Tag Archives: President Barack Obama

U.S. Midterm Elections, Obama and Iran

28 Oct

By George Friedman

We are a week away from the 2010 U.S. midterm elections. The outcome is already locked in. Whether the Republicans take the House or the Senate is close to immaterial. It is almost certain that the dynamics of American domestic politics will change. The Democrats will lose their ability to impose cloture in the Senate and thereby shut off debate. Whether they lose the House or not, the Democrats will lose the ability to pass legislation at the will of the House Democratic leadership. The large majority held by the Democrats will be gone, and party discipline will not be strong enough (it never is) to prevent some defections.

Should the Republicans win an overwhelming victory in both houses next week, they will still not have the votes to override presidential vetoes. Therefore they will not be able to legislate unilaterally, and if any legislation is to be passed it will have to be the result of negotiations between the president and the Republican Congressional leadership. Thus, whether the Democrats do better than expected or the Republicans win a massive victory, the practical result will be the same.

When we consider the difficulties President Barack Obama had passing his health care legislation, even with powerful majorities in both houses, it is clear that he will not be able to push through any significant legislation without Republican agreement. The result will either be gridlock or a very different legislative agenda than we have seen in the first two years.

These are not unique circumstances. Reversals in the first midterm election after a presidential election happened to Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. It does not mean that Obama is guaranteed to lose a re-election bid, although it does mean that, in order to win that election, he will have to operate in a very different way. It also means that the 2012 presidential campaign will begin next Wednesday on Nov. 3. Given his low approval ratings, Obama appears vulnerable and the Republican nomination has become extremely valuable. For his part, Obama does not have much time to lose in reshaping his presidency. With the Iowa caucuses about 15 months away and the Republicans holding momentum, the president will have to begin his campaign.

Obama now has two options in terms of domestic strategy. The first is to continue to press his agenda, knowing that it will be voted down. If the domestic situation improves, he takes credit for it. If it doesn’t, he runs against Republican partisanship. The second option is to abandon his agenda, cooperate with the Republicans and re-establish his image as a centrist. Both have political advantages and disadvantages and present an important strategic decision for Obama to make.

The Foreign Policy Option

Obama also has a third option, which is to shift his focus from domestic policy to foreign policy. The founders created a system in which the president is inherently weak in domestic policy and able to take action only when his position in Congress is extremely strong. This was how the founders sought to avoid the tyranny of narrow majorities. At the same time, they made the president quite powerful in foreign policy regardless of Congress, and the evolution of the presidency over the centuries has further strengthened this power. Historically, when the president has been weak domestically, one option he has had is to appear powerful by focusing on foreign policy.

For presidents like Clinton, this was not a particularly viable option in 1994-1996. The international system was quiet, and it was difficult to act meaningfully and decisively. It was easier for Reagan in 1982-1984. The Soviet Union was strong and threatening, and an aggressive anti-Soviet stance was popular and flowed from his 1980 campaign. Deploying the ground-launched cruise missile and the Pershing II medium-range ballistic missile in Western Europe alienated his opponents, strengthened his position with his political base and allowed him to take the center (and ultimately pressured the Soviets into agreeing to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty). By 1984, with the recession over, Reagan’s anti-Soviet stance helped him defeat Walter Mondale.

Obama does not have Clinton’s problem. The international environment allows him to take a much more assertive stance than he has over the past two years. The war in Afghanistan is reaching a delicate negotiating state as reports of ongoing talks circulate. The Iraq war is far from stable, with 50,000 U.S. troops still there, and the Iranian issue is wide open. Israeli-Palestinian talks are also faltering, and there are a host of other foreign issues, ranging from China’s increasing assertiveness to Russia’s resurgent power to the ongoing decline in military power of America’s European allies. There are a range of issues that need to be addressed at the presidential level, many of which would resonate with at least some voters and allow Obama to be presidential in spite of weak political support.

There are two problems with Obama becoming a foreign policy president. The first is that the country is focused on the economy and on domestic issues. If he focuses on foreign policy and the U.S. economy does not improve by 2012, it will cost him the election. His hope will be foreign policy successes, or at least the perception of being strong on national security, coupled with economic recovery or a plausible reason to blame the Republicans. This is a tricky maneuver, but his presidency no longer offers simple solutions.

The second problem is that his presidency and campaign have been based on the general principle of accommodation rather than confrontation in foreign affairs, with the sole exception of Afghanistan, where he chose to be substantially more aggressive than his predecessor had been. The place where he was assertive is unlikely to yield a major foreign policy success, unless that success is a negotiated settlement with the Taliban. A negotiated settlement will be portrayed by the Republicans as capitulation rather than triumph. If he continues on the current course in Afghanistan, he will seem to be plodding down an old path and not pioneering a new one.

