The Middle East: The New York Times Magazine devoted its entire edition (no advertising!) last Sunday to a single, extraordinary article by Scott Anderson entitled Fractured Lands, about the flailing states of Egypt, Libya, Syria and Iraq. The piece intertwines history with personal stories of six individuals from these countries, whom Anderson interviewed periodically over time, and whose stories begin in 1972.
This piece is available on line, which link my brother-in-law has helpfully provided: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/08/11/magazine/isis-middle-east-arab-spring-fractured-lands.html You should read it. If this doesn’t win a Pulitzer, I’ll kiss your ass in Macy’s window and give you an hour to draw a crowd.
The individual stories are raw and poignant, and add humanity to the histories of these states as they descend into war and chaos. They are raw, tragic, but also reflective of the human capacity to strive, survive and at times prevail. Not everyone does, and no ending is completely happy.
Some background from my perspective:
All of Islam has been behind the curve of Western progress since the Siege of Vienna in 1529, but the Middle East’s modern disasters were set in motion as the Colonial period was winding down when, at the end of World War I, the winners – particularly England and France – carved up the Middle East among themselves, like fleas negotiating who owns the dog. They cobbled together countries with no understanding of, or regard for, ethnicities, religious sects, or tribes, in a land where religion is paramount and the culture is tribal.
Most of these countries were held together against their natural order by despots, or puppets propped up by world powers, or both, e.g. Iran’s Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was a secular modernist, when his conservative, religious population didn’t want any part of it, installed and supported by the U.S. (The inevitable result of propping up puppet despots is that when the puppet is overthrown, as they all eventually are, the new regime hates the puppeteer and becomes its enemy, and rightfully so.)
The worst thing to happen to the modern Middle East, however, was not Colonialism, nor the wars of the 20th Century, but George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003.* These countries were bound, ultimately, to sort themselves out along their own lines, with their own borders, governments and names, once left to their devices, though it wouldn’t have been clean and easy.
As Ali A. Allawi wrote in his seminal work on the Iraq War: The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace, The Saddam Hussein regime was already a spent force. The country was already heading towards its destiny of splitting into three pieces – Shia, Sunni and Kurd – even before the invasion. Bush made everything worse for the entire region.
Bush, typically, compounded his mistake with poor, Brownie-esque personnel decisions. Paul Brenner, the Administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority of Iraq, made two disastrous mistakes from the get go – disbanding the military, and banning all members of Hussein’s Ba’athist Party, most of whom were not Hussein fanatics, comprised most of the professional class, and in any case the only group with government experience, due to the clannish nature of Iraq – and we have been making such colossal mistakes ever since.
In the Epilogue, Anderson opines: 1) we should not have gone into Iraq, or anywhere else in the Middle East then, 2) we should not be there, or anywhere else in the Middle East, now, 3) only the inhabitants of the Middle East can work out their borders and their governance, and 4) Iraq will, in fact, splinter into three pieces, only now, though it is easier said than done under any circumstances, it will be more messy and violent.
*I write President Bush invaded Iraq, because this decision was his administration’s alone, after not only misreading the evidence and intelligence, but making up the intelligence and lying about it to the American people, during a period of public panic.
Football: The Dallas Cowboys played their second pre-season game, and looked crisp in the first quarter, which is all I watch of the first two preseason games. Romo took some snaps and looked good. Dez Bryant looked like his old self. Dak Prescott again reinforced the wisdom of Dallas’ decision to take him in the fourth round. He will be their best value in the 2016 draft, likely.
Water: Baton Rouge is still under it, and climate forecasters say to expect storms to get worse. The tipping point of climate change will occur when we can no longer travel by air, due to too turbulent weather.
Status of the States: Arizona’s former governor Jan Brewer called Hillary Clinton a “lying killer.” She said later that she misspoke, which is possible, actually, as she is rarely articulate and never prepared. She may just have meant to say “Lying Hillary,” though if she did, it was a hell of a Freudian slip. Arizona gets the cup, due to Brewer, which has happened often before.
Coming Events: Thoughts on feeding the earth – an essay on population, inspired by China’s change in population policy; one on curiosity and entrepreneurship; the three most mistaken judgements of the Supremes since 2008.
Presidential Campaigns: It was low tide week for political discourse. Ponzi Don made a number of odious comments. First, he said they were truthful assertions, then sarcasm, then jokes, then back to assertions again. Whatever someone, including Ponzi Don, chooses to call them, they had no business coming from the mouth of a presidential candidate. (Hillary, she lay low.)
Ponzi Don uses two disingenuous speaking devices to deflect his smearing. First, he makes an offensive accusation, which he ends with, “I don’t know,” as if he is just speculating about something, so he is not really smearing, which is, in fact, exactly what he is doing. Secondly, he suggests that many people are saying something hateful about his opponent, as if he is not one of them; he is just reporting it. Both these devices were vividly on display this week, and both elicited revulsion and rebuttal. (Hillary, she lay low.)
For his accusations, slurs and insults to the Constitution, Ponzi Don is said to be dangerous. I don’t think he is dangerous particularly, just risky, that’s all, especially to his party and down ballot candidates. I saw early on he would win the Republican nomination, and just as early knew he would never sniff the White House. (Hillary, she lay low.)
Moral: When your opponent is destroying himself, step aside and be quiet.
“Intentionally discriminatory:” As we near the election, more and more of the blatant voter suppression laws enacted by states are being overturned by federal appeals courts. The Fourth Federal Appeals Court, hearing a case against North Carolina’s odious laws, concluded that they were made with “discriminatory intent.”
