Sunday, May 24, 2015

Different Bush, Same Mistakes

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion


Recently, the man they call JEB! faced off against a 19-year-old college student. It didn’t go well for him.
Former Gov. Jeb Bush was at a town hall meeting in Nevada the other day when he was confronted by political science major Ivy Ziedrich, of the University of Nevada at Reno. Ms. Ziedrich reacted to a statement from JEB! claiming that ISIS was created by Barack Obama “retreating” from Iraq.
“We had an agreement that the president could have signed,” Bush had stated, “that would have kept 10,000 troops, less than we have in Korea, that could have created the stability that would have allowed for Iraq to progress.”
Actually, Ms. Ziedrich argued, the problem goes back farther, to the time when the American-led Coalition Provisional Authority decided to disband the Iraqi military, a time “when 30,000 individuals who were part of the Iraqi military were forced out — they had no employment, they had no income, and they were left with access to all of the same arms and weapons.”
She wound up by concluding, “Your brother created ISIS.”
It was a scene reminiscent of the time Joe the Plumber, the belligerent bullet-headed dude-bro from Ohio, became a hero to the rubes and ignoramii by getting in candidate Barack Obama’s face and claiming Obama’s policies would make his taxes go up. The difference between Ivy Zierdich and Joe the Plumber is that Ziedrich actually knows what she’s talking about.
Disbanding the Iraqi forces and leaving thousands of armed and angry young men with nothing to do but form insurgent groups is now regarded by most historians as the second biggest blunder of Dubbya’s Wacky Iraqi Adventure (the first being starting the bloody thing in the first place).
The most compelling evidence that that decision led to disaster is that no one, including Dubbya himself, will now admit to being the one who made it. Colin Powell, who said it was a mistake, denied ever being consulted, as did Gen. Peter Pace, former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Condoleezza Rice claims it was a complete surprise. Dubbya told biographer Robert Draper, “The policy was to keep the army intact; didn’t happen,” adding, “I can’t remember; I’m sure I said, ‘This is the policy. What happened?’”
Stirring leadership, that.
So how did this become an issue now? Probably as a result of JEB!’s first, but almost certainly not last, gaffe of his campaign-that-is-not-yet-a-campaign-except-everyone-totally-knows-it’s-a-campaign. Asked by Fox News if “knowing what we know now,” would he have decided to go to war with Iraq, JEB! said he would — “and so would Hillary Clinton.”
On this last part, he may be right, even though Clinton at least admits her vote was a mistake.
Sadly, the Fox reporter did not follow up with the obvious questions like, “Would you also have put an entirely unqualified campaign donor in charge of FEMA, and then watched as he massively bungled the relief effort after a major hurricane before telling him he was doing a ‘heckuva job’? Would you have ignored a daily briefing titled ‘Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.’ 36 days before the late Mr. bin Laden did just that?”
JEB! later began furiously backpedaling, claiming he thought the question was “knowing what we knew THEN, would you have gone into Iraq?” Only problem with that defense is that those of us who knew what we knew THEN thought it was a terrible idea. And guess what? We were right.
Finally, JEB! threw in the towel, sulkily declaring that “knowing what we know now, I would not have engaged. I would not have gone into Iraq.” In other words, JEB! was retroactively for war in Iraq before he was retroactively against it. There’s that Bush leadership again.
Oh, and as for that claim that we had an “agreement that would have kept 10,000 troops in Iraq”? Politifact rates that as “mostly false,” adding:
“Obama inherited a timeline to exit Iraq from George W. Bush and followed it, but there was no agreement to leave a large force behind. The Obama White House considered 10,000 troops for a short time but ruled it out, suggesting a much smaller force. Negotiations with Iraq broke down, however, and there was no agreement that met conditions Washington wanted.”
Those conditions included immunity for American troops from prosecution in Iraqi courts.
So let’s review: JEB! said he’d make the same mistake his brother did, then said he wouldn’t, then lied to try to shift the blame for the current disastrous aftermath of the Iraq War away from the president who started it in the first place.

