Monthly Archives: August 2015

Top Democrat candidates have ideological similarities to Obama

The similar views of the three top candidates for the Democrat nomination for the White House, Hillary Clinton, Senator Bernie Sanders, and, very soon, Vice President Joe Biden with President Obama insure that the 2016 campaign will be a referendum on the overarching goal the incumbent has pursued during his tenure in office:  to reshape the American economy and culture into one designed to produce equality of outcomes. The President’s vision applies to non-Americans as well as to U.S. citizens.

Most of the ancillary issues, including examples such as the massive transfer of spending from defense to social programs,  the virtually open borders, the reduced footprint of American forces across the globe, Obamacare, etc. are means to this end.

The White House has largely managed to avoid a substantive national conversation on this goal, although the inclusion of those outside the U.S. has lately come more into focus. In this aspect, Mr. Obama has been fortunate, thanks to a largely compliant media. A certain percentage of the voters receiving federal aid may be attracted to his philosophy, but his consistent inclusion of those outside America rankles many natural Democrat supporters, including inner city blacks and union rank and file members who have lost jobs due to the large influx of illegals tacitly allowed into the nation thanks to the Administration’s intentionally lax enforcement of the southern border.

While Clinton, Sanders and Biden are ideologically similar to the President, they differ considerably in style. Senator Sanders has been bluntly honest about his rejection of the traditional U.S. economic structure (he does disagree with the President on some job-related issues.) The other two have been more subtle but equally as committed to his vision.  The more congenial Joe Biden would be more apt to work with Congress.

 The lack of transparency on the part of the Obama Administration has been an instrumental part of its efforts, as is the significant attempts to chill opposition, whether through IRS intimidation, attempts to place monitors in newsrooms, the bugging of reporters, and the plans to regulate the internet. But those tactics will not work for candidates, whose goals and proposed strategies will be the subject of intense discussion and analysis.

As summer draws to a close, the political conversation appears to dwell increasingly on immigration. The continued, essentially unregulated influx across the U.S. southern border sheds light on the President’s unspoken but apparent rejection of placing American concerns above those of the global population.

The fact that the equality of outcomes idea, under whatever approach it has been tried, has failed apparently doesn’t faze the White House or the Democrat front-runners. Whether attempted in a strict setting such as the old USSR, or the more genial social-democrat nations of Europe, it has failed to produce economies that provide financial rewards for the diligent or an incentive to the private sector to expand hiring.

That shouldn’t be surprising, since the key goal is not the prosperity of the people, but their equality. Taking down the middle class to the level of the poor is as acceptable an outcome as is bringing the poor up to the middle class. Both results provide an equality of outcomes. Examples from across the globe and throughout history virtually guarantee, however, that more middle class will wind up poor than poor wind up as middle class.

The President’s rather autocratic style in attaining his vision– avoiding Congress has been virtually a mantra for Mr. Obama (I can’t wait for Congress to act,” “I have a pen and a phone,” and the labelling of key international deals as just about anything other than treaties which require the consent of Congress)  may work against Biden, Clinton and Sanders unless they expressly reject the tactic.  For those concerned about safeguarding Constitutional guarantees and procedures, the President’s—and many of his key supporters—rejection of those bedrock rights will also serve as a detriment to the Democrat nominee.

U.S. releases 2015 Asia-Pacific Maritime Strategy

The Department of Defense  has spelled out its Maritime Security Strategy for the Asian-Pacific region. 

According to the DoD, “The U.S. will continue to use diplomacy, multilateral institutions and continued engagement to protect free and open access to maritime Asia, while focusing on safeguarding the freedom of the seas, deterring conflict and coercion, and promoting adherence to international law and standards…”

In a statement that should worry U.S. allies, the DoD has stated that “the United States takes no position over competing claims for land claims in the South China Sea and the East China Sea.” This is a rather stunning statement, considering that the lion’s share of disputes are between China, an opponent, vs. Japan and the Philippines, two steadfast U.S. allies.

Further cause for worry is the fact that all the paper shuffling and statements of determination are reduced to insignificance by the severely understrength position of the U.S. Navy, which has shrunk from 600 ships in 1990 to about 284 vessels today.

Key Excerpts from “The Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy: Achieving U.S. National Security Objectives in a Changing Environment:”

“The United States has enduring economic and security interests in the Asia-Pacific region. And because the region – stretching from the Indian Ocean, through the South and East China Seas, and out to the Pacific Ocean – is primarily water, we place a premium on maintaining maritime peace and security. To that end, the Department of Defense has three maritime objectives in the Asia-Pacific region: to safeguard the freedom of the seas; deter conflict and coercion; and promote adherence to international law and standards…

Competing Territorial and Maritime Claims:

There are numerous, complex maritime and territorial disputes in the Asia-Pacific region. The presence of valuable fish stocks and potential existence of large hydrocarbon resources under the East and South China Seas exacerbate these complicated claims. A United Nations report estimates that the South China Sea alone accounts for more than 10 percent of global fisheries production. Though figures vary substantially, the Energy Information Administration estimates that there are approximately 11 billion barrels and 190 trillion cubic feet of proved and probable oil and natural gas reserves in the South China Sea and anywhere from one to two trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves, and 200 million barrels of oil in the East China Sea. Claimants regularly clash over fishing rights, and earlier attempts at joint development agreements have faltered in recent years.

Although the United States takes no position on competing sovereignty claims to land features in the region, all such claims must be based upon land (which in the case of islands means naturally formed areas of land that are above water at high tide), and all maritime claims must derive from such land in accordance with international law, as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention. The United States has a strong interest in ensuring all claimants seek to address and resolve their issues peacefully, without conflict or coercion. We also encourage and support the efforts of claimant States to pursue diplomatic and other peaceful efforts to resolve the issues of sovereignty.

In the East China Sea, we continue to acknowledge Japan’s administration of the Senkaku Islands and oppose any unilateral action that seeks to undermine it.

