Friday, September 19, 2014


Char;es Krauthammer has ISIS's game plan all figured out:
... What was the Islamic State thinking? We know it is sophisticated in its use of modern media. But what was the logic of propagating to the world videos of its beheadings of two Americans (and subsequently a Briton) -- sure to inflame public opinion?

... It was an easily sprung trap to provoke America into entering the Mesopotamian war.


Because they're sure we will lose....

They count on Barack Obama quitting the Iraq/Syria campaign just as he quit Iraq and Libya in 2011 and is in the process of leaving Afghanistan now. And this goes beyond Obama. They see a post-9/11 pattern: America experiences shock and outrage and demands action. Then, seeing no quick resolution, it tires and seeks out leaders who will order the retreat. In Obama, they found the quintessential such leader....
"The quintessential such leader"! So ISIS has calculated that Obama is a big wuss -- but not quite enough of a big wuss to shrink from the fight altogether if provoked, just enough to start the fight, get embroiled in it, then quit, just the way he's done in, oh, say, the fight against Al Qaeda, in which ... um ... he's killed the leader and some top subordinates, thus helping to create precisely the competition for the title of Earth's Baddest Jihadist Group that ISIS is currently trying to win.

Oh, and Obama is so uniquely and predictably feckless that ISIS can count on him not to give in to pressure to widen the war, and to cut and run before another U.S. president (maybe even a Republican!) can fight ISIS more effectively (because who could possibly fight ISIS less effectively?). It just isn't possible, according to ISIS, that Obama will hold the line, or even score some victories, then hand the war off to an able successor, even though he'll be president for only two more years. ISIS is counting on Obama to pursue the fight to exactly the extent that maximizes ISIS's glory, and then to withdraw exactly when the fight can't be rapidly escalated by whoever succeeds him, all because Obama is such a uniquely terrible American leader.

Why, it almost seems as if ISIS thinks exactly the way Charles Krauthammer and his Fox News buddies think. Odd how that works.

For a while it looked as if Scotland might vote for independence, but the votes have been counted and No prevailed, 55%-45% -- which means there's one less thing that's Barack Obama's fault.

No, really. The folks at Asshole of the Day discovered that David Frum was prepared to blame Obama if Scots had voted Yes:
In February 1995, Bill Clinton traveled to Ottawa to speak in favor of Canadian unity. "In a world darkened by ethnic conflicts that tear nations apart, Canada stands as a model of how people of different cultures can live and work together in peace, prosperity, and mutual respect," Clinton told the Canadian Parliament. The U.S. president was a more popular figure in Quebec than that province's own politicians, and his words likely contributed to the narrow margin of victory of the 'No' side in Quebec's second and final secession referendum later that year. President Obama has played no equivalent role in the debate over the survival of America's close ally, the United Kingdom. If the 'Yes' vote prevails on September 18, Obama's omission should be remembered in the postmortem assignment of blame for a potential disaster for the peoples of Britain, Europe, and the Western alliance.
Yes, Clinton affirmed America's opposition to the Quebec separatist movement in his speech, but as The Washington Post noted at the time, he tried to reassure both sides:
... For the Canadian government, struggling to stave off a resurgent separatist movement in Quebec, Clinton's speech offered a vigorous reaffirmation of the U.S. position in favor of Canadian unity.

Lest he offend sensibilities in Quebec, however, Clinton also repeated the comforting mantra: "Your political future is, of course, entirely for you to decide."

Delivered with gusto, the speech amounted to a restatement of Washington's longstanding approach to the Quebec question, but it was artful enough to win loud applause from both sides. Indeed, Clinton even joked about his penchant for offering a little something to everyone.

"You want to know why my State of the Union address took so long?" he said. "It's because I evenly divided the things that would make the Democrats clap and the Republicans clap."

Later, Clinton met with the leader of the separatist Bloc Quebecois, Lucien Bouchard, in a historic first encounter between a U.S. president and a Quebec nationalist leader....
I guess Obama could have done something like that -- but what do you think the reaction would have been if he'd advocated a No vote and then met with separatists? "OBAMA WAFFLES ON SCOTTISH SEPARATISM"! "WHY WON'T OBAMA LEAD?" The critics who weren't accusing him of egomaniacally meddling in another country's affairs (something we're only supposed to do if the citizens are mostly Muslim) would be accusing him of weakness and vacillation.

