Archive for the 'House Red: Politics & Current Affairs' Category

Madeleine Albright said what?

There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.—Madeleine Albright, calling on women to support Hillary Clinton at a rally in Concord, New Hampshire

This sounds like something from a Saturday Night Live sketch. Yet Albright indeed said it. It turns out she has been using the line for years.

Hillary Clinton defended Albright, pointing out this is an expression of feelings that grew out of Albright’s own long fight for equality. Fair enough. Clinton goes on to say, “Good grief, we’re getting offended by everything these days! People can’t say anything without offending somebody.” Also fair enough, as far as political correctness goes, but political correctness is not the issue here. The issue is the absurd suggestion that women should support Hillary Clinton because she is a woman and the implication that for a woman to support Bernie Sanders is an act of betrayal.

Is there a special place in hell for men who don’t help each other, thus I should support Sanders? Does the principle hold for Hispanics, who thus should support Marco Rubio? For blockheads who… ah, but this line of thought is of little use with the Republican field.

Clinton’s loyalty to a longtime supporter and a person of accomplishment in her own right is admirable. Her unwillingness to denounce a proposition that would be unacceptable if used to call for men to support a male candidate, for blacks to support a black candidate, or for whites to support a white candidate is ethically dubious and from a tactical standpoint obtuse. This is the kind of thing that leads many people, and not just Clinton’s enemies, not only those inclined to sexism, to question her integrity and character. That she either cannot see this or does not see fit to acknowledge it calls her judgement into question as well. Surely she could find a way to tactfully disavow the statement without throwing Albright under the bus. Why can she not this once bring herself to take the high road?

Contrast Clinton’s reaction with Bernie Sanders’s unequivocal denunciation of a group of male supporters who have made “callous and sometimes misogynistic comments about Clinton”:

“I have heard about it,” he told CNN. “It’s disgusting. Look, we don’t want that crap.

“Anyone who’s supporting me and doing sexist things, we don’t want them. We don’t want them. That is not what this campaign is about.”

Tom McCarthy, Albright: ‘special place in hell’ for women who don’t support Clinton, The Guardian, 6 February 2016

Alan Yuhas, Clinton defends Albright and Steinem apologises as sexism claims dominate Democratic race, The Guardian, 7 February 2016

memo from the editorial desk

Minor edits were made to this piece after it was posted. The revisions were by way of reflection and elaboration on the issues. Nothing substantive was changed.

* * * * *

More Scenes from Tilikum Crossing Running Route. The photos are unedited. Many could do with some cropping.

l’affaire Malheur: denouement; or, a single episode in a long, tedious saga?

The fiends at the editorial desk have advised your oft humbled scribe that this site is not devoted exclusively to coverage of l’affaire Malheur. Fair enough. Nonetheless, certain developments should not pass without comment.

The events of Tuesday, 26 January 2016, did not close out the affair. Far from it. We witnessed only the conclusion of one episode in an ongoing saga as the drama shifts now to the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse in Portland.

Meantime, the propaganda machine is cranked up full bore. Paramount leader Ammon Bundy reportedly called his wife from the back seat of a police car to put the word out that Finicum was murdered while cooperating with police officers. Next came characterizations, by Bundy’s attorney and others, of the affair as a peaceful protest, you know, the takeover of a federal building and property by armed blockheads, accompanied by death threats against the local sheriff, stalking of the sheriff’s wife, who felt compelled to leave town for her safety, threats against the sheriff’s elderly parents, hacking into government computers and accessing credit card info and personal data, using federal equipment to build roads and expand a parking lot on a wildlife refuge, these geniuses blithely videotaping themselves committing crimes, etc.—yes, peaceful, these disciples of Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

The murder meme buggers credulity. The authorities at all levels, federal, state, and local, were at evident pains to avoid violent confrontation that would give people opportunity to martyr themselves. The past month witnessed militants sporting firearms wherever they went, bizarrely allowed to come and go pretty much as they pleased, indulging in radical, sometimes violent rhetoric that rejected the legitimacy of the federal government and expressed willingness to kill and be killed. Video shows Finicum speeding away after the truck he drove and a jeep carrying Ammon Bundy and others were stopped on a highway in rural Oregon while en route to the town of John Day to promote their cause. Those in the Bundy vehicle were arrested. One passenger emerged from Finicum’s truck and surrendered to the authorities. After a few minutes Finicum took off, swerved when he came to a roadblock, nearly hitting an officer, and crashed into a snowbank, whereupon he emerged from the truck with his hands first in the air. There is no audio, so we do not know what was said. Finicum and officers reportedly exchanged shouts. He twice reached inside his coat, where he had a handgun. It is not clear that he pulled out the gun before he was shot. Two rifles and another gun were found in the truck after the passengers surrendered. Ryan Bundy was wounded in the incident, though it is not clear exactly how that happened. Some accounts reported an exchange of gunfire, but I have not seen this corroborated. There are so many stories flying around that I could have missed it.

Those of us who did not already know ought to have learned in the past few years to be wary of official accounts of shootings by law enforcement. Under the circumstances I am sympathetic with the police officers. They should not be expected to wait for Finicum take out one of their number before responding. It is not as if he had no opportunity to surrender.

Assorted militia people, self-styled patriots, so-called sovereign citizens, and sundry other bundyista sympathizers do not share this view. Social media outrage is being ramped up. Lost in all this is the case of the Hammonds, the two Harney County ranchers sentenced to prison for arson on federal property. The injustice done the Hammonds is rooted not in federal land ownership, policy, and regulation but in mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, under which the Hammonds were sentenced to a prison term that is arguably out of line with their crime, with judicial leniency not an option.