In the South China Sea, we urge all parties to pursue peaceful means of resolving their disputes, which includes diplomacy as well as third party dispute settlement, such as the Philippines’ submission of its claims for arbitration in accordance with the dispute resolution procedures in the Law of the Sea Convention. We also urge all parties to take action to implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DoC) and take steps towards early conclusion of a meaningful Code of Conduct (CoC), which would provide agreed upon rules of the road to reduce tension among claimant States. South China Sea South China Sea territorial and maritime disputes revolve around three primary issues: (1) competing territorial claims among claimants, (2) competing maritime claims among claimants, and (3) excessive maritime claims asserted by some of the claimants.

Regarding competing territorial claims, there are six claimants to the land features in the South China Sea: Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam. There are three primary disputes over territorial sovereignty. The first is a dispute among China, Taiwan, and Vietnam over the sovereignty of the Paracel Islands, which China has occupied since 1974. The second is a ChinaTaiwan-Philippines contest over Scarborough Reef. The third is a multi-claimant dispute over the Spratly Islands, which includes more than 200 geographic features. China, Taiwan, and Vietnam claim sovereignty over all of the Spratly land features, while Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines claim sovereignty of only certain land features in the island group. Vietnam and Malaysia have yet to delimit fully their maritime claims in the South China Sea…

In sharp contrast to the South and East China Seas, the Indian Ocean region has remained relatively free of tensions caused by territorial and maritime disputes in recent years. Although there are a few maritime disputes in the region, they are relatively stable or have been resolved through international tribunals and arbitration.

Military and Maritime Law Enforcement (MLE)

Modernization Rapid military modernization across the Asia-Pacific region has significantly increased the potential for dangerous miscalculations or conflict in the maritime domain. Many countries are also significantly enhancing their maritime law enforcement (MLE) capabilities. These assets have become increasingly relevant as countries, particularly China, are using them to assert sovereignty over disputed areas.

China is modernizing every aspect of its maritime-related military and law enforcement capabilities, including its naval surface fleet, submarines, aircraft, missiles, radar capabilities, and coast guard. It is developing high-end technologies intended to dissuade external intervention in a conflict and designed to counter U.S. military technology. Although preparation for a potential Taiwan conflict remains the primary driver of Chinese investment, China is also placing emphasis on preparing for contingencies in the East and South China Sea. China sees a need for the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) to be able to support China’s “new historic missions” and operational tasks outside the first island chain with multi-mission, long-range, sustainable naval platforms equipped with robust self-defense capabilities. Although quantity is only one component of overall capability, from 2013 to 2014, China launched more naval vessels than any other country. The PLAN now possesses the largest number of vessels in Asia, with more than 300 surface ships, submarines, amphibious ships, and patrol craft.

China also is executing the largest MLE modernization effort in Asia, quantitatively and qualitatively improving its fleet, which is designed to enforce its maritime claims in the East and South China Seas. China’s MLE fleet, composed primarily of vessels from the newly formed China Coast Guard, is likely to increase in size by 25 percent and is larger than that of all of the other claimants combined.

Other Asia-Pacific nations are also enhancing their maritime capabilities. Japan is improving Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) deterrent capabilities and realigning military and MLE assets to areas near the Senkaku Islands, which are also claimed by China. Japan plans to acquire and realign Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) assets to the area; upgrade maritime patrol craft and ground force radar, and missile units; and develop an amphibious assault capability within a joint JSDF task force. The Japanese cabinet has approved a modest increase to the Japan Coast Guard’s budget, in part to fund a permanent Senkakus patrol unit.

In Southeast Asia, Vietnam is pursuing an ambitious maritime modernization program, highlighted by its ongoing acquisition of six Russian-built Kilo-class submarines, frigates and corvettes, and its potential procurement of longrange coastal defense cruise missiles. In 2014, Japan announced it would provide Vietnam six used coast guard surveillance vessels, and Hanoi is expanding the Vietnam Coast Guard’s power to enforce maritime law. The Philippines is also modernizing its maritime forces—some of its ships date to World War II—including through its acquisition in 2011 and 2013 of two excess defense article U.S. Coast Guard cutters.

Maritime Challenges:

Although many claimants are using their military and maritime law enforcement capabilities in a responsible manner, recent provocative actions have heightened tensions in the region and raised concerns. Actions such as the use of MLE vessels to coerce rival claimants, unsafe air and maritime behavior, and land reclamation to expand disputed features and create artificial islands hamper efforts to manage and resolve territorial and maritime disputes peacefully. Expanded Use of Non-Military Assets to Coerce Rivals Several nations have expanded their use of non-military assets to advance their territorial and maritime claims in the East China Sea and South China Sea. Most notably, China is using a steady progression of small, incremental steps to increase its effective control over disputed areas and avoid escalation to military conflict. In particular, China is increasingly deploying the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) to enforce its claims over features in the East and South China Seas. China prefers to use its government-controlled, maritime law enforcement ships in these disputes, and operates PLAN vessels over the horizon so they are ready to respond to escalation.

China has demonstrated this model during disputes with rival claimants over Scarborough Reef, Second Thomas Shoal, the South Luconia Shoal, and CNOOC-981 drilling operations south of the Parcel Islands.

Since 2012, the CCG has maintained a persistent presence in areas including around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and Scarborough Reef in the South China Sea. Similarly, China has used MLE ships to restrict and put pressure on Philippine access to Second Thomas Shoal where the Philippines maintains presence via a grounded naval vessel, the Sierra Madre. Although China is not the only claimant to use non-military assets to conduct worrying or dangerous actions against rival claimants – for example, in 2013, members of the Philippines Coast Guard killed a Taiwan fisherman in waters claimed by both the Philippines and Taiwan – it has been, by far, the most active.

Unsafe Air and Maritime Maneuvers:

The growing efforts of claimant States to assert their claims has led to an increase in air and maritime incidents in recent years, including an unprecedented rise in unsafe activity by China’s maritime agencies in the East and South China Seas. U.S. military aircraft and vessels often have been targets of this unsafe and unprofessional behavior, which threatens the U.S. objectives of safeguarding the freedom of the seas and promoting adherence to international law and standards.