At least this way we were spared eight Maureen Dowd columns comparing Obama unfavorably to Mel Gibson in Braveheart.

Thursday, September 18, 2014


Peggy Noonan is kvetching about how awful President Obama is again -- this time her complaint is that Obama "has very poor judgment." How bad is his judgment? Well, Noonan says, the man can't even use an acronym like a normal person!
He takes off the table things that should be there, and insists on weird words like "degrade" -- why not just "stop and defeat"? -- and, in fact, "ISIL." The world calls it ISIS or Islamic State. Why does he need a separate language? How does that help?
Hmmm, let's see: Here's British prime minister David Cameron:
Cameron added that Britain and the rest of the world cannot ignore the threat Islamic State poses. "Step by step we must drive back, dismantle and ultimately destroy ISIL and what it stands for," he said.
Here's Australian prime minister Tony Abbott:
"But we have to be aware that there are people even here in Australia who would do us harm, and there are networks here in Australia of people who support the work of the ISIL death cult in the Middle East."
And here's Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper:
"Canadians are rightly sickened by ISIL's savage slaughter of anyone who doesn't share their twisted view of the world. We know their ideology is not the result of 'social exclusion' or other so-called 'root causes,'" Harper said to a ripple of laughter.
So the acronym ISIL, which Noonan thinks Obama uses just because he's peculiar, or arrogant, or willfully perverse, is actually used by the three most important head of state in the English-speaking world apart from the president of the United States.

(And, by the way, they're all conservatives.)

Is there anything Obama can do that right-wingers won't describe as an outrage?


And as for "degrade": I see it in the Bush administration's 2006 National Strategy for Combating Terrorism ("We have made substantial progress in degrading the al-Qaida network, killing or capturing key lieutenants, eliminating safehavens, and disrupting existing lines of support"), as well as in Dick Cheney's memoir ("Since we had agreed our aim was to degrade Iraq's tank force by 50 percent before we launched the ground war, the difference in estimates mattered"). But I can't find any evidence of Ronald Reagan ever using the word, and I guess that's the gold standard for Noonan. Therefore, the word is "weird."

To a large extent, these poll numbers, as reported by Gallup, are the result of stumbles by President Obama; to some extent, they're the result of the impression that Obama is stumbling even when he isn't. But beyond that is the fact that the Republican Party has been on (somewhat) better behavior lately, and the (slight) improvements seem to be enough for the public:
Americans' views of the Democratic and Republican parties are now similar, mainly because of their more positive ratings of the GOP. Since bottoming out at 28% last fall during the government shutdown, Americans' opinions of the Republican Party have grown more positive and are nearly back to pre-shutdown levels....

Americans have typically rated the Democratic Party more positively than the Republican Party since the question was first asked in 1992, so the current parity between the two is a positive sign for the GOP and a negative one for the Democratic Party....
The folks in the GOP establishment -- the Chamber of Commerce, Karl Rove, Reince Priebus -- have labored mightily to suppress obvious manifestations of the tea party's sociopathy. This image-repair program has largely succeeded: Republican candidates exhibiting florid racism, homophobia, sexism, conspiratorialism, and so on may still be showing up in local races, but wild-card candidates have failed in high-profile races such as the Senate primary contests in Georgia, Alaska, and Kentucky. So Todd Akins and Christine O'Donnells aren't embarrassing the party as they have in the past. In addition, no one's tried to shut down the government or put the country into default for, oh, nearly a year now. Give them all an A for Conduct.

But this just reminds us how little Republicans actually have to do to be deemed sane and rational. They're still blocking the president's entire domestic agenda. They're attacking him during what they regard as a foreign policy crisis in a way that they would have called treasonous if the parties were reversed. They're still trying to repeal Obamacare. They're still investigating Benghazi. They're still threatening future shutdowns, and possibly even impeachment.

We don't expect much of the GOP. It's fine if they refuse to allow the country to be governed just so long as they don't actively trash the place, and boast about doing so. They know that. So they've done all the rebranding they need to do.

The tea party now just acts as the bad cop, thus allowing the slightly-less-bad manistream GOP cop to seem good. They're both roughing us up. But the "good" cop is getting away with it.

Digby writes about Mike Huckabee at Salon and tells us that "it's a mistake to count him out," in part because "Nobody else in the Republican game today has his particular combination of political gifts. Why they're almost, dare I say it, Reaganesque."

