Monday, September 15, 2014


Look, there are a lot of reasons to be apprehensive about a Hillary Clinton presidency. (One I hadn't focused on until last week: She and Henry Kissinger are buds.) But does everything about her and her husband, however trivial, have to be evidence of perfidy?

From the right today, here's National Review's Jim Geraghty quoting from an article about this weekend's steak fry in Iowa:
Hillary Clinton, World-Champion Pretend Griller

How perfectly Clintonian: "While a crowd of several thousand Democrats waited on a sloping, grassy field below, Mrs Clinton, her husband and Senator Harkin staged a mini-grilling of steaks for the press at a single barbecue grill in a fenced-off enclosure, framed by a handsome tree and a picnic table filled with some patient Iowans. Mrs Clinton gamely posed, pretending to grill a steak that had been pre-cooked for her."
Oh, I see: It's appalling and horrifying that she posed with a steak she hadn't personally cooked.

So I guess, by this logic, every photo ever of politicians pretending to break ground at a construction site is meretriciously "Clintonian" and morally bankrupt.

They're not actually involved in the construction process!!! They're all phonies!!!

And now, from the left, here's The Nation's Leslie Savan:
In Two Words, Hillary Clinton Just Revealed What’s Wrong With Her 2016 Candidacy

"I'm baaack!" With those two words, delivered Arnold-style, Hillary Clinton revealed a lot about what's wrong with her probable candidacy.

"Hello, Iowa!" she beamed from a stage at the Tom Harkin Steak Fry in Indianola over the weekend. Then, raising her arms, she delivered the Terminator's catchphrase, showing herself to be tone deaf to the negative perception of her as an indestructible robot, as "inevitable," the same presumption that hamstringed her campaign in 2008.

Not to mention the annoying factor. "I'm baaack!" is the greeting from people whose return is at best tiresome....
Um, really? Saying "I'm back" -- or even "I'm baaack!" -- when you make a comeback that a lot of people are eager for you to make is tone-deaf?

And "I'm baaack!" is a Schwarzenegger catchphrase? Are you sure? "I'll be back" is, uttered in a low, menacing tone.

Schwarzenegger did say "I'm back" in Terminator 3:

But he didn't stretch out the vowel. Now, here's Hillary's version, right at the beginning of this clip:

She didn't even lower her voice! You have to do the cliche lowering of your voice or it's not a Schwarzenegger imitation.

People, please -- just stop. Attack Hillary on issues or ideology. Not this nonsense.

Hey, kids! We're America! We may be bunch of Gloomy Gusses after years of misbegotten interventionism, but we really need to listen to what our kindly old uncle John McCain just told Bloomberg's Jeffrey Goldberg -- that we can solve all of our foreign policy problems if we just fight two wars at the same in the same place:
McCain's second criticism: Obama is not attacking the root cause of the Syrian war, which is the behavior of President Bashar al-Assad's regime and its supporters in Iran. He said the U.S. should be bombing government targets at the same time it is bombing Assad's Islamic State enemies. I, too, am dispositionally interventionist, but it seemed to me that McCain was outlining not only a formula for chaos, but also a program that could not possibly be sold to the American people.

I asked him this question: "Wouldn't the generals say to you, 'You want me to fight ISIS, and you want me to fight the guys who are fighting ISIS, at the same time? Why would we bomb guys who are bombing ISIS? That would turn this into a crazy standoff.'"

"Our ultimate job is not only to defeat ISIS but to give the Syrian people the opportunity to prevail as well," McCain answered. "Remember, there are 192,000 dead Syrians thanks to Assad. If we do this right, if we do the right kind of training and equipping of the Free Syrian Army, plus air strikes, plus taking out Bashar Assad's air assets, we could reverse the battlefield equation."
Can you imagine McCain seventy-odd years ago? "Roosevelt has allied the U.S. with Stalin? The president can't just limit himself to fighting Hitler, Tojo, and Mussolini! Soviet communism is a mortal enemy of our way of life! And Stalin is a brutal dictator! We should be fighting Stalin and the Axis powers at the same time! C'mon, it's not that hard!" I don't know how McCain can say such nice things about Winston Churchill when even he didn't have the guts to try to crush Stalin and Hitler at the same time.

How desperate is the right to scare the crap out of heartland voters in advance of the November elections? Well, this is at Breitbart now (the story is also linked at the Drudge Report):

NOGALES, Arizona -- On September 11, 2014, individuals or a group in Mexico hung a message to America over the U.S.-Mexico border wall condemning American support for Israel and declaring support for Palestine. U.S. federal agents discovered the banner draped over the primary border fence in Arizona’s Yuma Sector in a restricted area that could only have been reached from Mexico.
Now, here's how you know that what you're reading is utter claptrap:
The message also contained an image described by authorities as an anarchist symbol.
Yeah, right -- ISIS (or Al Qaeda or Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood or whoever the hell else the wingnuts think is coming over the border to establish a medieval caliphate in Texas and Arizona) is hanging out on the other side of the border with Black Bloc throwbacks who yammer endlessly about 1999 and the Battle of Seattle. Wow, that's really plausible.
The leaked incident report reveals that U.S. Border Patrol agents discovered the banner in the early hours of September 12, 2014, indicating that the banner had been draped over the border wall late in the night on September 11th.
Look, I don't know whether there's is an actual incident report -- we're shown an image of one, but who the hell knows if it's real?