Doggone these liberals! When are they going to stop blaming George Dubbya Bush for the things he actually did?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

In Which I Take the Side of Ted Cruz

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

By now, I assume most of you have figured out that I’m not a huge fan of Sen. Ted Cruz. I’m even less of a fan, however, of what passes for journalism in this country these days, by which I mean the shallow, image-driven, trivia-obsessed folderol that seeks to find the “gotchas” in the most ridiculous things.
Did Obama ordering orange juice on the campaign trail mean he’s not a “regular guy” who can relate to the kind of simpletons these overpaid celebrity journalists assume we are? Did Hillary Clinton not tipping in a diner mean she’s insensitive to working people, or did her overtipping mean she’s a “limousine liberal” who’s insensitive to working people? And on and on.
One of the most obnoxious practitioners of this kind of “celebrity” journalism dressed up as political analysis is Mark Halperin, who goes out of his way to prove that being a “senior political analyst for Time magazine, Time.com, and MSNBC” (according to his Wikipedia entry) does not mean you’re not a shallow, clueless hack.
This became painfully clear from viewing Halperin’s latest atrocity, an interview with Sen. Cruz for Bloomberg.com that was so embarrassing (not to mention more than a little racist), it actually made me feel bad for the candidate. Yes, you heard that right. I actually felt bad for the “Green Eggs and Ham” guy. It really was that awful.
The interview started off with Halperin asking Cruz, who’s Cuban-American, if he thought Hispanics would vote for him. This was bad enough. It became truly cringe-worthy when Halperin prefaced his next line of questioning with “people are interested in you and your identity.” Oh, dear, I thought, this will not end well.

Halperin asked if Cruz listed himself as “a Hispanic” when he applied to Princeton and to Harvard Law School. Of course, Cruz responded, that’s part of his heritage. Then the wheels really began to come off. Halperin began grilling Cruz about whether he had an “affinity for or connection to, anything part of your Cuban past.”

He asked such hard-hitting questions as: Does Cruz have a favorite Cuban food? Does he like Cuban music? Could he identify his favorite Cuban singer? And then, as I watched in fascinated horror, Halperin hit rock bottom — and started to dig.
“I want to give you the opportunity to directly welcome your colleague Sen. Sanders to the race,” he said, “and I’d like you to do it, if you would, en español.”
To his credit, Cruz declined to be Halperin’s dancing Cuban pony. “You know,” he said, “I’m going to stick to English, but I appreciate the invitation, Señor.” It may shock you, but I will give the senator mad respect for not saying, as I did while I was watching this train wreck online, “Mr. Halperin, what the [bad word] is wrong with you?”
I mean, really. Can you even imagine asking Hillary Clinton, “So, who’s your favorite white musician? Do you like mac and cheese? Say something white to welcome Sen. Bernie Sanders to the race!” Or, for that matter, asking Sanders, “So, how about that Jewish food? Gefilte fish, am I right? Do you have a favorite klezmer band? While we’re at it, can you say something in Yiddish to Hillary Clinton?”
One thing is for sure: We need to keep Mark Halperin as far away from Dr. Ben Carson as we can.
Look, there’s a lot to criticize when it comes to Ted Cruz. I’ve done it recently, and I’m sure that before this whole long electoral nightmare is over, I’ll do it again. But I really do not give a rat’s wazoo about the music he listens to or whether he eats the food of his forbears. And I don’t think the vast majority of the American people do either, just as they are incredibly uninterested in the dining, tipping or musical inclinations of JEB!, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, et. al.
Ask them how they’re going to deal with the rapidly growing income gap in this country, if they plan to at all. Ask them about how they’re going to fix our crumbling infrastructure. Ask them about their position on warrantless surveillance, assassination by drone, or nuclear proliferation.
In other words, Mr. Halperin and others of your ilk, do your freakin’ jobs for a change.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

