Posts tagged ‘refugees’

Fireworks as a Distraction

When I came back from my tour in Southeast Asia, fireworks made me nervous. Those last night in Syria appear to be a show for PR and nothing else. I don’t think it made anyone nervous. I know something of air warfare, at least back in the day, and the first thing you do is take out their defenses, you know Surface to Air Missiles (SAMs) and Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA). Then you have the freedom to hit targets and do real damage. I don’t think we hit one defense system. What does that tell you? Damage this morning was noted as minimal and some analysts in the Middle East say that we actually handed a win to Assad, the Russians, and the Iranians. See, America is all about smoke and mirrors.

So what was the point? What did we accomplish? Well, for the weak-minded President DFF’s base, we keep our word about red lines. See, he is tough. But did we just make things worse? And the answer to that question is what is a viable strategy for Syria. I hate Assad right up there with the best of them, but we have to have a plan of what comes after if we really want to up the ante as apparently John Bolton wanted to do. Note we have no Secretary of State or major ambassadors in most of the countries over there, so all we got is a hammer. Remember shock and awe in Iraq that got us here?

So if I am going to criticize, what would I offer as what should our strategy be? That depends. I would start strategy meetings about what should be our policy and what is the blow-back with people who know the area (and some of our allies). Should we confront Russia now or can we hope that, a la Afghanistan, they get worn out? How about Iran? If we don’t want a larger conflagration, what does our appeasement (pin pricks for show) get us? So there has to be a larger strategy here than if you use chemicals, we will hit you, but if you kill millions using conventional weapons, then okey dokey. Oh, and we care about all the innocent children killed, but we don’t accept immigrants from your area. So sad…

I think we need a strategy that makes sense, sell it to Congress to get authorization, and then have contingency plans in place so we can react immediately if that is what our plan requires. If we think Assad will eventually fall, and Russia will be drawn into warfare between the Sunnis and Shiites (that is still what this is about), maybe we do nothing but try to provide humanitarian assistance as the most efficacious way forward. If we think Russia and Iran might use Syria as a launching point to support weakening Saudi Arabia and the Sunnis, which could then result in an all out war, then maybe it is time now to confront both. Russia just seems to be emboldened with our failure to take any action.

Whatever the policy is, it needs to be an informed one that we share with the American people so they are not lulled to sleep by a fireworks display that does nothing. But of course, expecting a rational policy with real costs and benefits out of this administration is a pipe dream. This administration is all about the PR game, not the best interest of the country. So President DFF looked tough and talked tough, and maybe made things a lot worse, but who cares if his base is molified and it distracted from his domestic problems? That was really what all that was about last night.

Pre-State of the Union Thoughts

I listened to Ari Fleischer, White House Press Secretary for George Bush, explain what Trump needs to do in his State of Union Address tonight, show people that he is in charge and give them confidence in his leadership.  It is kind of like the last three years never happened and we don’t already know he is a lunatic.  I keep wondering how people still just say this is an adjustment period and things will stabilize.  What will stabilize, sadly, is that we will lower our expectations to accept this lunacy as normalcy.  It is fairly obvious at this point that we have an erratic and ignorant man at the helm and the craziness will get worse.  If we get anything else, it will just be good acting.

The other thing that one might wonder about these statements of normalcy is just how far the Right is willing to go in their denial of the danger of Trump to get their conservative way*.  Just take the budget thing.  He wants a big boost in military funding at the expense of agencies such as the EPA and other discretionary funding agencies which don’t have large enough budgets to really fund that increase.  Now one might ask, large military budget for what?  It would be reasonable to ask what is the threat in the future and how can we best be prepared for that threat, but I just heard $58 billion in increased spending.  He has no clue how the economy or budgets work and the Republicans are going to find themselves either at war with Trump and his spending (Wall, roundup, Military, tax cuts) and their supposedly fear of large deficits.

I heard a discussion this morning and the statement by the talking head reporter was that Cheeto-Head’s plan does not address entitlements.  Think about that a minute. She was implying they need to be cut.  Why raise taxes?  See where the argument is already in stone? To pay for a wild military expenditure we have to cut entitlements, because that is where the real money is.  Why not forget about tax cuts (that is different from tax reform) and raise taxes to pay for our entitlements?

The other thing I hear is that it is complicated. Cheeto-Head said that yesterday when talking about health-care.  NO IT IS NOT!  If you can add and subtract, none of this is difficult.  If reasonable costing healthcare that actually covers pre-existing conditions, keeps your kids in till 26, and covers things such as preventive care, and has a reasonable out-of-pocket limits, EVERYONE HAS TO PLAY!  It spreads the risk and costs.  The way to improve it is to go to a single payer plan. David Frum, a conservative, made the point last night on the Last Word  that if our health care cost what Canada’s does (and they cover everyone with a program similar to Medicare for everyone), there would be plenty of money in the existing budget to pay for military increases.  Duh!