The militias, sovereign citizens, and their sundry spiritual kin may be a small percentage of the population, but they are armed and tend to be angry, their world view shaped by religious and political mythologies that seem just silly to those of a different mindset, yet form the basis of sincere and deeply held beliefs. Not a few are delusional. One suspects that they will continue to do their part to make the country ungovernable. In this they are not alone.

Ah, ça suffit. Next up, some other topic altogether. We have two pieces more or less in progress and a third in mind: the library as refuge for the homeless, conflicts of interest in the funding of health care research, and Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth, which I saw today for the second time. Again I was enchanted.

References

Kelly House, FBI releases video footage of LaVoy Finicum shooting, OregonLive, 28 January 2016

Sam Levin, Oregon militia standoff: One dead after Ammon Bundy and others arrested, The Guardian, 26 January 2016

Nathan Rott, Finicum’s Death Changes Tone Of Occupied Wildlife Refuge In Oregon, NPR, 28 January 2016

John Sepulveda, Explainer: The Bundy Militia’s Particular Brand Of Mormonism, Oregon Public Broadcasting, 3 January 2016

Sovereign Citizens Movement, Southern Poverty Law Center

Jeffrey Tayler, It’s the Mormons and the Kochs: The secret roots of white, male Bundy rage, Salon, 10 January 2016

Les Zaitz, Oregon standoff: Bundy occupation leaves scars behind, OregonLive, 30 January 2016

Malheur Theater of the Absurd

Who knows what would happen if it was me and my native brothers took up arms and occupied a federal building or even that refuge out there? What would happen? Do you think the government would let us … go back into town? And eat? Get supplies? And have people out there bring us wood and keeping us warm? — Jarvis Kennedy, sergeant of arms of the Burns Paiute Tribal Council (OregonLive, 19 January 2016)

The political class remains bafflingly silent as the insurrection in southeastern Oregon enters its fourth week. With the authorities, federal, state, and local, at considerable pains to avoid a violent confrontation, Barack Obama may feel that public comment from the White House would only inflame the situation. While this is an arguable point, there comes a time when it is irresponsible for the president to ignore outright criminal actions and continued defiance of federal authority.

A search of the transcripts for the Republican presidential debate on 15 January and the Democratic debate on 17 January turned up no mention of Malheur. Republican candidates did comment during the early days of the rebellion, although with the notable exception of Donald Trump, quelle surprise, they were careful not to do so forcefully. Trump stated forthrightly, “You cannot let people take over federal property. You can’t, because once you do that, you don’t have a government anymore.” (Joan McCarter, Daily Kos). Lest Trump be given too much credit for sensibility, we note McCarter’s report at Daily Kos that a Trump campaign official, New Hampshire Veterans for Trump co-chair Jerry DeLumus, is a Bundyista.

Where is Senator Lindsey Graham, who has a penchant for waxing apoplectic on the subject of national security? A gang of Constitution-waving felons, petty criminals, thieves, bigots, tax scofflaws, and general blockheads (Faces of the Malheur occupation, The Oregonian/Oregon Live) who could not pass a seventh-grade civics exam have occupied federal land and buildings, accessed government computers and records, including credit cards and personal information on government employees, built roads and expanded a parking a lot on a wildlife refuge, used government equipment to tear down fences so cattle can graze freely in the refuge, and offered armed “protection” for ranchers who defy the law of the land by refusing to pay fees for their cattle to graze on public property. They deny the legitimacy of the federal government and in effect call for its destruction. How is this not a national security issue?

Guys in camouflage play soldier, no doubt in deadly earnest, as they blow horns, provide armed security for Maximum Supreme Leader Ammon Bundy and other spokesmen for the group, and patrol the perimeter on horseback. Two young girls, sisters ages eight and nine, are at the occupied refuge with their parents. Is it too cynical to speculate that they may be there as a shield of innocents to deter the authorities from using force to end the occupation? One can imagine how the situation will be exploited, and not just by the Bundyistas, should harm come the girls’ way. (Peacher, Militants Bring Young Children…)

The only arrest to date of which I am aware is of Kenneth Medenbach, who in quite an exhibition of hubris, arrogance, and stupidity stole a truck from the refuge and drove it thirty miles to a Safeway in Burns to pick up groceries. A second stolen vehicle was also found in the Safeway parking lot. Medenbach was arrested on suspicion of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. Suspicion? The second driver seems to have eluded the authorities by going into the Safeway before they arrived on the scene, a development that is, shall we say, puzzling. These guys do not appear to be masterminds.

Meantime, local residents and others in Oregon and across the Northwest have taken a stand against the Bundyistas in town meetings and organized protests. The opposition includes hunters, environmentalists, Portland Audubon Society, Oregon Natural Desert Association, Native Americans, and Great Old Broads for Wilderness. Oregon governor Kate Brown and Congressmen Earl Blumenauer and Peter De Fazio have called on federal law enforcement to bring the occupation to an end. These heartening developments are tempered by reports that blockheads continue to make their way to Malheur to join the insurrection and antigovernment groups and low level so-called conservative political figures have taken up the cause.

At present there is no end in site. Oregon Public Broadcasting reported this morning that the Bundyistas believe that they can gain recruits and support by drawing out the occupation. The two most likely outcomes are both undesirable. Either it ends with violence, or an accord is reached that allows the Bundyistas to claim a propaganda victory and encourages them to do it over again in another locale, in which case there will be violence down the road, maybe sooner, maybe later. If there is a third way, I do not see it.

memo from the editorial desk

Minor edits were made after this piece was initially published. The gist is unchanged.