China’s expansive interpretation of jurisdictional authority beyond territorial seas and airspace causes friction with U.S. forces and treaty allies operating in international waters and airspace in the region and raises the risk of inadvertent crisis. There have been a number of troubling incidents in recent years. For example, in August 2014, a Chinese J-11 fighter crossed directly under a U.S. P-8A Poseidon operating in the South China Sea approximately 117 nautical miles east of Hainan Island. The fighter also performed a barrel roll over the aircraft and passed the nose of the P-8A to show its weapons load-out, further increasing the potential for a collision.

However, since August 2014, U.S.-China military diplomacy has yielded positive results, including a reduction in unsafe intercepts. We also have seen the PLAN implement agreed-upon international standards for encounters at sea, such as the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES), which was signed in April 2014.

Land Reclamation on Disputed Features:

One of the most notable recent developments in the South China Sea is China’s expansion of disputed features and artificial island construction in the Spratly Islands, using large-scale land reclamation. Although land reclamation – the dredging of seafloor material for use as landfill – is not a new development in the South China Sea, China’s recent land reclamation campaign significantly outweighs other efforts in size, pace, and nature. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Philippines and Malaysia conducted limited land reclamation projects on disputed features, with Vietnam and later Taiwan initiating efforts. At the time, the Philippines constructed an airfield on Thitu Island, with approximately 14 acres of land reclamation to extend the runway. Malaysia built an airfield at Swallow Reef in the 1980s, also using relatively small amounts of reclaimed land. Between 2009 and 2014, Vietnam was the most active claimant in terms of both outpost upgrades and land reclamation. It reclaimed approximately 60 acres of land at 7 of its outposts and built at least 4 new structures as part of its expansion efforts. Since August 2013, Taiwan has reclaimed approximately 8 acres of land near the airstrip on Itu Aba Island, its sole outpost.

The Department of Defense, in concert with our interagency partners, therefore is employing a comprehensive maritime security strategy focused on four lines of effort: strengthening U.S. military capabilities in the maritime domain; building the maritime capacity of our allies and partners; leveraging military diplomacy to reduce risk and build transparency; and, strengthening the development of an open and effective regional security architecture.

DoD LINES OF EFFORT: First, we are strengthening our military capacity to ensure the United States can successfully deter conflict and coercion and respond decisively when needed. The Department is investing in new cutting-edge capabilities, deploying our finest maritime capabilities forward, and distributing these capabilities more widely across the region. The effort also involves enhancing our force posture and persistent presence in the region, which will allow us to maintain a higher pace of training, transits, and operations. The United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate in accordance with international law, as U.S. forces do all around the world.

Second, we are working together with our allies and partners from Northeast Asia to the Indian Ocean to build their maritime capacity. We are building greater interoperability, updating our combined exercises, developing more integrated operations, and cooperatively developing partner maritime domain awareness and maritime security capabilities, which will ensure a strong collective capacity to employ our maritime capabilities most effectively.

Third, we are leveraging military diplomacy to build greater transparency, reduce the risk of miscalculation or conflict, and promote shared maritime rules of the road. This includes our bilateral efforts with China as well as multilateral initiatives to develop stronger regional crisis management mechanisms. Beyond our engagements with regional counterparts, we also continue to encourage countries to develop confidence-building measures with each other and to pursue diplomatic efforts to resolve disputed claims.

Finally, we are working to strengthen regional security institutions and encourage the development of an open and effective regional security architecture. Many of the most prevalent maritime challenges we face require a coordinated multilateral response. As such, the Department is enhancing our engagement in ASEAN-based institutions such as the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus), ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), and the Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum (EAMF), as well as through wider forums like the Western Pacific Naval Symposium (WPNS) and Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS), which provide platforms for candid and transparent discussion of maritime concerns. [1] Enhancing U.S. Military Capacity in Maritime Asia Investments and Capabilities For decades, the United States has stood with its allies and partners to help maintain peace and stability in the AsiaPacific region. During this period, the U.S. military has enjoyed and depended upon the ability to project power and maintain freedom of action in the maritime domain. Increasingly, we see countries developing new technologies that appear designed to counter these advantages. The Department is therefore working to maintain the necessary capabilities to deter conflict and reassure allies and partners, while protecting our ability to respond decisively if required. This includes investing in new capabilities and concepts that will allow U.S. forces to operate freely even in contested environments.

The Department is enhancing U.S. capabilities to project power from the sea, in the air, and under the water. As part of this effort, we are deploying some of our most advanced surface ships to the region, including replacing the aircraft carrier USS George Washington in 2015 with the newer USS Ronald Reagan; sending our newest air operations-oriented amphibious assault ship, the USS America, to the region by 2020; deploying two additional Aegis-capable destroyers to Japan; and home-porting all three of our newest class of stealth destroyers, the DDG-1000, with the Pacific fleet. We are complementing these surface capabilities with some of our most capable air assets, including F-22s, continuous deployments of B-2 and B-52 strategic bombers, additional tilt rotor aircraft for the Marine Corps and Special Forces, and, in 2017, the first forward-stationing of F-35s to Iwakuni, Japan. The Department will also procure 395 F-35 aircraft over the next several years, many of which will be deployed to the Asia-Pacific region. For the subsurface environment, the Department is basing an additional attack submarine in Guam and funding two additional Virginia class submarines and the Virginia Payload Module, a compartment added to our new attack submarines that will increase dramatically their capacity to carry weapons and other payloads. These capabilities will help protect and add versatility to our advantages at sea, in the air, and under the water.

In support of these assets, the Department is investing in a comprehensive weapons modernization program, including plans for new or updated land-, sea-, and air-launched missiles relevant to the maritime domain. DoD is procuring advanced precision munitions that will allow our forces to strike adversaries from greater stand-off distances, like the new extended-range Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM-ER), and a new long-range antiship cruise missile that will improve the ability of U.S. aircraft to engage surface combatants in defended airspace. And we are finding new ways to use existing weapons systems, including by enhancing the capabilities resident in our current inventory of Tomahawk cruise missiles.

In addition to enhancing our power projection capabilities, the Department is investing in flexible capabilities that will allow us to respond more rapidly and effectively to a wider range of potential maritime challenges. The rotational deployment of Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) in Singapore provides the U.S. Navy with a flexible, nimble asset that can operate effectively in the region’s challenging littoral waters. The Department is currently conducting the second proof-of-concept deployment of the LCS to the region, a deployment that will not only include port calls and engagements with seven different Southeast Asian States, but also participation in one of our largest and most complex war-fighting exercises in the Republic of Korea (ROK), Foal Eagle.