I guess I get somewhat frustrated writing this blog because none of this is complicated.  None of it.  It got complicated when a certain Party did not like the answers and then tried to reinvent reality to fit their ideology.  So here it is without the ideology and we could easily fix all our problems if we could just get Republicans out of the way, like we did in California:

  • Healthcare – This is a no brainer.  Obamacare has always been flawed because it provided a complicated solution to maintain the existing health insurance industry.  It would not be collapsing if Republicans had not tried to block any repair and tried to sabotage it at every step.  But the real fix is not another market based failure, it is single payer care, like the rest the world does and pays half for better outcomes.  The answer has been beating us in the head for 50 years, but it does not meet Republican ideology of market place good, government bad no matter what.
  • Jobs – This also is a no brainer.  Give people money and they will buy things. JObs will then be created.  Continue growing economic inequality, and jobs languish.  Best way to give them money?  INFRASTRUCTURE!  Fix what we have, plan and reinforce for global warming impacts (yeah again Republicans denying reality), and build alternative transportation like high-speed rail where it make sense.  Cheeto-Head says he is going to spend on infrastructure, but it will be tax incentives and private investment, meanwhile his buddies in the Congress will hold back funds.
  • Debt – IS NOT A PROBLEM! Sure if it gets way out of hand (and Republicans scream that it is every day). It does become a problem when it gets too big, but what is too big?  All companies incur debt to grow and the measure of debt becoming a problem is interest rates climbing, or government spending interfering with private sector borrowing.  Neither has occurred.  We never need to pay the debt off, just keep it within a reasonable range.  Forget the numbers because they are meaningless.  What makes a difference is debt as a percentage of our income (GDP).  I have a home mortgage that is about 3 times my income (GDP).  Mortgage companies look at debt service as a percentage of you income.  We should do the same.  Sometimes (now) we need to take on more debt than we need at other times.  But to have some wild ideology that says all debt is bad is a recipe for disaster.  (See The Economy)
  • Immigration – THIS IS NOT A PROBLEM!  All of the scare stories you hear are false.  Sure you can find some undocumented person who committed a crime, but much less than the general population.  They add to our economy, and quite frankly they are essential to it.  But a certain Pary made them the enemy, created terrorists at the border (never been any) and on and on.  Immigration reform is simple.  Legalize those here for a certain period, give those who don’t meet this a path forward without leaving the country, and then simplify the work visa program so that workers can easily travel back and forth.  Then and only then do you crack down on hiring illegals.  How hard is that.  Oh wait! We can’t reward rule breakers.  Tell that to Steve Jobs.  I hate Republicans.
  • Refugees – THIS IS NOT A PROBLEM!  If we want more terrorism, don’t assimulate the refugees.  Make more people hopeless.  When was the last time a refugee was a terrorist?  Sure we can look at our vetting program, but it has not failed and terrorists come in on tourist visas.  My head hurts.

When you finally figure it out, all these problems are not problems and the answers are right in front of us.  But it’s complicated because Republicans can’t let go of their failed ideology and need scapegoats to blame all our problems on.  Sadly the people we need to blame are Republicans.  Can’t wait for Cheeto-Head to show us once again what a goon he is.  Maybe he will get through the State of the Union by just reading the words his team put in front of him.

Oh, and for those of you who still think he is smart, listen to him talk.  He has no vocabulary and makes no sense.  He got rich, not by being smart, but skilled, in this case skilled in fooling and screwing people.  Looks like he is bringing those skills to the job the Rubes elected him to.  Enjoy.

*This is from The Stone:

There is a lesson here about the lurking dangers of Donald Trump’s rhetoric and that of his minions. Citizens in a technologically advanced liberal democracy must rely on its scientific community to deliver disinterested information upon which to base their decisions about the policies they would have their elected representatives enact. Citizens are also highly dependent on a probing press to help them judge the performance of their elected representatives. Trump, first as a national candidate and now from the pulpit of the presidency, has not ceased to deny and denigrate the findings of scientific bodies concerning the rate and causes of climate change. In addition, he regularly calumnies individual members of the press and vilifies entire news organizations. They are dismissed as purveyors of “fake news” — a label Descartes’s skeptic might have been delighted to apply to the allegedly untrustworthy deliverances of our sense organs.

This behavior is not merely offensive and outrageous. The real problem is that it is dangerous: It poses an existential threat to our democracy. These attacks poison the wells of reasoned public discourse, a prerequisite for a functioning democracy. The problem is not merely that we are being fed a falsehood here, a lie there, though that would be problem enough. The issue is rather that by destroying the citizenry’s confidence in the institutions of science and the press, we risk being deprived of the tools needed to assess what to believe and want. If we cannot trust what vetted scientists or professional journalists tell us, then we will have been rendered rationally impotent. It is damaging to be fed falsehoods or to be outright lied to, but it is utterly debilitating to be deprived of the resources by which to sort fact from fiction.