This string of judicial rulings should embarrass the Supreme Court, and I think will piss off some of its members. The Supremes, in a stunningly naïve ruling (actually, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that opinion, and I don’t think he was being naïve at all), discarded standing voter protection laws with the disingenuous observation that they were no longer needed because states no longer did that sort of thing, despite evidence to the contrary staring them down and with a total absence of common sense.
My guess, in fact my prediction, is that when the appeals of these rulings reach the Supremes again, the lawyers defending the voter suppression laws will find a red faced, chagrinned and irritable Court, with a very different attitude toward them.
Rio Olympics: In my youth, I considered the Olympics – summer and winter – the grandest events in sports. In fact, I aspired to be on the summer Olympic team for the 1964 Games in Tokyo. Unfortunately, America had many better hurdlers than me. I was running 14.1; they were running around 13.6.
Over time, however, I have lost interest in and respect for the Olympics. The corruption, doping, nationalism and commercialization has become so distasteful that, with one exception, I am not even watching the games in Rio. The amateur spirit of the games was lost years ago. With the exception of only a few sports, most of the athletes are paid or government sponsored.
The very idea of our men’s basketball team, made up of multi-millionaire professional NBA players epitomizes how moribund is the Olympic spirit. Living as they are on a cruise ship, completely isolated from the Olympic village and other athletes and countries, coming to shore only long enough to play a game and then return aboard ship, is insulting.
My one viewing exception was opening night. Not the ceremony, but the Parade of Athletes. I enjoyed seeing the athletes marching in together in their respective costumes, smiling, waving and taking pictures. At this parade, every one of them is a winner; they made it to the Olympics!
Football: The Dallas Cowboys played their first pre-season game, to record crowds of fans and press for one of these meaningless events between any NFL teams. Oddly, the turnout was not for America’s Team. They were playing the (new) Los Angeles Rams in their first game since returning to L.A.
For the first two pre-season games, I watch the first quarter, after which the lineups are scrambled as the coaches evaluate players for the final roster. I usually watch most of the third pre-season game, and none of the fourth or fifth, if they play that many.
Dallas’ fourth round rookie quarterback, Dak Prescott, looked very good, which is fortunate, because their first back-up quarterback is injured and out. I watched Prescott play for Mississippi State and was impressed. I thought the Cowboys made an excellent fourth round choice. Choices one, two and three, not so much.
Water: Baton Rouge is literally swimming (and boating and drowning) in it, from its highest flood. The flood was unexpected, as it developed out of an unnamed storm. But there is no climate change or anything. These things happen all the time, except they never have before.
Status of the States: I don’t know; I haven’t been paying much attention to state malfeasance, so mesmerizing has been the national scene. I think both Kansas and Texas were states that had voter suppression laws overturned, so let’s give the cup to them this week in a tie.
Coming Events: Thoughts on feeding the earth – an essay on population, inspired by China’s change in population policy; one on curiosity and entrepreneurship; the three most mistaken judgements of the Supremes since 2008.
The presidential election is over: Ponzi Don is Ponzi Done. If his campaign (if we can dignify what he is doing and saying with that word) hasn’t toasted him, an even greater obstacle has: the latest jobs report.
New jobs increased by 255,000, much higher than economists expected. Better still, unemployment remained at 4.9%, mathematically possible only because people re-entered the workforce looking for jobs, having become more optimistic they will find one. Better still than even that, average wages, which have been frustratingly flat, grew at a faster rate than inflation. This is the kind of news that keeps incumbents in office and parties in power, and deservedly so.
Now we can turn our attention to the legislative contests, which should be much more interesting. It is highly likely, in my view, that the Democrats will re-take the Senate, a near certainty if Ponzi Don goes down in flames. Some Republican Senators who came into office from traditionally blue states in the off year elections of 2010, are in for a rough time. Also vulnerable, is the senile senior Senator from Arizona, my own personal senator, whose opponent we will be having cocktails with Tuesday evening.
In addition to McCain, the list of most vulnerable Republican Senators includes – even without a Trump collapse: Kirk of Illinois, Johnson of Wisconsin (I will not miss this sorry piece of pie for a nanosecond), Ayotte of New Hampshire, Toomey of Pennsylvania, I think, Rubio of Florida (wouldn’t that be fun to watch), Portman of Ohio, Burr of North Carolina and Blount of Missouri. These eight would be enough to turn the Senate, even if the Democrats were to lose two Senate elections.
Let’s watch how various GOP politicians respond to the Ponzi Don albatross hanging around their necks. Which legislators will embrace Ponzi Don? Which will treat him like a Zika Virus mosquito? What will their messages be?
One indicator I will be watching is whether or not the Senate, in an effort to save some seats by actually doing their job, will confirm Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. My expectation is that they will, if not before the election, then certainly in the lame duck session thereafter, in hopes of avoiding a more liberal candidate from President Hillary Clinton. (Full disclosure: my interest in this happening is both political and sporting. I have a dinner riding on whether Garland is confirmed during Obama’s presidency. Lame duck session counts.)
My other own personal senator, Republican Jeff Flake, formally described by me aptly named, seems to have seen the light starting to dawn in Arizona. He has refused to endorse Ponzi Don, and has been softening his positions on many issues. If he keep this up for two more years, I might actually vote for a Republican. Just kidding.
Sudden Though: His handlers could modulate Ponzi Don’s tweets in the way one modulates a pool shark: break his thumbs.
Prison: Thomas Blanton, the last surviving member of a gang of KKK members who bombed a church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four black children in their Sunday School class in 1963, was denied parole again this week, as was Leslie Van Hooten, one of the murderous Charles Manson clan the week before, and these events got me thinking about criminal justice…again.
I’m impressed with the progressive thinking and reforms being introduced in some Scandinavian countries. No death penalty; no solitary confinement; genuine attempts at rehabilitation; and much shorter sentences, based on the years estimated that a prisoner will grow older than the demographic age range within which his type of crime predominantly occurs, in no instance, even for murder, more than 20 years. I agree with almost all of this, pending new data.
