Puerto Rico is in Deep Shit Now

In 1898 the United States snatched the island of Puerto Rico, along with some other choice real estate away from a withering Spanish empire.   Strategically the island was important as a gateway into the Caribbean and Latin America, which we affectionately dubbed our “backyard”.   Puerto Rico, along with Cuba, was also capable of producing tons of sugar – a commodity that the mainland United States demanded and couldn’t grow enough to keep up.

Since the end of the Spanish-American War, Puerto Rico has had a bizarre relationship with the United States.   She’s a territory of the United States.   Puerto Ricans are US Citizens, but within Puerto Rico they do not have political representation in Washington.   The tax laws are different, they serve in the US military and the administration of the Island works a little differently than a US State.   Culturally there’s a big gap between “middle America” and Puerto Rico but we recognize the Puerto Rican contribution to cities like New York and Chicago as well as South Florida.  Oh yeah, everyone loves J-Lo and the slew of MLB players from there.

Based on the upstart imperial mindset of the United States at the time and the tangible gains adding an island like Puerto Rico could add to our portfolio, the arrangement made sense.   Today the arrangement is maybe a little more complicated.   I’ve heard from more than one Puerto Rican mouth that they believe that the corporations in the United States benefit from Puerto Rico by being able to tap into cheaper labor sources…and Puerto Rico benefits by being able to send their riff-raff up north to find menial jobs in the mainland USA.

The island is something of a cash cow for American corporations and investors, or at least it was.   In addition to discounted prices on labor, profits made in Puerto Rico were tax-free up until recently.  This included interest on bank deposits.  Due to maritime restrictions placed by the federal government, foreign ships could not unload goods in Puerto Rican ports and continue on to the US – only American ships can carry cargo between two points in the US (the Jones Act).   Due to Puerto Rico being a relatively small market, it doesn’t pay for foreign cargo vessels to make a special trip to the island.   This shipping SNAFU makes everything more expensive on the ground and makes American goods more competitive.

Investment and trade with the mainland helped Puerto Rico become the most advanced economy in Latin America, with a per capita GDP slightly higher than Uruguay and Chile and ranking higher on the HDI than any other Latin American nation.  Although at the top of the pack south of the border, Puerto Rico is notably poorer than Mississippi, the poorest state in the Union.

Puerto Rico also benefited from profits on their government issued bonds being tax free at the federal, state and local level.   Due to the tax benefits and promises of high returns on top of that, many American bond funds eagerly gobbled up Puerto Rico’s debt.    The high demand for Puerto Rican debt gave the Puerto Rican authorities the incentive to, well, issue more of it.   Today Puerto Rico is $72 billion in debt.

$72 billion is pretty hefty sum.  Puerto Rico has a population of about 3.5 million and a GDP around $100 billion.   That makes the math simple enough, Puerto Rico has a debt to GDP ratio of around 72%.    To put it into perspective, my native state of Iowa has a similar population, a GDP of about $176 billion and a debt of $21.5 billion.   If Puerto Rico were a state, her GDP and per capita income would be well below that of Mississippi, our perennial economic basement dweller.   Puerto Rico’s debt figure of $72 billion is similar to the state of Virginia’s $74 billion – with a population over twice as large and a GDP over four times as large.

Maybe Puerto Rico can grow out of this debt?   No, that doesn’t look promising.   Section 936 of the US Tax Code, the one that allowed US corporations to take profits tax-free in Puerto Rico expired, taking away one of the big incentives for businesses to operate in Puerto Rico.   Local employment laws are by some accounts restrictive.    Energy, the oft-overlooked driving factor of economic growth is considerably more expensive down there, making the cost of everything go up.    The workforce of Puerto Rico is getting older and stagnating.  Brain drain and “drain” in general to the mainland is still an issue.    There just aren’t any promising signs of a big Puerto Rican recovery.   A significant portion of the population relies on government transfers (social security, welfare, medicaid, food stamps, etc.) and as it looks now, it’ll probably stay that way.

It’s important to note that the public corporations like the Puerto Rican Power Authority and the Government Development Bank owe about $25 billion in total.   This debt is basically on the backs of the Puerto Rican people as well, just on a different accounting ledger.  Cutbacks in infrastructure will exasperate the problem and keep Puerto Rico from developing a competitive environment.

The Puerto Rican government has been raising already high local taxes (there’s no federal taxes so there’s more blood from the turnip to squeeze) and cutting back benefits at a time when people need the money the most.  It’s causing a lot of resentment towards the government, as they’re the ones who squandered the money away and racked up the debt.  One difference between Puerto Rico and Greece is that in Greece there’s a widely-enough held sentiment that the Greek people benefited from racking up the debt through lucrative government jobs and exorbitant pensions, whereas no one is saying that about Puerto Rico.  It really does seem like a case of politicians simply pissing away borrowed money for so many years.