Chaos and Incompetence Week 1 or Demolition Derby of our Democracy

So much for simple-minded solutions to appeal to the rubes. Let’s just catalogue the wreckage:

  • Crowd Gate – Certainly has us all reading the 25th Amendment, Article 4 of the Constitution about how the V.P. and a majority of the Cabinet can remove a President unfit for office.  Makes one rethink just voting through the Cabinet he wants.  But let’s not forget that he sent the Press Secretary out to lie and raise the very real question of whether you can trust anything this President or his administration tells us. It puts in question the legitimacy of government institutions he is issuing gag orders for, and whether we can trust government at all. Oh, and in all of this, he stood before the Wall of Honor at the CIA and repeated his lies with the first three rows filled with crowd noise providers, further alienating our intelligence agencies.  Mark 1 for Chaos and 1 for Incompetence (if you need intelligence agency support).
  •  Voter Fraud Gate – Again we have the 25th Amendment coming up as he claimed a non-existent 3-5 million illegal immigrant vote for Hillary.  The 5 million number is significant because he can’t just have a tie in the election, he must win the popular vote, which he did not.  All totally false, and then demands an investigation of dead people and people on multiple registries, which is normal and legal, with his daughter, Bannon, and his son-in-law,Jared Kushner, and his Press spokesman are all on multiple registries.  The investigation could in fact be a ruse to further purge voter rolls of Democratic leaning voters.  Mark Chaos 2, Incompetence 2 (assuming insanity scores as incompetence)
  • Purge Gate – He and his Administration are removing most of the senior people (not political appointees) at the State Department and similar moves at other Departments and installing people who can check on Cabinet Secretaries to make sure they do not stray, not to mention wiping out years of experience and expertise.  Mark Chaos 3, Incompetence 3.
  • Wall Gate – So whose going to build that Wall?  We are.  Whose going to pay for it?  We are.  Trump signs Executive Order for the wall and tells Congress/Homeland Security to find the money.  Then tweets out that if Mexico won’t pay for it, don’t bother to visit.  So they tweet out adios.  Then Trump threatens 20% border tax which is really a tax on all of us and threatens a trade war.  How is all this working out for you so far?  He alienated our second largest trading partner and may push them into the hands of the Chinese, and probably created a large anti-American contingent in Mexico.  Mark Chaos 4, Incompetence 4.
  • Dirty Oil/Climate Gate – Trump signs Executive Orders approving the pipeline construction in two sites that have been shut down.  It ignores the threat to our drinking water or that pumping this oil has absolutely no benefit to the U.S. as it is foreign produced and will be sold on the world market.  It also ignores the impact of this dirty oil on the environment and global warming (what global warming?).  It certainly will cause more protests and riots in this country.  Mark Chaos 5, Incompetence 5.
  • Refugee Gate – Trump signs an Executive Order to ban refugees from seven countries and gives preference to Christian Refugees.  At a glance it is unConstitutional and illegal, but that is only the beginning.  None of the countries has produced any terrorists in America, and the countries that have are left off the ban.  The biggie is Saudi Arabia that exports the ideology for terrorism, but Trump has business interests there, as do other countries left off the ban.  Chaos reigns because while issuing the order, there was no coordination or legal review.  A federal judge has put a stay on the order as have other judges in other states.  Meanwhile people who have been vetted for years and could die if sent back to their countries are in limbo.  There is a lie here that they need “extreme vetting” which of course they have already had.  And in many cases this ban could and will make the terrorism threat worse as it alienates all Muslims, does not help those who are in dire straights due to our own actions, and provides recruiting propaganda for ISIS. It also trashes who we are as a nation and what makes us exceptional. Meanwhile Green Card holders are also in limbo and those traveling outside the nation for work have no idea how to get back in.  Tech companies are appalled.  And as I pointed out yesterday, our soldiers in Iraq may want to watch their backs because along with banning Iraqis, he said we need to steal their oil.  Here we get 3 points for massive Incompetence and Chaos. Mark Chaos 9, and Incompetence 9.

In case you are wondering, when the Incompetence and Chaos scores reach 10 we have reached anarchy and a failed government and we are past the half way mark in the first week.

Now comes the one I love as a former lower level bureaucratic lackey in the federal government.  Trump signed an Executive Order yesterday giving the Pentagon 30 days to come up with a plan to eradicate ISIS.  “Make it so Scotty,” to quote Captain Kirk.  It is this simple-minded thinking that just slays me.  Okay sir, I will get right on it, but I have a few questions:

  1. Is there a budget or can we spend whatever we like?
  2. Can we reinstitute the draft?
  3. Is this a special forces type operation, or all out war?
  4. Can we attack countries without declaring war?
  5. Can we use nuclear weapons if say the Pakistanis respond?
  6. Do we care about collateral damage?
  7. Can we violate the national sovereignty of any nation we please?
  8. Does this include our buddies the Saudis?
  9. Can we attack Iran?
  10. Is a full-scale Christian-Muslim war in the Middle East acceptable?
  11. If other non-Muslim countries oppose us can we attack them?
  12. If trade agreements between other countries hurts our efforts, can we attack them?