References

Alison Flood, Ursula Le Guin blasts coverage of Oregon militia’s ‘Right-Winged Loonybirds’, The Guardian, 21 January 2016

Jerry Headley, Malheur Occupation: Who Has A Claim To This Land? 6 January 2016, KUOW.org (Seattle)

Sam Levin, Locals demand Oregon militia leave refuge: ‘It’s time for you to go home’ The Guardian, 20 January 2016

Levin, Oregon militia could face more than 10 years in prison, legal experts say, The Guardian, 14 January 2016

Martha Marks (board chair of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship), Protecting Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is conservative, The Hill, 19 January 2016

Joan McCarter, Donald Trump says he’d end the Oregon standoff just by telling the Bundys ‘You gotta get out’ Daily Kos

Geoff Norcross and John Sepulvado, How Militants May “Indict” Non-Believers, OPB, 22 January 2016

Rallies in Portland, Eugene, other NW cities implore Malheur occupiers to go home, OregonLive, 19 January 2016

Faces of the Malheur occupation: Meet the militants and their visitors, The Oregonian/Oregon Live, 9 January 2016

Amanda Peacher, Bend Protesters Rally Against Refuge Occupation, OPB, 15 January 2016

Peacher, Militants Bring Young Children To Stay At Occupied Refuge, OPB, 22 January 2016

2016: A Wild Opening Week

With the new year we step, or stagger, into the second half of the second decade of the century. Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana, as the late Townes Van Zandt used to say.

The year is off to a wild start. Armed blockheads kicked it off by occupying Malheur National Wildlife Headquarters in southeastern Oregon. They defy duly constituted authority, federal, state, and local, while flaunting their firearms, flashing copies of the US Constitution, and styling themselves patriots with a remarkable absence of any sense of irony. I believe the technical term for this is insurrection : an act or instance or revolting against civil authority or an established government.

To date the authorities have acted with restraint and caution, seeking to avoid a violent confrontation. It could go without saying that there is reluctance to criticize an attempt to get a peaceful resolution. Unfortunately, restraint only encourages individuals of a certain mindset to believe there will be no consequences for open defiance of the law and even taking up arms against the federal government. We have seen this before with the 2014 Cliven Bundy standoff in Nevada. Père Bundy is a sorry scofflaw who owes the federal government some $1.2 million in unpaid grazing fees. As of the end of 2015 Bundy continued to graze his cattle on federal land and had not the paid the fees (Bundy standoff, Wikipedia). Is it any wonder that the Bundy boys et al. seem to have concluded that they can up the ante at Malheur with impunity?

The gang at Malheur has reportedly been joined by a contingent from the Idaho branch of militia blockheads, among others. There are reports that journalists have witnessed them driving a government vehicle and, more seriously, accessing government computers. It seems that they are allowed to come and go at will. Harney County sheriff David Ward has received death threats, his wife has been followed home, and his elderly parents harassed. No excess of imagination is needed to contemplate the howls from Republican—and certain Democratic—quarters if these were Muslim, black, or radical environmentalist blockheads. No opportunity would be lost to excoriate Barack Obama for weakness and inaction.

Meantime, US ally Saudi Arabia beheaded Saudi Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr and 46 other prisoners accused of terrorism in the kingdom’s largest mass execution since 1980. The executions provoked condemnation by Muslim leaders and outrage on the streets in Beirut, Bahrain, Baghdad, Pakistan, and Indian Kashmir. Protesters in Tehran tossed molotov cocktails that started a fire at the Saudi embassy. In retaliation Saudi Arabia cut ties with Iran and gave its diplomatic personnel 48 hours to leave the country. US and European response to the executions has been, shall we say, tepid.

Far from the least surprising development of the year’s inaugural week was the expression of certain sentiments by Monsieur Charles Koch with which I am in substantial agreement. This came in the context of his bemoaning the Koch brothers’ lack of influence with the Republican presidential candidates.

Koch said that if Trump was successful with his proposal to require all Muslims entering the U.S. to register with the government, then “well, then you destroy our free society.”

“Who is it that said, ‘If you want to defend your liberty, the first thing you’ve got to do is defend the liberty of people you like the least’?” he continued.

Koch then went on to attack Cruz’s proposal to carpet-bomb ISIL. “I’ve studied revolutionaries a lot,” he said. “Mao said that the people are the sea in which the revolutionary swims. Not that we don’t need to defend ourselves and have better intelligence and all that, but how do we create an unfriendly sea for the terrorists in the Muslim communities? We haven’t done a good job of that.”

Koch said that there are 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide and asked, what “are we going to do: go bomb each one of them?”

Credit where credit is due, well said, Monsieur.

Robert Service’s biography of Leon Trotsky caught my eye last weekend while at the library on the lookout for something about François Truffaut. Finding nothing on Truffaut, I checked out the Trotsky. As is usual with good biographers, Service provides a wealth of social, cultural, political, and historical background along with personal detail of the kind I find fascinating. It turns out that young Trotsky was a fiercely competitive croquet player. Wrote Grisha Ziv, a comrade during Trotsky’s Siberian exile 1900 – 1902:

He had a remarkable passion for croquet, perhaps partly because the character of the game – more than any other – gave special latitude to the expression of his natural cunning, imaginativeness and resourcefulness. And it was here, as in every other place and in every matter where the opportunity arose to show his individuality, that Bronstein [Trotsky’s family name] was organically incapable of tolerating rivals alongside him; and the winning of victory over him at croquet was the surest way of making him into your worst enemy.

