Supervolcano facts and information

Though supervolcanoes like Yellowstone pose real dangers, their threats are often misunderstood and greatly exaggerated.

Source: Supervolcano facts and information

SUPERVOLCANOES ARE LIKE the supervillains of the geologic world, as stories of their looming threat grow ever more exaggerated. Though massive eruptions do pose real dangers, misconceptions about them abound.

According to the United States Geological Survey, a volcano is considered “super” if it has had at least one explosion that released more than 240 cubic miles of material—a little more than twice the volume of Lake Erie. That places it at a magnitude of eight, the highest ranking on the Volcanic Explosivity Index, or VEI, which is used to measure the explosiveness of an eruption.

These are very large eruptions, the impacts of which would be widespread—from avalanches of hot rock and gasses racing down the volcano’s flanks to global changes in climate. But there’s an important caveat about supervolcanoes that most people commonly overlook: Just because a volcano has had a super-eruption once or even twice in its past doesn’t mean its future eruptions will be just as big.


Warships in Nebraska


It’s odd to find a submarine or a minesweeper out on the Great Plains but such an example exists at Omaha, Nebraska’s Freedom Park which has long had custody over the old WWII-era (3 Battle Stars) Admirable-class minesweeper USS Hazard (AM-240)and the downright cute Cold War-era T-1-class training submarine USS Marlin (SST-2) since 1971 and 1974, respectively.

Typically high and dry hundreds of miles from blue water, they are now seemingly ready to set sail once more as the Missouri River has crested.

(Nati Harnik/AP)

Hopefully, the water will not get too high there. The park closed as a result of flooding along the Missouri River in 2011 and took four years of restoration and cleanup work to reopen.

From Freedom Park: “We learned much from 2011, & had many discussions of what to do if; so with hi-water predicted again, precautions were done today, in minimum…

View original post 43 more words

George is a big boy…


The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), after a decade with the fleet, arrived at Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY), Feb. 21, for a 28-month dry-docking planned incremental availability (DPIA). Bush will be on blocks for the majority of her yard period.

As noted by the Navy, “Dry-docking and maintaining a 103,000 ton, 1,092-foot aircraft carrier is complex work. This DPIA marks the first time George H.W. Bush has not been waterborne since 2006. Requiring an estimated 1.3 million man-days, it will be the most extensive maintenance period for the ship yet and one of the most complex CVN chief of naval operations availabilities in recent NNSY history.”

Hauled out in drydock, she is impressive:

Those anchors, tho.

The shipyard workforce will be providing approximately 775,000 man-days, with ship’s force, alteration installation teams and contractor work comprising the rest.

Now if they can just keep the…

View original post 126 more words

Mike Trout, Angels deal |

Just to be clear, a man who has “the highest WaR* in history” just signed a 12 year $400+Million deal.
In his time in the Majors, his TEAM has won one (1) Divisional Title. They were swept in three games in the divisional round of the Playoffs as he hit just .083.
Ticket prices go up. Concessions go up. And The Red Baron wonders why attendance is down?
Gotta be the lack of a pitch clock, right????
*WaR – “Wins Above Replacement” A meaningless SABERMetrics Stat that proves that individuals don’t win Championships, Teams do…

TEMPE, Ariz. — The Angels and Mike Trout have agreed to a record-setting 12-year contract worth $426.5 million, according to sources. The Angels have not confirmed the deal. Trout, 27, was eligible to become a free agent after the 2020 season upon the completion of the six-year, $144.5 million deal

Source: Mike Trout, Angels deal |

Trout, 27, was eligible to become a free agent after the 2020 season upon the completion of the six-year, $144.5 million deal he signed in 2014. This new contract would add 10 years to his existing deal, making it 12 years total. There will be no opt-out clause in the deal, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times.

Trout’s would be the first $400 million contract in Major League history, surpassing the total value of the 13-year, $330 million contract Bryce Harper signed with the Phillies earlier this month. It also will be the third record-setting contract signed this offseason. Previously there had been just one $300 million contract — Giancarlo Stanton’s 13-year, $325 million extension signed in November 2014 when he was with the Marlins.

When Manny Machado signed a 10-year, $300 million contract with the Padres in February, it was the first $300 million contract given to a free agent. Then Harper signed his, signifying the most years given to a free agent and the largest contract by total value in North American professional sports history.