Additionally, we will deploy the Mobile Landing Platform (MLP) to the region, which will more effectively enable a range of missions, from counter-piracy efforts to special forces operations and disaster relief missions. Finally, the Department of Defense is investing in critical enabling capabilities, including persistent, deep-look ISR platforms that will provide us with greater situational awareness and early warning of potential crises in the maritime domain. The U.S. Navy is procuring 24 E-2D Hawkeye carrier-based airborne early warning and control aircraft, and as stated in the President’s most recent budget submission, investing $9.9 billion over the next four years to procure the final 47 P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft, many of which will be deployed to the Asia-Pacific region. The Department is also making substantial investments to develop the MQ-4C Triton unmanned aerial system, which will provide broad area situational awareness to our operational commanders. The first deployment of MQ-4Cs will arrive in the U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM) Area of Responsibility (AOR) in FY 2017.

… Over the longer-term, the Department of Defense is also developing a suite of innovative ideas and capabilities – known as the third offset – to advance U.S. military dominance in the 21st century and ensure the United States can deter adversaries and prevail in conflict, including in maritime Asia. To offset advances in anti-access and area-denial (A2/AD) weapons that we see proliferating in maritime Asia and beyond, the Department will identify, develop, and field breakthroughs in cutting-edge technologies and systems – especially in the fields of robotics, autonomous systems, miniaturization, big data, and additive manufacturing, and will draw these together in innovative operational and organizational constructs to ensure freedom of access for United States’ forces in a contested A2/AD environment.

Force Posture: One of the most important efforts the Department of Defense has underway is to enhance our forward presence by bringing our finest capabilities, assets, and people to the Asia-Pacific region. The U.S. military presence has underwritten security and stability in the Asia-Pacific region for more than 60 years. Our forward presence not only serves to deter regional conflict and coercion, it also allows us to respond rapidly to maritime crises. Working in concert with regional allies and partners enables us to respond more effectively to these crises. The United States maintains 368,000 military personnel in the Asia-Pacific region, of which approximately 97,000 are west of the International Date Line.

Over the next five years, the U.S. Navy will increase the number of ships assigned to Pacific Fleet outside of U.S. territory by approximately 30 percent, greatly improving our ability to maintain a more regular and persistent maritime presence in the Pacific. And by 2020, 60 percent of naval and overseas air assets will be home-ported in the Pacific region.

The Department will also enhance Marine Corps presence by developing a more distributed and sustainable laydown model. Enhancing our forward presence also involves using existing assets in new ways, across the entire region, with an emphasis on operational flexibility and maximizing the value of U.S. assets despite the tyranny of distance. This is why the Department is working to develop a more distributed, resilient, and sustainable posture. As part of this effort, the United States will maintain its presence in Northeast Asia, while enhancing defense posture across the Western Pacific, Southeast Asia, and the Indian Ocean.

The cornerstone of our forward presence will continue to be our presence in Japan, where the United States maintains approximately 50,000 military personnel, including the U.S. Navy Seventh Fleet and the only forward-stationed Carrier Strike Group in the world, as well as U.S. Marine Corps III Marine Expeditionary Force and significant Air Force assets. DoD is working more closely than ever with our Japanese allies, forward progress that will accelerate in future years under the new revised defense guidelines. In an effort to ensure that this presence is sustainable, we have worked with Japan to develop a new laydown for the U.S. Marine Corps in the Pacific. As a result, the Department of Defense will be able to shift its concentrated presence on Okinawa toward a more distributed model that includes Australia, Hawaii, Guam, and mainland Japan.

As part of this program, the Department will develop new training ranges in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands to enhance the readiness of our forward forces to respond to regional crises. The footprint associated with this laydown will support the arrival of next-generation capabilities and joint training and readiness in the USPACOM AOR. Through the bilateral Force Posture Agreement (FPA) with Australia and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the Philippines, the Department will be able to increase our routine and persistent rotational presence in Southeast Asia for expanded training with regional partners. In Australia, the FPA will enable full implementation of the rotational presence for training and access for the U.S. Air Force and a Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) of up to 2,500 Marines. Additionally, the Department is on track to achieve its stated goal of simultaneous rotation of 4 Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) through Singapore by 2017, which will provide the first persistent U.S. naval presence in Southeast Asia in more than 20 years.

DoD is also modernizing our maritime presence in Guam, as part of our efforts to develop Guam into a strategic hub for our joint military presence in the region. This includes forward-stationing a fourth attack submarine to Guam this year and deploying the Joint High Speed Vessel by 2018, while making investments in the resilience of the infrastructure supporting these capabilities. Guam is the regional hub for Air Force’s Global Hawk fleet and the Navy will operate the MQ-4C Triton unmanned aerial reconnaissance vehicle from Andersen Air Base by 2017. The Air Force continues a program to modernize hangars and other support structures to augment those and other U.S. military capabilities…

Feudalism again, or the wave of the future?

It’s long been considered part of the American dream—a home and backyard of one’s own, away from the noise and congestion of the inner city. However, some consider it an anti-environmental form of housing that also happens to be politically troublesome as it fosters an anti-high tax, independent way of life that progressives deem outdated.

The Environmental Protection Agency  advocates that “A smart growth approach to housing, with compact development, green design and construction, and transportation options, can help communities and their residents protect the environment and create more affordable neighborhoods.”

Others disagree sharply.

Those who favor “smart growth” and small housing units claim that dense housing centered on mass transit links are the high-efficiency wave of the future. Opponents of the concept believe that housing choices should be based on the wishes and needs of the people, not on the whims and goals of urban planners.  They also note that the concept of small dwellings developed for the wishes of elitists resembles feudal living arrangements, with peasants residing in tiny residences while the aristocracy has far more comfortable quarters. The fact that billionaires such as former NYC mayor Mike Bloomberg are among the chief advocates of the concept lends credence to that perspective.