I get a kick out of this sort of thing and pass it along in hope that others will also. Ciao.

References

Eliza Collins, Charles Koch bemoans lack of influence over 2016 race, Politico, 8 January 2016

John M. Glionna, Oregon sheriff has received numerous death threats since militia takeover, The Guardian, 7 January 2016

Libby Nelson, An expert on right-wing terrorism explains the militia movement behind the Oregon takeover, Vox, 5 January 2016

John Sepulvado, Explainer: The Bundy Militia’s Particular Brand Of Mormonism, OPB, 3 January 2016

 

thinking about Paris, San Bernadino, and the way forward, such as it is…

Today we are all French. Tomorrow? We shall see. I wrote these words two days after the Paris attacks. Three weeks have passed. And San Bernadino.

Paris elicited an outpouring of sympathy, sorrow, outrage, resolve, and calls to action, much sincere, but not all, for there was also an outpouring of bluster and pandering to fear, ignorance, and bigotry. Republican presidential candidates relished the opportunity to take potshots at Barack Obama, aiming to score points with a base that has never accepted the presidency of a black man, a base that will presumably dictate strategy and tactics until one of their number seizes or stumbles into the party’s nomination. Demagoguery is nothing new in political affairs, as Plato noted a few years back. It remains unsavory.

A Politico headline proclaimed that on terror we are all right-wingers now, adopting the line of the hard right that only they can be counted on for national security, while liberals and progressives, lumped together in an indistinguishable blob, will be weak, appeasers, unwilling to take the necessary steps to safeguard the country. This kind of thing I would expect from National Review. It is regrettable that Politico does not hold itself to a higher standard.

The “clash of civilizations” theme is popular, accompanied by declarations that this is war, us against them, a fight to the death. In what sense Daesh is to be considered a civilization is generally unexamined. For too many the underlying assumption is that the civilizations in conflict are those of Islam and the Christian West, notwithstanding that the Christian West has been notoriously secular for some time.

Juan Cole argues that Daesh is more akin to drug cartels and narco-terrorists of the Global South than an entity we would dignify by designating it a state, even of the rogue variety. He puts Daesh’s Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi down as “a minor Iraqi academic, Ibrahim al-Samarrai, who would not have gotten tenure in a good Islamic-studies program. The rest of the Muslim world falls down laughing at his declaration, made while flaunting a Rolex, that he is a caliph, a successor of Harun al-Rashid.” Daesh is not a state, much less a civilization, but a “band of human traffickers, rapists, drug smugglers, and looters.”

As for the individuals who perpetuated the murders in Paris:

The young men recruited by the late petty thief Abdelhamid Abaaoud were, it should go without saying, not soldiers; they were delinquents outfitted with bombs and machine guns instead of stilettos. They were marginalized people, the people discarded by the sluggish capitalism of Belgium or France, given no purpose in life by their squalid environs, humiliated by quotidian racism, denied the dignity of productive labor, and, in the case of Belgium, poorly educated by a mediocre state-run school system. (Cole, ISIS Want a Clash of the Civilizations)

In other words, they were primed for “radicalization,” to use one of the day’s buzzwords.

None of this is to minimize or deny the threat posed by Daesh and those influenced by it to commit heinous acts. At issue are the strategy and tactics that might have a shot at being effective in countering such people.

An old college pal tells me he doesn’t have time to worry about foreign terrorists when he’s surrounded by domestic assholes. The point is well taken. Demonizing Muslims, a fashionable pastime in certain quarters, will not harm Daesh or make us safer. Ted Cruz’s blather about bombing the desert until the sand glows is just infantile, and his call for more tolerance for civilian casualties in the war against Daesh is despicable. In effect the argument goes that we should be more like terrorists, who “have such utter disregard for innocent life.” There is a salient point to be made here, albeit not the one that Cruz has in mind. Too many of us accept the illusion perpetuated by certain political and military figures, self-styled authorities from the think-tank realm, and members of the punditocracy that military operations can be sanitized, conducted without harm to innocent civilians and, maybe more importantly, without placing American troops in harm’s way.

The gun cult endorses an armed citizenry as the front line of defense, as if one should not leave home without body armor and kalashnikov. Restrictions on intelligence gathering and surveillance, especially of Muslims, should be rolled back or lifted altogether, under the illusory assumption that we have the means to sift through the data and ferret out what is useful if only we amass enough of it. As William Burroughs noted, sometimes paranoia’s just having all the facts.

That people are fearful is understandable, though I think apprehension is probably more appropriate response than outright fear. There are many ways harm is more likely to come our way. That said, all it takes for a mass killing is a disaffected individual, of which there are many. Guns are plentiful and easy to obtain, as is information about making explosives from ordinary materials. No strategic mastermind or infiltration by faux refugees is required. Attacks such as those in Paris aim to provoke a backlash against Muslims living in the West, which will in turn make them a target for recruitment. Blockheads who traffic in anti-Muslim xenophobia play into Daesh’s narrative. Meantime, we might ask how, or if, we should distinguish attacks with a connection to Daesh, however tenuous, from the mass shootings that happen here almost routinely.

Those who blame Obama for the rise of Daesh ignore or conveniently forget the group’s provenance as al Qaeda in Iraq in the chaotic aftermath of the US invasion and botched occupation. The group’s roots that go back to allegiance, and sometimes rivalry, with al Qaeda, and before that the “Afghan Arabs” among the mujahideen fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s, supported and funded by the Saudi and Pakistani governments and the CIA.