I don't know if she's saying that Huckabee could win just the GOP nomination (which seems like an extremely long shot) or could actually be elected president. If it's the latter, I think she's allowing her gloom about America's susceptibility to right-wing mountebanks to cloud her judgment. I generally share that gloom, but there are limits to America's fondness for this sort of thing.

Huckabee is an agressive defender of Todd "Legitimate Rape" Akin, a guy who was resoundingly rejected in a race his party was favored to win. Huckabee says "we will feel the hands of [God's] judgment" if we don't reverse rulings and laws permitting gay marriage -- recall that the wife of the last Republican nominee for president said her favorite TV show was Modern Family. Huckabee hangs out with Ted Nugent -- you know, the guy who waved a semiautomatic onstage a few years ago and said that Hillary Clinton "might want to ride one of these into the sunset, you worthless bitch" -- and the two engage in witty banter like this:
Mike Huckabee invited NRA board member Ted Nugent onto his radio show today where they kicked off the interview by discussing Nugent's "mystical, wonderful hunting dog" Gonzo.

"Maybe we ought to turn him loose on some Democrats and see if he can hunt them too," Huckabee joked....
Digby actually quotes this Huckabee quip as evidence of Huckabee's potential appeal:
"Whether we need to send somebody to Mars, I don't know. But I'll tell you what, if we do, I've got a few suggestions, and maybe Hillary could be on the first rocket."
Bang! Zoom!

Republicans may not have a realistic hope of winning over non-white voters (who might hear nasty echoes of slave days and immigration crackdowns in jokes about people being hunted down by dogs), and the GOP might not expect to do well among women who hear misogyny in that Hillary-bashing, but the party does hope to win over vaguely libertarian young people, and that's not going to happen with a guy who's made a crusade of injecting God into textbooks, or who's an unabashed creationist. Digby quotes this as a "bon mot" that's likely to win over voters: "If anybody wants to believe they're the descendants of a primate, they'e welcome to do it." Yeah, that'll rake in a lot of Silicon Valley cash for Huck, right?

A lot of Republicans -- Paul Ryan, Scott Walker -- do the Jesus thing just about as well as Huckabee without alienating suburbanites. Hell, Huckabee makes even some of the extremist wannabes look sophisticated. Compared to Huckabee, Ted Cruz comes off as a polysyllabic intellectual, and Rick Perry seems like a tech-friendly economic disrupter.

The crazies and God-botherers may hijack the GOP nominating process in 2016 in a way they didn't in 2008 and 2012, but if Huckabee is on track to win, I think the party and the donor base will pull out all the stops to prevent his victory. Remember that as governor he helped win the release of some criminals who went on to commit very violent crimes. In 2007, Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute reviewed his record as governor of Arkansas and called him "The Biggest Big-Government Conservative":
As governor of Arkansas, Huckabee dramatically increased state spending. During his two-term tenure, spending increased by more than 65 percent -- at three times the rate of inflation.

The number of government workers increased by 20 percent, and the state's debt services increased by nearly $1 billion. Huckabee financed his spending binge with higher taxes. Under his leadership, the average Arkansan's tax burden increased 47 percent, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, including increases in the state's gas, sales, income, and cigarette taxes. He raised taxes on everything from groceries to nursing home beds.

... On net, Huckabee increased state taxes by more than $500 million. In fact, Huckabee increased taxes in the state by more than Bill Clinton did.
That's all going to be brought up again if he's ever the front-runner. So forget it. He's not going to be the nominee, much less president.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Some poll nerd may debunk this Peter Beinart post, but I fear he's right when he says that "security moms" are back for the first time since the early 2000s, and their concerns about terrorist violence are motivating them to back Republicans:
As a result of the ISIS beheadings, the percentage of Americans "very worried" about terrorism has just hit a seven-year high. Once again, women are more afraid than men. According to a CNN poll last week, women are 18 points more likely to say they are "very" or "somewhat" worried that someone in their family will be the victim of terrorism.... In a recent piece about "Walmart moms" who participated in focus groups in Des Moines and Little Rock, my colleague Molly Ball noticed the trend: "The women in both groups expressed pervasive worry about violence...."

As in 2002, this anxiety about foreign threats is hurting Democrats. The GOP's advantage on "dealing with foreign policy," which was seven points last September, is now 18. And the shift toward Republicans has been strongest among women. In August, women were 14 points more likely to support Obama's foreign policy than men, according to a Wall Street Journal poll. Now the gap is down to two points.