But now Trout’s deal, a 10-year agreement for $360 million added to the $66.5 million remaining on the two years of his current contract, takes the distinction of having most total value. With an average annual value of $35.83 million, it also will have the largest average annual value of any MLB contract, surpassing Zack Greinke’s $34.4 million per year in his current deal with the D-backs.

Angels manager Brad Ausmus was coy when asked about the deal on Tuesday, because it hasn’t become official yet. Trout wasn’t at Tempe Diablo Field but could return to play in a Minor League game on Wednesday or in Wednesday night’s game against the Indians in Goodyear.

“I don’t have a comment,” Ausmus said, before discussing Trout’s impact in the upcoming season. “He’s very important to me. I’m looking at 2019 and he’s the best player in baseball.”

Angels players, however, were thrilled with Trout’s agreement. Several talked to the outfielder on Tuesday morning via FaceTime.

“Mike Trout is the greatest player of all time,” said lefty Tyler Skaggs, who was Trout’s roommate in his first two years in the Minors. “He deserves everything. Five hundred, six hundred, eight hundred [million]. I’m really happy for him. I FaceTimed him today. Very Jerry McGuire-esque.”

“He’s the best player I’ve ever seen,” said right fielder Kole Calhoun. “He told me he wasn’t going to be here today and I said, ‘All right, congrats.’ I knew what was going on. It was just cool, especially for him and his wife and for his mom and dad. Everybody knows a lot about him and his life and what a great guy he is. Couldn’t happen to a better person.”

Trout, a native of Millville, N.J., is a noted Philadelphia sports fan and Harper had been vocal about wanting to recruit Trout to sign with the Phillies after the 2020 season. But Trout is comfortable in Southern California and has enjoyed his time with the Angels, although they’ve made it to the postseason just once in his eight-year career.

• Best players to only play for one team

Veteran Albert Pujols, who previously owned the record for the largest contract in Angels history at 10 years and $240 million prior to the 2012 season, said Trout’s deal shows the commitment of the franchise and owner Arte Moreno to win.

“Trout is one of those players who comes around once every 50, once every 100 years,” Pujols said. “I’m blessed to wear the same uniform as him.”

Reaction around the big leagues was swift and positive, as players were happy to see the consensus best player in baseball get a record-setting extension.

“It’s pretty cool to see that,” Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant said. “He deserves every penny of it and more. I mean, the guy’s been the best player in baseball. He’s probably one of the best baseball players ever. I don’t even think there’s anything to question about him signing that deal. He obviously likes it in L.A. And now he’s there forever. That’s pretty cool. I’m happy for him.”

Said Cubs manager Joe Maddon: “He is the best player in the game. He deserves that. If there’s been any concerns about spending money throughout the industry, that kind of maybe squashed it.”

“If there is somebody who deserves it and has earned it, it’s him,” Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus said. “He is the only one everybody will say, ‘He deserves it.’ Anyone who comments in a negative way doesn’t know baseball. He is the best player in the game. He shows up every year and you can always say the same thing about him. He is a humble person who plays the game the right way. He is the face of baseball.”

“Amazing deal for the best player in the game,” Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado said. “It’s cool to see a team go after him and make sure they keep him like that. He’s probably the greatest five-tool player the game has seen.”

Said Rangers outfielder Joey Gallo: “He deserves it. If anybody deserves it, it’s him. You always like to see guys get paid what they are worth. It’s great for him and it’s great for the game.”

Trout, taken with the No. 25 overall pick in the 2009 Draft out of Millville Senior High School, won the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 2012, finishing second in the balloting for the AL MVP Award that year. He also finished second in the voting for MVP in ’13, ’15 and ’18, while winning it in ’14 and ’16 and finishing fourth in ’17. He enters the season with 64.3 career WAR, already 99th all-time among position players and more than numerous Hall of Famers. It’s the highest WAR by any player in Major League history though an age-26 season.

“He’s a different animal. A man among boys,” shortstop Andrelton Simmons said. “When you think about the Angels, you think about Mike Trout.”

Rhett Bollinger covers the Angels for He previously covered the Twins from 2011-18. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.