Obama, his advisers, and others, Hillary Clinton among them, get it wrong time and again when they encourage, and in Syria insist on, the overthrow of autocrats and dictators with not even a hazy notion as to what will follow, secure in the baffling and naive belief that democracy in the Western style will miraculously bubble up as if from an underground well of yearning for Enlightenment values and Western-style institutions once the old autocratic regime is taken off  the board. Iraq and the Arab spring show how treacherous that path is.

There is broad consensus that Daesh must be driven from territory it occupies in Syria and Iraq, thereby delegitimizing its claim to the caliphate and making it less a magnet for those susceptible to radicalization. There is also consensus that while this will take more than bombing, a massive US ground presence on the order of Iraq in 2003 would be counterproductive. The usual neocon chorus featuring the indefatigable tenors McCain and Graham has hit on the magic number of 10,000 US troops as a sine qua non to provide leadership and support for an indigenous ground force of 70,000 or 100,000, whatever the number, that will somehow coalesce out of the multitudinous groups and factions presently at odds with each other as much as with any defined opponent.

I believe it was on Thanksgiving that I heard an NPR report about David Cameron’s appeal to Parliament for Britain to join the fray. An “expert” with a British accent opined that a coalition of opposition groups and the Syrian army could, with Western aid, defeat Daesh and out of that victory would be born a new, united Syria. Alas, I did not catch the expert’s name and was unable to locate a transcript or audio of the news piece. It is possible that I missed some subtle point that would have rendered the scenario less implausible. As it is, this sounds like something from a man who could do with an adjustment on his medical marijuana prescription, maybe lower the dose. Have we learned nothing from Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Arab spring? Have we forgotten the US/Saudi Arabian project to inspire Muslims for jihad against the Russians in Afghanistan and how that came back to bite us? Where do they get these “experts”?

Pat Lang throws cold water on the “notion of a regional ground combat force that would in their field of dreams go to Syria and Iraq and destroy the Islamic State,” a fantasy of both the Obama administration and Democratic and Republican presidential aspirants. (The army that will never be…).

We are burdened with the conviction, indeed, the imperative, that something must be done. No one offers a roadmap apt to get us anywhere near a desirable outcome. The greater the confidence with which any political leader, military strategist, think-tank expert, or pundit pushes a specific strategy or tactic, not a doubt in his military mind, the more dubious we should be. Whatever the way forward, it figures to be long, difficult, and ugly.

Recommended Reading

Jason Burke, The story of a radicalisation: ‘I was not thinking my thoughts. I was not myself’, The Guardian, 26 November 2015

Juan Cole, ISIS Wants a Clash of t he Civilizations: Let’s Not Give In, The Nation, 25 November 2015

Emma Graham-Harrison, Passport trade raises doubts over Paris attackers’ identities, The Guardian, 15 November 2015

Michael Hirsh, On Terror, We’re All Right-wingers Now, Politico Magazine, 14 November 2015

Laila Lalami, To Defeat ISIS, We Must Call Both Western and Muslim Leaders to Account, The Nation, 14 November 2015

Pat Lang, The army that will never be…, Sic Semper Tyrannis, 6 December 2015

Jacqueline Lopour, The scariest thing about Islamic State? Its kinder, gentler side, Reuters, 27 November 2015

Charles P. Pierce, There Is Only One Way to Defeat ISIS, Esquire, 14 November 2015

Lydia Wilson, What I Discovered From Interviewing Imprisoned ISIS Fighters, The Nation, 21 October 2015

Graeme Wood, What ISIS Really Wants, The Atlantic, March 2015

Russia and Turkey’s foreign policy objectives in Syria (by CP), Sic Semper Tyrannis, 26 November 2015

Open Season on the Campaign Trail

Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. —Samuel Johnson

In our time the same can be said of political correctness. Last week supporters of Hillary Clinton fired off the dread charge of sexism against the Sanders campaign after Comrade Bernie’s campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, cracked that they would consider Clinton for vice president on the Sanders ticket. As reported by Politico, Christine Quinn, who sits on Clinton’s New York Leadership Council and does fundraising for her campaign, Jess McIntosh, communications director for EMILY’s List, and EMILY’s List president Stephanie Schriock took umbrage.

Said Quinn, “Seriously? Seriously? The absurdity of that statement almost merits no response. How arrogant and sexist can you be? It’s not OK to let people with a long progressive record get away with being sexist.”

Schriock described the comments as “condescending insults by a team who knows better.”

It does not take the second coming of Woodward and Bernstein to dig up John Heileman’s first-person account of Weaver’s offense in Bloomberg Politics, of which Heileman is co-managing editor. The setting was a hotel near the Des Moines airport late one night after a Sanders speech in Iowa. Weaver and two other members of the Sanders brain trust were reflecting on what Clinton’s changes of position on various issues might say about her character. Heileman asked Weaver “if he thought that made her, as some longtime Clinton critics argue, a craven hypocrite and opportunist?”

“A craven hypocrite?” Weaver replied, grinning slyly. “That’s a little bit harsh, don’t you think?” Then he added, with a chuckle, “Look, she’d make a great vice president. We’re willing to give her more credit than Obama did. We’re willing to consider her for vice president. We’ll give her serious consideration. We’ll even interview her.”