In August, white women favored a Democratic Congress by four points. Now they favor a Republican Congress by eight.
And Beinat thinks there isn't a damn thing Democrats can do to reverse this:
As in 2002, Democrats are responding by becoming more hawkish....

But it doesn't work. Almost all the imperiled Democrats in 2002 lost anyway. And there's no evidence that Obama's new hawkishness is helping him politically either. One reason is that although women are more worried about terrorism than men, they’re actually less supportive of responding with military action. In 2002, women were somewhat more skeptical of invading Iraq. Today, they're more wary of going after ISIS.
The only way to win these voters over if you're a Democrat, I guess, is never to allow anyone on the planet to openly threaten America ever. If threats arise, Democrats are just screwed. They can't win with these voters.

And that's a double standard. Look, I understand that President Obama failed to anticipate the rise of ISIS and failed to prevent the beheading of two Americans, but George W. Bush failed to prevent 9/11, and these "security moms" responded by voting for his party in 2002 and 2004.

As a New Yorker, I'm familiar with the domestic version of this. If you're a liberal mayor -- David Dinkins or Bill de Blasio -- the public's reaction to a crime wave or a horrific crime on your watch is to blame you. If you're a conservative mayor -- Rudy Giuliani or the all-but-Republican Ed Koch -- the reaction is to rally around you, because you're "tough on crime." A horrible crime on a tough mayor's watch is considered further evidence that we need precisely the tough guy's policies.

We've been lulled for eight years by the Democrats' ability to escape (temporarily) from the dirty-hippie foreign policy straitjacket, but I guess it's 1972 all over again and Barack Obama is George McGovern, and it seems he can't even fight his way out of it. He was just supposed to keep us all safe. Two nasty deaths and it's all over. (How many were hanged on that bridge in Fallujah eight months before Bush's 2004 election victory? How may died in the embassy annex bombing in Lebanon six weeks before Ronald Reagan's landslide victory?)

I'd love to be able to back a Democrat in 2016 who's more progressive than Hillary Clinton, but this is one reason I feel Democrats have to get behind her: because of her frequent hawkishness, she's got a certain degree of immunity to this. We'll see if it lasts through November 2016. If she wins, I strongly doubt that it will last through her presidency. Sooner or later once she's in office, she'll become just another peacenik who's constitutionally incapable of keeping us safe.


And yeah, I know that some poll watchers are saying the Democrats' prospects in November are improving, but very recent polls for Mark Udall, Bruce Braley, and Jeanne Shaheen are just awful. Maybe it's not a trend, but these polls coincide with a terrible poll for Obama. So, yeah, I'm worried.

Some people wonder why there are no big-name entertainers doing conservative political comedy. I just read a couple of stories in The Hill and I think I know the answer.

First, this one, about Ted Cruz:
... Speaking on Fox News's "Hannity," Cruz voiced his frustration with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey's responses at a Senate hearing earlier in the day on the administration's plan to combat ISIS militants.

"When I asked Gen. Dempsey, militarily, how would we go in and kill the terrorists before they're able to take jihad to America, his answer was, 'Well, we need to see political reconciliation,'" Cruz said. "We need to change the conditions on the ground so people are not susceptible to extremism. Look, it's not our job to be social workers in Iraq and put them all on expanded Medicaid...."

And then this one, about Rand Paul:
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) believes the "Ready." slogan that appeared on t-shirts, posters and billboards in Iowa over the weekend supporting a presidential bid by Hillary Clinton should indicate something else entirely.

"I think that maybe it should mean 'Ready for Testimony,'" Paul, himself a likely 2016 presidential contender, said Wednesday on Glenn Beck's radio show....
Rimshot! Rimshot!

I'm not saying these are funny jokes. But they're jokes. And I think they help explain why there are no A-list political comics on the right: Right-wingers already get all the jokes they need from their own politicians (and pundits and bloggers).

Conservatives don't have well-thought-out approaches to governing -- they have zingers and gotchas. Like these two? They got a million of 'em! Golf! Teleprompters! Hillary rides a broomstick! Joe Biden -- what a buffoon, amirite? Sassing their political enemies is pretty much all they've got. So who needs professional right-wing gagsters when there are so many eager amateurs?