I’m not sure exactly how this will play out, but I think it will cause some little tremors in the US stock market and probably capture some mainstream attention once everyone has settled down about the Confederate flag or whatever the hot button issue is today.    I don’t think there’s a lot of resentment towards the US federal government in the sense that they’ll be pointing the fingers at us for causing their problems, but I think more than anything it’ll be the other way around – Mainland Americans will be looking down their noses as Puerto Rico.  Maybe Donald Trump will suggest booting them out of the …… uh…..little thing we have going on and a segment of the population will agree.    More level-headed people will give Puerto Rico the Ward Clever speech about responsibility and then a few will ask Ward if he was too hard on the Beaver.

Here’s the other thing:   While we’re talking down to the Puerto Ricans, we’re actually in worse shape than they are.   We will compare the Puerto Rican debt to that of individual states and maybe smaller sovereign nations, but in Puerto Rico they only have local and territorial debt.    On the mainland we have local and state debt, but we also have federal debt which Puerto Rico doesn’t have (at least not to the same extent).    Sure comparable sized states have a quarter of the debt of Puerto Rico, but we all also have our share of the $17 trillion dollar US Federal debt.    So we might want to choose our words and actions carefully when it comes to dealing with the Puerto Rican debt crisis.

Although I don’t think Uncle Sam will get the lion’s share of the blame for this on the island, I think it will increase left wing populist sentiments that are all so common in Latin America.   It’ll also increase sappy patriotic sentiments towards the US down there as some of their leaders will try to play up the attachment to butter up to their favorite uncle for a little loan…and honestly, they will have some real, tangible things to say.   Like I said earlier, Puerto Ricans are a big part of some of our biggest cities, they serve in our military at high rates and everyone loves “Jenny from the block”.    The cultural dynamics will be interesting…

At the end of the day, I don’t know how they will solve this or if we’ll see a complete breakdown in Puerto Rico – our outer fringe.   I hope the people down there find a way to make it work….

Red Army by Gabe Polsky

I did a review of Red Army, the documentary about Soviet Hockey for another website and figured I’d throw it up here as well.     Enjoy.

Red Army is a documentary by Gabe Polsky that follows Soviet hockey legend Slava Fetisov and a small core of players through the rise and fall of the Soviet Union’s world-dominating hockey program and into the present day. It was released to a handful of theaters around the country in February and was released for streaming last week. So far it’s gotten a ton of good reviews and some awards from various film festivals and I’m going to have to add myself to the list of people who give it a thumbs up.
As a hockey player and a Cold War history aficionado, I figured this would be something that would interest me. A lot of what happened behind the iron curtain is still shrouded in a little bit of mystery and Red Army shines some light on the day-to-day life of the players, the characters involved and the bureaucracy of the system they played for.
Russia is kind of synonymous with hockey these days. There’s a shitload of players in the NHL from Russia and they’re always a force to be reckoned with in the Olympics. The Russian-based Kontinental Hockey League only plays second fiddle to the NHL in the world. Hell, Russian President Vladimir Putin plays hockey (and even recently scored eight goals in one game!) and is a huge advocate for participation in the sport.
Although they’ve taken the sport and ran with it, hockey is relatively young in Russia when compared to North America and Europe. The sport was introduced in the 1920’s by the Soviet government and then put on a bit of a hiatus due to some other events, like wars, five year plans and purges. Hockey was picked back up with a vengeance once the dust settled and in no time at all they were dominating the world of international hockey. As the legend goes, they just had a mile-high idea of what hockey was supposed to be like and someone acquired an international rulebook and the Soviets filled in the gaps in isolation and came up with a system of hockey that valued teamwork, creativity and finesse.    Red Army picks up the story from here, focusing on Slava Fetisov’s experiences during the rise of the Soviet hockey program then the collapse of the Soviet Union itself.

