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Abundance Of Goofiness

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The world is beset by a plague of goofiness.  I thought it was limited to the United States until recent events demonstrated that goofiness has become a worldwide phenomenon.  Premature European austerity programs, commenced before unemployment subsided, have led to higher deficits, elevated bond yields and more recession.  Although sober-minded economists warned against implementation of austerity measures until justified by economic circumstances, there was this itch that politicians had to scratch.  Now they have a nice infection.

In America, everyone had some good laughs of this video clip of President Obama’s discovery that he was locked out of the White House upon his return from Brazil.  Although it was widely reported that the White House staff was “caught off guard” by the First Family’s early return from their Brazilian vacation, I don’t believe it.  Such things don’t happen by accident.  My suspicion is that Chief of Staff, Bill Daley and his real boss, The Dimon Dog, deliberately locked Obama out of the White House as an admonition against cracking down on the megabanks, increasing taxes on the rich and empowering Elizabeth Warren.

Our President has been busy puzzling over the situation in Libya, where he (with authorization from the United Nations) has joined in on the “kinda-sorta” invasion.  Few people have dared to suggest that interloping in the Libyan civil war is sheer goofiness.  Many Republicans, such as Newt Gingrich, were in favor of intervention until Obama made the decision to launch air strikes.  Gingrich and his contrarian cohorts suddenly found it necessary to do a 180 on the issue.  Meanwhile, the smart conservative, George Will, was asking all the right questions.  I’ll reprint just a few of them here – but be sure to read his complete list.  These questions are among those that remain unanswered:

  • The world would be better without Gaddafi. But is that a vital U.S. national interest? If it is, when did it become so? A month ago, no one thought it was.

*   *   *

  • Presumably we would coordinate aid with the leaders of the anti-Gaddafi forces. Who are they?
  • Libya is a tribal society.  What concerning our Iraq and Afghanistan experiences justifies confidence that we understand Libyan dynamics?

More recently, George Will wrote an essay raising the question, “Is it America’s duty to intervene wherever regime change is needed?”  Consider this point:

.  .  .  America has intervened in a civil war in a tribal society, the dynamics of which America does not understand. And America is supporting one faction, the nature of which it does not know.  “We are standing with the people of Libya,” says Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, evidently confident that “the” people are a harmonious unit.  Many in the media call Moammar Gaddafi’s opponents “freedom fighters,” and perhaps they are, but no one calling them that really knows how the insurgents regard one another, or understand freedom, or if freedom, however understood, is their priority.

While many commentators have been busy condemning Bradley Manning as a “terrorist” and the worst American traitor since John Anthony Walker, few of those hypocrites would admit that the “people power” revolutions now taking place throughout the Middle East have resulted from the publication of Manning’s purloined files by WikiLeaks.  Beyond that, few – if any – of those self-righteous journalists have hesitated to quote from those leaked documents in their own essays.  A look at one of those leaked cables (dated February 15, 2008 and originating from the American Embassy in Tripoli) gives us a better understanding of who some of those Libyan “freedom fighters” really are:

xxxxxxxxxxxx partly attributed the fierce mindset in Benghazi and Derna to the message preached by imams in eastern Libyan mosques, which he said is markedly more radical than that heard in other parts of the country. xxxxxxxxxxxx makes a point of frequenting mosques whenever he visits Libya as a means to connect with neighbors and relatives and take the political pulse.  Sermons in eastern mosques, particularly the Friday ‘khutba’, are laced with “coded phrases” urging worshippers to support jihad in Iraq and elsewhere through direct participation or financial contributions.  The language is often ambiguous enough to be plausibly denied, he said, but for devout Muslims it is clear, incendiary and unambiguously supportive of jihad.  Direct and indirect references to “martyrdom operations” were not uncommon.  By contrast with mosques in Tripoli and elsewhere in the country, where references to jihad are extremely rare, in Benghazi and Derna they are fairly frequent subjects.

The foregoing cable was discussed in a recent piece by Alexander Cockburn of CounterPunch.  Mr. Cockburn also focused on some information contained in the so-called Sinjar Records, which American forces retrieved from an Al Qaeda stronghold in northern Iraq during 2007:

The West Point study of the Iraqi Sinjar Records calculates that of the 440 foreign al-Qaeda recruits whose hometowns are known, 21 came from Benghazi, thereby making it the fourth most common hometown listed in the records.  Fifty-three of the al-Qaeda recruits came from Darnah, the highest total of any of the hometowns listed in the records.  The second highest number, 51, came from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.  Darnah (80,000) has less than 2 per cent the population of Riyadh.  Darnah contributed “far and away the largest per capita number of fighters.”