Conveniently, there's no photo of the alleged message. We just have to take reports of its existence on faith.

Hey, maybe it actually existed -- maybe there's some group of politically disgruntled Mexican youths who put it up and, like politically disgruntled youths the world over, they're not happy about what Israel is doing to the Palestinians. Oh, and also: anarchy!

Otherwise, I assume someone's just making stuff up, and doing it in a way that resonates with the fear centers in the reptile part of the right-wing brain. (Remember, these folks think gay marriage leads to sharia law, so it's no surprise if they think anarchism and jihadism are natural allies.) Is this rube-terrifying story a clumsy Breitbart fabrication? Or is it a clumsy fabrication on the part of an Obama-hating Border Patrol agent? There certainly seemed to be a lot of scary-sounding rumors during the peak of the child-refugee crisis this summer, many of them sourced to agents of the Border Patrol -- horrific diseases showing up in medical exams and so on. I figure at least some of these guys have the TV locked on Fox and the radio locked on whatever station broadcasts the most toxic talk, so why wouldn't they spread this sort of disinformation on behalf of the True Patriot cause?


The right really wants the voters to be terrified of ISIS between now and November. The right also wants to divide the country by party in the face of a foreign threat -- the exact opposite of what used to be considered patriotic. You can see the "respectable" part of this campaign in what Lindsey Graham is doing:
"It is our fight," Graham [said]. "... They're intending to come here. So I will not let this president suggest to the American people we can outsource our security and this is not about our safety."

"Our strategy will fail yet again," he said. "This president needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed here at home."
And it's working:
Nearly 70 percent of Americans say they lack confidence that the U.S. will achieve its goals in fighting the terrorist group ISIS, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Annenberg poll....

The poll -- conducted before the latest execution emerged -- showed that a combined 68 percent of Americans say they have "very little" or "just some" confidence that Obama's goals of degrading and eliminating the threat posed by ISIS will be achieved. Just 28 percent said they had "a great deal" or "quite a bit" of confidence. Still, 62 percent of voters say they support Obama's decision to take action against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, while 22 percent oppose it.
Martin Longman (aka BooMan) says that Graham "is a grown man who still wets his bed every night when he goes to sleep." I don't agree with that characterization. He's not a bedwetter. He's just cynically trying to induce bedwetting in others. And he's getting the job done.

Sunday, September 14, 2014


Following up on my last post, I see that David Cameron actually is reacting to ISIS the way right-wingers think Obama is reacting to ISIS:
Britain resisted pressure on Sunday to join the United States in announcing air strikes against Islamic State after the militant group beheaded David Haines, a British hostage, and threatened to kill another Briton.

Speaking after chairing a meeting of the government's COBR emergency-response committee in London, Prime Minister David Cameron said his government was battling IS on numerous fronts but made clear it was not, for now, launching air strikes....

Britain was quick to join U.S. military action in Afghanistan and Iraq. But a war-weary public and parliament's rejection last year of air strikes on Syria have made Cameron cautious. Complicating his decision are the sensitivities surrounding Scotland's independence referendum on Thursday....
"Cautious"! "Sensitivities"! And yet you'd know none of this from Fox News, which covers Cameron's response to the killing of Haines with the red-meat headline "British PM David Cameron Says He Will 'Drain This Poison' After Latest ISIS Beheading Video."

And remember how the right responded when Obama said this?
Now let's make two things clear: ISIL is not "Islamic." No religion condones the killing of innocents. And the vast majority of ISIL's victims have been Muslim.
Here was Charles Krauthammer's patronizing reaction on Fox on September 10:
There's ... something both patronizing and ridiculous for a Western Christian to be telling the Muslim world what exactly their religion is about. Particularly a religion with a 1400 year distinguished history of theological exegesis. I didn't know Obama was an Islamic scholar but it's probably what he does when it's raining and he can't be playing golf.
Playing golf! Har har har! Only an idiot like Obama would say that ISIS isn't Islamic!

Um, here's David Cameron talking about ISIS today:
"They boast of their brutality; they claim to do this in the name of Islam. That is nonsense. Islam is a religion of peace. They are not Muslims, they are monsters.”
But remember, Cameron's a tough poison-drainer, and Obama wears mom jeans.

Unless some counterterrorism mission succeeds, it seems clear that we're just going to have to brace ourselves for more and more ISIS executions, spaced out for maximum effect:
British aid worker David Haines has been executed by ISIS militants, according to a video posted Saturday to a website associated with the group, making him the third Western captive to be killed by the Islamist extremist group in recent weeks....