That said, however, I believe that some criminals should be locked up for life without parole. In these cases, rehabilitation would not be the goal (the prisoner will never get out). Punishment, deterrence, and expression of moral outrage will be.
Some examples from my lifetime to begin the discussion:
- Charles Manson himself, of course. Manson doesn’t even try to get out. He knows what a homicidal maniac he is. Same for his accomplices, including Van Hooten.
- James Earl Ray, who killed Martin Luther King. Ray died in prison, but I would like to see his bones unearthed once a year so I can spit on them.
- Sirhan Sirhan, who shot and killed Robert Kennedy immediately after Kennedy won the California Democratic presidential primary. California Governor Jerry Brown overturned the state parole board recommendation for Sirhan’s parole. Sirhan’s lawyer says he will try again in “less than a year.” Good luck with that.
- Timothy McVey, the American terrorist who bombed the Federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people, including 19 children at a daycare center for the children of employees in the building. McVey very probably would never have gotten out of prison, but he had the misfortune to commit his crime in Oklahoma, whose citizens caught him, tried him and injected him in record time. His accomplice, Terry Nichols, was given 161 life sentences, to run consecutively, which many in Oklahoma still think is too good for him.
- Mark Chapman, who shot John Lennon in the back, killed him, and the music died.
- John Hinckley, who shot President Reagan and wounded four others. Hinckley was declared innocent by reason of insanity, and was released from the nut house August 5, with conditions. No one who shoots, or shoots at, a president should ever get out of prison, but Hinckley is out there, and the Reagan family is upset.
- Last, but not least, is Richard Speck, a really sick twist, who tortured, raped and then murdered, eight young nursing students in their shared apartment in Chicago one night in 1995. Speck spent 12 of his young and adolescent years growing up in Dallas (because why not?) where he was arrested 42 times. He was given the death penalty just before the Supreme Court outlawed it. (Yes children, the death penalty was outlawed in this country for a time, until the Supreme Court reversed itself.) Speck was given life in prison for “400 to 1,200 years,” depending on good behavior. He confessed to the murders in 1978 while in prison, expressing no remorse. He died after 25 years in prison in 1991.
There are other plausible candidates for exception – Bundy? John Gacy, serial killer/necrophilia (life in prison)? Jeffrey Dahmer, serial killer, necrophilia, cannibal (murdered in prison by another inmate)? Andrew Cunanan, the guy who killed Versace and four others earlier in a murderous rampage (suicide when cornered)? Son of Sam? The Boston Marathon bomber? The Zodiac Killer? These did not make my example list – they were mostly sexual deviants – but they might make yours. Discuss.
Status of the States: Arizona, which was ranked fourth worst out of 50 state educational systems, actually two steps up from the last ranking period. Note: School started here August 4. Pray for us.
Coming Attractions: Thoughts on feeding the earth – an essay on population, inspired by China’s change in population policy; one on curiosity and entrepreneurship; the three most mistaken judgements by the Supremes since 2008; “Intentionally discriminatory” voter suppression laws being overturned; the Olympics.
It’s awkward to write this, but I think Ponzi Don may have a valid point about NATO.
When the Berlin fell in 1989, and the USSR came tumbling after, NATO itself began asking what its role should be going forward. In my view, they botched it, about which more below.
Thinking about it today, it is clear NATO, and our role in it, needs some re-thinking. For instance, our commitment to Western Europe is total. I see no reason to have a huge military presence there to prove it. We could reduce our military footprint there dramatically, and enjoy a nice reduction in our military budget. There is no chance for a surprise attach from Russia. First, they wouldn’t dare, and second, if they planned one we would know about it in time to respond timely, given intelligence technology today.
Another issue concerns the Baltic States of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. I have visited them all. Each of these is a beautiful little gem of a country. They are all overjoyed at being out from under the heel of the USSR, and ecstatic for the protection of being in NATO. (Note: these countries really hated the USSR, but they don’t all feel as much animosity toward the new Russia, which they differentiate from the former, at least as long as Russia behaves.) However, I’m not sure they should have been let into NATO, because I’m not sure we would, or should, actually go to war over any of them, wonderful as they are.
And, what about Europe’s response when Russia invaded Ukraine? Ukraine is not a member of NATO, but it was moving that way after overthrowing its Russian puppet president, and it sure as hell wished it already was when Russia invaded the Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine. NATO member or not, Ukraine is a free country on the eastern edge of Europe, and the Crimea was given to Ukraine by the USSR in the 50s by Khrushchev. Its invasion by Russia was a clear provocation by Vladimir Putin and a test of the NATO alliance’s resolve.
I would not have gone to war over Ukraine either, but the option existed to apply sanctions on Russia strong enough to force Putin to release his grip. It turns out, though, that Europe has no appetite for this, since many European countries have economic ties to Russia that they don’t want to risk by imposing truly meaningful sanctions. President Barak Obama had to move heaven and earth diplomatically to get the sanctions that were imposed, which have been painful to Russia, but insufficient to influence Putin, who knows reticence when he see it.
When all this occurred, I thought, well, if Europe is prepared to live with Russia’s aggression toward Europe in the name of economic interests, why should we care? Which beg the question, therefore, is our role in NATO now what it should be? Perhaps it is better to let Europe make its decisions on its own and live with the consequences.
The Brexit vote indicated to me that Europe is regressing to its status quo ante of independence, suspicion, mistrust and incompetence, and do we really need to be so involved with that when our future lies in the east?
