End of Days for the Bubble-Saurii.

NEW SLAUGHTERAlong with the strategies, tactics and rhetoric, this whole shutdown/default crisis is a fascinating moral drama, at least for President Obama.

His level of exasperation with Republican malfeasance and ineptitude was pretty evident in his press conference yesterday, and mirrors what the public is saying in polls. You saw today’s? Where Congressional approval has hit … 5%? Scrape away a bit and you’ll find that number is an overwhelming condemnation of the Tea Party factor.

Obama certainly knows — and said — that we can’t go on like this, with the same bunch of “neo-confederates” (TM former Republican staffer Mike Lofgren) ginning up a national crisis every three months. I suspect he is factoring that into his thinking talk of a “deal” that kicks this can a month down the road. Why do that? What does that really serve? At some point enough has to be enough, and the public at large is clearly on board with that line of thought.

Continue reading “End of Days for the Bubble-Saurii.”

Syria: At Least Someone’s Actually Thinking About It

NEW SLAUGHTERMy good friend Jim Leinfelder kicked over this “dialogue” on what to do/not do with Syria, wrItten by the New Yorker’s George Packer.  It’s intended to engender a rational conversation about the situation, our “responsibilities”, morality, etc. Allow me to jump in

It begins …

So it looks like we’re going to bomb Assad.

Good.

Really? Why good?

Did you see the videos of those kids? I heard that ten thousand people were gassed. Hundreds of them died. This time, we have to do something.

Yes, I saw the videos.

And you don’t want to pound the shit out of him?

I want to pound the shit out of him.

Continue reading “Syria: At Least Someone’s Actually Thinking About It”

Eddie Snowden’s Girlfriend is the Key

NEW SLAUGHTERMaybe the “celebrity-fugitive-with-hot-girlfriend” aspect of the massive NSA spying “scandal” is what will keep it alive long enough to have an intelligent national discussion of what it all means, how we want to conduct our war-without-end on terror … and how much we’re willing to pay for it.

Because, as it is, this one is disappearing faster from radar contact than Darrell Issa’s IRS investigation.

The NSA/PRISM/Snowden story has a lot of interesting facets, few of them all that surprising to me.

My first reaction to the SHOCK!!! of the Guardian/Glenn Greenwald story was, “Well, what do you think they’ve been doing with all that money?” But then I’ve never quite gotten over the collective freak-out in the aftermath of 9/11 that so seamlessly transitioned the country’s military-industrial complex (beatin’ on the Rooskies) to the intelligence-industrial complex (beatin’ on the jihadiis). America’s warrior lobbyists fully exploited a national disaster and over the course of the decade that followed turned five of the counties surrounding Washington DC into the most affluent in the country and sucked thousands of whip-smart kids into “top-secret” jobs, not as lowly-paid, grey gummint employees, but as quite nicely remunerated for-profit junior executives, with stock bonuses from their work in The War on Terror for Shareholder Value.

While there just might be a hint of disingenuousness to the Obama administration’s claim to “welcome a discussion”, I think it’s abundantly clear that this program, PRISM, far exceeds anything Team Obama could ever assemble. In fact, this is a classic view into the country’s permanent government, the agencies and contractors who outlive all but the hoariest, senile Dixie legislator. The staggering amount of money freaked-out Congress threw at “national intelligence” after 9/11 — as much as an additional $80 billion a year (or closing in on $1 trillion for 12 years … plus of course the cost of Iraq and Afghanistan) — reinvigorated a contractors-at-the-trough feeding frenzy that hasn’t stopped since Word War II.

Hell, I doubt you could win in a district as blue as Manhattan’s Upper West Side if you were accused of being “soft on terrorism”.

Overall, I’m pleased young Ed Snowden connected with Greenwald and all this spilled out. Pleased, because I seriously doubt the revelation that the US can track patterns in phone and internet connections is news to any terrorist mastermind, and might … not likely, but might … lead a few courageous voices to demand the same kind of efficiency and reduction in fraud and waste in intelligence-gathering that so many in Congress routinely demand for food stamps, Head Start and college loans.