The new video pictures a masked ISIS militant placing his hand on another captive, whom he identified as Alan Henning, a British citizen....
I understand why the families and friends feel helpless and want ransom paid. I think if I were in their shoes I'd feel the same way, even though I'd also understand that ransom tells ISIS that kidnapping (literally) pays, a message the U.S. and British governments don't want to send.

The New York Times notes that Prime Minister David Cameron prevented Haines's ransom:
Earlier this month, Mr. Cameron ruled out paying a ransom for Mr. Haines. "It's a desperately difficult situation," he told Sky News. "We don't pay ransoms to terrorists when they kidnap our citizens."
Nine days ago, the (non-Murdoch) Daily Mail noted that this stance infuriated Haines's friends:
Friends of the British hostage facing brutal murder by Islamic State fanatics last night said the British Government was 'letting an innocent man die' by refusing to pay a ransom for his release.

While his wife told the Mail she is defiantly refusing to give up hope that David Haines will be rescued, close friends of the couple said his fate has been sealed by the UK's refusal to negotiate with terrorists....
Fox News has made a lot of noise about the fact that the U.S. government told the parents of James Foley that they shouldn't try to ransom their son:

And just this morning, the subject came up again on Fox:
Fox News Sunday's John Roberts asked White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough about the Obama administration's handling of the kidnapping of freelance American journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley, alluding to comments by the Sotloff and Foley families that the White House told them "not to dare" ransom their son from ISIS of face prosecution.

"Why would the White House say something like that to them?" Roberts asked.
So is Murdoch pal David Cameron going to get grief from Fox for his anti-ransom stance?

Well, this was Fox Nation late last month:

So no, I don't Fox is going to hold Cameron to the same standard.

It's quite easy to imagine Fox taking exactly the opposite position if the Obama administration paid ransom, or allowed it to be paid. The prisoner exchange for Bowe Bergdahl, of course, was a huge scandal on Fox. You can imagine the Murdoch press making heroes of parents who reject ransom deals ("Parents Say 'HELL NO!' to Terrorist Butchers' Cash-for-Hostage Demand"). The Obama stance with regard to ISIS would seem to be the sort of tough, unbending position Murdoch should admire. But it's Obama, so whatever he does, Fox is against it.

Saturday, September 13, 2014


Here's a story you're probably not aware of, even though your right-wing uncle is probably obsessed with it, having learned about it from Fox or The Blaze, or from hearing this now-viral radio diatribe:

A New York radio personality is calling for increased attention to the June murder of a 19-year-old Livingston man, calling it evidence that "domestic terrorism is already here."

Todd Pettengill, host of WPLJ's "The Todd Show", discussed the death of Brendan Tevlin for more than eight minutes [Wednesday] morning, asking why the case has not received more attention despite the alleged murderer's admissions that he killed Tevlin as an act of vengeance for U.S. military actions in the Middle East.
Tevlin, a nineteen-year-old college student, was murdered in June in West Orange, New Jersey. In early August, four men were arrested on charges stemming from this murder and another June murder of a New Jersey teenager. One of those charged, Ali Muhammad Brown -- a suspect in three murders in Washington State who has an earlier conviction for a sex crime with a minor -- has cited Islam in relation to the Tevlin killing:
The shooter accused of gunning down at least four men in two states said he murdered a New Jersey teenager as revenge for Muslims killed overseas.

According to court documents, Ali Muhammad Brown described his June murder of 19-year-old Brendan Tevlin as a "just kill" and said it was an act of "vengeance" meant to compensate for U.S. military killings in the Middle East.
But let's back up. Was this terrorism? From reports about the killings in Washington, it appears that Brown never many any attempt to spread the word that he was killing on behalf of Muslims. He seems not to have said anything like that until he got caught. If, as you kill, you're not getting out a jihadist message to the public, directly or by inference, then in my book you're not a terrorist. You're not telling anyone that they'll be at risk of violence at your hands if they oppose your belief system.

On WPLJ, Todd Pettengill tried to link this story explicitly to ISIS, specifically the notion that its spread threatens us stateside:
Tonight the president will address the nation and speak about the dangers of a new threat -- not Al Qaeda, but ISIS. He will, I’m hoping, tell us that unless we take action, domestic terrorism is a clear and present threat. I'm also hoping he will no longer refer to these terrorists as "the JV team," as he once did. The images of Americans being beheaded should teach us are that there are no such things as idle threats.

But what I want to say to you this morning is that it has already happened. Domestic terrorism is already here and no one is talking about it. Back on June 26, nineteen-year-old Brendan Tevlin was shot eight times at an intersection in West Orange, New Jersey.... The person ... arrested for the crime is a self-described terrorist....

Why is the President not speaking of Brendan Tevlin tonight? He was a young boy who was killed for being an American....