They Love Our Troops, Except When They're Terrified of Them

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

It’s been said that everything’s bigger and better in Texas. They claim their beer is colder, their women are prettier, and even the nighttime stars are brighter.
Well, I don’t know about all that, but I can tell you this: their wingnuts are wingnuttier. And apparently, they’re running the state.
Seems the U.S. military is planning a large-scale training exercise called Jade Helm 15. JH15, as we’ll call it, is a “challenging eight-week joint military and interagency (IA) Unconventional Warfare (UW) exercise conducted throughout Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah and Colorado,” which is scheduled for this summer.
Sounds OK, right? Similar to the sort of exercises run around here all the time from Fort Bragg.
OK, that is, except to the paranoid, conspiracy-mongering right, to whom no move by the government, even by the military, is anything less than a harbinger of The Death of Freedom.
Someone got hold of a map that identifies Texas, Utah and a small patch of Southern California as “hostile” territory for purposes of the exercise. To wingnuts, this could only mean one thing: The United States was preparing to invade … itself.
“I’ve hardly ever heard of something joint like this unless they’re planning an invasion,” asserted Alex Jones of the online nut-farm Infowars. Except for, you know, the dozens of other joint exercises the military has conducted on American soil.
Aging martial arts star and conservative icon Chuck Norris joined in, writing for World Net Daily: “What’s under question are those who are pulling the strings at the top of Jade Helm 15 back in Washington.” Poor Chuck. All those shots to the head he took from Bruce Lee are finally taking their toll.
It just keeps getting crazier and crazier. Walmart had to publicly deny that recently shuttered stores are going to be repurposed as prisons for people on a so-called “red list” of dissenters (all red-blooded conservatives, naturally) who’ve been pre-targeted for arrest when the Evil Obama Administration brings the hammer down. Or food distribution centers for Chinese occupation troops. Or something.
This sort of lunacy would have been no reflection at all on the current state of the Republican Party had not the governor of Texas his own self, the Hon. Greg Abbott, decided to buy into it, or at least pretend to. He’s asking the Texas State Guard to go down to the area of the exercise to keep an eye on things and make sure our military doesn’t get out of line, freedom-wise.
“It is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed,” Abbott wrote in his letter to the commander of the TSG.
Huh. I thought the Republicans believed that’s what our troops were for.
It should be noted that the “Texas State Guard” is a different organization from the National Guard, and appears to be mostly concerned with things like disaster relief.
Sorry, but if the government really was executing a military takeover and the TSG was deployed to stop them, they’d barely register as a speed bump as the Army rolled into Austin.
With Abbott standing tall, other Republican pols just naturally had to weigh in against the imaginary plan for the Kenyan Islamocommiefascist Usurper to put Texas under martial law.
Loony Louie Gohmert, the Texas congressman and teahadist mullah who’s taken over the coveted Michele Bachmann Chair in Bat-Spit Craziness, said he was “appalled” by the map, especially “that the hostile areas amazingly have a Republican majority.” He demanded that the “tone of the exercise” be changed “so the federal government is not intentionally practicing war against its own states.”
Even presidential candidate Ted Cruz allowed as how he had “no reason to doubt” the assurances of the military, but he understood “the reason for concern and uncertainty” because that Obama is just so very, very awful.
Poor wingnuts. Their ideology so often requires that they hold two diametrically opposed ideas in their heads at once. They have to revere the “troops” and the police while at the same time being terrified that those organizations are going to impose martial and/or Sharia law any minute.
They have to love their country while maintaining a big ol’ cache of weapons at all times in case they have to make war against it if they lose an election (which would also include firing on those same soldiers and cops).
It’s no wonder some of them go insane. But it’s a pity that some leaders of the GOP feel like they have to don the tinfoil hats of the conspiracy theorists to pander to the party’s lunatic fringe.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Mad About the "Clinton Cash" Non-Scandal? Well Here's Your Alternative.