He also signed and Executive Order putting Steve Bannon on the Security Council and edging out the Joint Chiefs:

The president named Bannon to the council in a reorganization of the NSC. He also said his chief-of-staff Reince Priebus would have a seat in the meetings.

Trump also said the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and the director of national intelligence, two of the most senior defense chiefs, will attend meetings only when discussions are related to their “responsibilities and expertise”. Barack Obama and George W Bush both gave the men in those roles regular seats on the council.

Well you get the drift.  The politburo is taking over.  We are entering some of the most dangerous times for our country with a lunatic at the helm and simple-minded people (rubes) who have not thought through the consequences of what seems like simple-minded solutions crafted for the rubes.  In the first week Donald Trump has alienate about half the world, hurt our economic future, and maybe divided Americans as they have never been divided before except for the Civil War.  He may have delegitimized government in the eyes of most citizens, and started the beginning of a Constitutional crisis.  But hey, he is a businessman.  So glad he is at the helm.

Our only salvation is that all of this will fail, both on the economy side and on the foreign affairs/trade side.  And when it crumbles, if the autocracy is not too fully entrenched, we may get our democracy back.  Isn’t it interesting that those freedom loving Republicans are the ones enabling this lunatic and the destruction of our democracy?

So Much for a Tuesday Morning

Well, first off you have Tennessee passing another legalize discrimination bill apparently having learned nothing from Mississippi or Georgia or Alabama.  As business bails out for ignorant stupid and self-defeating laws enacted by these states, they learn nothing.  Look at their centers of poverty, the lack of educational achievement, poor economies, and they are right in the middle of it, doing their best to make sure things stay just the way they are.  Please, please, please, this time let’s let them secede.

In the category of No Shit, President Obama in the Clinton email affair has finally woken up to the fact the there is classified information and then there is classified information:

Speaking about Mrs. Clinton’s case, Mr. Obama said, “There’s stuff that is really top-secret, top-secret, and there’s stuff that is being presented to the president or the secretary of state that you might not want on the transom, or going out over the wire, but is basically stuff that you could get” from unclassified sources.

…In fact, Mr. Obama’s distinction between genuine secrets and vaguely secret material echoes arguments that The New York Times and other news media organizations made after the WikiLeaks disclosures, some of which were published in The Times. A substantial percentage of the 250,000 cables consisted of articles published in local news media. As officials entered them into the State Department’s system, many were marked “classified,” even though they could be found in simple Google searches.

In a news conference after the disclosure of the State Department cables, Mr. Obama pledged to energetically pursue those who leaked government secrets. “We have mechanisms in place where if we can root out folks who have leaked, they will suffer consequences, ,” Mr. Obama said at the time. “In some cases it’s criminal.”

Nice wakeup call Mr. President.  Is it time to start pardoning some of those like a midlevel State Department official who was prosecuted for telling a Fox News reporter that North Korea would most likely react to sanctions with more nuclear tests. How about Edward Snowden who did us all a favor?  Or that poor troubled kid, Chelsea Manning?  All they really did in damage was embarrass the hell out of you by exposing embarrassing things that we the people needed to know.

Then there was Bono calling out for the obviouss:

 I’VE recently returned from the Middle East and East Africa, where I visited a number of refugee camps — car parks of humanity. I went as an activist and as a European. Because Europeans have come to realize — quite painfully in the past year or two — that the mass exodus from collapsed countries like Syria is not just a Middle Eastern or African problem, it’s a European problem. It’s an American one, too. It affects us all.

Then he calls on basically a Marshal Plan for the refugees from both Europe and the United States.  On the scale of no-brainer to dumb idea, this rates up there at the top of no-brainer.  This is the world’s chance to chance the direction of radicalism and disenfranchisement.  It is a time to create a model that destroys the allure of ISIS and al Qaeda, and makes a mockery of Assad.  Yet in this country we are almost oblivious to the issue except of course for the xenophobia stoked by the Republican clowns.  Thanks Bono, I argued this but my three readers did not lead a revolution.

And finally for the morning’s entertainment comes David Brooks, still in denial about his party being the entire problem in today’s politics and trying to blame it on our loss of community that has turned us to politics as our new religion:

But it’s increasingly clear that the roots of political dysfunction lie deep in society. If there’s truly going to be improvement, there has to be improvement in the social context politics is embedded in.