Interestingly, if Obama’s goal is to appear strong on national security while regaining the center, Afghanistan offers the least attractive venue. His choices are negotiation, which would reinforce his image as an accommodationist in foreign policy, or continued war, which is not particularly new territory. He could deploy even more forces into Afghanistan, but then would risk looking like Lyndon Johnson in 1967, hurling troops at the enemy without a clear plan. He could, of course, create a massive crisis with Pakistan, but it would be extremely unlikely that such an effort would end well, given the situation in Afghanistan. Foreign policy presidents need to be successful.

There is little to be done in Iraq at the moment except delay the withdrawal of forces, which adds little to his political position. Moreover, the core problem in Iraq at the moment is Iran and its support of disruptive forces. Obama could attempt to force an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, but that would require Hamas to change its position, which is unlikely, or that Israel make massive concessions, which it doesn’t think it has to do. The problem with Israel and the Palestinians is that peace talks, such as those under Clinton at Camp David, have a nasty tendency to end in chaos.

The European, Russian and Chinese situations are of great importance, but they are not conducive to dramatic acts. The United States is not going to blockade China over the yuan or hold a stunning set of meetings with the Europeans to get them to increase their defense budgets and commit to more support for U.S. wars. And the situation regarding North Korea does not have the pressing urgency to justify U.S. action. There are many actions that would satisfy Obama’s accomodationist inclinations, but those would not serve well in portraying him as decisive in foreign policy.

The Iranian Option

This leaves the obvious choice: Iran. Iran is the one issue on which the president could galvanize public opinion. The Republicans have portrayed Obama as weak on combating militant Islamism. Many of the Democrats see Iran as a repressive violator of human rights, particularly after the crackdown on the Green Movement. The Arabian Peninsula, particularly Saudi Arabia, is afraid of Iran and wants the United States to do something more than provide $60 billion-worth of weapons over the next 10 years. The Israelis, obviously, are hostile. The Europeans are hostile to Iran but want to avoid escalation, unless it ends quickly and successfully and without a disruption of oil supplies. The Russians — like the Iranians — are a thorn in the American side, as are the Chinese, but neither would have much choice should the United States deal with Iran quickly and effectively. Moreover, the situation in Iraq would improve if Iran were to be neutralized, and the psychology in Afghanistan could also shift.

If Obama were to use foreign policy to enhance his political standing through decisive action, and achieve some positive results in relations with foreign governments, the one place he could do it would be Iran. The issue is what he might have to do and what the risks would be. Nothing could, after all, hurt him more than an aggressive stance against Iran that failed to achieve its goals or turned into a military disaster for the United States.

So far, Obama’s policy toward Iran has been to incrementally increase sanctions by building a weak coalition and allow the sanctions to create shifts in Iran’s domestic political situation. The idea is to weaken President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and strengthen his enemies, who are assumed to be more moderate and less inclined to pursue nuclear weapons. Obama has avoided overt military action against Iran, so a confrontation with Iran would require a deliberate shift in the U.S. stance, which would require a justification.

The most obvious justification would be to claim that Iran is about to construct a nuclear device. Whether or not this is true would be immaterial. First, no one would be in a position to challenge the claim, and, second, Obama’s credibility in making the assertion would be much greater than George W. Bush’s, given that Obama does not have the 2003 weapons-of-mass-destruction debacle to deal with and has the advantage of not having made such a claim before. Coming from Obama, the claim would confirm the views of the Republicans, while the Democrats would be hard-pressed to challenge him. In the face of this assertion, Obama would be forced to take action. He could appear reluctant to his base, decisive to the rest. The Republicans could not easily attack him. Nor would the claim be a lie. Defining what it means to almost possess nuclear weapons is nearly a metaphysical discussion. It requires merely a shift in definitions and assumptions. This is a cynical scenario, but it can be aligned with reasonable concerns.

As STRATFOR has argued in the past, destroying Iran’s nuclear capability does not involve a one-day raid, nor is Iran without the ability to retaliate. Its nuclear facilities are in a number of places and Iran has had years to harden those facilities. Destroying the facilities might take an extended air campaign and might even require the use of special operations units to verify battle damage and complete the mission. In addition, military action against Iran’s naval forces would be needed to protect the oil routes through the Persian Gulf from small boat swarms and mines, anti-ship missile launchers would have to be attacked and Iranian air force and air defenses taken out. This would not solve the problem of the rest of Iran’s conventional forces, which would represent a threat to the region, so these forces would have to be attacked and reduced as well.