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

So, apparently, an upcoming book, the ponderously titled “Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich,” seems poised to set a record for the shortest time between a Clinton “scandal” breaking into national news and its complete collapse into a big ol’ pile of nothing.
Considering the resume of the author, a longtime professional Republican operative named Peter Schweizer, this book is clearly one of those right-wing tomes designed not to put forth any actual agenda or philosophy of governance, but to tear down the Democratic front-runner with an eye toward giving whichever piece of damaged goods is the last Republican standing a shot at the White House.
A pretty dismal strategy, to be sure. But fear not, good friends, I offer you a way out of the gloom. Bear with me for just a bit and I’ll show you.
First, let’s have a look at the allegations. They consist of the usual ginned-up “OK for me but not for thee” scandal-mongering guaranteed to make the hearts of the editors of Clinton-hating mainstream media outlets like The New York Times go pitter-pat.
The former “newspaper of record” breathlessly reported on allegations in the book that donations by officers of a Canadian company to the charitable Clinton Foundation led to the takeover of some American uranium mines by the Russian company that eventually acquired the Canadian company. Meanwhile, Bill Clinton got a big speaking fee of $500,000 from, not the Russian company or the Canadian one, but from “a Russian investment bank with links to the Kremlin that was promoting Uranium One stock.” (I know, it’s convoluted, but most right-wing conspiracy theories are.)
Sounds pretty ominous, right? Sure, until you actually start thinking.
Before the book was even released, Schweizer was forced to admit, on talk show after talk show, that there was absolutely no evidence that there was criminal wrongdoing or any “direct action” by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to influence decisions on behalf of foreign companies that donated to the Clinton Foundation.
Even Fox News’ Chris Wallace had to point out that the decision on the uranium mines was approved by no fewer than nine federal agencies, not just the Clinton State Department. (No, Hillary Clinton did not control all nine of them.)
Pressed to provide evidence, any evidence, of the actual criminality he alleged, Schweizer was forced to fall back on the old right-wing dodge, “Well, I got nothin’. I’m just raising questions.”
Maybe, he suggested hopefully, some good old-fashioned congressional investigations with the customary Blizzard O’Subpoenas will turn something up to discredit Clinton. You know, like they did with Benghazi. Except wait they didn’t.
Big Money is, without a doubt, a pernicious influence in American politics. But if you can say with a straight face that donations to the Clinton Foundation or big speaking fees paid to the Clintons are worthy of congressional investigation while turning a blind eye to Republican pols pandering to billionaires like Sheldon Adelson or the Koch brothers, then, let me put this as politely as I can: You’re full of it.
But, as promised, I offer you a way out of hypocrisy. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Oh, I know, I’ve pooh-poohed the idea of the junior senator from Vermont going for the Democratic nomination. Largely because he wasn’t, you know, a Democrat. But it seems as though that rumpled, lovable old coot is about to throw his hat into the ring with a “D” on it. And boy, does he hate the big money style of politics.
He’s called for a constitutional amendment “making it clear that the right to vote and the ability to make campaign contributions and expenditures belong only to real people, not corporations.”
And he’s “continuously supported the DISCLOSE Act, which would lower the veil of secrecy over campaign finance and prevent foreign corporations, individuals and governments from interfering in our political system.” In Bernie Sanders’ America, political marriage, so to speak, would be between one American man (or woman) and one candidate. Per election, at least.
So, Republicans and Democrats, wingnuts and manic progressives: If you’re disgusted with the Clintons for associating with big donors and getting big contributions, then won’t you join me in supporting the only candidate who actually has a plan to get that kind of big money out of politics?
I mean, surely, you don’t think big speaking fees or contributions to private foundations are only bad or suspicious when Bill or Hillary Clinton are involved, right? If that kind of perceived influence-peddling makes you mad, then Bernie’s the only logical choice, right?
Right?