…With fewer sources of ethnic and local identity, people ask politics to fill the void. Being a Democrat or a Republican becomes their ethnicity. People put politics at the center of their psychological, emotional and even spiritual life.

…If we’re going to salvage our politics, we probably have to shrink politics, and nurture the thick local membership web that politics rests within. We probably have to scale back the culture of autonomy that was appropriate for the 1960s but that has since gone too far.

I would respond to this nonsense which is in total denial about how the Republicans have destroyed our political life with obstructionism, racism, xenophobia, and anti-intellectualism as the root cause, but his readers did such a good job I will leave with with this (note:  It’s societies’ disintegration not the Republican Party is his argument.  Half of us are still sane David.  How do you explain that?):

Brooks fails to realise that the American right-wing is deeply loathsome to the entire rest of the developed world. This is not Democrats v. Republicans, this is Republicans against the billion or so people that make up the ‘first world’. If he wonders why American politics are so volatile it is because he refuses to see the intense hatred and wilful ignorance of his party. Yes, those Americans not in thrall to bigotry, xenophobia, hatred and theocratic inclinations are going to react pretty strongly when these Bronze Age forces try to control the government!

The answer is not always ‘in the middle’ of two positions. Sometimes one is simply right, and the other is simply wrong. On practically every issue, from climate change, to foreign policy, to human rights the Republican ideology is simply wrong. Dare I say it: extremism in the defence of science and basic decency is no vice.

Either Republicans choose to join the entire rest of the developed world, or the struggle will continue. It is as simple as that.

Oh so well said!

The Race to Madness

This past week has been like a trip back in history where ignorance, racism, and xenophobia were normal American political carrion calls.  Now the Donald tells us maybe registering all Muslims is a good idea.  A Democratic Mayor in Virginia thinks the “good” example of the Japanese internment during WWII could be used again.  Ben Carson, suggested refugees of the Syrian conflict should be screened as they might be “rabid dogs”.  And of course we have this moronic bill the House just passed to “toughen” up the standards for refugee status.  And it all is what it sounds like, racism, ignorance, and xenophobia running wild.

A few words about the bill.  The House panicked  when a passport was found in Paris that indicated that one of the attackers could have come in as a refugee.  Note that to date that has not been verified and those identified were all citizens of Europe, not refugees.  The passport could very well have been a plant to get this exact reaction.  Since 2011 only 2000 Syrian refugees have been admitted to the country, 3/4 of them women and children.  They had to go through a vetting process of 18-24 months. None has ever broken a law.  So be afraid!  Meanwhile any of the attackers in Paris could have bought a ticket to the U.S. from Europe with no checks, and been here in a day.  And they still can.  What the fuck are they doing in Congress?

These guys and gals in Congress cannot sit down and authorize force to be used in the Middle East, but in two days they can create a bill from ignorance and stupidity to pander to the very worst fears and emotions of Americans?  It tells you all you need to know why government does not work.  Oh and listen to them pander to each other, with nonsense like we need to step back a minute and look at the program.  Yeah let’s make it impossible to run where there was no problem in the first place.  And this is from Republicans who say government is the problem, and now we know why.  They make it so.

But the worst part of this is that 40 Democrats voted for it.  And right there is why the Democratic Party always fails.  It does not stand for anything.  This bill should have been appalling to anyone who calls themselves a liberal or a Democrat.  This should have been a line in the sand. Yet they pandered to their voters who are in a mad rush to hide in their shopping centers.

It harkens back to our worst days of racism, xenophobia, and ignorance.  You remember when we sent Jews away in 1939 to die because we were afraid they might be communists, interned the Japanese Americans, or persecuted blacks.  At least our Presidential candidates in the Democratic Party get this totally un-American behavior.  Maybe the 40 ought to be expelled.  If the Democratic Party is ever going to rise again, it has to mean something, and those 40 should be held accountable.

Oh, and I had one other thought.  While America is in the throes of a full-blown panic attack, Paris, the country that was actually attacked, is leading the way showing us how not to lose our principles, going out into the streets and continuing to embrace refugees.  Remember when those brilliant tacticians in Congress wanted to rename French Fries to Freedom Fries?  Funny, the French were right then too.  Right now the French are showing Americans how to be American and we look like feckless fools.

Foreign Policy

I would say from my point of view that most domestic issues have fairly clear-cut policy choices about which we have plenty of data to make the right choices.  Even Hillary and Bernie both agree banks need to be reigned in, Hillary, with a softer touch through more regulation, Bernie through structural changes (break up the big ones).  Now we can argue about which fix would be more effective, but we all agree to the problem and are discussing possible remedies, unlike Republicans who live in an alternate reality where we need to de-regulate them again.