Randy O’Toole, writing for CATO, states that “smart growth” governments nationwide are implementing a degree of land-use regulation that is unprecedented in the United States prior to 1990. Unfortunately…such regulation can produce an even worse quality of life for residents. The policies’ real effects appear to be increases in traffic congestion, air pollution, consumer costs, taxes, and just about every other impediment to urban livability. Citing Portland, Oregon as an example of how this concept backfires, he found that “Portland’s ‘smart growth’ restrictions have changed one the nation’s most affordable markets for single-family housing in 1989 to one of the least affordable since 1996…smart growth advocates seem to believe that they know best how people should live. That belief seems destined to one day join the beliefs in urban renewal and public housing projects as government-directed efforts that caused enormous damage to urban livability.”

Joel Klotin, writing in a Real Clear Politics  article, believes that “The next culture war will not be about issues like gay marriage or abortion, but about something more fundamental: how Americans choose to live. In the crosshairs now will not be just recalcitrant Christians or crazed billionaire racists, but the vast majority of Americans who either live in suburban-style housing or aspire to do so in the future. Roughly four in five home buyers prefer a single-family home, but much of the political class increasingly wants them to live differently…To justify their actions against how Americans prefer to live, progressives will increasingly cite the environment…Yet the connection between suburbs and climate is not as clear as the smart growth crowd suggests.  McKinsey and other studies found no need to change housing patterns to reduce greenhouse gases, particularly given improvements in both home and auto efficiency. Yet so great is their animus that many anti-suburban activists seem to prefer stomping on suburban aspirations rather seeking ways to make them more environmental friendly.”

Writing in the Daily Beast Joel Kotkin also writes about “The progressive’s’ war on suburbia.”

“You are a political party, and you want to secure the electoral majority. But what happens, as is occurring to the Democrats, when the damned electorate that just won’t live the way—in dense cities and apartments—that  you have deemed is best for them?… University of Washington demographer Richard Morrill notes that the vast majority of the 153 million Americans who live in metropolitan areas with populations of more than 500,000  live in the lower-density suburban places Democrats think they should not. Only 60 million live in core cities. Despite these realities, the Democratic Party under Barack Obama has increasingly allied itself with its relatively small core urban base.”

Stanley Kurtz, writing in Forbes,  maintains that Obama is robbing suburbs to pay for the cities.  “As many Americans do not know, in the eyes of the leftist community organizers who trained Obama, suburbs are instruments of bigotry and greed — a way of selfishly refusing to share tax money with the urban poor.  Obama adopted this view early on, and he has never wavered from this ideological commitment, as a review of his actions in office goes to show.”

The Taliban’s return to power

The announced withdrawal of most American forces from Afghanistan may lead to results as deadly as those following the premature departure of US forces from Iraq, which allowed ISIS to develop into the powerhouse it has become. The White House goal is to reduce the size of American armed forces to 1,000 personnel, down from a high of 101,000 in 2011. There are currently about 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Providing advanced notice of a departure date is correctly seen as a major diplomatic and military blunder on the part of the White House. While the Obama Administration has stated that it supports the current government in Kabul, the fact that it opened talks with the Taliban in 2011 removes credibility from that position.

Several years ago, The BBC has reported that the Taliban had cut off the fingers of at least eleven Afghans who participated in that nations’ presidential run-off election. The terrorists did not want the voters to participate in that exercise in democracy.

In addition to the legal issues surrounding the White House’s decision to negotiate, very significant moral questions abound, as well as matters of diplomatic precedent.  Washington had, in the past, held to a wise policy of not negotiating with terrorists. To do invites more acts of terror by groups and individuals who see those acts as a path to extorting demands from governments. The Obama Administration abandoned the precedent of not negotiating with terrorists, and did so without consulting Congress, or with much discussion with the American public.

By elevating the Taliban to the status of a negotiating partner, it has given that terrorist organization a very substantial boost in its bid to return to power after America withdraws.

The results are already coming into focus. Foreign Policy  reports that insurgent bombings have risen as U.S. troops reduce operations against the Taliban.

These attacks have resulted in high civilian casualties. The Taliban is best known as the organization that sheltered Al Qaeda when it launched the 9/11/01 assault against the American homeland. The attacks from the newly emboldened Taliban extend to Afghanistan’s neighbors, as well. The Arab news source Al Jazeera  recently reported that a minimum of 14 people, including the anti-Taliban provincial minister Shuja Khanzada, have been killed in a suicide attack in Pakistan’s Punjab province.

The Wall Street Journal reported on August 20 that “Afghans are braced for more bloodshed after the most deadly wave of attacks that many can remember, including those on Aug. 7 that caused more than 350 casualties, all civilians. That is the highest one-day total the U.N. mission has ever recorded…New U.N. data published Aug. 5 shows a 78% increase in six months—compared with the same period last year—in civilian casualties caused by suicide attacks and complex attacks like the recent bombings in Kabul.”

The Taliban’s rise is furthered evidenced in a Reuters report noted in the Guardian,  that “Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has pledged allegiance to the new head of the Afghan Taliban in a move that could bolster his accession after the death of Taliban founder Mullah Mohammed Omar.”

The Taliban has, essentially, already claimed victory. In 2012, as reported in a Stratfor analysis,     “The Afghan Taliban … declared victory against Western forces in a statement titled ‘Formal Proclamation of the Islamic Emirate’s Victory.’ The document does not stop at claiming military victory over the United States, but also promotes the Taliban, not just as a national political movement but as an international player.”

James Clapper, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, gave his views on the Taliban’s strength in a statement  to the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this year.

“The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) prevented the Taliban from achieving a decisive military advantage in 2014. The ANSF, however, will require continued international security sector support and funding to stave off an increasingly aggressive Taliban insurgency through 2015. The ANSF, with the help of anti-Taliban powerbrokers and international funding, will probably maintain control of most major population centers. However, the forces will most likely cede control of some rural areas. Without international funding, the ANSF will probably not remain a cohesive or viable force. 21 The Taliban will probably remain largely cohesive under the leadership of Mullah Omar and sustain its countrywide campaign to take territory in outlying areas and steadily reassert influence over significant portions of the Pashtun countryside, positioning itself for greater territorial gains in 2015. Reliant on Afghanistan’s opiate trade as a key domestic source of funding, the Taliban will be able to exploit increasing opium poppy cultivation and potential heroin production for ready revenue. The Taliban has publicly touted the end of the mission of the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) and coalition drawdown as a sign of its inevitable victory, reinforcing its commitment to returning to power.”