The classic line about the Pentagon is that its in-breeding with defense contractors has created a “self-licking ice cream cone”. Ditto, with the NSA, the CIA and the blizzard of corporate spooks nuzzled up against them just outside the DC Beltway. This is a system that creates and sustains itself, with every cycle of fear-mongering adding octane/tax dollars to the tank.

One way to judge Obama’s commitment to an open discussion of how we protect the country against stateless villains is if he issues a blanket pardon to Snowden. The kid’s been fired by his private contractor firm. That’s good enough for me. That precedent alone will chill any further “disclosures” from those thousands of young brainiacs now paying on fat mortgages, BMW payments and booking kids into private schools in the rolling hills outside DC.

The better move is to bring an immunized Snowden up on Capitol Hill and have him (and his former employer) explain how exactly he got into a position to have access to what he did, and what he really knows.

Better yet, set up a Booz, Allen terminal in the Congressional hearing room and let Snowden access the phone and internet records of a couple of Senators sitting right in front of him  — (come on, you want to know what Ted Cruz downloads after a tough day at the office) — and a couple of media news stars, too. I’ll suggest Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs. Let him show the country how this stuff really works, and what we’ve paid (another) trillion bucks for.

But the way our media culture operates today, it’ll take racy pictures of his dancer girlfriend to sustain this story at the supermarket checkout lane.

Post-Sandy Hook, an Acid Test for Actual Leadership

NEW SLAUGHTERMuch like how the word “hero” has been devalued by slapping it on every kid who scores a goal in PeeWee soccer, instead of remaining exclusive to people who risk life and limb to save or protect someone or something else, the word “leader” has also been diminished in recent years. An indispensable (and irresistible) tic of marketing jargon, “leader” today has been pretty much reduced to describing anyone who “wins”, which is to say “leads” in ratings, sales, revenue, page views, and Twitter followers.

Excuse me, but I prefer a bit more cred in my definition  of “leader”. I want something that has a fat chunk of the old school criteria of “hero” wrapped up in it. Where “leader” described, for example, a person who dares to take the first step into a dangerous, perilous environment because it’s the right thing to do and because … someone has to show courage and risk pain to get the tough things done.

President Obama gave another moving speech Sunday night at the memorial for the kids and teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary School. But after delivering four of these eulogies in four years (and passing on literally a dozen other “opportunities”) I don’t know what the guy can possibly say the next time, beyond, “This shit has got to stop.”

To date, Obama the deft politician, has played the far margins of America’s highly irrational gun “debate”. Every strategist has no doubt told him that there is no “winning” in any attempt to legislate sanity into the sub-culture of gun obsessives, people who regard their “right” to own and stockpile home arsenals as an imperative equivalent to breathing. Even at this moment, after his unspecific call to do “something”, Obama has to be calculating the effect of merely hinting at new controls on assault rifles, high-capacity ammo clips, hand guns, registration loopholes and internet ammo sales.

If his election in ’08 (and again last moth) setting off a buying frenzy among the country’s gun fetishists, convinced without reason that a socialist, liberal, black, Kenyan Muslim was going to send Black Helicopters full of ATF agents to confiscate their AR-15 squirrel-hunting rifle, you can only imagine the hysteria that will follow word — via Rush Limbaugh, FoxNews and local outlets like Phoenix’ “Gun Talk Radio” — that the bastard was actually making a move. By day’s end, every ammo warehouse in Pahrump, Nevada be stripped clean, and crowds out front would be milling ravenously, like extras from “The Walking Dead”.

Perhaps even worse, a serious, coordinated move on weapons of mass human slaughter would have the political effect of sucking the air out of every other thing Obama wants to accomplish in a second term. What he is weighing, I suspect is that lacking a constructive agenda of their own, Republicans, led by their “entertainment news complex”, have only obstructionism as a means to impact legislation. The GOP’s radical base would love nothing more than a fight over “constitutional rights” as a way to avoid dealing with genuine tax reform, entitlement spending, climate change … and every other thing we need the government to act on.