Weaver’s remark is a lame, half-jesting, not particularly clever put-down of Clinton as a candidate. As Heileman explicitly notes, Sanders’s advisers are confident he can win the nomination. They think Clinton continues to be a weak candidate, her recent showings in the Democratic debate and before the House Benghazi charade notwithstanding. One can imagine Weaver uttering the exact same words about Joe Biden if he had decided to enter the fray.

Quinn, McIntosh, and Shriock do their cause a disservice by trivializing the issue with a charge that is at best a reach. The honorable course for Clinton would be to disavow the spurious attack on Sanders. I do not anticipate that will happen. It seems far more likely that Clinton and her supporters will continue to play the woman card and the “sexism” card to deflect legitimate questions and criticisms about her positions, her principles, and her candidacy. I write this with a measure of sympathy for Clinton, who throughout her career has been subject to outright lies, slurs, and calumnies that rank with what Barack Obama has endured. Even so, it ought not be too much to wish for better from her.

We give credit where credit is due. The right has conducted a world-class marketing campaign to sell the myth that the mainstream media has a liberal bias. Republicans are in high dudgeon over supposed meanness shown them by CNBC moderators at last week’s debate. Ezra Klein’s analysis of Republican cries of foul is on the mark:

Cruz’s attack on the moderators was smart politics — but it was almost precisely backwards. The questions in the CNBC debate, though relentlessly tough, were easily the most substantive of the debates so far. And the problem for Republicans is that substantive questions about their policy proposals end up sounding like hostile attacks — but that’s because the policy proposals are ridiculous, not because the questions are actually unfair.

Joshua Holland in The Nation makes the case that questions posed to the Democratic candidates during their debate on CNN were as tough and hard-edged as anything the Republicans got from CNBC. The Republican pose to the contrary is just that, a pose, political posturing, pandering to the biases of their own band of blockheads, nothing more.

References

John Heileman, The Sanders Brain Trust’s Plan to Beat Hillary Clinton, Bloomberg Politics, 28 October 2015.

Joshua Holland, Why Conservatives Are Decrying ‘Media Bias’ in the Presidential Debates, The Nation, 29 October 2015.

Annie Karnie, Clinton allies shout ‘sexism’ at Sanders, Politico, 30 October 2015.

Ezra Klein, Ted Cruz’s best moment of the Republican debate was also completely wrong, Vox, 28 October 2015.

The Wild Beasts of the Republican Right

Dickerson: You said that Republicans should do — and I’m quoting from you here — “something really, really significant” with the coming debt ceiling vote. That’s the vote on whether the United States government can keep borrowing money.

What can Republicans do?

Trump: Well, John, if you go back and check, I have been saying this for three years. All right? That’s a tremendously powerful weapon, if they knew how to use it. The problem is, you will have 70 percent of the Republicans saying, we’re not closing government. Now, when you say that — you know, I wrote “The Art of the Deal.” When you say that, and the other side says, well, we got 70 percent of the people say it’s not going to happen, the other 30 percent are — essentially, they’re rendered useless. It’s really very unfair to them, because they’re left out there hanging. (John Dickerson interviews Donald Trump, Face the Nation, 11 October 2015)

One supposes that Monsieur Trump has the Freedom caucus of House Republicans in mind when he refers to the 30 percent. The group is generally credited with somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 members. Republicans occupy 247 seats in the House of Representatives. That would make the ratio more like 84 percent to 16 percent than Monsieur Trump’s 70–30.

The bar for responsible journalism these days is set low. It would be too much to expect the host of a long-running and well respected news program, who also happens to be political director of CBS news, to quibble with Trump about playing fast and loose with the numbers to suggest these extremists are more representative of the party as a whole than they are. Dickerson’s real crime against journalism is his failure to question Trump’s tacit assumption that the 70 percent, really more like 84, should fall in line and allow his 30 percent, really more like 16 percent—of Republicans, less than 4 percent of the entire House—to dictate tactics, policy, and an antigovernment legislative agenda.

The Freedomers are obsessed with ideological purity and categorically opposed to compromise, without which there can be no  functioning government under the Constitution. These wild beasts of the right are more than willing to shut down the government; many are girlishly giddy at the prospect. Their usurpation of the conservative mantle, denying it to the Republican establishment, the likes of John Boehner and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for the love of Burke, lays bare an astounding historical and intellectual ignorance.

Commitment to minority rights and safeguards to protect those rights against the tyranny of the majority go back to the country’s founding. What we witness, what Trump calls for, is a cynical attempt by a disciplined, determined revolutionary vanguard to use these safeguards to subvert majority rule and seize power in order to radically refashion our model of government and reshape the country according to their values and in line with their interests. Yikes, they’re Leninists!

Les affaires Clinton

There is not a doubt in my military mind, as an old college pal and Vietnam veteran used to put it, that Republican so-called investigations into Benghazi, Hillary Clinton’s email, and longtime Clinton assistant Huma Abedin have but one aim: to torpedo Clinton’s candidacy for president. That said, more than a few aspects of les affaires Clinton are baffling.

Use of a private email account and server in her role as Secretary of State calls Clinton’s judgment into question, if nothing else. Why hand your enemies a cudgel with which to pound you? Many of us have multiple email accounts, one or more for our work and one or more personal accounts. While on occasion personal communication may slop over onto a professional account and vice versa, no great effort or ingenuity is required to keep them separate for the most part. This is routine in the 21st century. It should have been a no-brainer.

The security issue should be weighed in light of hacks at OMB, IRS, and any number of other government and private sector computer systems. Presumption of privacy and security of information is a quaint relic of another era. The Chinese, the NSA, and Russian mobsters could have access to pretty much anything. This is not to suggest that they do have everything or that security efforts should be abandoned on grounds of futility, only that we should not delude ourselves.