The Embassy cable from February of 2008 and the Sinjar Records provide some useful information to consider when pondering the questions raised by George Will.  Is Team Obama “up to speed” on any of this?

The aforementioned CounterPunch article by Alexander Cockburn covered another episode of tragic goofiness – the Fukushima power plant disaster.  As I previously discussed here and here, the feeble information flow concerning this crisis has been downright sleazy.  Mr. Cockburn provided a must read critique of how this critical situation has been mishandled and misrepresented by the media:

Amid reasonable suspicions that leading news media might have been in receipt of informal government advisories to stop creating panic, it became much harder to find credible bulletins on what was actually happening.  In fact careful perusal of the daily briefings at the  Vienna hq of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna disclosed absolutely no substantive progress and indeed discreet admissions that “[this was on March 23)  the “Agency still lacks data on water levels and temperatures in the spent fuel pools at Units 1, 2, 3 and 4.”

*   *   *

On our own website, by contrast, several articles and interviews stressed what Hirose Takashi said:

“All of the information media are at fault here I think.  They are saying stupid things like, why, we are exposed to radiation all the time in our daily life, we get radiation from outer space.  But that’s one millisievert per year.  A year has 365 days, a day has 24 hours; multiply 365 by 24, you get 8760.  Multiply the 400 millisieverts by that, you get 3,500,000 the normal dose.  You call that safe?  And what media have reported this?  None.  They compare it to a CT scan, which is over in an instant; that has nothing to do with it.  The reason radioactivity can be measured is that radioactive material is escaping.  What is dangerous is when that material enters your body and irradiates it from inside.   .  .  .”

Allow me to repeat Hirose Takashi’s question:  “And what media have reported this?  None.”  That’s because the media are incapable of covering serious (non-goofy) subjects.  Unfortunately, those vested with positions of responsibility and authority all over the world are impaired by a degree of goofiness, leaving them incapable of making the right decisions or taking the necessary steps to protect public safety and welfare.  Is this a permanent situation or just a temporary condition?


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A Failure We Won’t Forget

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January 15, 2009

With less than a week before the end of George Bush’s Presidency, we are seeing numerous retrospectives on the successes and failures of the Bush Administration.  Of course, the failures have been plentiful and catastrophic.  Quite a bit of attention has been focused on the inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina.  The use of warrantless wiretaps has become a rallying cry for those calling for the prosecution of Bush Administration officials.  The politicization of the Justice Department is back in the news with the disclosure that a former Justice Department official, Bradley Schlozman, refused to hire attorneys he considered too liberal.  The Administration’s use of torture at Guantanamo is also in the headlines with the revelation by Susan Crawford that Mohammed al-Qahtani (a man alleged to have been the would-be twentieth hijacker from September 11, 2001) was tortured.  Crawford explained that as a result of the treatment of this prisoner, she would be unable to bring him to trial.  Crawford is a former Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, who in 2007, was appointed to the position of convening authority for military commissions.  In that post, she is the top Bush Administration official overseeing the military trials of suspects held at Guantanamo.

As we reach the end of his second term in office, we cannot help but realize that George W. Bush, as Commander in Chief of our armed forces, never caught America’s worst enemy:  Osama bin Laden.  Despite the cowboy posturing, the “wanted: dead or alive” rhetoric and the numerous assurances to the contrary, George Bush has been unable to capture or kill bin Laden.  Once bin Laden escaped from the battle of Tora Bora, fleeing into the mountainous region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, many observers believed Bush had lost his chance at bringing this villain to justice.  These critics turned out to be right.  Some of my friends believe that Bush never really wanted to catch bin Laden.  Under that theory, bin Laden was more valuable as a “bogeyman”, who could be used to justify the infringements on our liberties and the “harsh interrogation methods” employed by the Bush Administration.  Regardless of whether such theories are true or not, Bush’s pursuit of Osama bin Laden has become yet another abject failure of this administration’s legacy.  If the al-Qaeda attack against the United States had taken place at a later time during Bush’s tenure, he could invoke the excuse that he “didn’t have enough time” to catch bin Laden.  As it turned out, Bush had seven years and four months to capture or kill bin Laden, yet he failed to do either.