But when it comes to foreign affairs, and these days everything seems to be focused in the Middle East, we have a real quandary.  Is the problem too little intervention or too much?  Roger Cohen has written several thought provoking op-ed pieces in the NYT and the thrust of these is that our reaction to the Bush years and too much intervention has been the Obama years with too little intervention, leaving a power vacuum that has great unintended consequences, like Russia now flying an air war in Syria.

He argues, as many Republicans do, that President Obama’s hesitancy to act for fear of getting involved, has left a vacuum for others to act, with consequences not necessarily beneficial to our best interests.  Our new world view that we only act in concert with others, when others are not going to act, emboldens bad actors.  I think there is some truth to this, although it has to be balanced against not over simplifying extremely complex sectarian, religious, and historical conflicts that will not be resolved with shock and awe.

In the Democratic debates Hillary proposed a no-fly zone in Syria.  The others demurred.  There was an opportunity to do this early on in this war and this would have probably been prudent.  But to establish one now will certainly lead to a direct confrontation with Russia, and I am not sure what the blow back would be.  Will it finally reign in Putin and his adventure in Syria or will it lead to more lethal confrontations later on.  Should we let Putin continue getting more embroiled in the war and like Afghanistan, get sucked dry?  What does that do about the refugee crisis?  What is the cost/benefit calculation?

I would have to agree with Roger that President Obama’s hesitancy in committing the United States has created a problem.  Like his first term where I don’t think the extent of Republican obstructionism had yet dawned on him, he has missed some opportunities that could have forestalled some of the problems we face today.  And like his trying to work with Republicans, his failure to act was born out of trying to compensate for our past over aggressive acts.  The next President is going to have to deal with how we fill this void without the excessive of the Iraq war.

I still, in my own mind, do not have a coherent way forward in the Middle East.  I am still trying to find a path for our foreign policy as I suspect most Americans who think about these things are also trying to do.  My only advice at this point is beware Greeks bearing gifts.  Some see force as the solution to everything, and some want to retract into our shell, to become isolationists.  As we look at the Middle East today, we see that both approaches have failed.  While I have heard a lot of criticism of our past actions, I have yet to hear a coherent debate about our way forward.  Sooner or later this will be front and center in the Presidential debates.  You can bet Congress is not going to touch it with a 10 foot pole. They will be too busy arguing about who gets to hold the 10 foot pole.

Russia and Syria

If you want to be distracted from the terrorist take over of our Congress by people who want to blow up government, let’s turn to Syria.  We are all agitated by the Russians moving in.  Soon the Russians will own Syria! If only.  Anybody paying attention to what is happening in Afghanistan as the Taliban makes a giant comeback?  How much treasury and lives did we waste there?  Have we learned nothing?  Getting embroiled in the Middle East is a repeat of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby.  Slap it and you are stuck to it.  And it is intractable.

The Russians may soon find themselves the new evil Satan in the eyes of most Sunnis.  And it is like they learned nothing (we sure didn’t) after their incursion into Afghanistan.  Here is how I read the situation there.  The Russians are supporting Assad and quite frankly Assad and his army are the only reliable fighting force against ISIS in the country.  The rest of the country is in total disarray, all hating Assad and his brutal suppression.  But sorting our who are democracy loving patriots and who are Muslim extremist is impossible. There is no reliable fighting force on the ground to either counter Assad or ISIS.  Given that reality, what is your choice of what to do?

One possible scenario is to team with the Russians, and hold your nose here, Assad, to counter ISIS, with the stipulation that after ISIS is forced out of the country, Assad steps down, but we maintain the government infrastructure to run the country, with an international force there to keep the peace and make all parties compromise.  That is what Thomas Friedman suggested this morning, more or less.  Isn’t that kind of what we did in Iraq, except keeping the government infrastructure thing?

Of course we would be siding with the Shiites against the Sunnis, but in our perpetual optimism, we can get them to all work together.  I doubt it, and I doubt that it would work, even if we could get a plan similar to the one above in place.  The other options are simply worse.  So when you decide to bash President Obama on his Syria policy, ask yourself again, do we really want to go there?  Are there really any good options?  The Middle East is a mess of their own making.  In the end only they can solve it.  In the meantime we want to staunch the refugee flow, and do something humanitarian to stop ISIS and the killing.  I have no idea what that should be because every choice has major blow back.

Cheered up yet?  Well back to the House of Representatives where the people who hate government and are living in the 19th century are being put in charge.  Hot digity!

UPDATE 0800:  I see where John McCain is going to weigh in and we should all sit on the edge of our chair.  John thinks we could have “won” the Vietnam war and most people today don’t even know what that was about.  Now I can give you a preview:  Bash the President for not picking the unpickable and getting involved on the ground. If we get to a way forward, which he may dodge because of all the above, he may go down the Lindsey Graham road, invade again.  Yikes.

UPDATE 0835: John McCain spoke and as predicted, bashed President Obama for not being tougher in the world.  What that means for going forward, is anybody’s guess.  What does get tougher mean except more military involvement?