An early analysis of the 2016 campaign

The breathless media coverage of the 2016 campaign, already well under way, misses some key factors.

Older voters may recall a time when it wasn’t until after Labor Day that these quadrennial marathons got truly serious. At this early stage, factors such as name recognition play a much larger role than they will as the season matures. Outrage over the failure of incumbents to resolve problems and of the failure of the opposing party to enforce alternative solutions allows “outsider” candidates to gain more traction than they are likely to keep later on.

Of course, when there is no incumbent, the races tend to be more exciting. But this edition of the presidential slugfest has several additional factors which make it even more noteworthy.

More so than almost any of its predecessors, the current administration has sought, in its own words, to fundamentally transform the nation. Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, have always ferociously fought over individual issues or general approaches to resolving national problems. But Mr. Obama has challenged several basics of domestic and foreign policy that had never been all that seriously questioned before, especially the primacy of the Constitution, America’s relationship with key allies, it’s overarching world role, the wisdom of the free market, and the sanctity of U.S. borders.

Whether one agrees with the President or not, the outcome of his endeavors has not met with any significant measure of success. Nor has he played gently with his political opponents. Hillary Clinton, his former Secretary of State and the leading candidate to succeed him, is seen as someone who is ideologically similar. She, too, deals roughly with ideological opponents.

While the former First Lady has a solid core of supporters, she is seen as vulnerable. She did, of course, already lose a presidential contest, when Obama defeated her in the 2008 Democrat primaries. The record of world affairs during her tenure as Secretary of State, and America’s actions on the international global scene, has been dismal, including the failed “Reset” with Russia and that nation’s return to Cold War policies, the rise of ISIS, the questionable intervention in Libya, the Benghazi disaster and subsequent cover-up, Washington’s refusal to adequately respond to humanitarian disasters affecting women, Christians, and Islamic minorities in Africa and the Middle East, China’s increased belligerence, the controversial Iran nuclear deal, and the alienation of key allies such as the United Kingdom and Israel.

The combination of these factors has given rise to an exceptional sense of urgency and enthusiasm on the part of his opposition, combined with a belief that the Republican Party has a very good chance of victory in 2016, as they did in the past elections that saw the GOP obtain or keep control of the House, Senate, and most governorships. But within the Republican Party, that recent success at the ballot box did not translate into significant progress in altering White House policies, a failure that has infuriated GOP voters and some legislators such as Ted Cruz.

The poor health of the U.S. economy has also sparked outrage among voters across the ideological spectrum, giving rise to support for candidates not affiliated with politics as usual. Hence the popularity of two men at polar opposites of the ideological spectrum, socialist Senator Bernie Sanders and self-proclaimed Conservative Donald Trump.

Sanders has also gained traction, as will Vice President Joe Biden when, as expected, he declares his candidacy next month, from Ms. Clinton’s expanding legal problems. The former Secretary of State could well be facing substantial felony charges in the near future due to her failure to observe established security protocols for her official emails. A substantial percentage of classified information has been found in her personal email account. A far lesser breach occurred when General David Petraeus provided a few hand written notes to his trusted biographer, leading to his dismissal and criminal prosecution. Clinton’s breach is vastly greater, and it is difficult to see how she can avoid a similar fate.

Republican front runner Donald Trump will also face significant challenges as the 2016 contest matures. As his prior relationship (including substantial donations) to Democrats, especially the Clintons, becomes better known, as the practical impediments to some of his strategies (can 11 million aliens truly be rounded up and deported?) get more widely discussed, it may become evident that his numbers have already peaked.

Russia’s behavior follows no rules

Under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, Russia has not played by western rules, morals, or concepts, but Washington has been slow to catch on to this reality.  That is the reason the Obama/Clinton “reset” has been a total failure, and why, in this second iteration of the Cold War, Moscow appears to be gaining the upper hand.

Following the fall of the Soviet Union, most policy-setters in the U.S. adopted the belief that large scale, superpower vs. superpower warfare was a thing of the past, and that countries across the globe would mostly be guided by economic interests. They did not acknowledge that Vladimir Putin, the ex-KGB agent who publicly mourned the breakup of the USSR, didn’t concur, and ignored obvious warning signs.

While the U.S. and its allies scaled down their military spending, the Kremlin ramped up its arms budget. While the Obama Administration kept key allies such as the United Kingdom and Israel at arms-length, Putin re-engaged with the USSR’s Cold War contacts, and formulated a new axis consisting of Russia, China, and Iran.

The Obama Administration’s confusion and naiveté became almost humorously apparent following Moscow’s invasion of the Ukraine. As the Putin government ginned up national pride by highlighting the success of its armed forces, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry could only sputter, “This is not 21st century behavior.”

The contrast between the Kremlin’s idea of 21st century behavior and that of western nations is stark. While the population of NATO nations have sought to keep Cold War memories of feared nuclear exchanges in the past, Russia, the BBC reports  will be celebrating its 1961 explosion of the world’s most powerful hydrogen bomb in a special exhibition in Moscow.

While the Obama Administration moves to surrender control of the internet to a United Nations controlled organization, Russia has cleverly moved to build a unique organization of “trolls” who, pretending to be everyday people, actually use clever techniques to sway online postings and conversations in Moscow’s favor, reports The Guardian.

Putin’s government—essentially, just Putin himself and his cronies- is an odd arrangement of a third-world style kleptocracy grafted onto the world’s largest single-nation landmass possessing the planet’s most formidable nuclear arsenal.