Sunday, April 26, 2015

In Which I (Briefly) Say Something Nice About Lindsey Graham

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

Is Lindsey Graham one of that rare breed for which I hunt so diligently: the Sane Republican? If this was “Jeopardy,” the response would be, “What is, ‘Things You Never Thought You’d Hear Dusty Say,’ Alex.” Nevertheless, as we wait for the bachelor (not that there’s anything wrong with that) senator from South Carolina to make up his mind about whether he’s going to be the next one out of the Republican Clown Car, I find myself hearing some things from him that make me go, “Wait a minute, Lindsey Graham said THAT?”
For example, Graham apparently does not believe in your God-given right to use your firearm to revolt against the government. This sets him apart from, for example, Graham’s fellow senator, Ted Cruz.
In a fundraising email, Cruz asserts that “The Second Amendment to the Constitution isn’t for just protecting hunting rights, and it’s not only to safeguard your right to target practice. It is a constitutional right to protect your children, your family, your home, our lives, and to serve as the ultimate check against governmental tyranny — for the protection of liberty.”
If you think about this for a second, this basically means the Second Amendment gives you the right not only to shoot robbers and rapists; it also justifies killing cops, soldiers and especially politicians who you feel are “threatening to your liberty.” Or, as prominent Republican fundraiser Ted Nugent put it: “Obama can suck on my machine gun.”
Asked about Cruz’s statement, an expression of what some law professors have dubbed the “insurrectionist” theory of the Second Amendment, Graham disagreed.
“Well, we tried that once in South Carolina. I wouldn’t go down that road again,” he said in an interview with Talking Points Memo. “I think an informed electorate is probably a better check than guns in the streets. I’m not looking for an insurrection.”
No “guns in the streets”? No “if ballots don’t work, bullets will”? What kind of mealy-mouthed, squishy Republicanism is this when threatening a second Civil War is off the table?
Then there are statements Graham made regarding immigration on a trip to New Hampshire a couple of weeks ago, as reported by Yahoo! News senior correspondent Jon Ward.
When engaging with a crowd at a Republican Committee meeting, Graham was confronted by a local politician who asserted that illegal aliens were receiving government benefits. This is an article of faith with the perpetually outraged, xenophobic Teahadist wing of the GOP, if you use the definition of “faith” that means “something someone has an unshakeable belief in despite the evidence.”
Sen. Graham immediately risked being burned at the stake for heresy: “You can say that, but you cannot get food stamps, you can’t get Medicare, you can’t get Social Security if you’re illegal.”
For over half an hour, according to the article, Graham tried to cajole and persuade his audience on immigration reform, asking questions like, “How many of you believe they should get paid over the table, not under the table? How many believe they should pay taxes?” He apparently forgot the basic principle that you can’t use reason to persuade people away from a position that reason never led them to in the first place. But even I have to give him credit for trying.
He’s also a believer in climate change, saying he’d like to “clean up the air and create a lower carbon economy over time.” He’s characterized that position as “commonsensical.” (See “using reason,” above.)
I’m not worried, though. I know that this tentative warmth I’m feeling toward Sen. Graham will only last until the next international crisis, when he goes on TV and starts foaming at the mouth and stomping his little feet about how we need to bomb, bomb, bomb and oh yes, “show leadership,” before whoever the boogeyman of the moment is “opens the gates of hell,” thus releasing a plague of locusts, demons and Sharia lawyers and leading to a thousand years of darkness and despair.
Oh, and Graham apparently still thinks we can intervene successfully in Syria by arming anti-Assad rebels, so long as we only arm the “right ones.” Because that’s worked so well in the past. And at some point, he’ll no doubt threaten to filibuster some unrelated nomination if he can’t open up yet another Benghazi witch hunt.
Lindsey Graham says, with rather odd precision, that he’s “91 percent sure” he’ll raise enough money to announce that he’s running in May. And I’m 100 percent sure that, if he does, he’ll tank after South Carolina, if he even makes it that far. He just doesn’t have the ideological purity primary voters demand.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Ready For Hillary, I Guess