Huma Abedin is said to be Hillary Clinton’s closest aide. Their relationship dates to 1996, when Abedin began working in the White House as an intern assigned to Clinton’s staff while a student at George Washington University. She has since served Clinton in a variety of roles as aide and adviser in a relationship that is personal as well as professional. Clinton has said that if she had a second daughter, it would be Huma. Another Clinton aide described Abedin as “a little like Radar on M*A*S*H”:

I’m not sure Hillary could walk out the door without Huma…. If the air-conditioning is too cold, Huma is there with the shawl. She’s always thinking three steps ahead of Hillary. (communications aide Mandy Grunwald, quoted by Easton in Fortune)

Abedin is pulled into the Clinton email imbroglio by potential conflicts of interest related to multiple part-time jobs she held while at State as a “special government employee,” a legitimate classification that allowed her to hold outside positions with Teneo Holdings as adviser/consultant to private clients and the Clinton Foundation while advising Clinton as a State Department employee and serving as Clinton’s personal assistant.

Teneo is “a global advisory firm that partners exclusively with the CEOs and senior leaders of many of the world’s largest and most complex companies and organizations… Teneo’s clients include the CEOs of many Fortune 100 companies across a diverse range of industry sectors.” Among Teneo’s founders is Doug Band, who began working in the Clinton White House in 1995, first in the White House Counsel’s office, later in the Oval Office as the president’s aide, special assistant to the president, and deputy assistant to the president. He was Bill Clinton’s chief adviser from 2002 to 2012.

It is not surprising that Band would contact Abedin for help getting a client, Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation and a supporter of the Clinton Foundation, appointed to a position on the President’s Global Development Council. I believe the technical term for this kind of thing is networking. As best I can tell there is no indication that Abedin did anything improper. If she did, it was ineffectual, as Rodin never got the appointment.

Is it improper to wonder why Abedin felt she needed to work four jobs to make ends meet? Was she being paid minimum wage by the State Department? What precisely did she do for Teneo and the Clinton Foundation? How many hours a week did she devote to those jobs? Did she do work at one while “on the clock” for another? Was her salary at Teneo and Clinton Foundation for tangible work or for who she is and who she knows, which is to say, for access to the Obama administration at its highest levels?

We do not know if Abedin’s potential conflicts of interest were properly vetted. This kind of thing feeds public cynicism about government that plays into the hands of the antigovernment zealots and demagogues. Clinton has failed to dispel the appearance that she and her staff at State were entirely too casual about these matters. There is more smoke than fire to date, and to my mind not all that much smoke, but there is enough to raise eyebrows even among those less inclined to question Clinton’s bona fides than Senator Grassley and the howling mob behind him. Clinton does not handle this sort of thing deftly. It behooves her to offer an account of how conflicts of interest would be handled differently in a Clinton administration.

On the other hand, high government officials and lowly civil servants alike do not live in a bubble. People turn to former colleagues, people they know and respect, for advice and guidance and even to put in a good word for someone. Interactions of this sort are not in and of themselves wrongful. They do tend to be suspect, particularly when they occur at the intersection of government, wealth, and power. It is not too much to ask that individuals who accept roles at the highest level of government hold themselves to standards commensurate with their positions. A rigorous conflict of interest process does more than deter unethical behavior. It protects the reputations of good people from lies, slander, and innuendo.

My sense of Abedin is that she is an honorable woman of remarkable talent and accomplishment. People such as her are not served well when affairs of state are conducted in a way that provides an opening for a less honorable opposition to level charges of misconduct. Make no mistake, that opposition will go after Clinton and her associates whether they have legitimate grounds or not.

Time and facts as yet unrevealed could prove me wrong about Huma Abedin. For now I give weight to my instinct, based on what I know, which is fragmentary and incomplete. I also take into consideration the statements of John McCain in 2012, when he took to the floor of the Senate to defend Abedin against scurrilous accusations leveled by Michelle Bachman, Louie Gohmert, et al. that her family has ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and that she is part of a conspiracy to infiltrate the Obama administration.

McCain described the allegations as “nothing less than an unwarranted and unfounded attack on an honorable woman, a dedicated American, and a loyal public servant.”

Put simply, Huma represents what is best about America: the daughter of immigrants, who has risen to the highest levels of our government on the basis of her substantial personal merit and her abiding commitment to the American ideals that she embodies so fully. I am proud to know Huma, and to call her my friend.

References

Rachael Bade, Hillary approved special status for aide Huma Abedin, Politico, 24 September 2015

Bade, Emails show Huma Abedin’s ties to private consulting firm, Politico, 23 September 2015

Nina Easton, How Huma Abedin became Hillary Clinton’s confidante and ‘translator’, Fortune, 10 June 2015

Josh Gerstein and Rachael Bade, Clinton camp: Clinton did not sign form on Abedin job change, Politico, 27 September 2015

Rosalin S. Helderman and Tom Hamburger, How Huma Abedin operated at the center of the Clinton universe, Washington Post, 27 August 2015

Justin Wm. Moyer, Why Anthony Weiner lost another job, Washington Post, 17 September 2015

Ed O’Keefe, John McCain defends Human Abedin against accusations she’s part of conspiracy, Washington Post, 18 July 2012

Strange Bedfellows Indeed

Parliament should not be sidelined on the nuclear deal issue … I am not saying lawmakers should ratify or reject the deal. It is up to them to decide.” (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, quoted in Khamenei says Iran parliament ‘should not be sidelined’ on nuclear deal, The Guardian, 3 September 2015)

Ali Larijani, Iran’s parliament speaker, told reporters in New York on Thursday that Iranian lawmakers would likely debate the accord more heatedly than in the US Congress, where Republicans have sought to kill the deal.