The Myth of Fingerprints | Science | Smithsonian

Over the mountain, down in the Valley,
Lives the former Talk Show host.
Far and wide his name was known.

He said there’s no doubt about it,
It was the myth of fingerprints,
That’s why we must learn to live alone…

-Paul Simon

Police today increasingly embrace DNA tests as the ultimate crime-fighting tool. They once felt the same way about fingerprinting

Source: The Myth of Fingerprints | Science | Smithsonian

At 9:00 a.m. last December 14, a man in Orange County, California, discovered he’d been robbed. Someone had swiped his Volkswagen Golf, his MacBook Air and some headphones. The police arrived and did something that is increasingly a part of everyday crime fighting: They swabbed the crime scene for DNA.

Normally, you might think of DNA as the province solely of high-profile crimes—like murder investigations, where a single hair or drop of blood cracks a devilish case. Nope: These days, even local cops are wielding it to solve ho-hum burglaries. The police sent the swabs to the county crime lab and ran them through a beige, photocopier-size “rapid DNA” machine, a relatively inexpensive piece of equipment affordable even by smaller police forces. Within minutes, it produced a match to a local man who’d been previously convicted of identity theft and burglary. They had their suspect.

DNA identification has gone mainstream—from the elite labs of “CSI” to your living room. When it first appeared over 30 years ago, it was an arcane technique. Now it’s woven into the fabric of everyday life: California sheriffs used it to identify the victims of their recent wildfires, and genetic testing firms offer to identify your roots if you mail them a sample.

Yet the DNA revolution has unsettling implications for privacy. After all, you can leave DNA on everything you touch—which means, sure, crimes can be more easily busted, but the government can also more easily track you. And while it’s fun to learn about your genealogy, your cheek samples can wind up in places you’d never imagine. FamilyTreeDNA, a personal genetic service, in January admitted it was sharing DNA data with federal investigators to help them solve crimes. Meanwhile consumer DNA testing firm 23andMe announced that it was now sharing samples sent to them with the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline to make “novel treatments and cures.”

What happens to a society when there’s suddenly a new way to identify people—to track them as they move around the world? That’s a question that the denizens of the Victorian turn of the century pondered, as they learned of a new technology to hunt criminals: fingerprinting.

* * *

For centuries, scholars had remarked on the curious loops and “whorls” that decorated their fingertips. In 1788, the scientist J.C.A. Mayers declared that patterns seemed unique—that “the arrangement of skin ridges is never duplicated in two persons.”

It was an interesting observation, but one that lay dormant until 19th-century society began to grapple with an emerging problem: How do you prove people are who they say they are?

Carrying government-issued identification was not yet routine, as Colin Beavan, author of Fingerprintswrites. Cities like London were booming, becoming crammed full of strangers—and packed full of crime. The sheer sprawl of the population hindered the ability of police to do their work because unless they recognized criminals by sight, they had few reliable ways of verifying identities. A first-time offender would get a light punishment; a habitual criminal would get a much stiffer jail sentence. But how could the police verify whether a perpetrator they hauled in had ever been caught previously? When recidivists got apprehended, they’d just give out a fake name and claim it was their first crime.

“A lot of that is the function of the increasing anonymity of modern life,” notes Charles Rzepka, a Boston University professor who studies crime fiction. “There’s this problem of what Edgar Allan Poe called ‘The Man of the Crowd.’” It even allowed for devious cons. One man in Europe claimed to be “Roger Tichborne,” a long-lost heir to a family baronetcy, and police had no way to prove he was or wasn’t.

Faced with this problem, police tried various strategies for identification. Photographic mug shots helped, but they were painstakingly slow to search through. In the 1880s, a French police official named Alphonse Bertillon created a system for recording 11 body measurements of a suspect, but it was difficult to do so accurately.

The idea of fingerprints gradually dawned on several different thinkers. One was Henry Faulds, a Scottish physician who was working as a missionary in Japan in the 1870s. One day while sifting through shards of 2,000-year-old pottery, he noticed that the ridge patterns of the potter’s ancient fingerprints were still visible. He began inking prints of his colleagues at the hospital—and noticing they seemed unique. Faulds even used prints to solve a small crime. An employee was stealing alcohol from the hospital and drinking it in a beaker. Faulds located a print left on the glass, matched it to a print he’d taken from a colleague, and—presto—identified the culprit.