The bottom line is this: domestic terrorism is already here, and we need to talk about it.
But isn't this the exact opposite of the supposed ISIS domestic terror threat? As far as I can tell, Brown never went overseas to fight for a foreign jihadist organization. He didn't learn "combat skills" from an Islamist organization. He didn't get "terror training." He's just a regular American with a screw loose who allegedly killed strangers the way regular American with screws loose regularly kill strangers -- using ordinary deadly weapons that are readily available to just about anyone in the good old U.S.A.

Pettengill implies that this guy is Obama's fault. But the right has told us for years about Americans who reportedly killed for similar reasons. The Muslim-hating polemicist Daniel Pipes coined the phrase "sudden jihad syndrome" to refer to cases in which, in his words, "normal-appearing Muslims abruptly become violent." Lists of "sudden jihad syndrome" killers appeared throughout the Bush years, the most famous examples being "D.C. snipers" John Muhammad and Lee Malvo.

And yet the right-wing Muslimophobes who circulated these lists also told us that Bush kept the homeland safe after 9/11.

America is full of people harboring murderous rage, for a lot of reasons. America makes it very easy for many of these people to act on these impulses. If anyone finds that Ali Muhammad Brown conspired with actual jihadists on these murders, I'm all for bringing the hammer down on those people. But it looks to me as if he was just a marginal guy with bad impulses, who rationalized them in his head by invoking his faith. To me, he's just a common psychopath, though I could be wrong.

In any case, this has nothing to do with ooga-booga eek eek ISIS wants to send highly trained terrorists over the border to kill us all in our beds argh argh! America has 57 varieties of violently crazy people. This is just one of them. No one's shown me a shred of evidence linking this guy or any other domestic killer to ISIS. American crazies don't need to go join ISIS -- America gives wannabe killers all the tools they need.

Friday, September 12, 2014


In The New York Times today, Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman and the Times Editorial Board assert that we're in a legal and constitutional crisis because President Obama seems likely to ramp up military action against ISIS without getting Congress's explicit approval. I understand that the Authorization for the Use of Military Force drawn up right after the 9/11 attacks doesn't really apply to a group that didn't exist in 2001, and that's in conflict with Al Qaeda. I understand that what the president plans to do will take ongoing military action past the deadline imposed by the 1973 War Powers Act.

But America is a failed state now, so I have to confess that I'm struggling to care.

Let me address one objection from the main Times editorial:
By avoiding responsibility, [lawmakers in Congress] allow President Obama free rein to set a dangerous precedent that will last well past this particular military campaign.
I don't think that matters. The Bush administration wiped its keister with the Constitution and didn't need any "dangerous precedent" to do so, just an overabundance of unmitigated gall. After that, I have no doubt that the next Republican president -- and quite possibly the next Democratic one -- would ignore our legal framework for war-making even if this followed eight years of Obama respecting every word of the Constitution and the law, even the Congress-declares-war provision that was last properly observed in 1942.

A key issue here is that we have one political party that has deliberately chosen to render America's government unable to function as long as a Democrat sits in the Oval Office. Ackerman says that "leaders of both parties have signaled a willingness to engage in a serious debate" on this matter. Yeah? Really? If Ackerman's definition of "leaders" is "titular leaders," then I think he's missed a few transmissions from Republican Zealot Central. I don't care what John Boehner thinks -- what does Ted Cruz think? Are he and his posse going to demand the repeal of Obamacare and the construction of a Great Wall of the Rio Grande in order to allow a vote on the president's plan?

I'd add that America doesn't really believe in the nation's war-making law in any case. All the talk leading up to the president's speech on Wednesday concerned what Obama would do about ISIS, not what the government as a whole would do. If there's a vote and it fails, Ron Fournier will tell us that Congress has absolutely no responsibility for what happens next, because the president could have won the vote if he'd led harder.

If Republicans in Congress resist voting (see that Jack Kingston quote) and resist working with president, then we have a non-functioning government, and that's the real constitutional crisis.

In the mid-1980s, I worked in what I gradually realized was an irreversibly dysfunctional division of an otherwise solid company. A situation like that prompts two responses: at first you try to do other people's jobs for them, and then eventually you just do your job and wait for the whole thing to collapse (or you don't even bother to do that much). To me, America increasingly feels like that job. These days, the president often seems as if he's moved on to Response #2, but on ISIS he's chosen Response #1.

I'd be in favor of a properly hashed-out, fully constitutional response, but there's no reason to think it's possible. So somebody has to step up.

You know what we always learn when Americans are asked what should be done about the federal budget: they want budgets to be balanced, they hate hate hate deficits, but give them a list of programs to cut and they're unswervingly opposed to cutting anything (entitlements, defense) that's actually a significant part of the budget. At most, they're in favor of taxing the rich more (which would help reduce deficits and debt, but wouldn't be enough on its own), and they want to cut foreign aid (which is a tiny sliver of the budget). In fact, they usually want to increase spending programs.