This brings me back to NATO in 1989. It was, I admit, a time requiring careful thinking, but NATO nations, including the US, stuck in the role of defensive posture against the USSR, were too rigid to adapt boldly to the new reality, and opportunity, of a new Russia. We still treated Russia as an enemy, when we should have asked Russia to JOIN NATO not cause it to fear NATO. It was, in my view, an unfortunate missed opportunity, which opened the gates to another Russian strong man, which, I also admit, seems to be Russia’s default political position. We’ll never know now if this would have worked, but diplomacy trumps weapons every time, in my experience.
Perhaps these were the thoughts going through Ponzi Don’s mind when he spoke about NATO, but I doubt it.
Ponzi Don Trump and Bernie Sanders share one thing in common: both have tapped into a deep well of voter discontent with the status quo, albeit from different directions, and for different reasons.
Ponzi Don lanced a boil that that has been festering within the Republican ranks for decades, but which came to the bursting point when Barak Obama became president, since a black man in the White House is anathema to the bigoted Republican base.
Republican politicians had been pandering to the fears and anger of their base, making promises they couldn’t keep (They couldn’t even get a nigger out of the White House) and believed they wouldn’t have to. Republicans spoke in dog whistle language. When Ponzi Don replaced the dog whistle with loud, straight talk, the base heard him clearly and responded.
Simultaneously, Republican politicians were helping their donors screw their own base, and the rest of us, like tied goats. They weren’t even subtle about this. They simply cloaked their complicity in specious economic language.
Bernie also saw voter temperatures rising on the left, particularly due to the scandalous financial chicanery that angered the Republican base, finally. Democratic politicians were in the same bed with big donors as Republican ones.
Democratic revolt hit the tipping point after President George W. Bush ruined our economy. When no one went to jail then, or under the Obama Administration, Democratic voters hit the populist roof. When Bernie campaigned on this discontent, he got a big following, particularly among young people, which I was glad to see.
Critics say the youth vote is idealistic, but I think it’s practical. They see their parents’ generation running up enormous debt that they are going to have to pay, with upward mobility no longer as likely to cover it.
Bernie has made it clear that he is going to keep pushing his issue aggressively, and his party further to the left. I support him on both counts, of course.
My guess is that Republicans leaders are going to wait to see the results of Ponzi Don’s campaign to decide how to respond. Reasonable, but probably too late.
Taken together, Trump and Sanders have exposed a deep reservoir of molten resentment under the mantle of the political crust, and leaders who don’t address it aggressively are going to get scalded.
Thoughts on the Democratic Convention: The DNC had a lot more star power than the RNC: President Barak Obama, former president Bill Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, among others (Senator Al Franken did a rare comedy bit before savaging Ponzi Don’s university scam), the elegant and eloquent first lady, Michelle Obama, performers Paul Simon, Katy Perry and so on.
Considering the response to Mr. and Mrs. Khan, the Democrat’s speakers who are not necessarily household names, were more effective also. Frankly, the difference between the two conventions, as Brits might say, is “cheese and chalk.”
This is not all good news. To have that many political heavyweights on stage, you have to have held the presidency for two terms, and parties that enjoy a two term presidency often find that the public grows tired of them and restless for new blood.
But I don’t see that happening this election, because, though the Democrats have made their share of mistakes over eight years, President Barak Obama is popular, and has been fortunate in his enemies. The Republican opposition has been nothing but obstructionist, while the new blood they have nominated is an egomaniac and narcissist, and Hillary Clinton is, in fact, the most qualified presidential candidate in history, except perhaps, for John Quincy Adams, which is an unfortunate example to have to mention.
Hillary Clinton gave a Hillary–like speech, not poetic and a little too shrill, but effective and well prepared.
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert put on the funniest two weeks of (really) late night television I have ever seen, live each night about the convention, immediately after it adjourned. By the last night of the DNC, Colbert was so tired, he did his bits sitting down while drinking a Bud Light on stage. (He spilled it, so we know it was real.) Jon Stewart and John Oliver were two of his guests.
Football: The season is about a month away, so I am coming out of my summer of discontent hibernation. After the draft two years ago, I opined that the Dallas Cowboys had made a credible move to take three talented players either undervalued or with risks, or both. I applauded these decisions as well calculated; I still do. The riskiest – Gregg Hardy – has been a failure and is gone. A second – Randy Gregory – has received a 10 game suspension, having violated the NFL’s drug policy. The third – Collins – is an offensive starter. I still think Gregory can be saved and the decisions will be a net positive for the team.
I also said about the latest draft, however, that the Cowboys had done nothing to improve the team whatsoever, and that I expect them to fall in their division. If they have a crucial injury, which almost every NFL team can expect, they could flop completely. I stand by those predictions. I could be wrong, and I hope that I am, but I’m, you know, not.
Just how much failure and humiliation Jerry Jones can endure before hiring some actual football people to run the club and the team we may see learn this year.
My beloved Oklahoma Sooners look good again this year, and are one of the favorites to make the playoffs.
The Big XII Conference, in which the Sooners play, however, is a dog’s dinner. I wish to hell that OU had moved to become one of the Pac-10’s 14 or 16 teams. The Big XII, with only 10 teams (when are these institutions of higher learning going to learn to count?) is too small now for the long term, and planning to expand. The favorite candidates at this writing are Houston, BYU, Cincinnati and Memphis. Houston is a defensible option, but the others are yet another church school, of which the Big XII has too many already, and two weak sisters.
Hey, Big XII, do the right thing. Split up and go your separate ways, or add Houston and reclaim one of the teams that recently left – Nebraska or Missouri or Colorado. OU, if the conference takes on the baggage it is considering, go west young men, with or without Texas. There will always be an OU-Texas game.