They didn’t exactly have professional hockey as we know it today, but they did have teams that were representative of factions of the government and worker’s collectives. Even today some of the names of the teams in the KHL carry this legacy – Spartak, Lokomotiv, SKA St Petersburg, CSKA Moscow, etc. The focus of the documentary is CSKA (Central Sporting Club of the Army) Moscow, which was the team that represented the Red Army and was made up of soldiers. Here’s the catch: In a country with forced conscription, the best hockey players were inducted into the Army and put on the team. So not only did CSKA Moscow get first crack at talent, they were able to keep them within the system and develop chemistry between the players at levels beyond that of Western teams where the individual players have a lot of mobility and the makeup of teams can change drastically from year to year. Because CSKA wasn’t technically a professional team, the players were allowed to compete in the Olympics and the Soviet Olympic roster was overwhelmingly comprised of CSKA Moscow players.
Fetisov, charmingly combative and gruff with the interviewer, takes the viewer back to his early childhood days of hockey in the 1950’s. They had plenty of ice in the Soviet Union, but everything else was at a premium. His parents had to save and shrewdly acquire gear for young Slava off the black market but he showed enough talent to eventually get accepted into a youth program sponsored by CSKA Moscow that groomed young players for the possibility of landing a spot on the team.
The documentary ties the rise of the Soviet team with the rise of the Soviet Union on the world stage. They built atom bombs, put a man into space, socialism began to spread in the world, they controlled an empire that stretched from deep into Central Europe all the way to a few miles off the coast of Alaska….and started racking up medals in hockey. They felt pretty good about themselves in the decades following World War II and they definitely counted their meteoric rise in the world of hockey as a feather in their ushanka. There’s even a clip where an exasperated Wayne Gretzky, representing Team Canada, throws his hands up and says “we just can’t compete with these guys”.    It must’ve been very unnerving for Canadian (and American, for that matter) hockey fans to see “the Great One” make a statement like that.
Although their success seemed unshakable, the documentary focuses on the cost that the individual players paid for it. Notorious CSKA Moscow/USSR Olympic coach Viktor Tikhonov is by all accounts painted as a complete asshole by his players that demanded of them strenuous training eleven months of the year and a highly regimented life in a military-style barracks. They knew of the disparity in standard of living between the Soviet Union and the West due to visits. At one point in the documentary they ask Fetisov about the differences between the players that comprised the core of CSKA Moscow. He kept insisting that “we’re all the same”. By that he meant that these guys weren’t able to pursue much else besides hockey and just about everything they ever did was done collectively. There wasn’t any room for anything else.

The American viewer will probably go into this documentary with the 1980 Olympics in mind, that event isn’t dwelt upon in Red Army but it is acknowledged that it was a low point for them. Speaking of low points, this was approximately the time when Fetisov and company really started questioning if the personal sacrifices were worth it and cynicism and apathy crept into their ranks, although they continued to be a powerhouse right through the collapse of the Soviet Union and beyond.
I thought the most interesting thing about this documentary and their story is that Fetisov and company were always missing something throughout their hockey career. The irony that they had the most creative system of hockey within the most oppressive system off the ice has been pointed out many times. They enjoyed professional success and favor beyond that of the typical Soviet citizen, but they paid dearly for it by being pushed to their limits eleven months out of the year – the simple life of the average Soviet citizen would’ve looked pretty damn appealing at times. When they finally obtained freedom and riches beyond their wildest dreams by signing NHL contracts, they found it difficult to adjust to the individualistic and physical North American style of play and socially shunned.   While they didn’t miss the Soviet bureaucracy, they missed their native Russia.  They had developed into such a cohesive unit throughout their trials and tribulations in CSKA Moscow and the USSR Olympic team that it was hard for them to function as individuals without each other.
Style-wise, there’s nothing to complain about. They picked some good people to interview, found some good stock footage of the players training, playing and even a bit of “letting their hair down” during offtime. I got a chuckle out of the way Fetisov bulldogs the interviewer throughout the documentary and I thought it was cool when they would show a name they would throw it up in Cyrillic first then it would fade to English. I would’ve liked for them to spend a little bit more time on the history of hockey in the USSR and the system they created, but they did show some great examples of the results – the plays these guys could make were mind boggling. It’s definitely worth checking out.


Rising Egg Prices, Bird Flu and the Chicken Holocaust

So today I heard that eggs at the grocery store pretty much doubled in price in response to a significant portion of the commercial laying flock being “liquidated” due to the bird flu outbreak.   I figured the prices would go up, but not quite THAT drastic.   Most reports I’ve seen are saying that they expect prices to remain high for another couple of years before the losses are replaced.    My guess is that prices will remain high right now while it’s in the forefront and then find an equilibrium slightly higher than the price of say, a month ago within the next couple months.

I’ve read that some restaurants/food service vendors have had trouble sourcing eggs and some grocery stores have been limiting purchases to three dozen per person or something along those lines.    The price of liquid eggs that would be used in large commercial operations went from about 75 cents a pound to about $1.50 a pound….and that cost will get passed on to you, dear consumer.