I'm starting to think that's where we are with regard to ISIS-- we have a public that wants the impossible. From a New York Times roundup of opinions from ordinry citizens:
Yet even as Mrs. Anderly wanted to "bomb the hell" out of the militants, she was uncomfortable with a protracted campaign.

"We've been doing this for 11 years. Another three years? We’re not supposed to be a war nation; we're not Rome."
"We really don't want to get bogged down in another war," said Mr. Marsette, who faults Mr. Obama for "just sitting back" while ISIS grew. "Before it grows too big," he said, "there has to be some kind of action."
Well, sir, we are where we are. What are we going to do now? Bitch about what we think should have been. And now we should kick ass -- but not in a long-term, burdensome way.

But if the president's response to these conflicting, contradictory demands is a containment plan rather than an all-out war plan, and someone in the adminstration acknowledges that what we're planning falls short of full-scale war, then Fox is going to flip out in response to that, and Americans are going to grumble some more.

It's too bad the wars in Grenada and Panama were so quick, as was Gulf War I. Twenty and thirty years later, we're still spoiled. Even after the past thirteen years, we're still longing for a rapid little war. So the president and his team shouldn't do stupid stuff, but they may have to say some stupid stuff, just to mollify the public.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


Charlie Pierce today:
What happened in New York 13 years ago deranged a nation that was almost begging to be deranged. The Soviet Union was gone. Grenada, Panama, the First Gulf War, the Balkans, in all these places where we made war, we had what were essentially walkover victories. We had no geopolitical enemies, no country strangling our trade, or impressing our seamen, or bombing our Pacific fleet, or pointing nuclear missiles at our cities any more. Then the planes hit the towers, and the towers came down, and we had an enemy again. We declared war on a tactic. We declared war on "terror." ... Then, we elected a new president, and the new president extricated us from the occupation of Iraq, and from whatever the hell we were doing in Afghanistan.... But the war on the tactic never ended because it cannot end. You cannot defeat "terror," because it has too many allies, some of them in your own government.... War against someone, war against something, somewhere, anywhere, is one of the last unifying elements in a country that was encouraged by both its declared antagonists, and by far too many people within its own government, to become deranged.
Well, you can tell how ready we were to be deranged just by looking at that list of "walkover victories" and recalling how seriously we took most of those enemies. Ronald Reagan had us persuaded that it had been necessary to invade Grenada because it might have become a launchpad for Soviet nuclear missiles, via an airport he described as "suspiciously suitable for military aircraft," even though a World Bank study had encouraged runway expansion and Canada, Mexico, and contractors from Britain and the U.S. were involved in the financing and construction. George H.W. Bush called Panama's Manuel Noriega "an outlaw in the world community" and all but suggested that he was singlehandedly responsible for the fact that some Americans used illegal drugs. Poppy Bush also told us before the first Gulf War that Saddam was worse than Hitler.

There wasn't much talk like that with regard to the Balkans -- recent Democratic presidents haven't been very good at that type of tough talk. But the Gipper/Poppy wars made clear Americans are all too willing to be worked up into a state of derangement, on the flimsiest of pretexts -- and if there's no actual foreign foe, we'll fear invasions of violent illegal immigrants or marauding thugs marching en masse from the ghettos to the suburbs or whatever the hell the NRA wants to scare us with in order to loosen gun laws further. So, yeah, when a real attack happened, the level of derangement was, inevitably, quite severe.

One line in President Obama's speech last night led to eye-rolling from Think Progress and Bill Kristol alike:
This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.
Juan Cole, however, thinks that's a sign that the president is talking about containment rather than war, and may be correct to do so:
What if Obama wants to prevent the fall of Baghdad, Erbil and even Riyadh? What if he is privately skeptical about Baghdad recovering Mosul any time soon? ...

The best that can be said for US actions against AQAP in Yemen is that they may have forestalled AQAP and kindred groups from taking and holding some provinces. For instance, AQAP took over Zinjibar and some other towns in Abyan Province in 2011, but in 2012 a government offensive backed by US air power and aided by grassroots anti-al-Qaeda popular committees expelled AQAP from Abyan....

Obama hinted in his speech that he wants to help Baghdad and Erbil take back towns from ISIL just as Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, the president of Yemen, took back Zinjibar. And just as AQAP hasn’t disappeared in Yemen, Obama expects ISIL to be around for a while. In essence, the Yemen policy has de facto yielded a sort of containment with regard to AQAP, though how successful it will be in the long run can be questioned.

What if Obama is a sharper reader of the Middle East than his critics give him credit for? He knows ISIL is likely not going away, just as, after 13 years, the Taliban have not. US military action may even prolong the lifetime of these groups (that is one argument about AQAP) even as it keeps them from taking more territory.