The president gave a big speech on ISIS, but the New York Times/CBS poll says the public's not supporting him:
Despite his speech announcing his strategy to "degrade and ultimately destroy" the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) last week, President Obama receives criticism for his most recent foreign policy challenge -- the situation with the ISIS militants -- and his approval ratings on handling terrorism and foreign policy have also taken a hit.

According to a new CBS News/New York Times poll, 57 percent of Americans don't think Mr. Obama is being tough enough in dealing with ISIS militants, while just 31 percent think his approach is about right.
Let's see: What did the public want done, according to a CNN poll taken shortly before the speech?
The poll released Monday shows that Americans favor:

-- Additional airstrikes against ISIS (76% favor, 23% oppose)

-- Military aid to forces fighting ISIS (62% favor, 37% oppose)

-- Providing humanitarian aid to people fleeing ISIS (83% favor, 16% oppose)

But a majority of Americans, 61%-38%, oppose placing U.S. soldiers on the ground in Iraq and Syria to combat the terrorist group.
And this differs from the president's plan how exactly? But no -- he announced his strategy, and the public heard it coming out of his mouth, so they don't like it now.

The majority of Americans -- certainly a significant majority of white Americans -- now just hate everything Obama does, even if he's doing essentially what they want. I'm not sure Obama's numbers would go up if a U.S. airstrike killed the head of ISIS, or a U.S. raid rescued all the Western hostages, or both. Too many Americans just don't like Obama anymore. They've internalized the Republican message of "Everything Obama favors is bad, even if we favored it a week ago."

Republicans have delivered this message in a very disciplined manner, and they've always found a receptive audience for it with about a third of the country. But a large percentage of the population had a fair amount (or quite a bit) of good feeling about Obama at least through the 2012 elections. Even through the first year and a half of his second term, even as ordinary Americans' economy didn't bounce back, the federal government remained dysfunctional, and the administration dealt with a lot of bad stories (the Obamacare rollout, the NSA, the IRS, Benghazi), Obama's approval ratings hovered around the mid-40s.

But this summer was tough, and I think part of the problem was that Obama messaging no longer matched the country's mood. The baby-kissing and celebrity-schmoozing images pumped out by Team Obama for years might have caused pundits to harrumph, but they probably maintained goodwill with a significant portion of the public, especially voters who don't pay a lot of attention to politics. We saw that the president played a lot of golf, but only Fox viewers cared.

ISIS beheadings and Russian adventurism and the child refugee crisis and Ferguson and Ebola really seem to have changed the mood. Is the world going to hell in a handbasket any faster than usual? Maybe not, but Americans seem to think it is, and the president isn't playing to that perception.

I actually think Obama is picking his way carefully and responsibly through various thorny problems. I think he's become the opposite of what a lot of people thought he might be as president: a better doer than a talker.

But the public seems to want a great, ongoing show of resolve and gravity and rally-round-the-flag and so on. These are often just a lot of wind -- you know that because the last president was awfully good at them -- but sometimes, as president, the crowd gets restless and your best move is just to play the hits. I think that's where we are right now.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


It's just a throwaway at the end of a lengthy New Republic interview of Dinesh D'Souza by Sam Tanenhaus, but TNR shrewdly turns that brief answer into a headline:
ST: So what happens if they send you away? What are you going to do?

DD: I'm just gonna have to go to jail and write something about it.
The headline is: "Dinesh D'Souza Is Planning His Prison Memoir" -- and, well, of course he is. The wingnut audience loves defiant martyrs claiming victimization at the hands of jackbooted liberals. He could spend a couple of months in the softest of county-club prisons and still turn out a memoir that makes The Gulag Archipelago seem like Jailhouse Rock. Hell, he'll probably write a whiny, self-pitying, angry memoir of suffering if he's sentenced to community service, just for having to go to trial. And the rubes will lap it up.

To tell you the truth, I have problems with the fact that D'Souza's facing jail time -- far worse campaign-finance practices than his are perfectly legal, and far more appalling wrongdoers (Angelo Mozilo, George Zimmerman, Ray Rice) are walking around free. Don't get me wrong -- I have no sympathy for the guy. I just don't want to turn him into a guy whose imprisonment gives him, within his demimonde, some sort of mystique.