Deep in America’s hinterland, in large parts of the state of Iowa, not much really happens except these large commercial farming operations.  I believe we’re the largest producer of eggs in the nation (at least we were as of recent) and this has hit the area pretty hard.   Throughout the spring you would hear reports on the radio of rural counties declaring an emergency due to the presence or real threat of the disease spreading through their flocks….and there’s not much you can do except kill the chickens before it spreads.    A few weeks ago my dad, who is a truck driver, had to spend a Saturday driving to a remote part of the state to deliver nitrous oxide to gas a million chickens at one operation.   Hearing about these things is hard to stomach, but I suppose that’s the reality of the industrial farming system we have.    I’m sure that if we were a state of smaller farms with more locally scaled and diverse flocks, this bird flu thing would play out much differently.

I think this is the first time in my life that I can remember where something pretty much used every day was really in short supply.     If there’s a bad citrus harvest or something one year, the consumer usually just buys something else.   There really aren’t substitutes for eggs and they’re in almost everything.   Yes, I’m aware of baking with potato starch, flax, ect. instead of eggs, but it’s not like you can make a potato starch omelet or McMuffin.   Although I don’t think this is going to be as big of a deal as they say, I hope this temporary surge causes people to think a little bit about limits on resources and resiliency…and maybe make some people think about keeping their own chickens?   Looks like I got in on that just in time…

We feed the dogs eggs daily.   Might have to switch to cheap hotdogs or something instead until this passes over.   They’ll probably like that better anyways.

Gardening 2015

Before the season starts I like to kind of lay out my gardening vision.   I didn’t do that this year and honestly I got kind of a late start due to everything that’s been going on in my life.

First, last year wasn’t anything special.   Around the time it was really go time to get things in, I found out my girlfriend was pregnant and we spent a lot of time getting the house in order for new family life.   I didn’t get to spend the time with the garden that I would’ve liked to but that was ok, there were still some successes.    I remember one point around the fourth of July thinking that I was going to get the time to give the garden the weeding that it needed and getting called back in the house twenty minutes later to help a guy installing a shower in my house.  Ugh…

So anyways, maybe it is better I’m writing this at the precipice of the productive season and I have a little bit better idea of what’s going on…

My Jerusalem artichokes came back, as I expected…and then some.   These things are going absolutely apeshit right now.    My green onions look great and as far as perennial acting annuals, dill and borage came back…and lots of it.   I pulled a lot of it early on, just so they don’t overwhelm me.    Fennel is noticeably absent, which is ok.   Two years ago during a really bad year about all I had was fennel and collard greens (both volunteers) and it felt like I ate it every day.    I like fennel, but there’s only so much I can take.   Maybe there is a plant or two mixed in with the dill and that would be ok.      I’m planning on using the borage this year in tea.   Apparently it’s good for nursing mothers and some of them in Mary’s “mommy” group have asked about it.    The flowers taste kind of like cucumber, so it’s not too bad to drink.

So far I’ve harvested a lot of turnips and radishes.   I have lettuce I’ve been using and a ton of pac choi.   My arugula bolted really quick and for some reason I couldn’t get spinach to grow, which was really disappointing because it really isn’t rocket science to make that work.   I’ve picked a few snow peas and snap peas already, should be more coming in very soon.    There is kale and swiss chard that would be ready to pick in small quantities and the collards will get there soon.    Some beets are close and I’ve picked a few carrots already.

As far as summer things go, I have about 10 tomato plants of various kinds, jalapenos, kung pao, Hungarian and banana peppers which all usually do well.   I have some bell peppers, which are always kind of disappointing but some people around here hit the jackpot with them.   Everyone loves bell peppers, I’d hate to not at least try them each year.   Usually I wind up with a couple of bullshit peppers per plant.      I have zucchini (grey and traditional dark skinned), cantaloupe, watermelon, Armenian cucumber, regular cucumber and yellow squash going.   Oh, and a luffa gourd plant, which should be interesting.     I have sunflowers (volunteers from last year and Rostok, the traditional Russian kind) and corn (red and traditional golden sweet corn).    I have pole beans and some french bush beans going too.

I have some winter squash started.   French pumpkins (these did really well last year), Boston marrow squash, Hubbard squash, butternut squash and acorn squash.    I also have some sugar pumpkins.    I have cushaw squash, which I’m really excited about.   I had never seen one of these things until last October Mary and I went to Jamesport, MO, an Amish community and stopped at a greenhouse that had produce for sale.  They had a ton of these and they’re HUGE!   I can’t walk past something like that and not at least be curious.   The lady there said they’re good for pies and they had a sign that said something along the lines of “old time variety, ask your grandma about them”.    I didn’t have my ouija board handy, but I ended up buying one and just dicing it up and roasting it.   I forgot exactly how to describe the flavor, but I remember saying “wow, this is a nice squash”.  I want to say it had a creamier flavor to it than butternut or acorn.   I hope I get some of these because they are a cool squash.