Don’t listen to his expansive four-stage program or his retooled, stage-managed John Wayne rhetoric. Look at his metaphors. He is telling those who have ears to hear that he is pulling a Yemen in Iraq and Syria. He knows very well what that implies. It is a sort of desultory, staccato containment from the air with a variety of grassroots and governmental forces joining in. Yemen is widely regarded as a failure, but perhaps it is only not a success. And perhaps that is all Obama can realistically hope for.
Obama's job is not to try to rid the world of evil. Obama's job is to protect America and U.S. interests. With regard to ISIS, that means curtailing the group's ability to be a threat to our country and our interests. If Cole is right, and if something like this gets Obama's actual job done, I'd prefer that to a bloodlust-satisfying full-on quagmire of a war that inflames our enemies and inspires ISIS's current enemies in the Arab/Muslim world to rally around the group. Please read Kurt Eichenwald in Newsweek on the subject of how many people hate ISIS -- but hate the U.S. more, and might become ISIS fans out of anger at us. (Hat tip: Tom Ferrio in comments.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


One of the more measured reactions to the president's speech:

Yeah, but there was a degree of they're-under-the-bed fearmongering was in the speech:
So ISIL poses a threat to the people of Iraq and Syria, and the broader Middle East -- including American citizens, personnel and facilities. If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region -- including to the United States. While we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland, ISIL leaders have threatened America and our allies. Our intelligence community believes that thousands of foreigners -- including Europeans and some Americans -- have joined them in Syria and Iraq. Trained and battle-hardened, these fighters could try to return to their home countries and carry out deadly attacks.
I've been trying to make the point that, while we need to remain vigilant, the fact that ISIS puts Americans and other Westerners on the front lines, where some of them die in combat, suggests that Westerners aren't being singled out for training so that they can be sent back home. That isn't an original observation; it came from this New York Times story. And now, coinciding with the president's speech, here's another Times story questioning the danger to the "homeland" from ISIS:
But as President Obama prepares to send the United States on what could be a yearslong military campaign against the militant group, American intelligence agencies have concluded that it poses no immediate threat to the United States. Some officials and terrorism experts believe that the actual danger posed by ISIS has been distorted in hours of television punditry and alarmist statements by politicians....

Daniel Benjamin, who served as the State Department’s top counterterrorism adviser during Mr. Obama's first term, said the public discussion about the ISIS threat has been a "farce" ...

"It's hard to imagine a better indication of the ability of elected officials and TV talking heads to spin the public into a panic, with claims that the nation is honeycombed with sleeper cells, that operatives are streaming across the border into Texas or that the group will soon be spraying Ebola virus on mass transit systems -- all on the basis of no corroborated information,” said Mr. Benjamin, who is now a scholar at Dartmouth College.
(Benjamin is also the coauthor of a book called The Age of Sacred Terror: Radical Islam's War Against America, lest you think he's some hippie.)

Despite the attention ISIS has received, when American counterterrorism officials review the threats to the United States each day, the terror group is not a top concern. Al Qaeda and its affiliates remain the most immediate focus. That is because ISIS has no ability to attack inside the United States, American and allied security officials say, and it is not clear to intelligence officials that the group even wants to.
And yet here's John McCain -- not Michele Bachmann, not Louie Gohmert, not Rick Perry, but the supposedly sane, rational, and respectable John McCain -- with his hair on fire about precisely this:

From that Washington Free Beacon story:
A senior Homeland Security (DHS) official confirmed to Congress on Wednesday that militants associated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) are planning to enter the United States via the porous southern border.
Note that word: "planning." Read on and you'll see that that's a tad hyperbolic:
Francis Taylor, under secretary for intelligence and analysis at DHS, told senators during a hearing that ISIL supporters are known to be plotting ways to infiltrate the United States through the border.

"There have been Twitter, social media exchanges among ISIL adherents across the globe speaking about that as a possibility," Taylor told Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) in response to a question about "recent reports on Twitter and Facebook of messages that would urge infiltration into the U.S. across our southwestern border."
Right -- there've been "social media exchanges ... speaking about that as a possibility." That's not the same as "planning," fer crissake.

Ahhh, but McCain has an ace up his sleeve: an expert!
However, McCain was dubious, referring to recent videos released by activist James O'Keefe showing him crossing the border while wearing an Osama bin Laden mask.

Asked by McCain why agents did not stop O'Keefe, Taylor could not provide an answer.

"You can't answer it because they weren't there to stop him," McCain responded.
Oh, good Lord -- we're now citing one of O'Keefe's carefully edited videos as evidence of something?

Yeah, he claims to have waded through an unmonitored part of the Rio Grande dressed as bin Laden, then traveled unmolested into the heart of America!!!, but when the video was released, Gawker's Adam Weinstein was a tad skeptical:
Weirdly, in his "six mile" trip from the river border to I-10, O'Keefe's video never shows him crossing the well-patrolled road that runs parallel to the river, the multiple irrigation canals, the well-maintained parcels of farmland, the two-lane Highway 192 (also called "Esperanza Road,") or any of the other obstacles that stand between the border and I-10 in every place there isn't already a permanent outpost. (You can see them for yourself on Google Maps.) Although, at one point, you can see miles and miles of truck-tire tracks in the dirt around O'Keefe and [grandstanding sheriff Arvin] West on the U.S. side of the border, where they're talking about how desolate and unprotected it is.
Righties want to sink two balls with this shot -- they want voters to feel endangered by Obama's policy toward ISIS and by Democratic efforts at immigration reform. They want to link the two. And John McCain is now mainstreaming this tinfoil-hatted effort at linkage.