But upon the bodies of 20 bullet-riddled grade schoolers (and their teachers) Obama may have arrived at a point where he has no choice. Playing the deft political game of strategic avoidance isn’t going to cut it anymore. We may have reached a point where not just his base, but a critical mass of the “reality based” public will hold his legacy accountable if he fails to make a serious, concerted effort on gun control. An effort to defeat the roiling, semi-to-outright fanatical subculture that to date has successfully obstructed every attempt to put the United States on a civilized, first-world, 21st century legal footing regarding private gun ownership.

But we the public have good reason to expect effective leadership from others in addition to Obama. The regularly pilloried news media — credible institutions like daily newspapers and affiliate TV news rooms — are also in a position of having to put some skin in a risky, fight-worth-having. I note the Star Tribune this morning editorializing against assault rifles, high-capacity clips and the familiar litany of flabbergasting absurdities in our gun “laws”. Thank you, for that. But the Strib might be well advised to make the peeling of the onion of gun obsession a major commitment over the coming months.

Likewise, TV news, which floats on a marketing plan of neighborliness and fraternity while simultaneously lubricating its revenue stream with ghoulish coverage of any kind of mayhem that delivers “hot pictures”, is going to have to decide if it’s going to be part of the solution or just continue playing professional empaths to the latest appalling tragedy. It’s nice that all the local anchors demonstrate paternal concern after every one of these atrocities. But it would be far more helpful if they actually acted like the “leaders” they constantly promote themselves as being and also took a public stand in support of correcting gross misperceptions about violence in America, (we’re safer in our homes than we’ve ever been), if not the regulations most of the reporters, anchors, and news directors know are long, long overdue.

While I seriously doubt TV stations will get anywhere near such leadership, and newspapers will largely wall it off in earnest editorials, everyone effected by this kind of home-brewed terrorism needs to be honest about who were dealing with and what we’re afraid of.

Everyone can pick their favorite research, but the most credible is clear that an obsession with guns has profound psycho-sexual roots in feelings of inadequacy, marginalization, lack of power over personal fate, graspings for respect and authority and of course some level of paranoia. These aren’t  just references to the Jared Loughners, James Holmes and Adam Lanzas of the world — clear psychological basket cases — but fundamentally anyone who stockpiles ammo, “collects” assault rifles and makes the manifestly irrational argument in favor of military killing machines, high-capacity clips, internet ammo sales, etc.

Moreover, as I’m certain Obama well knows, the crowd who makes these pro-assault weapon arguments (otherwise known as the “arm the teachers” argument) is essentially the same crowd also making irrational, emotion-based arguments denying human-caused climate change, insisting only tax breaks for the wealthy and social cuts for the poor (and mentally unbalanced) can pull us out of recession, that “legitimate rape” prevents conception, that evolution is an unproven theory and on … and on.

The time for a “public dialogue” with this crowd is over. That dialogue, really an eye-glazing ranting match, has been had ad nauseam. There is no productive point to it. Their arguments were long since exposed as fallacious and nonsensical.

But that crowd can still do plenty of mayhem. They form the basis of the “primary challenge” scenario that terrifies every Republican incumbent. They will empty their bank accounts to support everyone taking a harder, tougher, crazier stand than the guy wobbling in the face of being shamed into voting for the right thing.

Politicians and anyone else daring to promote themselves as a community leader is going to have to suck it up, gird themselves, take the flack — and hit to advertiser dollars, if … if … they have any conscience about being a responsible citizen.

Over the past decade, counting the build up of the intelligence industry and two wars in the Middle East, United States taxpayers has spent well over a trillion dollars fighting terrorism, which is generally defined as any act that injects a pervasive fear into the population. So what else to do you call this gun insanity? What has to stop first is the craven pandering to and avoidance of a political subset most notable for their irrational fear-mongering (with, As I say, rates of violence ironically declining in all Western cultures), hot button hysteria and the willingness to support their most cherished single issue with their checkbooks.

Genuine leaders will have to isolate this sub-culture, by calling it out for what it is, and then take the fight directly into its face by laying out how the rest of us — including cherubic grade schoolers — are being held prey to their paranoia.