My perennials are doing great.   I’ll probably get a few dozen apples between a few trees, a couple of cherries, one peach and one apricot.   I’ll get a lot of dolgo crabapples too.    I’ve got some grapes coming in as well.   I think the most exciting thing for me in this regard is my kiwis are finally *really* producing.   The female vine is covered in kiwis right now!   I’m also looking like I’ll have a bumper raspberry crop too, I’ll probably have to make jam and/or freeze them.    Strawberries have started trickling in, I’m not sure how well they’re going to do.   No blueberries and a little bit of serviceberries will come in.    I’ll get some currants, white and red, not sure exactly how much.   My aronias are doing really well, I think there’s 3 or 4 plants covered in berries.   That’ll be enough to get me through the year.

As far as perennial herbs, I have all the catnip I want and I’m working on getting mint and lemon balm all over the yard.    I’ve also got a nice bee balm plant, which means I’ll make some good “Oswego tea” this year.

So far the actual maintenance of the gardens is going well.    I’ve been keeping up on the weeding and mulched heavily.     I took a day last week to completely comb through everything and pluck weeds.    I think the garden is laid out pretty well this year, so that’ll help keep things in order.    I also started marking seeds with popsicle sticks, which is a simple thing that has helped me a lot to keep tabs on how things are going.    I used to do it all by memory, which was only so good.    Now I know where to look and it’s helped me catch some problems with germination and not haphazardly throw stuff in spots that could overgrow/shade out other plants.

It’s looking like it’ll be a good year….

The Instincts and Characteristics of Chickens



So I’m a couple months into my experiment into raising chickens and so far I’m more into it than I thought I’d be.   It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a couple years now, but always had a (good) reason to put it off.    One year my wife and I split in the middle of me building a coop, the next year I found out I had a baby on the way and lots of things around the house to focus on.   Some of the dust has settled, but not all of it – still lots of lose ends around the house I need to tie up and other things that take my time…and throw a baby into the equation and I don’t quite have the free time like I used to.   I figured getting some more living creatures that require me to do something a couple times a day would be too much of a hassle and not what I need right now, but Mary wanted to get them this year too.

Anyways, I really enjoy these ladies and I’ve found that I can sit and watch them….be chickens for a long time.   I never really thought too much of it, but they really are aesthetically pleasing.   I can’t help to feel a little Walden-esque when I notice the intricate patterns of their feathers and how each one is unique.

I’m getting used to their nature and instincts.   They don’t like to be separated.    When I pick one up and put her in a pen I have for them, it’s very likely that the chicken will fly out or at least try to.   When I bring another chicken to the pen they start making their happy sounds, like they’ve been separated for some meaningful period of time.  “Oh, thank God you’re here!”.   When one gets out of the pen, they usually stand on the other side of the pen looking at the other chickens while trying to figure out a way to reunite.   The other day I put one back into the coop and while I was going for another chicken, she darted out like a bat out of hell and jumped back into the pen to be with the others.   It’s kind of funny when about half are in the pen and a few are in the coop and one is lose because they’ll seem torn as to where they should go.    This instinct also makes it easy when you have most of the chickens in the coop, because the lose ones will gravitate back to the flock.

Hawks and other predatory birds are a big threat to chickens.    The other day they were out in their coop and a robin buzzed them.   It was funny to see them all freak out and duck for a second.   I had them lose in the yard recently and saw a group of three or four of them stop in their tracks, freeze and stare at something.   When I got closer, I saw it was a garter snake coiled up and ready to strike.   Their look was something along the lines of “what the fuck is that….?”   One of them got brave and got closer to it, I was hoping to see her peck it and see what happens.   I doubt the snake could do much harm, but would probably just try to GTFO.   So yeah, the predator awareness instincts are there.

I’m seeing some instinctual behavior from my dogs too…. One dog that is a hunting/retrieving breed watches them closely and has gone after them.    I don’t trust her, but sometimes she seems content to just watch them without salivating.    One time one flew out (before I realized that they don’t like the be alone) and Juno chased it around the yard, I figured she was a goner.   She cornered it and it looked like she bit it, but somehow she got away.   I know a little bit more about the nature of both, so hopefully I can keep the chickens a little bit safer from her.     The other dog is a herding dog and seems to be protective of them.   Sometimes he’ll challenge the other dog when he thinks she’s getting too close to the chickens (he did that with the baby too) and other times he’ll bark at me when he thinks she’s up to something.