Status of the States: A report this week ranked our best and least educated metropolitan areas, and the three very worst are all in the LRGV – the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. These statistics double damn Texas. They demonstrate how little Texas cares about education, and how poorly it has treated its Hispanic citizens, especially. This is three straight worst state wins for Texas, but this cup is not retired; one of the worst states gets it every week. You might think it a cup a state would want taken from it, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Nevertheless, Texas is a frequent and consistent winner against stiff and determined competition.
Correction: In last Sunday’s blog, I misspelled Tim Kaine – the name of the Democratic Vice Presidential candidate. My error.
Coming Events: Ponzi’s position on NATO; thoughts on feeding the earth – an essay on population, inspired by China’s change in population policy; one on curiosity and entrepreneurship; the three most mistaken judgements by the Supremes since 2008, and thoughts on Ponzi Don and Bernie being sisters under their skins.
Thoughts on the Republican Convention: I didn’t watch much of it. I did, however, watch some recaps that went long into the night by talking heads vamping to cover their gaping news hole and clearly in need of sleep. I enjoyed some excellent comedy inspired by the convention. Kudos to the comedians, though it must be said they were shooting fish in a barrel.
Since President Barak Obama came into office, the Republican mantra has been “Everything that happens is Obama’s fault. Everything” If there was an earthquake or a mudslide on the other side of the globe, it was Obama’s fault. It was Obama’s fault that he is not a Christian, and if he went to a Christian church, he went to one with the wrong minister. It’s Obama’s fault that he is left handed. It’s Obama’s fault that he was even born. That he was born within the United States, and therefore eligible to be president (except for being black), is not only his fault, but unforgiveable, and probably criminal. If Obama walked on water, Republicans would say he can’t swim.
About 18 months ago, the mantra morphed into “It is Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s fault.” Every problem on the planet is the fault of the “Obama-Clinton” Administration, as if they were Siamese Twins, both evil.
Today, of course, everything is Clinton’s fault, alone. Everything that has happened in the last quarter of a century, and everything that is going to happen in the future, is Hillary’s fault. This includes everything of which she has been accused and exonerated, every slander that has been made up about her and debunked, and everything her husband did in office, except finishing his term with a budget surplus, while raising taxes.
When Melania’s speech turned out to have many phrases similar to (read plagiarized from) a 2008 Michelle Obama speech, the Trump campaign said it was, wait for it, “Hillary’s fault.” I am not making this shark jumping lunacy up.
During the Republican Convention, Hillary was spoken of more than the Republican nominee, and always as if she were a criminal. There were numerous choruses of “Lock her up!” It was suggested, seriously, that she should be hanged (which elicited a knock on the door of some hyper-bloviating delegate by the Secret Service, I expect).
Given such language and accusations, where can things possibly go from here? You can’t take that stuff back. What chance is there for the obstruction to abate and political progress to begin again after this election, if Hillary wins, which I expect? I see no chance.
Previously, I made two predictions that seem to me now completely contradictory to one another. First, I opined in my blog titled “Epiphany” that Obama’s agenda would be fully implemented as soon as he left office. I theorized that Obama’s blackness was his single biggest obstacle, particularly since many of his programs had been promoted by Republicans until Obama bought into them. No more Obama, no more obstruction, right?
Also, however, I opined that if Republicans hate Obama so much, just wait until they have to deal with Hillary, a woman (her first crime), whom they have so demonized in the minds of their base that they cannot be seen to work with her any more than Obama.
Cruz speaks: The Trump campaign, oddly, permitted Cruz to speak at the convention, even though Cruz has refused to endorse Ponzi Don. I suspect each had an ulterior motive. Cruz didn’t disappoint. He spoke without endorsing, and the campaign stepped all over his appearance.
Ponzi Don said Cruz had violated his pledge to endorse the Republican nominee, whoever. Cruz rebutted that he wasn’t going to endorse someone who smeared his wife and his father. I’m with Cruz on this one.
Hillary selects Virginia Senator Tim Kane for VP nomination: I like this guy; solid citizen. He’s genuinely liberal on lots of important issues. Fluent in Spanish, which is smart for a national politician. He has a zero rating with the NRA from fighting for sensible gun control and safety laws in his gun favoring state, unlike some Senators I could mention (I’m looking at you, Bernie). A Roman Catholic, he is opposed to abortion personally, but accepts anyone else’s decision as their own business. He has advocated leniency for regional banks; he will have to come around on that one. He supported TPP, but has swung around to Hillary’s opposition. He was right about that the first time.
Ponzi Don selects Mike Pence:
Various and sundry shootings: A police officer in Miami shot a black man three times who was lying on the ground with his hands up in surrender. The policemen’s union said, “Oops.”
The reason given for this shooting is that the officer thought that the black man was a threat to the autistic kid next to him, who was playing with a toy truck. Then they said that the officer got it right all along, and that he was shooting at the autistic kid, whom he took to be the threat with his toy truck, but missed him with his three shots, all of which hit the black man accidently.
So, which is it? Is the officer the most heinous bigot on the planet that he would shoot a black man lying prostrate with his hands up in surrender? Or, is he the world’s stupidest police officer to mistake a man lying on the ground with his hands up as a threat? Or, is he both incredibly stupid for assessing a kid with a toy truck a threat, and the worst shot in police history for shooting at the kid at close range three times and missing each time, each of his bullets hitting the ground, or at least they would have hit the ground had a black man not been lying there with his hands in the air?
If you wrote this scene for Inspector Clouseau in a “Pink Panther” movie, the producers would reject it as not credible.
This begs the question: if a black man can lie on the ground with his hands in the air and still get shot three times, what more can a black man do to protect himself from police? Perhaps this helps explain why some blacks have decided they have nothing to lose by shooting back.