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion


So we finally get a moderate Republican in the presidential race. Too bad she’s running as a Democrat.
A week ago today, former Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton surprised absolutely no one when she declared that she was seeking the Democratic nomination for president of the United States. As usual, the press and the Republicans immediately ignored the actual problems with Mrs. Clinton as a candidate and a possible president, such as her cozying up with corporate interests and her hawkish and interventionist foreign policy.
No, in deference to the “base,” they went right to the usual trivia, previously refuted tinfoil-hat conspiracy theories (Benghazi, Benghazi, BENGHAZI!!!) and of course, thinly veiled sexism.
Take, for example, the often-voiced criticism that Clinton is “arrogant” or “entitled.” Look, people, it’s a supreme act of arrogance for anyone to put themselves forward as qualified to lead the Free World. As far as I’m concerned, this “arrogance” claim is just a euphemism for the word those on the right really want to use (and occasionally have): “uppity.” They said it about President Obama, they’ll say it about Hillary Clinton, they’ll basically say it about anyone they regard as one of their inferiors who has the effrontery to aspire to political power.
On the “trivia” front, New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman took an entire column to break the story of Mrs. Clinton and her assistant dining at a Chipotle restaurant in Maumee, Ohio. Mrs. Clinton, we are told, was “in a bright pink shirt, ordering a chicken burrito bowl — and carrying her own tray.” This, it should be noted, came from a review by Ms. Haberman of the restaurant’s security video after receiving an “anonymous tip.”
But they didn’t stop there. Ms. Haberman delved deeper to bring us the news that “their order also included a Blackberry Izze drink, a soda and a chicken salad, and was filled just after 1 p.m.”
This led to a “what does it all mean?” analysis on CNN.com, which asked, with no visible trace of irony: “One of the biggest obstacles Hillary has to overcome is the perception that she represents the past. What better way to shed that outdated 1990s stigma than appearing at a hip restaurant of today?”
The real issue, of course, it the cover-up as to whether or not Clinton left a tip or whether she got more guacamole than she deserved. I think a House committee needs to be convened on this, and God help Hillary if she can’t produce the receipt.
I’ve detailed several times in these pages why I’m not naturally a fan of Clinton’s brand of Republican Lite. She seems to have come late to the realization that income inequality exists in this country and that it’s a serious problem. And, lest we forget, she voted for the Iraq War.
I’d much rather see, for example, Sen. Elizabeth Warren in the race. Problem is, Warren’s adamant that she’s not running. The people pushing Sen. Bernie Sanders to declare for the Democratic nomination seem to have forgotten one basic problem: Sanders isn’t a member of the Democratic Party.
As for the other potential Democratic candidates, I like former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb’s positions on criminal justice reform, and he was talking about income inequality before it was cool. But he’s very much a long shot at this point. And who the heck is Martin O’Malley?
All that said, when you look at the current actual and potential GOP slate of candidates, the choice is pretty clear. For example, the day after Hillary announced, Marco Rubio jumped into the race and reminded us of the weakness of the forces against her. Sen. Thirsty, apparently not aware of Mrs. Clinton’s “hip” lunch habits, derided Hillary as “the candidate of the past” before promising to roll back everything that’s happened in the last six years.
You may think it somewhat odd to hear a member of the party that idolizes Ronald Reagan and would like to see us return to the “family values” of the 1950s talking about “the politics of the past,” but as I’ve noted before, no one should expect consistency from these people.
The next president may get to appoint as many as four Supreme Court justices. I want someone in that position who’s pro-choice, pro-science, pro-LGBT rights, and pro-health care reform. And you know what? So do the majority of American people. Even on health care reform, when you ask them about the specifics of the Affordable Care Act and don’t call it “Obamacare,” people are overwhelmingly for it.
So voting for Hillary Clinton is going to be like getting old: annoying and occasionally painful, but not so bad when you consider the alternative.