How reliable were prints, though? Could a person’s fingerprints change? To find out, Faulds and some students scraped off their fingertip ridges, and discovered they grew back in precisely the same pattern. When he examined children’s development over two years, Faulds found their prints stayed the same. By 1880 he was convinced, and wrote a letter to the journal Nature arguing that prints could be a way for police to deduce identity.

“When bloody finger-marks or impressions on clay, glass, etc., exist,” Faulds wrote, “they may lead to the scientific identification of criminals.”

Other thinkers were endorsing and exploring the idea—and began trying to create a way to categorize prints. Sure, fingerprints were great in theory, but they were truly useful only if you could quickly match them to a suspect.

The breakthrough in matching prints came from Bengal, India. Azizul Haque, the head of identification for the local police department, developed an elegant system that categorized prints into subgroups based on their pattern types such as loops and whorls. It worked so well that a police officer could find a match in only five minutes—much faster than the hour it would take to identify someone using the Bertillon body-measuring system. Soon, Haque and his superior Edward Henry were using prints to identify repeat criminals in Bengal “hand over fist,” as Beavan writes. When Henry demonstrated the system to the British government, officials were so impressed they made him assistant commissioner of Scotland Yard in 1901.

Fingerprinting was now a core tool in crime-busting. Mere months after Henry set up shop, London officers used it to fingerprint a man they’d arrested for pickpocketing. The suspect claimed it was his first offense. But when the police checked his prints, they discovered he was Benjamin Brown, a career criminal from Birmingham, who’d been convicted ten times and printed while in custody. When they confronted him with their analysis, he admitted his true identity. “Bless the finger-prints,” Brown said, as Beavan writes. “I knew they’d do me in!”

* * *

Within a few years, prints spread around the world. Fingerprinting promised to inject hard-nosed objectivity into the fuzzy world of policing. Prosecutors historically relied on witness testimony to place a criminal in a location. And testimony is subjective; the jury might not find the witness credible. But fingerprints were an inviolable, immutable truth, as prosecutors and professional “fingerprint examiners” began to proclaim.

“The fingerprint expert has only facts to consider; he reports simply what he finds. The lines of identification are either there or they are absent,” as one print examiner argued in 1919.

This sort of talk appealed to the spirit of the age—one where government authorities were keen to pitch themselves as rigorous and science-based.

“It’s this turn toward thinking that we have to collect detailed data from the natural world—that these tiniest details could be more telling than the big picture,” says Jennifer Mnookin, dean of the UCLA law school and an expert in evidence law. Early 20th-century authorities increasingly believed they could solve complex social problems with pure reason and precision. “It was tied in with these ideas of science and progressivism in government, and having archives and state systems of tracking people,” says Simon Cole, a law professor at the UC, Irvine, and the author of Suspect Identities, a history of fingerprinting.

Prosecutors wrung high drama out of this curious new technique. When Thomas Jennings in 1910 was the first U.S. defendant to face a murder trial that relied on fingerprinted evidence, prosecutors handed out blown-up copies of the prints to the jury. In other trials, they would stage live courtroom demonstrations of print-lifting and print-matching. It was, in essence, the birth of the showily forensic policing that we now see so often on “CSI”-style TV shows: perps brought low by implacably scientific scrutiny. Indeed, criminals themselves were so intimidated by the prospect of being fingerprinted that, in 1907, a suspect arrested by Scotland Yard desperately tried to slice off his own prints while in the paddy wagon.

Yet it also became clear, over time, that fingerprinting wasn’t as rock solid as boosters would suggest. Police experts would often proclaim in court that “no two people have identical prints”—even though this had never been proven, or even carefully studied. (It’s still not proven.)

Although that idea was plausible, “people just asserted it,” Mnookin notes; they were eager to claim the infallibility of science. Yet quite apart from these scientific claims, police fingerprinting was also simply prone to error and sloppy work.

The real problem, Cole notes, is that fingerprinting experts have never agreed on “a way of measuring the rarity of an arrangement of friction ridge features in the human population.” How many points of similarity should two prints have before the expert analyst declares they’re the same? Eight? Ten? Twenty? Depending on what city you were tried in, the standards could vary dramatically. And to make matters more complex, when police lift prints from a crime scene, they are often incomplete and unclear, giving authorities scant material to make a match.

