is used by the Islamic State. When overrunning Mosul and other towns, they captured people and demanded they prove that they were Sunni and NOT Shia. When they didn’t know the religion well enough, they were beheaded.

This talk is more than just fear mongering. It plays right into ISIS’ hands of an “us versus them” doctrine. I’m the first to say that Islam has a problem, and – far from being immune – is a cause of the current fight, but the only solution will come from within that same religion. If you want Muslims to quit hating America and quit wanting to kill us, that involves them seeing the very beacon on the hill that we are. It depends on them learning what life can be like outside of a Sharia state, and that’s a long, long process. I’ve read the reports of “honor killings” in America, where the parents or siblings killed a female for being too “westernized”, and they sicken me. Some will say that that proves an incompatibility. I say the opposite – the female was assimilating. Yes, the death is horrific and the man who did it should have his nuts barbecued, but for every single report of an honor killing, there are literally thousands of other Muslims who are assimilating into our democratic society peacefully. And that is the method to defeat the virulent strain of barbaric Islam.

Make no mistake, Pakistan isn’t going to reform Islam. Neither is Saudi Arabia. But Baywatch might. If we allow the Muslims to watch it.

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A Simple Primer on Assault Weapons Part II: Some Inconvenient Truths Mon, 07 Dec 2015 03:12:19 +0000 The San Bernardino terrorist attacks have spawned an editorial on page one from the vaunted New York Times, its first time doing so in nearly a century. What would cause the Gray Lady to be so incensed? Surely it has something to do with the Islamic State, or maybe our vulnerability to other terrorist actions [...]

The post A Simple Primer on Assault Weapons Part II: Some Inconvenient Truths appeared first on Brad Taylor.

The San Bernardino terrorist attacks have spawned an editorial on page one from the vaunted New York Times, its first time doing so in nearly a century. What would cause the Gray Lady to be so incensed? Surely it has something to do with the Islamic State, or maybe our vulnerability to other terrorist actions and our ability to combat it. Surely they would use such an unprecedented event for this menace that we can barely comprehend.

But no, that’s not what it used its front-page platform to discuss. Instead, it proclaimed the evil nature of so-called “assault weapons”, the end state being that if only we got rid of them, we’d solve the damn problem of ISIS attacking us on US soil.

As in my previous blog on assault weapons, I’m not going to get into a debate with respect to the second amendment or the he-said she-said gun control arguments. I’m simply going to relay some facts. Whenever something like this occurs, the first thing that erupts is emotion, which is exactly what this editorial contains. It’s long on emotion, but woefully short on facts.

The op ed’s end state is that we should eliminate weapons that “civilians can legally purchase [that are] designed to kill people with brutal speed and efficiency.” In other words, “weapons of war” which are solely designed to kill other humans should not be in the hands of civilians. Hunting rifles, in its opinion, should be the only weapons allowed. From this, I know immediately that the editorial board who wrote it has no business writing about weapons of any sort, because they apparently have absolutely no knowledge of the subject. Some facts:

1) While it’s not a particularly glowing endorsement on the human condition, every single firearm revolution in history came about specifically to kill another human. The secondary effect of such research and development was that it, as a tool, was also more efficient for hunting, target practice, and other sports. The bolt-action deer rifle the esteemed authors would presumably allow to remain in shooters’ hands was first designed and purchased by the Prussian army in the 19th century. The invention of the metal cartridge itself – or “bullet”, in Hollywood parlance – wasn’t made to put meat on the table, but to allow a soldier to reload faster without having to stand up from cover as he had to with a muzzle-loader. Rifling, which makes tac-driving long guns work their magic in NRA and Olympic competition, came about from the Civil War. John Browning designed the venerable 1911 handgun for the US Army in, of course, 1911. Today, it is one of the most widely replicated and used handgun designs on the competition circuit. The .30-06, one of the most widely used center-fire rifle cartridges for hunting of big game throughout the world, was invented by the military – to kill humans. And so it is with the venerable AR 15 platform that the article is decrying (by the way, the AR does not stand for Assault Rifle. It stands for Armalite – the first company to make the weapon). Currently, the AR 15 variant is the single most sold rifle platform in the United States. Why is that? Is it because everyone who purchases it wants to secretly slaughter humans? No. It’s because it is accurate, reliable, and easily modified for a plethora of different shooting situations and calibers. It is simply the evolution of firearms, and making a distinction, as if the AR 15 is a death-dealing weapon solely useful for killing humans, is incorrect. The very attributes the Army and Marines chose through its development directly translates to every lawful endeavor for which firearms are purchased, just as evolution in racing informs the next generation of automobiles. Anyone who’s tinkered with vehicles knows the term “street legal”. Some types of automobiles are only suited for the racetrack, but the R&D informs our everyday ride. The same is true of actual assault weapons – which are fully automatic, and already illegal to own – but the advances for legitimate civilian use can not be parsed simply because it was at one time invented for the military. To do so would reduce firearm ownership to the bow and arrow – something I’m sure the New York Times would love.