Stephen Kotkin, writing in Foreign Affairs  asks:

“How did twenty-first-century Russia end up, yet again, in personal rule? An advanced industrial country of 142 million people, it has no enduring political parties that organize and respond to voter preferences. The military is sprawling yet tame; the immense secret police are effectively in one man’s pocket. The hydrocarbon sector is a personal bank, and indeed much of the economy is increasingly treated as an individual fiefdom. Mass media move more or less in lockstep with the commands of the presidential administration. Competing interest groups abound, but there is no rival center of power. …

“… Putin has been in power for 15 years, and there is no end in sight. Stalin ruled for some three decades; Brezhnev for almost two. Putin, still relatively young and healthy, looks set to top the latter and might even outdo the former…Bit by bit, however, using stealth and dirty tricks, Putin reasserted central control over the levers of power within the country—the TV stations, the gas industry, the oil industry, the regions…

“Putin’s machismo posturing, additionally, is undergirded by a view of Russia as a country of real men opposing a pampered, gutless, and decadent West. Resentment toward U.S. power resonates far beyond Russia, and with his ramped-up social conservatism, Putin has expanded a perennial sense of Russian exceptionalism to include an alternative social model as well.”

Putin’s position appears secure. The Jamestown Foundation reports:

“This growing irrelevance of domestic politics is aggravated by the Russian government’s aggressive and poisonous propaganda, which has become a political force in its own right. … One figure stands in splendid isolation at the head of this course—President Vladimir Putin, whose approval ratings have reached the level typical for mature authoritarian leaders. After 15 years at the summit of power, and at just 62 years of age, he has established such dominance over other

“Russian elites that all speculations about a possible successor…have now entirely ceased …Putin’s mood swings and idiosyncrasies…overrule every bureaucratic preference for stability and quiet self-enrichment. … Alexei Kudrin, the only person who was able to insist on common economic sense, has been expelled from the Kremlin; German Gref, the designer of the first set of reforms at the dawn of the Putin “era,” has been reduced to an eccentric contrarian; and court aides like Sergei Glazyev have learned to deliver only the advice that the boss likes to hear…”

Islamic extremists destroy another world heritage site

According to the United Nations Education, scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), ISIS has again intentionally destroyed a world heritage site. The latest victim is Palmyra’s ancient temple of Baalshamin. Palmyra fell to ISIS in May.

In addition to the destruction of the temple itself, ISIS personnel murdered archaeologist Khaled Assad and Assistant Director of antiquities Qassem Abdullah Yehiya.

In a statement, UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova said  “I am both saddened and outraged to learn of the brutal murder of Khaled Asaad, who oversaw antiquities at the UNESCO World Heritage site at Palmyra “In no uncertain terms I condemn this horrific act.”

UNESCO sources noted that the 82-year old archaeologist had been recently killed at the site, where he had worked for more than 50 years. Asaad had been held for more than a month and, according to reports, was being questioned about the location of valuable artefacts.

The U.N organization noted that “They killed him because he would not betray his deep commitment to Palmyra. Here is where he dedicated his life, revealing Palmyra’s precious history and interpreting it so that we could learn from this great city that was a crossroads of the ancient world. His work will live on far beyond the reach of these extremists. They murdered a great man, but they will never silence history.”

The Director-General also decried the killing of Qasem Abdullah Yehiya. According to the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM), “Yehiya, the Assistant Director of laboratories at the DGAM, died in a rocket attack on the Damascus Citadel and the National Museum last week. ‘The killing of Mr. Yehiya is a deplorable act, made all the more senseless that it was the result of an attack on the museum and ancient citadel… The untimely deaths of Mr. Assad and Mr. Yehiya are a terrible loss to the cultural heritage community in Syria and globally,’ the Director-General added. The Damascus Citadel and museum were damaged in the attack and a number of museum employees were also injured. The Ancient City of Damascus, including the Citadel, was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979. Daesh took control of Palmyra in May. It was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1980.”

A study of the ISIS practice by the National Geographic organization quoted an ISIS fighter who proclaimed “Whenever we take control of a piece of land, we remove the symbols of polytheism and spread monotheism in it.” The article also quotes PHD candidate Christopher Jones, who is studying the ISIS practice. Jones believes the basis of ISIS’s practice is eliminating “…sins of shirk, or idolatry…The Islamic State’s notion of shirk not only applies to pre-Islamic sites like Nimrud, but also any Islamic heritage that does not follow their strict Sunni interpretation of Islam, as well as sites belonging to the region’s religious minorities, including Yazidis, Kurds, and Christians.”

However, in an RT interview Dr. Stephennie Mulder, an associate professor of Islamic Art at the University of Texas at Austin, said the Islamic State’s videotaping of the destruction of ancient artifacts in Iraq and Syria is an act of propaganda. “This is a propaganda video that is intended as an act of heritage terror. [ISIS] know this kind of action will cause alarm in the international community,…It demonstrates their mastery over everything. Their mastery over the past and it has a deep impact on the people of Iraq as well who cherish these objects.”

Bipartisan Legislation has been introduced in the U.S. Congress to protect historic sites across the globe and prevention imports of illegal related items from Syria.

The elimination of key parts of human history has become a habit of Islamic extremists.  In 2001 Mullah Mohammed Omar ordered his Taliban forces to destroy the venerable Buddhas of Bamiyan statues.

Brian Anderson on the Vernuccio-Novak Report

Brian C. Anderson will discuss internet freedom on the next Vernuccio-Novak Report.  During his tenure as  editor of City Journal, the quarterly has continued to be one of the nation’s premier public-policy magazines. Anderson holds a Ph.D. in political philosophy from the University of Ottawa and an M.A. and a B.A. from Boston College.

Will there be a new Korean War?

Will a new war soon begin on the Korean peninsula, or is the latest series of threats from Pyongyang just another of Kim Jong-un’s blusters?

The South Korean Ministry of National Defense  announced on Thursday that North Korea shot two artillery projectiles south of the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) at 3:53 p.m. and again at 4:12 p.m. that day. Civilians in the region have been evacuated.

The Ministry said in a statement during an evening briefing that, “the South Korean military fired dozens of rounds of 155mm shells toward the believed area from where the shells were launched as a warning.”

No casualties have been reported on either side.

The exchange of fire was precipitated by the killing of two South Korean soldiers by a land mine apparently planted by North Korea. The land mines were planted on a regular patrol route, according to South Korean, American, and United Nations officials. In response, South Korea began blasting statements over powerful loudspeakers, which North Korea objected to, demanding a cessation of the comments and targeting the loudspeakers with artillery.