So even as fingerprints were viewed as unmistakable, plenty of people were mistakenly sent to jail. Simon Cole notes that at least 23 people in the United States have been imprisoned after being wrongly connected to crime-scene prints. In North Carolina in 1985, Bruce Basden was arrested for murder and spent 13 months in jail before the print analyst realized he’d made a blunder.

Nonetheless, the reliability of fingerprinting today is rarely questioned in modern courts. One exception was J. Spencer Letts, a federal judge in California who in 1991 became suspicious of fingerprint analysts who’d testified in a bank robbery trial. Letts was astounded to hear that the standard for declaring that two prints matched varied widely from county to county. Letts threw out the fingerprint evidence from that trial.

“I don’t think I’m ever going to use fingerprint testimony again,” he said in court, sounding astonished, as Cole writes. “I’ve had my faith shaken.” But for other judges, the faith still holds.

​* * *

The world of DNA identification, in comparison, has received a slightly higher level of skepticism. When it was first discovered in 1984, it seemed like a blast of sci-fi precision. Alec Jeffreys, a researcher at the University of Leicester in England, had developed a way to analyze pieces of DNA and produce an image that, Jeffreys said, had a high likelihood of being unique. In a splashy demonstration of his concept, he found that the semen on two murder victims wasn’t from the suspect police had in custody.

DNA quickly gained a reputation for helping free the wrongly accused: Indeed, the nonprofit Innocence Project has used it to free over 360 prisoners by casting doubt on their convictions. By 2005, Science magazine said DNA analysis was the “gold standard” for forensic evidence.

Yet DNA identification, like fingerprinting, can be prone to error when used sloppily in the field. One problem, notes Erin Murphy, professor of criminal law at New York University School of Law, is “mixtures”: If police scoop up genetic material from a crime scene, they’re almost certain to collect not just the DNA of the offender, but stray bits from other people. Sorting relevant from random is a particular challenge for the simple DNA identification tools increasingly wielded by local police. The rapid-typing machines weren’t really designed to cope with the complexity of samples collected in the field, Murphy says—even though that’s precisely how some police are using them.

“There’s going to be one of these in every precinct and maybe in every squad car,” Murphy says, with concern. When investigating a crime scene, local police may not have the training to avoid contaminating their samples. Yet they’re also building up massive databases of local citizens: Some police forces now routinely request a DNA sample from everyone they stop, so they can rule them in or out of future crime investigations.

The courts have already recognized the dangers of badly managed DNA identification. In 1989—only five years after Jeffreys invented the technique—U.S. lawyers successfully contested DNA identification in court, arguing that the lab processing the evidence had irreparably contaminated it. Even the prosecution agreed it had been done poorly. Interestingly, as Mnookin notes, DNA evidence received pushback “much more quickly than fingerprints ever did.”

It even seems the public has grasped the dangers of its being abused and misused. Last November, a jury in Queens, New York, deadlocked in a murder trial—after several of them reportedly began to suspect the accused’s DNA had found its way onto the victim’s body through police contamination. “There is a sophistication now among a lot of jurors that we haven’t seen before,” Lauren-Brooke Eisen, a senior fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, told the New York Times.

To keep DNA from being abused, we’ll have to behave like good detectives—asking the hard questions, and demanding evidence.

This Minimally Invasive Technique Could Reduce the Need for Open-Heart Surgery | Smart News | Smithsonian

My retired neighbor, a USMC Veteran, just had this (or something very similar) done last week. He was home that day and is resting. Getting better!

Clinical trials suggest TAVR is just as beneficial as, or perhaps even better than, open-heart surgery for low- and high-risk patients alike

Source: This Minimally Invasive Technique Could Reduce the Need for Open-Heart Surgery | Smart News | Smithsonian

urrently, the majority of individuals who undergo transcather aortic valve replacement (TAVR)—a minimally invasive alternative to open-heart surgery—are elderly or subject to compounding complications such as kidney disease. Thanks to a pair of new studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine, however, TAVR is poised to become an increasingly accessible option for low-risk patients, including the young and generally healthy.