Family Values: based on what I saw of Ponzi Don’s children during the Republican convention, the man seems to have a sense of family, unexpected in a man who spreads his sperm around so indiscriminately. His children are all bright and articulate, and clearly love their dad. They’re testament to what a good education can do for one, especially paired with a comfortable inheritance. Good on you, Ponzi Don.
Status of the States: After Texas Senator Ted Cruz urged each voter to “vote your conscience,” he was roundly booed by the Texas delegation at the convention. Apparently “vote” and “conscience” are no longer acceptable words in the typical Texan’s lexicon. You get the cup this week, ‘Horns.
Coming Events: Ponzi Don’s position on NATO; thoughts on feeding the earth – an essay on population, inspired by China’s change in population policy; one on curiosity and entrepreneurship; the three most mistaken judgements by the Supremes since 2008, and thoughts on Ponzi Don and Bernie being sisters under their skins.
Brexit: The rapid political fallout from the UK’s referendum decision to leave the EU on June 23rd was a game of Musical Chairs, only in reverse. The last person standing when the music stopped didn’t leave the game, but got stuck instead with the thankless job of implementing the exit.
Prime Minister David Cameron, who initiated the referendum because he thought the Stay side would win, resigned the day after the vote, humming a tune as he left the podium, not unlike John Boehner singing “What a Wonderful Day” as he resigned from the U.S. House of Representatives, leaving leadership of the House to some other poor dupe, which fell to Paul Ryan.
Immediately, the UK’s bond rating fell, and Nigel Farage, the UK’s prime xenophobe, who drove the Leave campaign, having pissed in the punchbowl, left the party, leaving others to deal with the mess he wrought.
Thought to be next in line to become Prime Minister was former London Mayor Boris Johnson, who supported staying in the UK, then switched to the Leave camp in a smarmy act of political expedience. His second side won, but by then, he had no friends. The Leaves didn’t trust him, and his London constituency, which voted overwhelmingly to Stay, hated him. When his running mate, Michael Grove, stabbed Johnson in the back by running himself, Johnson dropped out of the race and Grove came tumbling after.
This left Theresa May, Home Secretary, and another lady as the last candidates. The other lady left the field so quickly we didn’t catch her name. May was named Prime Minister on Wednesday. To illustrate what a dog’s dinner the UK’s exit is going to be, May immediately named Boris Johnson Home Secretary. Yes, that Boris Johnson. He comes to office, as the Washington Post put it, “on a cloud of acrimony, amid worldwide disbelief,” that this guy will be involved in the exit, since he is all but persona non grata in Europe.
On the positive side, the UK changed leadership in under three weeks, whereas our campaigning never ends from one administration to the next. They are ahead of schedule to leave the UEU by almost four months.
Trump’s VP running mate choice: Ponzi Don narrowed his choice to three finalists: Newt Gingrich, thoroughly disgraced politician, morally loose scumbag, and smarmy, opportunistic money grubber; Governor Chris Christy (R-NJ), despised by his own constituency, and currently under investigation for misdeeds while in office; and Governor Mike Pence (R-IN), far right wing political outlier, religious wing-nut, enemy of women’s rights, and a governor so incompetent he was unlikely to be re-elected were he to have run for another term in Indiana.
Ponzi Don chose Pence, the best and logical choice among the three, which isn’t saying much. A dart and a phone book would likely have produced better choices. Let’s consider how he might have made his decision
Ponzi Don needs someone who might help fill the cavernous gaps in his political knowledge. Pence has national experience in Congress, executive experience as a governor, however poorly he performed, and he is so conservative he is one of that strain in vogue in the Republican Party, presently He may be able to lure a couple more Republicans back into the fold, or at least know their names, which is more than Ponzi Don will know. Plus, there is no risk of Pence’s overshadowing or clashing with Ponzi Don, unless he (either one of them, I suppose) has a personality transplant, or an enlightened thought, neither of which is likely.
Christy couldn’t be selected, because it would be awkward to have your running mate indicted during the campaign. However, in one regard, I think Ponzi Don is a man of his word. If he wins (did I just write that?), he will probably name Christy as Attorney General. Apparently, Christy served competently as a U.S. Attorney, and he is such a sycophant, he will indict anyone Ponzi Don doesn’t like.
Gingrich wouldn’t do because he is capable of saying something even more outrageous than Ponzi Don, and he has had as many wives, which is wretched excess. I know; so have I. Besides, after every appearance in the White House, someone would have to count the silverware.
Nope, Pence was the right guy among this bunch, or, as Conservative Ann Coulter put it, Ponzi Don’s “first mistake.”
This process, however, begs the question how Ponzi Don self-narrowed his choices to this motley crew. We should ponder that sometime.
Various and sundry shootings: Almost everyone agrees that it would be better all-around if we stopped shooting one another so much, but there is no consensus how to accomplish this. The debate this week got no further along than the suggestion we should “all come together.”
Nonsense. We are never all going to come together, nor should we want to. We are individuals with diverse ideas, opinions and behavior. We need solutions that accept our differences and take them into account. To me, that means being sure that people demonstrating violent behavior can’t get a hand on a gun. Also, that there are some kinds of guns that shouldn’t be in anyone’s hands.
I am not the nose of a camel in the tent. I don’t want to get rid of all the guns…only about 95%, which would bring them in line with our percent of the world’s population. That’s still too many. Most developed nations allow almost no guns, but I could live with it until we are able to study the results objectively.
Coup Scoop: An attempted military coup in Turkey was put down with popular support. It turns out that Turks prefer a democratically elected authoritarian, sectarian president (in a traditionally secular society) over a military dictatorship. Interesting decision to ponder.
Status of the States: Who knows? All the worst states are so engaged in their nominating convention that it is hard to separate one from the others. Let them enjoy their week. BTW, I think the Republican Convention is going to be much less violent or raucous than forecast, but still pretty zany because of the cast of characters.