An attack on Iran would not be an invasion, nor would it be a short war. Like Yugoslavia in 1999, it would be an extended air war lasting an unknown number of months. There would be American POWs from aircraft that were shot down or suffered mechanical failure over Iranian territory. There would be many civilian casualties, which the international media would focus on. It would not be an antiseptic campaign, but it would likely (though it is important to reiterate not certainly) destroy Iran’s nuclear capability and profoundly weaken its conventional forces. It would be a war based on American strengths in aerial warfare and technology, not on American weaknesses in counterinsurgency. It would strengthen the Iranian regime (as aerial bombing usually does) by rallying the Iranian public to its side against the aggression. If the campaign were successful, the Iranian regime would be stronger politically, at least for a while, but eviscerated militarily. A successful campaign would ease the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, calm the Saudis and demonstrate to the Europeans American capability and will. It would also cause the Russians and Chinese to become very thoughtful.

A campaign against Iran would have its risks. Iran could launch a terrorist campaign and attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz, sending the global economy into a deep recession on soaring oil prices. It could also create a civil war in Iraq. U.S. intelligence could have missed the fact that the Iranians already have a deliverable nuclear weapon. All of these are possible risks, and, according to STRATFOR’s thinking, the risks outweigh the rewards. After all, the best laid military plan can end in a fiasco.

We have argued that a negotiation with Iran in the order of President Richard Nixon’s reversal on China would be a lower-risk solution to the nuclear problem than the military option. But for Obama, this is politically difficult to do. Had Bush done this, he would have had the ideological credentials to deal with Iran, as Nixon had the ideological credentials to deal with China. But Obama does not. Negotiating an agreement with Iran in the wake of an electoral rout would open the floodgates to condemnation of Obama as an appeaser. In losing power, he loses the option for negotiation unless he is content to be a one-term president.

I am arguing the following. First, Obama will be paralyzed on domestic policies by this election. He can craft a re-election campaign blaming the Republicans for gridlock. This has its advantages and disadvantages; the Republicans, charging that he refused to adjust to the electorate’s wishes, can blame him for the gridlock. It can go either way. The other option for Obama is to look for triumph in foreign policy where he has a weak hand. The only obvious way to achieve success that would have a positive effect on the U.S. strategic position is to attack Iran. Such an attack would have substantial advantages and very real dangers. It could change the dynamics of the Middle East and it could be a military failure.

I am not claiming that Obama will decide to do this based on politics, although no U.S. president has ever engaged in foreign involvement without political considerations, nor should he. I am saying that, at this moment in history, given the domestic gridlock that appears to be in the offing, a shift to a foreign policy emphasis makes sense, Obama needs to be seen as an effective commander in chief and Iran is the logical target.

This is not a prediction. Obama does not share his thoughts with me. It is merely speculation on the options Obama will have after the midterm elections, not what he will choose to do.

U.S. Midterm Elections, Obama and Iran is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

Radicalizing a Generation

26 Oct

Earlier this month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, noting the 10th anniversary of the fall of Slobodan Milosevic and the 15th anniversary of the Dayton Peace Accords, meeting with Serb President Boris Tadic, and holding a townhall meeting with Bosnian students in Sarajevo. Clinton wanted to send a message of openness and outreach, pushing Bosnia to join the EU and NATO, and further meld with Europe. The message she got in return, however, was different. Bosnian students fear for the fractured nature of their state, as the new head of Republika Srpska (the Serbian piece of Bosnia) calls his larger state “absurd,” and ethnic tensions, never eradicated, are growing again. Meanwhile, a generation is growing up in Serbia removed from the larger world, and resenting it more with each year. The impetus for the next war is sown in the treatment of the losing side in the previous. A pariah nation for over fifteen years, young Serbians know no other world than an isolated one. Mein Kampf was written in such circumstances, and in Europe, the West is (should be) working hard to avoid that fate a second time.

Not so in other parts of the world. When, as part of my paying job, I teach Counter-Insurgency Theory to the US Army as a government contractor, I like to find the youngest member of the class and ask them what they were doing on 9/11. A typical response: sitting in math class in fifth grade. Meanwhile, another eleven year old may have been starving in Kabul due to food shortages in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Or attending a madrassa in Pakistan where the only reading they were allowed to do was from the Koran. Or running AK-47 magazines to their older cousin, fighting the Northern Alliance near Mazar-i-Sharif. Whatever the history, now those two people will meet, in the Hindu Kush: the fifth grader in math class in Dallas, Texas and the Koran student from Pakistan. And while the American has been spending his time playing XBox, sneaking beers behind the high school football stadium and worrying about the senior prom, that Afghani or Pakistani eleven year old has endured nothing but war for nine years. 

Image courtesy The Boston Globe

A generation can not grow up under constant threat, or isolated from and punished by the larger world, and not become radicalized, ideologically and/or violently. The only way to do the least long term damage to a country’s people is to minimize the amount of time killing, and maximize the amount of time healing and rebuilding. Note the failure of three successive administrations to do that in Afghanistan.