Compared to traditional open-heart surgery, which involves cracking the chest open and stopping the heart, TAVR is a relatively simple procedure. Cardiologists use a catheter to insert a replacement valve via an incision in the patient’s groin, Michelle Cortez writes for Bloomberg, and then thread the device into place. According to The New York Times’ Gina Kolata, recovery takes days rather than months.

As Peter Loftus reports for the Wall Street Journal, two clinical trials sponsored by competing valve makers Edwards Lifesciences and Medtronic suggest TAVR is just as beneficial as, or perhaps even better than, open-heart surgery for low- and high-risk patients alike. The Edwards-funded study found that TAVR offers lower rates of death, stroke and re-hospitalization than surgery, while the Medtronic-funded study revealed similar incidences of death and disabling stroke amongst those treated with TAVR versus invasive surgery.

Of 1,000 healthy, lower-risk patients who received an Edwards Sapien 3 valve, 8.5 percent died, suffered a stroke or were re-hospitalized within a year of treatment. Comparatively, Bloomberg’s Cortez observes, 15.1 percent of surgery patients experienced these same consequences during the first year post-procedure.

Turning to the more than 1,400 individuals treated with Medtronic’s Evolut valve, Cortez notes that 5.3 percent—as opposed to 6.7 percent of surgery patients—died or had a disabling stroke within two years of treatment. This difference is not considered statistically significant, according to Reuters’ Tamara Mathias, but still managed to meet the company’s stated goal of “non-inferiority” to open-heart surgery.

To date, Loftus points out for the Journal, nearly 200,000 U.S. patients have undergone TAVR. As the Times’ Kolata adds, some 60,000 intermediate- and high-risk patients receive the treatment annually. If the Food and Drug Administration approves the technique for use in lower-risk patients—Michael Reardon, a co-author of the Medtronic study, tells the Houston Chronicle’s Todd Ackerman this may happen as early as June—an additional 20,000 individuals per year will become eligible for the operation. Within several years, Reardon predicts, the number of TAVR procedures performed in the U.S. annually could jump to 100,000.

“This is a clear win for TAVR,” Michael J. Mack, lead investigator of the Edwards study, says in an interview with Kolata.

Moving forward, Mack continues, “we will be very selective” about who must undergo open-heart surgery.

As Ackerman writes, the key question remaining is biological versus mechanical valves’ longevity. Although mechanical valves last for decades, they require the lifelong use of blood thinners and, of course, carry the physical toll exacted by invasive surgery. Biological valves, on the other hand, don’t require blood thinners but likely won’t last as long as mechanical ones. If a patient’s biological valve wears out, he or she will need to undergo follow-up procedures.

Still, Reardon tells Ackerman, he thinks that most patients, if given the choice, will opt for TAVR over open-heart surgery.

“With TAVR, most patients are home within 24 hours and back to normal within a week,” Reardon concludes. “The evening after I do a morning procedure, I’ll find the patients sitting in a chair in their room having dinner, chatting with family and wanting to know when they can go home.”

Read more:
Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12!
Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter

There are mounting signs of military planning for Venezuela

The idea of a U.S. push for “regime change” in the oil-rich South American country may be gaining momentum in the White House.

Source: There are mounting signs of military planning for Venezuela

President Donald Trump has been talking about ordering a military operation targeting Venezuela since 2017.

At first, that was widely dismissed as a rash threat, but the idea of a U.S. effort to force“regime change” in the oil-rich South American country may be gaining momentum in Washington.

“It’s a regime that, frankly, could be toppled very quickly by the military if the military decides to do that,” Trump said in September.

In January, National Security Adviser John Bolton flashed a notebook that read “5,000 troops to Colombia.”

And on Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ordered all U.S. diplomats to leave Venezuela, saying their presence there “has become a constraint on U.S. policy,” hinting at opening potential military options.

Speculation about a military assault on Venezuela was also fueled by Trump’s recent appointment of a former George W. Bush administration official who was an architect of the Iraq War, Elliot Abrams, to be the new “Special Representative for Venezuela.”

Heightened concerns prompted the Democratic-led House Foreign Affairs Committee to meet Wednesday to debate a bill that would prohibit Trump from taking military action in Venezuela without congressional approval.