In the Light of the Morning After …

A few comments and questions on the morning after …

A: The “fight for the soul of the Republican party” requires that sober-minded pragmatists within the party have the guts to stand up to their radical, alienating insurgent wing. With two more Tea Party-driven losses in the Senate, (in Indiana and Missouri), common sense would suggest that the far … far … right should instantly and wholly lose credibility among the party’s “more moderate” leadership and major donors. But … unless the party somehow reworks its primary system and simultaneously de-legitimizes the influence of that wing’s primary thought-shapers — rich-as-Croesus evangelical ministries, talk radio and FoxNews — what few moderates there are will continue to live in fear of torpedoing their own careers if they don’t continue to pander to their party’s least-productive elements. Hell, even Mitch McConnell is worrying about a primary challenge from someone far to the right of him. Even this morning I’m getting e-mail from Tea Party groups arguing — predictably — that Romney, like Bob Dole and John McCain lost because “only real conservatives get elected”.

B: This fundamental strategic problem is umbilically-linked to the party’s lack of appeal among women and minorities, especially “illegals” as so many of them like to describe Hispanics, a group closing in on 20% of the population. What “soul-saver” among viable Republicans dares run with a message of protecting a woman’s individual rights AND compassionate immigration reform? Maybe Marco Rubio on the latter. (A favorite factoid from the last days of the campaign: Had Romney drawn George W. Bush’s numbers among Latinos, he’d have won several swing states.)

C: Barack Obama’s support among white women was the mirror image of his (lack of) support among white men. To which I ask, “How has the experience of white women been so much different/better with Obama — or black men — than that of white males?” My wife argues it’s because women, despite being 52% of the electorate still regard themselves as a minority, certainly in terms of holding political power. I suspect women are far less threatened by a black leader than white men.

D: The Catholic church did itself serious moral damage with its medieval-zealot push on the gay marriage amendment here and around the country. Coupled with the taint of evangelical “craziness” throughout the GOP primaries — and that irrationality’s effect on Romney’s credibility — the drift away from organized religion in this country will probably accelerate.

E:  In terms of 11th hour factors, Romney’s flagrant lies about Chrysler moving Jeep production to China had far more impact on “freezing his momentum” than superstorm Sandy. Moreover, had he wanted to counter the President’s leaderly posture overseeing disaster relief he could have written a personal check of several million dollars to the Red Cross, or coordinated with Karl Rove and other allies to do the same, rather than burning off excess cash on advertising in states where he had no chance in hell — like Minnesota. If you are as rich as Romney, the average guy/gal assumes you’ll step up when things get really bad. I doubt it even crossed his mind.

F: We have entered a new era in political polling, or at least the aggregation/collated end of polling. It is eery how accurate the “Nate Silver model” was last night. And this will only improve.

G: Post-victory and across the pundit spectrum this morning the sage counsel is that “the President must reach across the aisle”. As though he and he alone must “seek compromise”. Recognition of the 1000-pound gorilla presence of the GOP’s far-right insurgency is still not considered “balanced” among the vast majority of mainstream commentators. Good luck accurately reporting the story of the next two months if that’s your default ethic.

H: Finally — for now — the public appetite for a female presidential candidate in 2016 is palpable. I somehow doubt the GOP’s highest profile women — Michele Bachmann — have anything remotely approaching the broad-based appeal of Hillary Clinton (whose popularity has never been as high, but who may decide her time has passed) or freshly-elected Elizabeth Warren.

That said, I’m one happy guy today. And my prediction of a 1.5% popular/ “just under 300” electoral vote win for Obama was a pretty good B+ as calls go.

So What’ll It Be, “Change” or “Trust”?

The only remotely credible reason for voting or Mitt Romney is that with him comes a loosening of political gridlock and the possibility that something will get done in DC.

What “something” means to those inclined to this argument is almost entirely economic — which is valid as far as it goes in the face of the sluggishness of the heavily obstructed, politically hobbled recovery. But “something” is also inchoate. The middle-class choose to believe “something” will be good for them. But only a very special few have any genuine, realistic hopes of benefiting from a Romney-induced “recovery”.