Tuesday Morning Thoughts

Morning Harvest in the Mourvédre. Lightner Vineyards

 

Before I get started, this is the harvest of my Mourvédre this morning.  About 2.5 tons. It is the last of my grapes headed for the winery.  The clouds are actually smoke from the Butte fire.  Let it rain.  Now on to Tuesday morning trivia:

First up comes the Republican race and the surge of Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina, especially the surging of Dr. Carson.  Really?  Do we really think the Republican Party could elect either a woman or a black man?  I would be greatly surprised.  Of course Ben Carson really is a nightmare when you look at his stand on issues.

Let’s just touch the surface. No abortions for convenience.  So Doctor Carson, who decides what is convenience, you?  Oh, and he wants to investigate colleges for liberal bias and cut funds to those he detects has liberal bias.  Again who decides what is bias and what is truth, you?  Also got to cut the tax rate on corporations.  It is true we have the highest rate in the world, but did he look at what they actually pay?  The biggest pay nothing, and when you think about it, they may want the system to stay just as it is.  I will pick on Carly some other day if she gets above 10%

Second up is that we really should fear government.  Yeah, I know, I am a liberal that loves big government.  Actually that is the stereotype that is anything but the truth.  The truth is that our big problems can only be solved by big government, but big government only works when we have full transparency.  Two stories are telling us about this.  One is the James Blake issue in New York where the ex-tennis star was thrown to the ground in a false arrest which is symbolic of the us versus them policing attitude that is counterproductive.  We would not know about it except James Blake was not just some random black guy and it was caught on surveillance cameras.

The other incident is the governments move against two Chinese Americans, both prominent scientists it accused of transferring secrets to China.  In both cases it got it totally wrong, arrested innocent people and put their whole careers are risk in an abuse of power to crack down on Chinese spying and transfer of technology.  The government was forced to drop charges when it became clean they had totally misunderstood what had occurred.  They have not even apologized.  Too bad we can’t sue the federal government for this abuse of power and see that those who attempted to advance their career with these politically motivated prosecutions are fired.  But we know about it and should demand some justice for these two Americans.

The third issue is the refugee crisis in Europe that is not going to go away.  It’s going to get worse and it is a problem we must all pitch in and solve.  The reality is we cannot absorb all these people and they may not want to be absorbed, just be safe.  I am afraid that the solution may be establishing a safe zone in Syria that includes safety, food, healthcare, education, and maybe an economy.  It is the ultimate weapon against ISIS and Assad if we can establish a zone where people can thrive as a counter example to the dictatorship of Assad or the theocracy of ISIS.

So that is my Tuesday, How is yours?

Is the World on Fire


That’s smoke from the Butte fire a few days ago from my backyard looking over my vineyard. This morning you cannot see the ridge line across the valley because the smoke is so thick.  The fire is at least 40 miles away, but now we live in deep smoke.  Last year it was the King fire that creeped within a mile of the house.  We are beginning to think this is the new normal for fall.  Ah, the refreshing smell of choking smoke.  It is the new world we are creating as we deny and fail to act on global warming.  This summer was the hottest on record beating last summer that was the hottest on record.  But I am wondering if this is not just a sign of the conflagrations of our times.

We like to think of ourselves as rational beings who control our path through life.  I think maybe this is a giant illusion.  We are the inmates that escaped the asylum. Starting close to home, local “moderate” Democrats are watering down California’s attempt to provide family leave for working families in an attempt to be business friendly.  They also have killed the major thrust of the Governor’s environmental bill when they would not go along with a 50% cut in the use of petroleum by 2030.  It would just be too hard on business.  I wonder how hard massive fires, drought, and heat is going to be on business.  Here is the problem with “moderate”, reasonable Democrats.  If it’s broken, half a fix won’t fix it.  That goes for families and family leaves as well as global warming.

Next let step up to national politics and look at the presidential election.  The Republicans are all calling for kicking out the professional politicians and electing them so they can institute the same conservative ideology that has failed us miserably.  Well kicking out the professional politicians is ringing a bell with the rabble and Donald, trust me, I am really smart, Trump is leading the pack with no workable plan for anything.  And the best part of this insanity, is that nothing is going to happen unless they change out the Republicans in Congress who they voted in, and are the real source of nothing getting done.

Oh, and this group of nuts wants to bring back Bible thumping government.  We need more religion in government.  The latest under the guise of religious freedom is a bill that:

 would bar the federal government from taking any discriminatory action — including the denial of tax benefits, grants, contracts or licenses — against those who oppose same-sex marriage for religious or moral reasons. In other words, it would use taxpayers’ money to negate federal anti-discrimination measures protecting gays and lesbians, using the idea of religious freedom as cover. … the measure’s broad language — which also protects those who believe that “sexual relations are properly reserved to” heterosexual marriages alone — would permit discrimination against anyone who has sexual relations outside such a marriage. That would appear to include women who have children outside of marriage, a class generally protected by federal law.”