Larijani, an ex-chief nuclear negotiator, said he personally considered the accord good but some stiff opposition remained in the Majlis (parliament), including over a so-called “snapback” clause under which UN sanctions can be reinstated in the event of alleged violations of the terms of the settlement.

“For us, this is not possible,” Larijani said. “We cannot go back to the situation that we were in before the implementation of the agreement.” (Khamenei says Iran parliament ‘should not be sidelined’ on nuclear deal)

The notion that the US could reject this deal and negotiate a stronger one is fanciful. Imagine the offer: “We (alone among our negotiating partners) have decided that the agreed-upon deal is unsatisfactory. Please return to the table where we will insist on tougher provisions.” That leaves only two possibilities—an Iran free of any limits or war. (Jessica T. Mathews, “What Foreign Policy for the US? The New York Review of Books, 24 September 2015)

US media accounts of US and Israeli opposition to the nuclear deal with Iran typically neglect to mention that debate about the agreement is as contentious in Iran as it is here. This would seem to be at odds with the insistence by US opponents of the deal that the terms are all in Iran’s favor. Unless…Iranian hardliners are feigning opposition to dupe the gullible Obama and Kerry into thinking that they have driven a hard bargain. After all, we know the Iranians are lying because Iranians are all liars. We know this because Lindsey Graham tells they are liars. The estimable senator from South Carolina knows they are liars because he once worked in a bar and he knows liars when he sees them. This is the level of the debate?

The US opposition’s tough talk about new sanctions and walking away from the treaty if a Republican is elected president in 2016, not to mention a lunatic enthusiasm in some quarters of the Republican party for consideration of a military option, only strengthens the hand of those in Iran who want to scuttle the deal. One might almost think that they are in cahoots. Perhaps the strategy of Graham, McCain, et al., is to provoke Iranian moderates to reject the deal.

Unfortunately President Obama, John Kerry, Ashton Carter, Hillary Clinton, and other US supporters of the agreement feel compelled to issue repeated proclamations that the military option remains on the table and threaten additional sanctions for Iranian misbehavior to demonstrate that they are not soft on Iran or the global war on terrorism. This is the kind of thinking that sucked the US into Vietnam when liberals in the Kennedy administration felt that above all else they must show that they were not soft on communism. It does not help.

Reporting the Death of a Boy

It is commonplace for television and radio journalists to preface an upcoming feature with a warning that the segment contains graphic images, disturbing content, and so on. On Friday National Public Radio (NPR) ran a piece about the three-year-old Syrian boy who drowned with his mother and brother when an overloaded refugee boat capsized as they tried to make their way from Turkey to Greece. Only the father, Abdullah Kurdi, survived.

An NPR correspondent interviewed Kurdi’s brother-in-law, Rocco Logozzo, who spoke from British Columbia. Logozzo and his wife previously sponsored her other brother, Mohammed Kurdi, and his family to come to Canada, hoping to help Abdullah Kurdi’s family immigrate afterward under provisions of a Canadian refugee program. Abdullah Kurdi’s application was denied because the family did not have the UN designation as a refugee. Logozzo spoke of the frustrating experience with an application process he described as” just very onerous and designed to fail.”

Toward the end of the interview the journalist asked Logozzo to talk about the two drowned boys. It is at this point that I question the judgment of those responsible for the piece, editors and producers as well as the journalist, who continued to question him until he became visibly emotional, his voice breaking. The questions  were natural enough. Provoking displays of emotion is standard journalistic practice these days. One presumes that this is at least in part because there is an audience for it. In some sense it sells.

The NPR journalist did nothing out of the ordinary. I am not suggesting that the exchange was aired with an eye to ratings. Was it necessary to fulfill NPR’s mission to inform the public? Was it the right thing to do? News organizations generally, not just NPR, would do well to reflect upon the appropriateness of posing questions that cause hurt and distress to a family that has suffered a terrible loss and airing the response. A paraphrase of Logozzo’s comments about the boys, noting that he was visibly moved, would have served the interest of an informed public while showing consideration for a grieving family.

Only a person whose soul is a clod could fail to be touched by the photographs of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi. We can hope that the weight of public opinion will compel governments in Europe and the US to do more so that some good may come of it. I am not arguing that there is no place in reporting for disturbing content or explicit depictions of personal anguish, but that it should not be the default option. If the public seems to demand this kind of reporting, perhaps a responsible news organization has some obligation to maintain a higher standard and thereby, we might hope, cultivate a more discerning public.

Maybe we would do well to ask ourselves if we are we so lacking in empathy and imagination that we are unable to grasp the horror of these heartrending events without graphic images and disturbing content. Maybe Abudllah Kurdi’s eloquence should be enough: “I hope this people will be helped, that these massacres are stopped. We are human beings, just like Westerners. Why are we trying to get to Europe when our country’s more beautiful? That’s just how it is.”

References

For Family Of Drowned Syrian Boy, ‘There Was No Other Hope,’ Uncle Says, NPR, 4 September 2015

Scott Neuman, Father Of Drowned Syrian 3-Year-Old: ‘We Are Human Beings, Just Like Westerners’,NPR, 4 September 2015

 

 

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