In a villa somewhere in western Pakistan, bin Laden is probably watching an American cable newscast and chuckling with delight about his victory over George Bush.  Bush never got him, nor will he ever have a chance at it again.  He must enjoy watching the video clips of Bush doing his little bounce, squinting in attempt to make a tough, cowboy face, cranking up the faux Texas accent, and making some hollow threat to “get bin Laden”.  In his latest audio message, bin Laden taunts President Bush by emphasizing the harsh reality that Bush has been unable to catch him.  As reported by Khaled Wassef and Tucker Reals of CBS News, bin Laden’s newest discourse includes a dig at Bush’s low approval rating:

“Can America keep up the war with us for more decades to come?  All reports and analysis indicate that this is not possible. In fact, 75 percent of American people are happy with the departure of the president who got them into wars they could not possibly win.”

Bin Laden goes on to say President Bush “drowned” the American people in economic woes and “left his successor a difficult legacy, and left him one of two bitter choices … The worst heritage is when a man inherits a long guerrilla warfare with a persevering, patient enemy – a war that is funded by usury.  If he (Obama) withdraws from the war, that would be a military defeat, and if he goes on with it, he’ll drown in economic crisis.”

As President Bush and his minions struggle to re-define the Bush Legacy, we have America’s worst enemy providing an assessment of the Bush years in terms that are painfully close to the truth.  Heckuva’ job, Bushey!

The Race Tightens

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July 14, 2008

Jonathan Darman’s July 11 article for Newsweek discusses that magazine’s latest poll, showing Barack Obama ahead of John McCain by only 3 percentage points.  Since this is probably within the poll’s margin of error (not discussed in the article) the two candidates are now in a statistical dead heat.   This is in sharp contrast with last month’s Newsweek poll, showing Obama with a 15-percent lead over McCain (51 to 36).  The July 13 Rasmussen poll showed each candidate with 46 percent.  Darman and other commentators struggled with this shift in popular opinion.  Darman noted:

But perhaps most puzzling is how McCain could have gained traction in the past month.  To date, direct engagement with Obama has not seemed to favor the GOP nominee.

Perhaps the explanation for McCain’s popularity bump is evident in the preceding text of Mr. Darman’s article, discussing Obama’s controversial position favoring the new FISA law.  Civil libertarians and the more liberal-leaning Democrats were outraged by Obama’s support for this bill.  The Obama camp believed that this disappointment would be short-lived, since those factions had no other alternative than to support Barack.  What these wizards failed to consider was the effect this betrayal would have on independent voters.  Hillary Clinton paid a high political price for her support of the Joint Resolution for the Use of Military Force in Iraq.  That Resolution was passed because there were too many Democrats in Congress who believed a vote against the Resolution would make them appear weak on national security.  It was that same fear of appearing weak on national security that drove Obama and other Democrats to vote in favor of the new FISA law.

In the age of YouTube.com, authenticity has become a politician’s stock in trade.  A politician’s denial of having made a statement (or of having played golf recently) can be easily rebutted with an audio-visual presentation of that politician’s own words or acts.  The lack of authenticity is perceived as a measure of dishonesty.  Concern for appearing weak is itself a sign of weakness. Obama’s support for the FISA bill tells me that he would indeed have voted in favor of the Iraq Resolution, had he been a member of United States Senate at the time.  Hillary Clinton learned her lesson from the Iraq Resolution controversy and voted against the FISA bill.  Nevertheless, had she been the presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee, would she have voted the same way?

The information obtained from the recent Newsweek poll suggests that authenticity may have played a role in the popular opinion shift.  As Jonathan Darman pointed out:

In the new poll, 53 percent of voters (and 50 percent of former Hillary Clinton supporters) believe that Obama has changed his position on key issues in order to gain political advantage.

What may have come as a surprise to Obama’s advisors, was that the Democrat has lost popularity among independent voters.  Although these voters may not have been as heartbroken as the members of MoveOn.org, over Obama’s support for the FISA legislation, they may have detected the strong odors of weakness and inauthenticity.  As Mr. Darman observed:

In the new poll, McCain leads Obama among independents 41 percent to 34 percent, with 25 percent favoring neither candidate. In June’s NEWSWEEK Poll, Obama bested McCain among independent voters, 48 percent to 36 percent.