Anyways, I really enjoy just sitting and watching them hunt for bugs, forage, scratch, jump, fly, chase each other and all of the other things that chickens do.    Sometimes it’s hard not to laugh when it comes time to catch the chickens and I have to chase them around.  They’re fast and get around pretty well, but still pretty docile so it’s not *that* challenging to catch them.    Oh, and that subject, I’ve definitely noticed that my barred rocks are a lot more feisty than my red hybrids.  I have four of each and usually I wind up catching the reds first before I have all the barred rock hens.    Both are docile breeds as far as chickens go.

I think I’m sold on being a chicken person.    The coop that I have might not be sufficient as the chickens get bigger (I didn’t expect to actually wind up with 8, either) and it definitely won’t do over the winter so sometime soon I might have to upgrade what I have.

I’ll keep posting about my chicken experiences…

Turkey To Buy Aircraft Carrier

Turkey Signs $1B Deal For Landing Platform Dock

Looks like Turkey is going to purchase a Landing Platform Dock (LPD), in other words, a small aircraft carrier, from a Spanish firm.

Countries buy military hardware all the time, but this stands out to me.   I had a feeling this was going to happen sometime in the next decade or so.

Aircraft carriers are a great way for a nautical nation (which yeah, is about everyone except Bolivia, Switzerland and Mongolia) to project power.   There’s the obvious of being able to send out jets or helicopters from pretty much anywhere in the ocean.  When the US wants to send a chill down someone’s spine, sending an aircraft carrier group is one well-worn page in our playbook.

The less obvious answer is that with all the bells and whistles of an aircraft carrier, having one can give a country the ability to set up a little slice of home pretty much anywhere in navigable waters.   There’s communications equipment, power generation, medical facilities, logistical systems in place, a large crew to draw skills from, mechanical shops and so-on.   If a nation wants to project force (or even a humanitarian mission), it’s nice to have all those assets readily available.   It’s like a floating fully-functioning military base and makes venturing away from home so much easier.

Now we wonder *why* Turkey would want/need one….

First, Turkey does have a strong military culture and they really take this sort of thing seriously.  The military is very well respected in Turkish culture and as simple as it sounds, I think they just really appreciate having cool shit.   We do too.   I really think the status symbol of having a vessel like this actually is part of it… but not all.

There’s Russia next door, who just made a pretty bold move in the Black Sea region (i.e. Turkey’s backyard) by annexing Crimea, although they already had a large naval base there.   Maybe Turkey is a little worried about Russian expansion?   Russia has always been the boogeyman for them as historically Russia has always really, really wanted to take Istanbul for strategic and cultural purposes (due to the city’s importance to Orthodoxy…and the fact that it’s the only outlet to the Mediterranean.

However, Turkey has began to look eastward a little more towards Russia and China instead of the US and NATO.   Recently there’s been an increase of cooperation economically between Turkey and Russia, notably in the way of oil pipelines.    There’s been friction between Turkey and the west since Operation Iraqi Freedom and Turkey’s participation in NATO seems a little pointless these days.   It made sense when the USSR were the bad guys.    In other words, I don’t know if Russia is *really* the reason they’re getting it.

The Middle East is falling apart.    There’s the war in Yemen, Syria and Iraq.   Then there’s the Kurdish issue on Turkey’s frontiers (which occasionally manifests into a terrorist attack in Istanbul). The relationship between the US, who keeps the status quo in the region and Saudi Arabia is strained….and so is the relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia.   Israel is still militarily strong, but not as strong as we make her out to be and probably not capable of projecting power outside of her current sphere.     That leaves Turkey and Iran as the two coherent powers in the region and I think it’s really likely that they’ll wind up fighting one way or another over the scraps of the current Middle East.    I wrote about Saudi Arabia becoming the world’s largest arms importer recently – they see the writing on the wall too.

I can’t help but to think of the John Michael Greer book I recently reviewed, Twilight’s Last Gleaming, and the scenario where Turkey assumes the United States’ role as protector of Saudi Arabia (you know, the country with a shitload of oil) and winds up fighting a war with Iran, who also have designs on Saudi Arabia’s oil.

Geographically Turkey is *kinda* separated from the Middle East by rough, mountainous terrain and a lot of instability (Iraq, Syria).  In order to project more power in the region, they need to up the ante in their airlift capabilities and their navy.   Having an aircraft carrier is a good start if Turkey ever wanted some kind of presence in say, Saudi Arabia or the Gulf States…or easier access to Iran, as the border between Iran and Turkey is rough and mountainous too.

Relations with Greece can still be a little testy, so it is possible that this aircraft carrier could be use to strengthen Turkey’s position in the Aegean/Mediterranean.   The navies and air forces of Turkey and Greece still bump shoulders out along the <disputed> frontier.    Look at a map of the two countries and see all the islands scattered in the Aegean and possibilities for disputes between them.    There’s a lot of antagonism in the region, but I don’t think trolling the Greeks is the reason why they would buy this thing.