In his column this morning, David Brooks of The New York Times imagines the effects of the next four years under Barack Obama or Romney. Essentially, he boils it to: Stasis with Obama. A repeat of the last four (or two) years. While under Romney, the GOP’s insurgent wing will move from obstruction of concepts and legislation their adult leaders once supported but reversed and walled off in their single-minded determination to destroy Obama’s presidency (national crisis be damned). Correctly, Brooks reminds readers that GOP politicians, most in gerrymandered-safe districts, are far more fearful of being thrown out of office by a right-wing, Tea Party challenge than the implausible rise of some populist Democrat. A Romney presidency would, he argues, neutralize the Tea Party and relax its grip around the throats of “moderate” Republicans, whoever they are.

Brooks of course is persona non grata with Republican insurgents, and has previously expressed his concerns that no voter anywhere has any idea what Romney will actually do, since the man has at some point over the past six years been both for and against every major issue under debate and has been resolute in avoiding anything remotely specific when it comes to economic management.

In these final days, with closing arguments reduced to “change” (Romney) and “trust” (Obama), I suspect voters swayed by Romney’s message are buying into Brooks’ thesis — that with Romney, “something” will at least change, where with Obama it’ll be another four years of trench warfare.

It goes without saying I’m unimpressed with the quality of deductive reasoning on display in that acceptance. In addition to avoiding a deeper analysis of what kind of “change” Romney is talking about (and who could possibly know, beyond loosening the fetters on “job creators”?), the crowd that wishfully chooses to believe that is simply impatient, and prepared to gamble that more trickle down good for them will come from a return to George W. Bush-style economics/regulation than steady, incremental recovery (from Bush economics) under Obama.

Obama plainly has the more coherent, empirically rooted argument. He has by and large done what he promised to do four years ago. The economy was saved from complete collapse. The government did have to extend credit to the auto industry, and that worked. The stimulus protected millions of jobs. The unemployment rate is falling. The housing industry is recovering. Obamacare will begin driving down every businesses ruinous cost of health care and millions more will be covered than two years ago.  (OK, Guantanamo is still open. But as with home loan modification, full financial industry oversight and re-regulation, GOP obstruction is far more to blame than any other factor).

In stark contrast to a guy who has said everything and yet nothing, Obama’s “trust” argument is more logically resonant. But logic isn’t always what carries elections.

If logic and “trust” mattered there’d be a graver reaction to Romney’s shameless lie of the day — the bit about Obama shipping “all” Jeep manufacturing to China, a claim he apparently pulled off a right-wing blog which mangled it from a Bloomberg story. Worse, when called on it, by the media and Chrysler management, Team Romney’s response was to — double down on the lie.

Point being, “trust” is an antonym for Mitt Romney.

But there are valid questions attached to the Obama-brings-more-of-the-same concern. I also wonder what a second term Obama will be able to do. Avoiding complete conservative control of the Supreme Court is reason enough to reelect him. But … can he use the threat of the “fiscal cliff” to re-set the revenue equations to middle-class advantage? (As opposed to relying on the largesse of the upper classes to toss some crumbs over the castle walls.) No one can possibly know.

On the other hand, you know with absolute certainty that Romney will provide tax relief for the wealthy, many of whom have bolstered their holdings through the recession by increasing the “productivity” of their remaining work force, and have no reason at all to return to pre-2008 wage and benefit scales.

But really, what other trick does the GOP have, other than obstruction? I do not see either Mitch McConnell or Eric Cantor adopting a conciliatory line to a second-term Obama. Both of those guys’ careers depends on remaining hyper-partisan warriors. If you like operating on a worst-case scenario basis, you can only expect them to double-down obstruction, like Mitt Romney with his shameless lie of the day.

What I hope … hope … Obama will do is accept his political reality, re-set his tactics and rally both his base (liberals disappointed with his willingness to deal collegially with one-note adversaries solely focused on his destruction) and the sympathetic middle class to high indignation over the lack of functional patriotism in the GOP’s obstruction.

Even the narrowest reelection victory is a mandate for “change”.

 

 

 

 

“Vision” and “leadership” with neither clarity or courage.