2) The article goes on to state that some calibers of ammunition should be banned as well, presumably meaning the one used in San Bernadino because the round is a death-dealing slaughter monster unfit for any lawful use. Once again, the writer shows little knowledge about ballistics. That caliber was 5.56/.223, the NATO round primarily found chambered in an AR 15 in the military  (actually the fully automatic M16/M4 variants). Guess what? In Afghanistan and elsewhere the US Military stated it was inefficient in its chosen purpose: That it was not very efficient in combat – it was not that great at killing humans – and something else was needed. Every time “assault weapons” are mentioned, there’s some talking head proclaiming how deadly the round is, failing to mention that the 5.56 round is less powerful than fully two-thirds of center-fire rifle cartridges used in hunting throughout the United States. It is not, pardon the pun, a magic bullet. I’m not sure how that little fact will play with the New York Times, but emotionally, it doesn’t really matter. All that is necessary is demonization. Facts are irrelevant.

3) The capstone paragraph, with typical NYT vagueness, states, “Certain kinds of weapons, like the slightly modified combat rifles used in California, and certain kinds of ammunition, must be outlawed for civilian ownership. It is possible to define those guns in a clear and effective way and, yes, it would require Americans who own those kinds of weapons to give them up for the good of their fellow citizens.” Apart from the scary implications, I’ve already shown in my previous blog that in fact, it is not possible to define those guns in a clear and effective way – and as a matter of fact, they are already outlawed in California. That didn’t seem to matter to the terrorists. Take a look at this in an alternate universe. Had the AR 15 platform been unavailable, what would they have used? Shotguns? The two pistols they already owned? The next hue and cry from the New York Times will be that those must be outlawed as well. What would happen then? They would have used their pipe bombs, causing potentially more death than they were allowed to inflict with the rifles. If that had happened, I’m sure the NY Times would demand that pipe bombs be outlawed. Oh, wait….

4) The relentless quest to obliterate civilian ownership of the AR platform in order to save lives is, on its face, a chimera. I’m assuming of course, since the NY Times put this on the front page – the first time they’ve done so in nearly a century – that they are actually attempting to save lives. In that endeavor, as an uninformed reader, emotionally I must assume that the evil AR platform must be one of the most used methods of humans killing other humans, since they’ve put so much emotional time and space into the editorial, but statistically it is not. In fact, it’s not even close. From 2010 to 2014, using FBI crime statistics, rifles of ALL types – lever action, bolt action, pump action, single shot and semi-auto – account for fewer homicides than hammers. Yes, you read that correctly. I’m not sure why we haven’t seen an editorial demanding the banning of blunt objects. Knives account for almost TEN TIMES as many deaths as rifles of all types. But I haven’t seen anyone demanding they be banned. I’m not making that up. It’s not an emotional appeal. It’s simply a fact. One other: Rifle deaths have been falling steadily year after year, even including the horrific mass attacks in recent years and the repeal of the so-called assault weapons ban. Yes, at the height of the vaunted ban that everyone is trying to reinstate, there were more deaths by rifles than there are after the ban’s repeal. Banning the AR platform again will not create the utopia that the New York Times hysterically proclaims. They can have their opinions, but they can’t have their own facts.

In the end, the New York Times makes much of people “deflecting attention” away from gun control by using “ridiculous” terms like terrorism, but they are only speaking from emotion. When facts are used, their statements don’t hold up. Anyone who cares to look can clearly see that their solution would do little in the way of preventing future death at the hands of Islamic Jihadists. And they know that as well, because their ultimate goal is total disarmament.

Something I’m sure ISIS would love.

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