A few years ago when I heard the term “neo ottomanism” in relation to President Erdogan and Turkey, I was little confused as to why they would say that.   Now it kind of makes sense.   There’s a good chance there’s going to be a vacuum that needs filled as the US declines in power and Europe becomes increasingly neutered.   This leads to opportunities for countries like Turkey to flex their muscles a bit in their own neighborhoods.   I think we’re increasingly heading towards a multipolar world and I think Turkey will be in the position to be one of the world’s powers, albeit lesser than the US, China and Russia and this purchase is just one hint of what’s to come in the next decade or two.

Carter: Iraqis Showed ‘No Will To Fight’ in Ramadi

Carter:  Iraqis Showed “No Will to Fight” in Ramadi


So ISIS, ISIL or IS or whoever they are have been on a tear in the ol’ sandbox as of late and probably the biggest feather in their cap is taking the city of Ramadi.   By all accounts it’s completely out of the Iraqi government’s hands and most people have fled, causing the city to completely collapse.   Ramadi isn’t exactly an insignificant place, it’s one of the largest and most strategically important cities in Iraq.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter recently went on record basically saying that the reason Ramadi fell is because the Iraqi Army is a bunch of pussies.    This has been the general feeling out there from those of us that have dealt with them professionally, but it’s never been publically acknowledged at such a high level.   Carter states that we’ve provided them with all the training and equipment they needed to be successful but the missing ingredient is the Iraqis’ will to fight.

I’ve been thinking about this one a lot lately because I have an interview with a guy who dealt with the Afghan Army coming up for another project I do and this article seemed to pop up at the right time.

So when I was in Iraq we had a company of Iraqi Army guys in the town we occupied.    We didn’t have the national police guys because shortly after we took over, “ali baba” (the insurgents) rushed their compound and executed about thirty of them and they never came back.   We had to work with the ING (Iraqi National Guard) quite often, like manning checkpoints with them, checking in on their compounds during patrols, seeing them out and about and/or having them do simple jobs during our operations.   Sometimes they would come to our base, but we would keep some distance.

They made TERRIBLE soldiers.   The average 18 year old American kid that shows up to boot camp is probably more “locked on” after three days than most of these guys.  No discipline, no desire to seek self-improvement and completely unreliable.   Honestly I worried more about getting ‘accidentally’ shot from these guys more than the *real* bad guys.    Worst of all, they had no balls.   They were afraid to show their faces, they were afraid to leave their compound, always running away from the fight, never showing up for duty and completely unreliable when they did.

These guys acted like a bunch of armed children.   I remember one time explaining to one ING guy at a checkpoint I was running with the “help” of a few of them that I was going to punch him in the face if he didn’t shape up – and I meant it.   They had no military bearing and pretty much spent their time playing grab-ass, lots of stupid “hey mistah! ficky-ficky! (like sex)” jokes.

Obviously we didn’t hold these guys in very high esteem.   When we would find out that they took casualties, there would be a completely calloused attitude towards it, like they weren’t even human.

After thinking about it a bit more, I realized that these guys were the lowest common denominator of society, morally and professionally.   We destroyed their economy so it’s not like there was a whole lot of opportunity anyways, but these were mostly guys that just needed the paycheck without *really* wanting to make the sacrifice.     Morally speaking, well, let’s say someone invaded the US Red Dawn style or something…  What kind of people would want to get in with the occupiers, even if we were more benign than some other historical occupations?   You have to be kind of scummy at least to sign on with the “other side”.    So basically you have people that would be the equivalent of door-to-door vacuum salesmen in the US with a sadistic streak heavily armed and charged with carrying out some of the security duties in a war zone.

While we questioned their meddle for being easily spooked, the reality was that we had nothing at stake except for ourselves.   What I mean by that is that our families were safe and sound half the world away and we knew there would be a day when we would go back and Iraq would be on the other side of the planet.   If we died, that was the worst they could do to us.   The ING guys had their families in Iraq and it wasn’t uncommon at all to come home and find their wives, children, etc. killed if they were found out to be in with the Americans.  I remember some insurgents basically setting up a checkpoint on a major highway searching vehicles for signs of collaboration and killing people on the spot.   Knowing that your family could very likely get killed for your actions could really take the wind out of your sails.   Although little threats of terrorists plotting attacks on military families ran through the rumor mill, that was definitely not something we had to deal with and as a society we’re still completely detached from war like the way some other societies experienced it up close and personal.  It’s hard to really get down on these guys when you take their situation at the home front into consideration.