Then again, no matter what happens to him, apparently he's always going to land on his feet. He seems like an uncharismatic and not particularly clever guy, but as he pointed out in another recent interview, with National Journal, you can't get rid of him:
"My main goal through this is to annoy the Left, because you have all these guys railing on my Twitter," he says, grinning impishly. "They're just seething with envy. They're like, 'Shit!' "

"We thought we'd buried him!" Schooley says, mimicking a seething liberal.

"Yeah, exactly," D'Souza says. "You should just see the number of times there are articles on 'Dinesh's career is over.' My career is apparently over every two years."

Such articles first began appearing with regularity around 2007, after D'Souza published a book heretical to people across the political spectrum, arguing that responsibility for the September 11 terrorist attacks lies with the "cultural Left." Three years later, the thesis articulated in The Roots of Obama's Rage -- that the president was a rabid "anticolonialist" acting out the wishes of his dead Kenyan father -- earned D'Souza even more scorn. Then, in 2012, came the mistress flap, which unsurprisingly damaged his credibility as an ambassador of the Christian Right.
And yet D'Souza's crap still sells, and his "documentaries" still draw audience, because, as this quote makes clear, he has a huge ego to complement his unmitigated gall. He has will. Please, don't feed that. Don't hand him that much new material.

There's a huge to-do in the blogosphere and political press right now because of this:
Former President Bill Clinton says he agrees that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is "not the guy" for a peace deal.

A C-SPAN video -- first reported by Israeli newspaper Haaretz -- shows the 42nd president at Sen. Tom Harkin's Iowa steak fry Sunday speaking with an individual along a rope line.

"Netanyahu himself said that he does not want peace. If we don't force him to make peace, we will not have peace," the man told Clinton in the video.

"First of all, I agree with that. But in 2000, [former Israeli Prime Minister] Ehud Barak, I got him to agree to something that I'm not sure I could have gotten [former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin to agree to, and Rabin was murdered for giving land to the Palestinians," Clinton responded, referring to Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts he brokered during his administration.

"But Netanyahu is not the guy," the unnamed person told Clinton, cutting in.

"I agree with that," Clinton responded. "But they would have gotten 96 percent of the West Bank, land swaps in Gaza, appropriate water rights and East Jerusalem, something that hasn't even been discussed since I left office. And by the way, don't forget, both [former Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat and [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas later tried to say they would take it. They said, 'We changed our minds, we want it now.' But by then, they had a government that wouldn’t give it to them." ...
So Bill Clinton is not a fan of Benjamin Netanyahu. Is this really news?

Here's a 2009 Haaretz article:
Presumably, former president Bill Clinton did not conceal his opinion of Bibi from his wife. If Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has forgotten Bibi's tricks then Dennis Ross, who was the coordinator of the peace process in the Clinton administration ..., can refer her to his book "The Missing Peace."

There he quotes president Clinton's reaction to Bibi's retreat from a commitment.

"At times he was tough," writes Ross, "yelling at Bibi when he retracted an earlier pledge on Palestinian prisoners. 'This is just chicken shit. I'm not going to put up with this kind of bullshit.'"

Aaron David Miller, who was Ross' deputy, also documented the days of Bibi and Bill. In his book "The Much Too Promised Land," Miller relates that during their first meeting in the summer of 1996, Bibi lectured the president about the Arab-Israeli issue, prompting Clinton to expostulate when it was over, "Who the fuck does he think he is? Who's the fucking superpower here?"
(In Ross's book, that comes out a bit more delicately: "He thinks he is the superpower, and we are here to do whatever he requires.")

And it's not as if Clinton has taken pains to hide his feelings about Netanyahu. Here's a Foreign Policy report from 2011:
Who's to blame for the continued failure of the Middle East peace process? Former President Bill Clinton said today that it is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- whose government moved the goalposts upon taking power, and whose rise represents a key reason there has been no Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

Clinton, in a roundtable with bloggers today on the sidelines of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, gave an extensive recounting of the deterioration in the Middle East peace process since he pressed both parties to agree to a final settlement at Camp David in 2000....

"The Israelis always wanted two things that once it turned out they had, it didn't seem so appealing to Mr. Netanyahu. They wanted to believe they had a partner for peace in a Palestinian government, and there's no question -- and the Netanyahu government has said -- that this is the finest Palestinian government they've ever had in the West Bank," Clinton said.

"[Palestinian leaders] have explicitly said on more than one occasion that if [Netanyahu] put up the deal that was offered to them before -- my deal -- that they would take it," Clinton said, referring to the 2000 Camp David deal that Yasser Arafat rejected....
After Clinton said this, Netanyahu went on (of course) Fox News and appeared totally unfazed:

This should not be making headlines. It's an old story.