Coming Events: thoughts on feeding the earth; an essay on population, inspired by China’s change in population policy; one on curiosity and entrepreneurship; the three most mistaken judgements by the Supremes since 2008, and thoughts on Ponzi Don and Bernie being sisters under their skins.
Unlike Rick Perry, that Gohmert, I can tell you exactly which three federal government entities (not departments, technically) I would do away with, after, that is, reducing the military budget by a minimum of one half and spending the money on education, research, infrastructure and debt reduction. You will notice that the subjects below channel my inner-conservative, but still make sense.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs – This bureau, with a budget of $2.5 billion, and more than 8,000 employees, is the classic example of a bureaucracy that has hung on tenaciously long after its usefulness has become completely outdated, if it ever really was useful.
Frankly, I’ve had it up to here with Native Americans, as well as the bureau that mistreated them. The idea of Native Americans has been out of date since Jackson and, like slavery, we need to get beyond it.
Native Americans have “Tribal Sovereignty,” which means they may decide on laws for their reservation, so long as they don’t violate federal law, or the state laws in the states where the reservations are located (Note: there is a hiccup or two here – reservations overlapping state lines – that will have to be worked out). In this, they are just like the states. Let the designated existing authorities handle it.
Native Americans have dual citizenship at present. Therefore, they qualify for rights and benefits of our country. Let’s leave it at that for a while, with jurisdiction as above. They don’t need to be babied by bureaucrats. They have access to our laws and services. If they choose to live in isolated regions and eat roots and mushrooms, that’s their choice, and I would never deny it to them.
The reservations themselves are “domestic dependent nations,” an antiquated idea of one off agreements that add up to a Gordian knot within the U.S. boundaries. Let them, though not the BIA, remain such until, say, 2030, after which, the reservation trusts and treaties will be dissolved. The lands will be entrusted to the states involved. There will be no more exclusive “Indian” benefits; no more exemptions for shooting whales, exclusive fishing rights and “sacred” grounds, other than existing cemeteries.
Sudden thought: how out of date if the Bureau if it still calls itself the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and not Bureau of Native American Affairs? I’m just sayin’.
The Veterans Administration hospital system – this is another bureaucratic system that is hanging on, though failing at its task miserably. As President Abraham Lincoln said, “Man clings to nothing so tightly as a bad deal.” Let veterans go to any hospital they want and send the government the bill, as per their current arrangement with the VA, only with lots less waiting, and, I expect, better doctors on average. We’ve already got ACA and Medicare systems set up to handle the accounting. Sell off the VA’s existing hospitals, or give them to church denominations for charity hospitals (after we start taxing churches).
NASA’s Mars Landing Mission, and other inter-planetary travel – Despite the hype, there is no rational reason to go to Mars, or Jupiter, or Io or Europa, or anywhere else in the solar system with manned space flight, and two reasons glaringly obvious to any rational thinker not to spend money trying to. Going to another planet in our solar system gains us little, except perhaps some distant, expensively exploitable natural resources, which some big businesses would like to acquire and have the government pay for, in the event we squander all of our own. NASA is promising the effort will open the gateway to galaxies far, far away. They’ve been watching too many episodes of “Star Trek.”
We are never going to leave our solar system, because we cannot travel beyond, or even at the speed of light, having as we do, more than one particle. If the possibility of traveling at speeds exceeding light can be proven – which I do not hear anyone suggesting seriously – we can re-visit this idea, but we’re not going to prove it wasting money on manned rocket ships. On the bright side, no invaders from outer space are going to get here to bother us either. That is pure science fiction, meaning no science and complete fiction.
If/when our Sun goes, in an estimated five billion years, Earth and the entire solar system is going with it. If the Earth goes away due to some catastrophe, the solar system as we know it will go, too. If we kill ourselves off without destroying the planet, then what will it really matter if we are still around somewhere? We won’t deserve to survive anyway.
The point is, planetary exploration offers us little or no meaningful benefit at an enormous cost, which could be spent on something more useful on Earth, or saved. We are stuck in this solar system for as long as it lasts, and we should make the best of it. Let’s spend our resources making things better on Earth, and to survive longer, healthier and happier here, while we may.
Sudden Thought: Could the new movie “The Martian” be a PR effort by NASA to promote good feelings toward Mars exploration? It is a marvelous science fiction movie, but looked at objectively, the movie illustrates the impossibility of the entire idea. The movie never explains credibly how we got to Mars; we just got there, and the efforts thereafter are utter fantasy. What? Republicans have their conspiracy theories. Why can’t I have one?
There: That got my inner conservative out of my system, but I mean every word of the above.
The FBI: Did something pretty remarkable after its investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of her private email server while Secretary of State. I don’t mean their decision not to bring charges. That was expected by pretty much everyone not a rabid Republican politician or their voter base, which said politicians had all but promised there would be an indictment. If we charged every politician who ever did anything careless or stupid, all of them would be in jail.
No, the remarkable thing is that FBI Director James Comey made a public statement about bringing no charges, but criticizing Clinton for acts that he said are not criminal, which is not in Comey’s purview, and therefore should have been left unsaid. The FBI usually doesn’t comment like that. In fact, making any public comment at all is almost unprecedented. (J. Edgar Hoover never did.) The FBI is expected only to inform the Justice Department of their findings and the DOJ takes it from there. In speaking publicly about an investigation, Comey muddied the water a bit. It would have been better all around if he had followed protocol.
House Republicans were apoplectic, and immediately called Comey – a Republican who served as Assistant Attorney General to John Ashcroft in the George W. Bush Administration – to testify as to what the hell he was thinking, and during which hearing attacked Comey’s competence and integrity. (Comey didn’t seem to appreciate this very much.) Note: Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), fresh from the debacle of his own committee’s hearings on Benghazi, also sat on this committee.