In other words, Obama lost his 12-point lead among independent voters and he now trails McCain among independents by 7 points.  McCain has apparently taken a page from the Bush playbook by deliberately making gaffes in order to appear less polished – and hence, more authentic to the voters.  (One example of this was his repeated conflation of the activities of Iranian operatives and those of Al-Qaeda terrorists in Iraq.)  McCain is appearing as “likeably” less articulate than his opponent, reinforcing the aura of authenticity.  The only way for the Obama camp to stay in this fight is to keep McCain’s own “flip-flops” in the public eye.  Taking “the high road” at this point appears to be political suicide.  Although it doesn’t make for a good slogan:  “Less of a flip-flopper than McCain” should become the theme for the Obama campaign.

The Tool” Picks Up Fear Flag and Gets Shot Down By A Real Soldier

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June 30, 2008

Last week, John McCain’s chief campaign strategist, Charlie Black, caused quite a stir with his invitation for an Al Qaeda attack on the United States, to help improve McCain’s chances for election.  Black was obviously thinking about Osama bin Laden’s last “October Surprise” in which bin Laden released a video right before the 2004 election.  That video was widely considered to have given Bush a crucial “bump”, putting him over the top to defeat John Kerry.  Knowing that Al Qaeda (and other terrorist groups) hate to see moderates get elected, Charlie Black saw fit to remind Al Qaeda that they would have no rallying call if Barack Obama were to become President and pull the U.S. troops out of Iraq.  Al Qaeda’s best chance for maintaining their status quo appears to Black as another terrorist attack in the U.S.  He knows they want McCain to win the election because they wanted Bush to win in 2004.  Four days before Election Day in 2004, bin Laden released an 18-minute videotape taunting George Bush about the events of September 11, 2001 and he claimed credit for directing the 19 hijackers.  Osama’s gambit in helping Bush win seems to have paid off.  The incompetent Bush will likely leave office without having caught bin Laden.

After Charlie Black tried his shot at a self-fulfilling prophecy last week, with his announcement (in an interview with Fortune magazine) that a terrorist attack in the United States would “be a big advantage” to help McCain get elected President, Black was widely scorned and criticized.  Many commentators placed this remark in context with Black’s earlier statement that the assassination of Benazir Bhutto helped McCain in the New Hampshire Primary.  Although McCain attempted to distance himself from Black’s remarks, he has kept Black onboard “The Straight Talk Express”.

Just as criticism of the McCain campaign, for relying on “the politics of fear”, is starting to die down, along comes our old friend, Joe “The Tool” Lieberman.  On June 29, The Tool appeared on the CBS television program, “Face The Nation”.  Looking into his crystal ball (perhaps that should be plural) The Tool predicted a terrorist attack against the United States in 2009.  Out of fear of getting caught at an attempted, self-fulfilling prophecy similar to Black’s, The Tool, speaking with his forked tongue, tried to distinguish his prediction from Black’s wish:

Certainly the implications there I know were not what Charlie intended. And he apologized for it. Senator McCain said he didn’t agree. And, of course, I feel the same way.

Actually, The Tool feels the same way as Charlie Black.  He continued on by picking up Black’s “fear flag” to carry it on to victory for McCain in November:

If we had done what Senator Obama asked us to do for the last couple of years, today Iran and al Qaeda would be in control of Iraq. It would be a terrible defeat for us and our allies in the Middle East and throughout the world. Instead, we’ve got a country that’s defending itself, that’s growing economically, where there’s been genuine political reconciliation, and where Iran and al Qaeda are on the run. And that’s the way it ought to be.

Iraq is “growing economically”?  It has yet to rebuild its infrastructure.  The Tool is obviously talking to those people referred to as “low information voters”.  He is insulting the intelligence of everyone else.  Iraq is “defending itself”?  Tell that to our troops who are stationed there.  If Iraq really is defending itself, then we should be able to leave.  Iran is “on the run”?  I thought they were getting ready to nuke Israel.  The Tool is now so used to telling lies that he can effortlessly spit out a sentence containing three big ones.

On the same program, we heard from someone who, unlike Lieberman, actually has some military experience.  Retired General Wesley Clark told host Bob Schieffer: “I think Joe has it exactly backwards here.”  After comparing the qualities of Obama to those of McCain, General Clark said:

And I think what we need to do, Bob, is we need to stop talking about the old politics of left and right, and we need to pull together and move the country forward.

Both Lieberman and McCain used to pride themselves on being centrists in a highly-partisan Senate.  Both are now singing the same, sorry tune we’ve been hearing from our unpopular President for the last seven years, at a time when we would expect a theme of hope and bipartisan progress.  With Obama singing solo on that theme, the prospects for any Republican candidate this year don’t appear much better than the outlook for the S&P 500.