(And no, I'm not going to address the claim in a recent book that the Netanyahu government had a Clinton-Lewinsky tape and tried to use it as a bribe to get Jonathan Pollard released.)


David Brooks says we can't fight Ebola properly because we as a society like plucky upstart tech corporations -- or something like that:
... it’s not just a failure of governance in Africa. It's a failure of governance around the world. I wonder if we are looking at the results of a cultural shift.

A few generations ago, people grew up in and were comfortable with big organizations -- the army, corporations and agencies. They organized huge construction projects in the 1930s, gigantic industrial mobilization during World War II, highway construction and corporate growth during the 1950s. Institutional stewardship, the care and reform of big organizations, was more prestigious.

Now nobody wants to be an Organization Man. We like start-ups, disrupters and rebels. Creativity is honored more than the administrative execution. Post-Internet, many people assume that big problems can be solved by swarms of small, loosely networked nonprofits and social entrepreneurs. Big hierarchical organizations are dinosaurs.

The Ebola crisis is another example that shows that this is misguided. The big, stolid agencies -- the health ministries, the infrastructure builders, the procurement agencies -- are the bulwarks of the civil and global order. Public and nonprofit management, the stuff that gets derided as "overhead," really matters. It's as important to attract talent to health ministries as it is to spend money on specific medicines....

When the boring tasks of governance are not performed, infrastructures don't get built. Then, when epidemics strike, people die.
We don't have an adequate infrastructure to fight Ebola because the culture favors "start-ups, disrupters and rebels"? Haven't we structured the economic recovery so that more than 90% of the gains went to the already rich? Hasn't William Deresiewicz been telling us lately that huge percentages of elite college graduates go to work for the Masters of the Universe on Wall Street? Didn't we, as a society, just go into paroxysms of ecstasy after a new-product launch by a company that used to be a plucky start-up but is now the #5 corporation on the Fortune 500?

We don't have a problem with big and hierarchical. We have a problem with relatively big, relatively hierarchical organizations that don't kick anyone's ass. Specifically, we have a problem with governmental and quasi-governmental organizations.

Relevant here, perhaps, is a tweet I spotted this morning from Ted Cruz's chief speechwriter:

Omigod! We're going to use the military to offer Ebola aid to Africa (the same way we deploy the military after tsunamis and other natural disasters)! How appalling! Dammit, why aren't we using those troops to start another land war in Asia?

Oh and, obviously, we didn't fight Ebola effectively until now because outbreaks of the disease primarily affected rural black people. We care now because Ebola is spreading to the cities, and to white Western doctors. We also worry because we care more now about exploiting Africa's natural resources, an economic pursuit that's threatened by political turmoil, some of it instigated by jihadist groups with global ties. But until now, Ebola seemed like just a problem for, y'know, them.

As Gregory Cowles of The New York Times Book Review, noted over the weekend, there was some concern about Ebola in the West years ago, but there was also a belief that the concern was a tad overheated. Cowles pointed to Colin Harrison's 1997 Times dismissal of the work of science writer Richard Preston:
Nobody, it seems safe to say, wants to have his or her face slide off like overcooked oatmeal. This was something we were all supposed to be worrying about -- remember? Three years ago, Richard Preston's best seller, "The Hot Zone," appeared, a nonfiction reconstruction of an outbreak of Ebola virus in a Virginia monkey quarantine installation, and, like a germ dropped into a ready petri dish, Ebola bloomed in the cultural consciousness. Although the outbreak in Virginia resulted in exactly zero human cases, the idea of an exotic virus that savages its victims effectively replicated itself in newspaper stories, copycat novels, television fright-fests and at least one movie, "Outbreak." The happy frenzy showcased our mass media at their recombinantly contagious worst: it was the first time that everyone knew about a disease that nobody had. It was the first time that a virus was famous for being famous.
Well, the virus is famous for more than that now. We could have sustained that "frenzy" back then, but hey, why bother? Nobody here was dying, right?

When all hell is about to break loose, we don't really do a very good job of responding until the breaking loose is actually well under way -- if then. Ask a climate scientist about that.

Monday, September 15, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Sunday, September 14, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, this was Fox Nation late last month:

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

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

Saturday, September 13, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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