So, over the course of two weeks, Republican’s two obsessions – Benghazi and Clinton’s emails – hit dead ends, which doesn’t mean that Republicans won’t try to keep each on life support up to the election and beyond.
Final thought: Comey said it is possible that Clinton’s email server was hacked, but that there was no evidence of this. There is proof, however, that the State Department’s servers have been hacked like George Washington’s cherry tree. Maybe Clinton did us a favor avoiding the State Department ones.
Big D, little a, double ll, a, s: The horrific attack on Dallas police officers that killed five and wounded seven others was shocking, but not necessarily surprising. Given the number of times we have seen police caught on videos killing black people criminally, and not being charged, it was only a matter of time before some unstable black man cracked under the weight of perceived injustice.
The remarkable events before and after the attack – police officers protecting a crowd of black protesters, then the protesters, and many other blacks, expressing sorrow at the deaths of the officers, and appreciation for their service and sacrifice – were inspirational. I was proud of Dallas for that.
Still, there is something very, very wrong in our society that must be addressed before we can move forward significantly from where we are: Below are some of my beliefs about this:
- The vast majority of black citizens are law abiding. But there are some extremely violent criminals within the black community. Many of the violence is wanton: gang warfare, rape, murder, armed robbery, domestic violence. Though frightening to whites, the vast majority of this crime is actually black on black, and occurs in black neighborhoods. The police are understandably wary in such neighborhoods, because crime really is present there.
- The vast majority of police officers are well intentioned and hard-working, and try to serve and protect. But there are clearly some bad apples, people who lack the judgement, or are psychologically unfit to have the authority of a police badge, and the gun that goes with it. We know this better now. Thanks to the technological leap of the video smart phone, almost everyone is a news cameraman these days.
- The videos of policemen behaving unlawfully to blacks (and let’s face it, this is happening) without prosecution (and this is clearly happening, too), is exacerbating the frustration and rage among blacks because the injustice is so blatant and obvious. At the same time, police officers are defensive that they are being painted with the same dark lacquer of malevolence and criminality as those seen on the videos. Both groups – police and black citizens – are justified in their feelings, but not necessarily their actions.
But the gap between blacks and whites in America is wider than just that between black citizens and the police, much wider. Yes, blacks are mistreated compared to whites everywhere in our justice system; the statistics are undeniable. But blacks are also unfairly treated in every aspect of American society except sports and entertainment – income, education, public services, social services, you name it.
I believe this is because, unlike all other immigrant groups coming to America, blacks first came as slaves rather than opportunity seekers or refugees. Even our Constitution originally reckoned a black man to be worth only 3/5ths of a white man. The Constitution has been amended, but not so some hearts and minds. Some of us have had a hard time letting go of those feelings.
William Faulkner wrote poignantly about middle and lower social class men and women who choked on the idea of a black person’s being equal to them, couldn’t accept the idea of competing equally with them, or worse, working for them. Social superiority over blacks was the only superiority Faulkner’s Snopes ever had. (I will have more to say about this in my views on Barak Obama’s presidency in early 2017.)
Over time, the inevitable stigma first attached to immigration groups drops away, as it is dropping away at present with Hispanics. But though many generations have passed since slavery, blacks still experience stigma and oppression, along with whatever immigrant group is most recent, which today is Muslims and Middle Eastern refugees.
You may have noticed that I didn’t use the word “racism” above. There can be no such word, because there is no such thing as race. It is a social construct with no scientific support. Save for superficial cosmetic differences – skin color, hair color and texture, eye shape, etc. – all Homo sapiens genetic material is identical. What is going on is social oppression and disenfranchisement, and it needs to stop, now.
Final Thought: a creek runs along the back of our property, and we are cursed with gophers. Exterminators tell us that because of the creek, we will never be able to get complete control of the gophers. The environment is just too hospitable for them. In the same way, I believe, we will not be able to get firm control of citizen/police tension until we get most guns off the street and out of the wrong hands. The fact that the U.S. has five percent of the world’s population, and 50% of the world’s guns in private hands, makes it actuarially impossible to achieve safe streets until we address guns rationally.
I am willing to be proven wrong about removing many of our guns and denying some citizens the right to obtain them, and to learn of other possible remedies regarding guns. Sadly, there is no research about guns or gun violence from which to learn, because Congress, in an inconceivable act of determined ignorance – the very worst kind – outlawed such research. The congressman who authored the bill – former Arkansas representative Jay Dickey – has recanted, or at least clarified. He explained that he didn’t intend to outlaw all research on guns, just any research that might end up advocating for gun control. What a Gohmert!
Not so sudden thought: I’ve had this one for a while. It irks me no end when the media say “took responsibility for” about groups executing events such as the various suicide bombings that have been going on in the Middle East and elsewhere during Ramadan. These groups are not taking responsibility for anything. They are confessing to murder. Call it what it is. While on the subject, I don’t like the term “suicide bombing” either. What is happening is a murder/suicide.
Status of the States: Even against the stiff competition from Oklahoma, where Governor Mary Fallin claimed that Donald Trump is running as a “racial healer,” Texas wins the cup this week, due to the odious behavior of both its U.S. Senators – John Cornyn and Ted Cruz. In a blatant display of the obstructionism paralyzing government at present, both of these senators are holding up the appointment of federal judges, who these very same senators themselves nominated for the appointments! If that is not obstruction without honor, what is?
Coming Events: The three government entities I would shut down; thoughts on feeding the earth; an essay on population, inspired by China’s change in population policy; one on curiosity and entrepreneurship; the three most mistaken judgements by the Supremes since 2008.