By the quaint standards of the “reality based” community, Barack Obama “won” last night’s debate handily. He offered a serious, nuanced view of how foreign policy works with ideological zealots like Iran — (News flash: It’s a wee bit more complicated than “projecting strength” or buying more boats for the Navy). But command of nuanced reality isn’t what matters in politics.

Mitt Romney’s people are sounding quite pleased that their guy once again avoided damage. And he did it as he always has, by maintaining a nearly completely opaque wall around what he would actually do about any of the serious problems of our times. … other than “keeping America strong and confident and creating 12 million new jobs” … details to follow … maybe … talk to my scheduling secretary.

Thanks to the heavily negotiated/litigated rules for these debates (and for the moderators), the mano a mano phase of the campaign has ended with no discussion at all of social issues, like abortion, the Republican machine’s anti-gay marriage and Voter ID initiatives and … oh, yeah … climate change. The latter of which might have some very serious impacts on “foreign policy” in the not at all distant future.

I’m certain that if Romney had been asked what he would do about carbon emissions he would have assured us that he has a “vision” to act with clarity, authority and strong leadership … without ever actually being clear, or demonstrating any kind of authoritative grasp of the subject matter and therefore betraying a profound lack of personal courage, a principal asset of leadership.

The fact there is a debate designated solely to foreign policy is because earnest thinkers believe presidents are never more presidential than when managing international conflicts and crises. This plays in the face of the fact that your average persuadable voter is far more interested in which guy will put more money in his pocket, and probably knows so little about international geography he thinks Iran and Syria share a common border. With that in mind the Romney strategy of avoiding mistakes — by again saying nothing and revealing nothing while suggesting something strong and leader-ly — pretty well satisfied their campaign needs for another night.

Since Obama clearly demonstrated both a willingness to debate the interlocking mechanics of foreign policy and remind voters of how he’s already pulled that off, I won’t bore you with a lot of moderator-bashing. Except to say … veteran journalist Bob Schieffer seemed content to play clock keeper and wallpaper. Schieffer knows enough about the nitty-gritty of foreign policy to have interjected a much deserved “and how, exactly … ” a couple dozen times last night. But as I say, his role has been negotiated down to an edge-less nub by strategists for the two campaigns.

My newest brain storm:  A channel that runs the debates on a five-minute delay with “real-time” fact-checking for your average “apology tour” and “private credit was available to GM” moments. That gimmick would have spared the crowd at our debate party last night a lot of spontaneous profanity. (I hope the friend of our friend from St. Paul wasn’t horrified when a scene from “Casino” broke out … three or four times.)

Barring an October surprise from one of the GOP’s leading intellectual lights — like Donald Trump — my prediction is Obama will win by something around 1.5% and a bit less than 300 electoral votes.

But as a kind of horror movie thought experiment consider the psycho-dynamics of a Romney presidency.

In George W.Bush liberals like myself saw a guy manifestly unequipped to be President of the United States. Intellectually lazy, glib to a fault, dismissive of any countering logic, content to be steered by authority figures out of a past generation and incapable of serious reflection and self-criticism. … but affable. A guy you probably would have a beer with. (Dick Cheney … well, only if I could slip sodium pentothal into his mug.) And all our original fears were born out in a genuinely disastrous administration. It was an eight year-run of reckless foreign adventurism and profligate spending that will require another 10 years of repair to set right … assuming we don’t reignite it.

But Bush had friends when he arrived in the White House. Not those who egged his limo on the way to the inauguration, but within his party. People who liked him, personally. Does Mitt Romney?

Based on the primary season I think we can conclude that Romney is despised nearly as much by his own party as a Democrats and liberals. His insular, highly deceptive “leadership style” has quite thoroughly infuriated his own party, and liberals, again judging from my contacts and the venom thrown at his image last night, deeply, genuinely and with multiple valid reasons hold him in utter contempt. I have to go back to Richard Nixon for a candidate whose personal ethic I find as loathsome as Mitt Romney’s.

And that would be his situation at the start … widespread contempt and deep mistrust, with abundant good reason —  before the first shell is lobbed in the political wars. And well before he could commence his vision to “bring America together” … through strength and clarity and leadership … details to follow.