White House officials say “all options on the table,” including a military intervention or military support of allies in the region.

Supporters point to the short, successful 1989 invasion of Panama.

But critics say that’s a bad analogy and caution that such a move could result in something resembling the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, in which anti-U.S. factions faced protracted insurgencies.

An invasion of Venezuela would require between 100,000 and 150,000 U.S. troops, who would face as many as 356,000 Venezuelan troops in a country twice the size of Iraq, said Rebecca Chavez, senior fellow at the Inter-American Dialogue, during testimony at the House hearing.

“It would be prolonged, it would be ugly, there would be massive casualties,” Chavez said.

Secretary Pompeo

That nightmare scenario may be farfetched.

Many experts believe the White House’s hawkish statements are not a sign of an imminent military attack but instead a signal to the Venezuelan opposition that the U.S. would support an internal coup.

“They’re not trying to provoke a war,” according to Fulton T. Armstrong, a former CIA analyst with significant Latin American experience.

“They’re trying to provoke the Venezuelan military to rise up and overthrow Maduro,” he said.

There appears to be very few advocates for military action outside the White House and many experts believe it is highly unlikely that the Trump administration would follow through on its seemingly threatening rhetoric.

“It would be completely counter-productive,” said Larry Korb, a former Pentagon official who is now at the Center for American Progress.

“This is a no-win situation if you go in. The damage would be much worse than any gains we might get.”

Nevertheless, the crisis is deteriorating rapidly. Refugees and defecting military troops are flowing into Colombia. Maduro recently blamed a massive electricity blackout across the capital city of Caracas on a U.S. cyber attack.

White House officials say the recent election of Maduro was a sham, fraught with corruption, and renders him an illegitimate leader.

Maduro and his allies in the government and military have plundered the nation’s cash from its vast oil reserves, watching its population starve and flee by the millions.

The U.S. has imposed economic sanctions against banks, canceled visas for Venezuelan government officials and taken other economic or political measures to pressure Maduro to exit.

Should Venezuela descend further into chaos, the White House could call upon traditional military operations, like targeted strikes, covert actions and fires, logistical and humanitarian support by U.S. troops in Colombia, Panama or in ships offshore.

“Desperate civilians always turn to the military, and say ‘solve my problems,’” Armstrong said. “And the military often doesn’t push back.”

While Maduro often talks about “a war of all the people,” involving mass resistance, a protracted war would be unlikely, said Armstrong, who is now a senior fellow at American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies.

Armstrong added that an American invasion would certainly face snipers and bomb-makers, and it would be costly. But local Venezuelan groups like the colectivos — various gangs, some of which support Maduro — are mainly thugs who wouldn’t stand in the streets against the U.S.

Maduro is likely not the “key symbol that would unify people to resist U.S. military action and lead to a sustained insurgency,” Armstrong said.

“But the U.S. has selected in Juan Guaidó and others, people who have sworn to reverse ‘Chavismo,’” Armstrong said, referencing the poorly defined ideology of the deceased Hugo Chavez, which has at least on paper given the poor a voice.

“[It] may be a perverted voice, but they do have a voice,” Armstrong added. Some in Venezuela may fight to retain that.

So far, neither the White House nor the Pentagon has signaled what approach the U.S. might take to end the crisis.

“They keep saying ‘all the options are on the table,’ but they refuse to articulate them. That’s kind of weird, and we’re left to speculate,” Armstrong said.

‘All options’

One such speculation is that the administration will try to create a “humanitarian corridor” that would let U.S. troops enter a small area of Venezuela, possibly along the border with Columbia.

“The publicly stated purpose of that would be to rescue people and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian supplies. The real purpose of that, however, would be to intimidate and provoke [a coup],” Armstrong said.

Another option could be a surgical strike on the presidential palace.

“But still, to achieve that you would have to provoke Maduro into doing something that you could say threatened U.S. interests,” Armstrong said. “The problem with U.S. military intervention in all of this is that none of this matters at all to U.S. national security.”

Among the other options would be covert tools or special operations missions that have been used before, and in particular by the current special envoy to Venezuela, Elliot Abrams.

The London Observer reported in 2002 that Abrams “gave a nod to” a failed Venezuelan coup attempt against Hugo Chávez that same year.