Let me remind you: Al Qaeda has never gotten anyone across the Mexican border to commit a terrorist act -- and Al Qaeda clearly does want to pursue attacks on the West. We have to be watchful -- but no, this sort of attack isn't going to happen soon. I'm sorry the president didn't downplay the possibility a lot more.

The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal trolls President Obama, and anyone else who's ever been a skeptic of the Bush wars, by telling us that "Dick Cheney Is Still Right" about foreign policy. The headline suggests that Cheney has been right without interruption since 9/11 -- but that contradicts a key point in the right's preferred narrative of Iraq, so we get this convoluted paragraph:
Mr. Obama can blame this rising tide of disorder on George W. Bush, but the polls show the American public doesn't believe it. They know from experience that it takes time for bad policy to reveal itself in new global turmoil. They saw how the early mistakes in Iraq led to chaos until the 2007 surge saved the day and left Mr. Obama with an opportunity he squandered. And they can see now that Mr. Obama's strategy has produced terrorist victories and more danger for America.
So wait -- Dick Cheney is right about Iraq now, and has been right all along ... except for that huge gap of four and a half years between the 2003 invasion and the surge that was announced late in 2007? He and his administration were right throughout those four years of "chaos" and also right in their efforts to correct the chaos that resulted from their own mistakes?

The Journal ed board's attempt to fudge this is, I guess, the assertion that "it takes time for bad policy to reveal itself" -- the problems in 2007 were the result of "early mistakes," which (we're led to believe) were corrected rapidly. C'mon, give Cheney and Bush a mulligan on those! (Even though they led to years of "chaos.")

But the quoted paragraph confuses me. We're told that Obama had better not try to blame Bush and Cheney for what's happening now -- even though "it takes time for bad policy to reveal itself." How much time? The editorial suggests that the time between 2003 and 2007 was the time it took for the mistakes of non-mistake-making Cheney and his president to manifest themselves -- but six years, i.e., the time since the end of the Bush/Cheney presidency, is way too long for backward-looking blame assessment. Or maybe the rule for errors and blame is "No matter how much time has elapsed, everything is always some Democrat's fault." Yeah, that must be it.

We have a winner in Rhode Island:
Gina M. Raimondo, the Democratic treasurer of Rhode Island, who risked her political future by overhauling the state's troubled pension system and alienating its powerful labor unions, won a convincing victory on Tuesday to become her party's nominee for governor.

... analysts had predicted she might win about 32 percent of the vote. But she won 42 percent, with voters apparently agreeing with her argument that Rhode Island, which has one of the highest rates of unemployment in the country, needed to take serious action to dig itself out of its financial hole.
Her methods apparently did not upset primary voters:
Her opponents have cast her as a tool of Wall Street, and say she trumped up the pension problem to enrich her Wall Street friends, in part through increased state payments in hedge fund fees.
You know what all this means, of course:
Analysts were already predicting that if she won in November, Ms. Raimondo could go on to become a national star in the party, showing fellow Democrats that responsible policy is not necessarily bad politics, although organized labor may choose to differ.
Well, I suppose it was to be expected -- the big victories by Chris Christie in New Jersey, with lots of crossover support, showed us that the workers and retirees in the Democratic voter base are surprisingly eager to take out their economic anger on other workers and retirees who seem to have amassed a few more crumbs, rather than on the one-percenters who continue to make off with everything else on the table.

You can blame the party for this, or the mainstream media, but, by now, too many voters, including non-conservatives, have simply internalized this worldview. They've let themselves be divided and conquered.

We should always be suspicious of the rich. We should be deeply suspicious of any analysis of our economic problems that doesn't blame the rich. They have all the political power. Their recession ended years ago. They're experiencing an economic boom. When do we get some of what they're having? Well, the first step is suspecting them whenever our economy goes off the rails. After all, they're in charge.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014


Is there any battle the right thinks is too insignificant to fight? Apparently not:
Lawsuit Filed Against Gun Ban in Northern Mariana Islands

With the 9th Circuit ruling in Peruta, Guam, Hawaii, and the Northern Mariana Islands can no longer sustain heavy restrictions on the ownership and carry of handguns. Guam has already reformed its law. Hawaii has a ruling against it and is waiting to see what happens with the Peruta decision. Now the Northern Mariana Islands have had a lawsuit filed against them to repeal the total ban on the ownership and carry of handguns. It is hard to see how such a ban can stand, given the decisions in Heller, McDonald, and Peruta.