I thought it was kind of funny that the regular people in Iraq trusted us a lot more than they trusted the ING.   They knew that we probably wouldn’t mistreat them and that most of our dealings would be above board.   Those guys would abuse their power and they were very corrupt.  In fact, one town that we dealt with had a protest when the Marines were leaving and put the ING in charge.   The gist was “please don’t leave us to the mercy of these shitheads”.   We were at least regarded as professionals, sometimes even admirable, while these guys not so much.   People weren’t afraid to approach us, whereas they were to approach them due to powerlust or just simply being frightened.    I remember one time when the ING called us to do their heavy lifting – because an old man told them off and they didn’t want to deal with them.

I have to say that I did tend to like the older guys who served in Saddam’s military.   They were better soldiers and more mature.   They had better stories too.   I think with these guys their situation was a little bit different because they were soldiers by trade and the ING was the only place they could take their skill and get a paycheck.

I want to say “yeah, no shit!” to Ash Carter, but we shouldn’t have been surprised it was going to wind up like this.   How could we expect to disband the professional army and then hire a bunch of unemployable dudes, give them some notional training and throw them in a uniform and give them a gun and expect anything more than complete failure?  I think there’s also a case of us believing our own bullshit on this one, where we came for completely altruistic reasons and that the Iraqis would be falling all over themselves to build a little slice of America right there in the middle east.

The situation is complicated and so are my feelings on the ING – do we look down on them with contempt for their shortcomings as fighting men or do we empathize with the reality of their world, being people driven by need and/or small dick syndrome into situations where they are undertrained and highly likely to get some real blowback from their neighbors in the way of having themselves and/or their families killed?  Even though I haven’t had the best experiences with the ING, I would say that most of the everyday Iraqi people I encountered – the farmers, shopkeepers, mechanics, teachers, housewives, laborers, etc. had a sense of honor….and I wish them the best of luck.  They’re going to need it being caught between an inept government and the ISIS extremists.

Putting The Chicks Outside Overnight For The First Time




The temperatures are looking like mid-60’s over the night with a slight chance of rain.   The chickens are six weeks old and they have a lot of their feathers.   It seems like a good time to try leaving them out overnight.    I’m a little nervous, but that’s where they’re ultimately going so why put it off if we can?

I’m sure every noise I hear will have me up to see if there’s predators out there.    I have seen possums, raccoons and the neighbor’s cat in my fenced yard, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility.   I guess we’ll see.

It’s kind of funny, but I feel a bit of an attachment to the chickens, kind of like pets.   I’ve enjoyed watching them….be chickens over the past few weeks even though I know there’s a good chance something will kill them and there will come a day under the best-case scenario where I’ll have to cull them when they outlive their usefulness.   We don’t offer a pension plan here….      Anyways, best of luck from all enemies foreign and domestic, chickens.

Jade Helm Again…

I’ve been thinking about the Jade Helm thing again and went to see what the new developments were and saw this post from Infowars about the US military trying to operate “covertly” among American citizens in American cities, allegedly to train to occupy other countries.

In a previous post I mentioned something about the military always trying to fight the last battle and figuring that this kind of training would fit right in with that mindset.

I started thinking about one “operation” I did in 2004 before deploying to Iraq.    It involved the NCOs of my company getting into civilian clothes, getting dropped off somewhere in Dana Point, CA, an affluent sleepy ocean-side town and using urban navigation skills to find our way around.   Here’s what happened:

– we got dropped off at a high school parking lot.    Made a lot of Saved by the Bell jokes, being as it was a Southern California high school.

– A small group of us wandered off and found a donut shop in a strip mall and had donuts and coffee.

–   Wandered through some residential neighborhoods.    Had to traverse a hilly and shrubby section of land.    Decided to walk around it instead.
–  Walked to the beach.    Hung out with our shirts off for a while to soak up some rays.

–   Went to a grocery store.

–  Split up into smaller groups and kept walking.     Got picked up by “the chopper” (see:  the one privately owned vehicle that someone in my platoon had, an old Taurus aka “the Clitaurus”), got bitched at by the platoon sergeant for being far away from where I should’ve been.

– Ate a late lunch at a fancy restaurant on the beach and then headed back to Pendleton.
A handful of people in Dana Point complained and it was in the newspaper that Marines were doing this.   More people wrote in with things like “we don’t care” or “we’re glad they’re here”.    This was still when everyone was gung-ho about the war.


What’s the point of this?   Just saying that this kind of training isn’t exactly new and odds are most servicemen will probably have as unassuming time as I did.   I still think there’s not much to raise an eyebrow out with this.

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