In August 2018, two drones allegedly carrying explosives detonated prematurely near a stage in Caracas where Maduro was giving a speech. Maduro’s regime alleged that it was the result of foreign meddling, while others have suggested it was a false flag operation.

“That sort of stuff, with the imagination of people like Elliot Abrams, who have engaged in and launched covert action, who misrepresented those covert actions to the U.S. Congress … in my humble opinion … would seem to be the more likely thing,” Armstrong said.

The Pentagon deferred questions beyond aid support to U.S. Southern Command. SOUTHCOM told Military Times that their assets devoted to Venezuela have been mostly moving humanitarian aid through airlift missions to Colombia via Miami.

“Since Feb. 4, 2019, the United States has pre-positioned hundreds of metric tons of critical relief supplies in Colombia and Brazil — procured both locally and internationally — to help tens of thousands in Venezuela,” according to an official response.

The Pentagon also put Marines assets on stand-by in case the embassy staff needed assistance during evacuation.

CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force - Southern Command standby on the flight line aboard Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina, before departing for Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, June 8, 2016. (Sgt. Adwin Esters/Marine Corps)

CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Southern Command standby on the flight line aboard Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina, before departing for Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, June 8, 2016. (Sgt. Adwin Esters/Marine Corps)

SOUTHCOM officials did not comment on accusations by Russia that U.S. special operations forces were staging in Puerto Rico in February for a possible military option.

The Army’s 7th Special Forces Group and the Air Force’s 23rd Special Tactics Squadron, as well as a bevy of other Air Force Special Operations Command aircraft, are located in Florida.

Ana Quintana, senior policy analyst on Latin America for the Heritage Foundation, applauded Abrams’ appointment as envoy.

She told Military Times that having Abrams in that position puts pressure on Maduro, because Abrams signals a willingness to oust dictators.

The United States has had a checkered history in Latin America that dates back centuries, including a series of campaigns to control natural resources and covert actions that resulted in assassinations and coups or attempts across the region, the recent history has a different look.

Former SOUTHCOM commander from 2006 to 2009, retired Navy Adm. James Stavridis, now operating executive for The Carlyle Group, has written multiple times and spoken out about the Venezuelan crisis while also writing in January in Time magazine that, “a full-blown invasion by the U.S. would foment rage in the region and internationally.”

“There may come a time for more dramatic military activities, perhaps an international peacekeeping force. But for the moment, our efforts are best served by supporting the brave Venezuelans fighting the Maduro regime through the overall efforts of the international community,” he wrote.

Members of the Chilean navy special operations forces and U.S. Army 7th Special Forces Group clear a building during Emerald Warrior in Apalachicola, Fla., April 28, 2015. (Staff Sgt. Kenneth W. Norman/Air Force)

Members of the Chilean navy special operations forces and U.S. Army 7th Special Forces Group clear a building during Emerald Warrior in Apalachicola, Fla., April 28, 2015. (Staff Sgt. Kenneth W. Norman/Air Force)

The Navy’s longest running multinational maritime exercise is hosted by allies in the area. The UNITAS — Spanish for unity — exercise has been running since 1960 and partners a dozen or more nations a year for military training, sharing technology and best practices.

Currently, the United States has dedicated training and advising partnerships through the Pentagon with Panama, Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago, Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina and Mexico.

Last year saw the fourth consecutive Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force deploy during hurricane season while also assisting in military training and humanitarian missions in Honduras.

The task force is one piece of an early effort to create a Multinational Maritime Task Force for the region that would be on standby for missions ranging from disaster relief to security.

Retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey led U.S. Southern Command from 1994 to 1996 and oversaw operations in Panama handling more than 10,000 Cuban refugees. He continued a focus on the region non-militarily when he served as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy from 1996 to 2001.

He remains engaged as a sometimes adviser on the region.

McCaffrey said the best options if military moves were going to be considered would be for a coalition of regional partners, such as the Organization of American States, to take the lead.

Though he doubted that OAS would get involved in any armed intervention within Venezuela, he said he could see their role in protecting neighboring borders and perhaps assisting in peacekeeping after Maduro is out.

And that is the best role, McCaffrey said: supporting Colombian and other regional allies through training, advising and logistical support within those borders, but not in Venezuela.