This from our conservative nut jobs in the Congress who want to return us to the good old days of religious persecution and the people who just think the Donald is the bomb, put in office.

But to me the most disturbing sign that our civilization rests on sand foundations of our own illusions is what is going on right now in Europe with the refugees.  As pointed out by an illuminating article in the NYT we are seeing racism, xenophobia, and religious discrimination in primarily the countries of Eastern Europe, not far evolved from their communist roots:

When joining the European Union — as the former Communist countries have done since 2004 — nations are asked to pledge support to a raft of so-called European values, including open markets, transparent government, respect for an independent media, open borders, cultural diversity, protection of minorities and a rejection of xenophobia.

But the reality is that the former Communist states have proved sluggish in actually absorbing many of these values and practicing them. Oligarchs, cronyism and endemic corruption remain a part of daily life in many of the countries, freedom of the press is in decline while rising nationalism and populist political movements have stirred anti-immigrant tensions.

We have a refugee problem of epic proportions and yet it is somebody else’s problem, I got mine.  It is the root of our malaise that runs through all the insanity described above.

As I opined several days ago, what this crisis says for the world, is that we must become a more tolerant people who can tolerate other’s beliefs, safeguarding our own, but not using those beliefs to discriminate against others.  If Muslims want to live in the west, they can practice their religion within the constraints of our laws, without condemning the societies they live in.  If Christian conservatives want to live in a free society, they must be able to tolerate other beliefs (including gay marriage) and not try to take away those rights.  What we are seeing is that we have not evolve near as far as we thought.

Right now we are seeing rational thought (that would include science) being rejected for ideology and selfishness.  We are seeing religious intolerance being injected back into government under the guise of religious freedom as though we have learned nothing from our past.  And most importantly of all, we are seeing the tolerance and openness that has made our nation great, being attacked here, and the illusion of it elsewhere being exposed.  So are we on the wrong track?  Damn straight and we had better awake to our backsliding before we destroy our future.  Happy Sunday.

Good Morning!

Busy day today so just a few thoughts:

  • I wonder if Kim Davis, now with her taste of martyrdom firmly in her mouth, will go for round two?  I have seen it before.  Once you acquire the taste for attention and adulation, you do really stupid things to maintain it.
  • For us news junkies, Chris Hayes had some interesting footage of the scene in Kentucky and Ted Cruz being out manuevered for attention at the microphones.  Yes, I think there will be war among those vying for the Evangelical vote.  Just who could get the most spotlight up there on the stage with Kim Davis demanding to take rights away from our fellow Americans.
  • The refugee problem is not going to go away and world leaders really do need to establish an alternate solution.  You know, this could be an alternative to ISIS if we were to play our cards right.  The first thing we could do is really upgrade the refugee centers in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon where most of the refugees are.
  • Watching Joe Manchin of West Virginia give his reasons for not supporting the Iran Agreement is enough to make you want to vomit.  They are playing politics with their conservative/jewish base instead of doing the obvious.  See Fareed Zakaria’s takedown of Chuck Schumer’s reasons for not supporting it.  Again this is a no-brainer, kind of like establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba.
  • The classified email scandal that is not a scandal, just a stupid choice, continues and really has nothing to do with choosing a president, but with how screwed up our system of classification is.
  • Meanwhile Hillary is relaunching Hillary according to the media and I wonder if they hate her because describing it as a “relaunch” actually raises the question of who she is, instead of puting it to bed. On the other hand, the American attention span is about 30 seconds so this time next year, who knows?
  • I see Dick Cheney is out there giving us advice on the Iran Treaty.  Really?  Dick Cheney?  Paul Krugman likes to point out that everyone who got the economy wrong the last six years is still being listened to for advice going forward, so I guess in that vein, why not?
  •  One last thought:  Ted Cruz and Donald Trump are in Washington today to “crush” the Iran deal.  Now since 100% of Republicans are against it, who exactly are they talking to?  The Demos have already weighed in.  Oh, wait, the walking dead out in the hinterland who would vote for these two. Oh, did I forget Sarah Palin, she of Death Panels, I can see Russia from here, and global warming is a myth.  What a crew.

Just another fun day where the Republican Congress may shut the government down on funding of Planned Parenthood*, of which none of the funding they are cutting off goes to the objectionable procedures, while real issues incuding global warming, infrastructure funding, R&D investments, oh, you name it, go unaddressed.  Maybe they can vote to defund Obamacare.  This, my friends, is not “Congress”, it is Republicans.

*Note:  The Republican controlled Congress is having hearings on Planned Parenthood today, but failed to invite Planned Parenthood.  Could they have an agenda besides finding out the truth?  You think?