According to the Seoul government, “The South Korean military has raised its vigilance to the highest level and has been closely watching the movement of the North Korean military, ready to respond strongly and decisively to any further provocations from the North.”

Before the statement, North Korea, which possesses nuclear weapons and significant missile capabilities, threatened the South in a message sent from its Central Military Commission at around 5 p.m. and through a radio broadcast to military units in the Yellow Sea. In the message, the North said that it would, “Take strong military action unless the South stops border propaganda broadcasts and dismantles broadcast facilities within 48 hours from 5 p.m. today.”

Yesterday, according to Asia One News,   “North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un ordered his frontline troops onto a war-footing from Friday ….North Korea followed up with an ultimatum sent via military hotline that gave the South 48 hours to dismantle loudspeakers blasting propaganda messages across the border or face further military action. The ultimatum expires at Saturday, 5:00pm…The South’s defence ministry dismissed the threat and said the broadcasts would continue.”

The two governments have exchanged fire in the past, in 2010 and 2014.

The BBC  reports that North Korean news sources are stating that the Pyongyang government has declared a “semi-state of war” at an emergency meeting late Thursday. CBS news reports  that “A North Korean military official said on Friday that senior party and defense officials led by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met Thursday night and “reviewed and approved the final attack operation.”

Last October, the Commander of U.S. forces in Korea, General Curtis Scapaorroti described  the North Korean regime of Kim Jong Un as one that “remains in control of an isolated, authoritative regime that’s willing to use violence and threats of violence to advance its interests, gain recognition as a world power, and secure the regime’s survival.” Spacedaily.com has reported that North Korea has constructed a test facility at the Sinpo South Shipyard, apparently intended to develop sea-based ballistic missiles.  The capability could facilitate either a surprise nuclear strike, an EMP attack, or provide the regime with a means to retaliate in the event a pre-emptive strike occurs to take out the country’s nuclear assets.

According to General Curtis Scapaorroti, “In recent years, North Korea has focused on development of asymmetric capabilities. These capabilities include several hundred ballistic missiles, one of the world’s largest chemical weapons stockpiles, a biological weapons research program, and the world’s largest special operations force, as well as an active cyber-warfare capability.”   The Pyongyang government has, in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions, carried out three nuclear tests and continues an active ballistic missile development program.

It should be remembered that if the full sequester cuts are carried out by Washington, the United States Army will be smaller than its North Korean counterpart by the end of 2015.

Overall, North Korea possesses the 4th largest military in the world, and About 70-75% of its ground forces and 50% of its air and naval assets are within 60 miles of the DMZ.

Two key factors have assisted North Korea’s rise as a military power.  Its close relationship with China renders international pressure relatively ineffective, as Beijing’s vast economic strength can offset global actions.  The other challenge is the sharply diminished state of American military power, particularly its Navy, which is at its lowest level since World War One.

Attack on internet freedom continues

Politics has always been a blood sport, but the repeated attacks by the Obama Administration and its key supporters on the most sacrosanct American principal of free speech is in a class of combat all by itself. Despite a loss on January 14 in the U.S. Appeals Court in its attempt to regulate the internet, the White House is heading for a third try, this time before the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

The Wall Street Journal notes that “At stake is whether the Internet remains safe for permissionless innovation—so that anyone can launch a website, app or new business model—or regulators get to set rates and decide the “reasonableness” of business practices…The politicizing of an agency whose independence is established by law is a good argument to invalidate Obamanet.”

Key analysts, such as the Manhattan Institute’s Brian C. Anderson have described the move as a “power grab” by the President.

CATO notes “Last February 26th, the Federal Communications Commission officially mandated that the Internet would henceforth be regulated under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. With this action, the FCC totally reversed over 30 years of aggressive “unregulation” of the Internet (and all information services), imposing the most restrictive regulatory framework available under the act, originally adopted in 1934 to regulate the then-monopoly Bell System.”

Heritage worried “With a stroke of a pen, the networks connecting millions of Americans to the world-wide web would be subject to thousands of regulations, requiring them to obtain FCC permission for the most basic of decisions. The nimble Internet we know would be slowed to the speed of government, and innovation level of a local water company.”

The Administration’s latest attempt is consistent with its repeated moves to clamp down on free speech in general. Its record is one of repeated attacks using several different approaches, such as seeking to place FCC monitors in newsrooms, and transferring control of the internet from private American sources to a United Nations body with members advocating restrictions.

Amending the First Amendment itself to limit free speech spending in political campaigns has been attempted, as well. As the New York Analysis has previously reported, “over the past several years, this keystone right has come under significant attack…As  Hans A. von Spakovsky and Elizabeth Slattery wrote in a Heritage article, “Frustrated with the Supreme Court’s consistent defense of political speech protected by the First Amendment, the Left is driving a movement to amend the Constitution to allow Congress to limit fundraising and spending on political speech. Supporters of this amendment claim that restricting the amount of money that may be spent on political speech and activity is not the same as limiting speech, but as the Supreme Court has recognized, bans on spending are indeed bans on speech. Limiting spending on political communication necessarily affects the quantity and quality of that speech. Rather than ‘level the playing field,’ this constitutional amendment would protect incumbents and violate a fundamental right of Americans.”

From a raw political viewpoint, it’s not difficult to understand the White House’s concern about free speech on the internet.  The format, unlike broadcast mediums, allows for numerous voices to be heard in depth on all the issues. The Administration’s dismal record in foreign affairs, national security, unemployment, economic growth, and racial relations has been sharply criticized in depth.

Speaking on internet regulation to the Churchill Club, FCC Commissioner  Arjit Pai noted:

“In some regards, the way this issue is playing out reminds me of the lyrics from the classic James Bond theme song Goldfinger, sung by the great Shirley Bassey. Like Goldfinger, the FCC’s leadership is pouring golden words into the ears of over-the-top providers, beckoning them to enter its web of sin, or in this case, regulation. But my advice to providers is the same as Dame Bassey’s: “Don’t go in.” For you will soon find yourselves ensnared in a web of regulations from which you will never escape.”