The lawsuit has been filed by two residents, Li-Rong Radich and David Radich. The lawsuit is supported by the Second Amendment Foundation, The NRA Civil Rights Legal Defense Fund, and Hawaii Defense Foundation....
Say, how cash-rich is your favorite activist organization? The NRA has enough scratch lying around to fund a lawsuit in the Northern Mariana Islands. But, of course, that the right for you. The right fights everywhere it thinks it can possibly fight. That's why the right wins so often.

I thought of that Mariana story when I read this at Booman Tribune:
... The Republicans voted unanimously against the confirmation of Henry Aaron to serve on the advisory board for Social Security for a term that ends in...
Wait for it:
... 18 days.
Yes you read that correctly:
Every Republican voted against him. Every damn one. They wouldn't vote to let this president's appointee to an obscure executive branch position have a job for the next two-and-a-half weeks.

But really, why not? Why shouldn't Republicans kick Henry Aaron? If they can, why shouldn't they, just to keep their curb-stomping feet limber? Right?

These are your modern right-wingers. In a non-violent way, they're as fanatical, as monomaniacally bellicose, and as sociopathically lacking in fellow-feeling for those who aren't members of their tribe as any member of ISIS. But that's why they win. They never stop fighting, and they treat every fight as total war.

Attention is being paid to a quote in The New York Times from Republican congressman Jack Kingston of Georgia, who portrays his party-mates as shamelessly cynical about working with the president on a response to ISIS:
"A lot of people would like to stay on the sideline and say, 'Just bomb the place and tell us about it later,'" said Representative Jack Kingston, Republican of Georgia, who supports having an authorization vote. "It's an election year. A lot of Democrats don't know how it would play in their party, and Republicans don't want to change anything. We like the path we're on now. We can denounce it if it goes bad, and praise it if it goes well and ask what took him so long."
Wait, what? It's going to hurt Republicans electorally to authorize military force? When has that ever been true?

Oh, sorry, I misunderstood: It's going to hurt Republicans electorally if they're seen agreeing with President Obama on anything ever. It risks damaging the Republican brand.

I think this quote is being interpreted, in part, as "We Republicans don't want to be saddled with any of the blame if the military action runs into problems." But why would that happen? When there are foreign policy problems, presidents get blamed. The president is the commander in chief of the armed forces. Many Democrats signed on to the Iraq War and denounced it later. The Bush administration got the lion's share of the blame.

No, I think this is about Republicans wanting to run as the We Hate Obama With The Fury Of A Thousand Suns And Would Denounce Him If He Cured Cancer And Simultaneously Saved A Thousand Newborns From A Burning Building Party. This is about not even wanting to hint at the possibility that Obama has any appropriate policies or redeeming features whatsoever -- certainly not with an election coming up!

And that says something about the depraved notion of patriotism that's been bred in the curdled souls of Republican voters. They hate all Democrats so much that they refuse to join with Democrats to fight a group you'd think they'd regard as an unimaginably awful enemy. But to them, Democrats are a far worse enemy.

I think Rick Perlstein has a point when he argues that Gerald Ford's decision to pardon Richard Nixon set a standard for the coddling of elite wrongdoers:
... political elites took away a dangerous lesson from the Ford pardon -- our true shame: All it takes is the incantation of magic words like "stability" and "confidence" and "consensus" in order to inure yourself from accountability for just about any malfeasance.
Perlstein writes about the investigation of U.S. intelligence agencies that began in 1975:
At the height of the intelligence investigations Washington Post's publisher Katharine Graham complained of the media's tendency to "see a conspiracy and cover-up in everything." Sen. J. William Fulbright said "these are not the kind of truths we need most right now," that the nation demanded "restored stability and confidence" instead. The CIA had no trouble promptly drumming up a disingenuous propaganda campaign that all but neutered reform. And, 39 years later, these institutions are still largely broken, and still almost entirely unaccountable.
That sort of thinking prevailed with regard to Iran-contra in the Reagan years and also the various abuses of the George W. Bush administration -- don't punish the principals severely and, heaven knows, don't impeach the president, much less hold the executive branch accountable in any other way.

But this isn't exactly an ironclad rule, because there's been at least one post-Nixon exception: Bill Clinton.

The elites didn't express horror at the thought of Clinton being forced from office because of the Lewinsky scandal. Approximately 125 newspapers called for Clinton's resignation. The media tut-tutters stood by as Clinton was actually impeached. The Washington Post, where in the mid-1970s there was disdain for those who allegedly "see a conspiracy and cover-up in everything," was home in the 1990s to those who believed that the president "came in here" (i.e., Washington) "and trashed the place, and it's not his place."

If President Obama's poll numbers remain low, and if a Republican Senate takeover inspires serious efforts to impeach the president, I wonder whether the insiders are going to argue in favor of "stability" or just join the pile-on. Given what happened to the last Democratic president, my money's on the latter.