Eastern Afghanistan has been the subject of American attacks since August 1998. Very soon after the ground invasion in October of 2001, the American government and military prided itself on having learned the lessons of the Soviet experience: small footprint, pinpointed attacks, small amount of collateral damage. 90% of any success we had in that war we had in the first 90 days, with the Taliban routed and Al Qaeda demoralized and ostracized as “camels” by the Afghan people. Since the Spring of 2002, however, we have steadily undone that success with each subsequent action we take to consolidate gains. Now we look at Afghanistan through an intellectual fun house mirror: success will be measured by adding additional troops, for a specific (longer) period of time, to accomplish an undetermined goal. At that point, in 2011 or 2012, prior to the American Presidential election and after a longer occupation than the Soviets implemented in the 1980’s, we will leave the same way our Russian counterparts did: after a declaration of victory, in our wake will remain an unpopular, feckless, puppet government, a radicalized generation, and the seeds for the next conflict. The mythos is complete; substitute Predators and Reapers as our Hind helicopters, and IEDs from Iran and Iraq for our Stinger missiles.

President Obama is fighting for the midterm elections, fighting to reintroduce his healthcare legislation, and fighting Republicans on income taxes, but he is not fighting the Afghan War with any regularity, public interest, or discernable strategic end state in mind. A new report on war is not positive, to put it mildly. If I may be so bold, the President has taken his eye off the ball.

Warned of the threat of Al Qaeda, and in an effort to distract from the Monica Lewinski scandal, President Clinton thought a couple cruise missiles would fix both his Afghanistan problem and political troubles. Representing an angry nation, President Bush came closest to a reasonably short and decisive end state, but frittered it away in a Wall Street Bank-esque attempt to leverage his gains. President Obama won an election on opposition to one war, but with few plans for this one, he spent his political capital elsewhere. President Obama is now down to a strategy of drones and timelines, and is relying on voter apathy for ultimate political success. Obama’s policy is as ineffectual as Clinton’s, but the constant harassment is fertilizing the seed of retaliatory violence in an already radicalized generation.

The differences between Afghanistan and Bosnia are a matter of scale, not of type. What lesson is Bosnia and Serbia reteaching? You can’t marginalize and isolate the youth of a nation for the sum of its upbringing. The consequences of President Clinton’s decisions are still echoing in Bosnia and Afghanistan, and History, that elusive author, is not done writing the story of his interventions. Serbia now has a lost generation, and we’re still dropping bombs in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 13 years later.

David DiPietro: “Barack Obama is a Muslim” #SD59 #NYS

16 Oct
Official presidential portrait of Barack Obama...

David DiPietro really thinks Obama is a foreign Muslim agent

Tea Party candidate for State Senate (SD-59) David DiPietro was contacted yesterday about his emails to Carl Paladino by the Buffalo News’ Sandra Tan, and had this to say:

“Barack Obama is a Muslim,” said DiPietro, former East Aurora mayor. “I don’t like the president. I think he’s a Muslim. I think he’s a foreigner to our nation. I oppose every principle he stands for.”

Like his former political ally, Carl Paladino, he later “backtracked” from his outspoken, false “political incorrectness”.

He later said he spoke in the heat of the moment and apologized if he sounded offensive.

“He says he’s a Christian,” DiPietro said, referring to Obama. “Until that’s proven otherwise, I’ll take him at his word. I’m not going to question anyone’s religion. Your faith is your faith. I don’t question anyone’s faith. I just would like honesty with all his policies.”

What an intellectually dishonest little jerk.

If he has any hesitation about Obama’s legitimacy as a U. S. citizen, he noted that court cases have surfaced questioning Obama’s place of birth.

More than a dozen lawsuits have been filed since 2008 contesting Obama legitimacy as president, demanding the release of his original birth certificate even though he has provided a certified copy. Many of these lawsuits have subsequently been dismissed, but some are still on appeal in various states.

Obama, whose father was Muslim and mother was Christian, joined Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago two decades ago. He has attended church as president and continues to publicly profess Christian beliefs.

Assertions that he is secretly Muslim continue to persist, though major U. S. news organizations have tossed that perception as unfounded.

Birtherism: it’s “politically incorrect”, which appeals to clumsy teabaggers, and it’s factually incorrect, which also appeals to clumsy teabaggers.

David DiPietro Emails Carl Paladino #SD59

15 Oct

About a week ago, the following email chain was  begun by a Grand Island-based tea party activist named Mike Madigan (it was sent to me and a variety of other local media and business types):

To which Tea Party State Senate candidate David DiPietro (SD-59) replied – to all…

Whoa-whoa-whoa. “Please remove me from your distribution list.” Now? Why now?

David DiPietro is Carl Paladino’s friend, right? Paladino is credited as having convinced DiPietro to run for the Volker seat again. Why, they even share lawnsigns – that DiPietro paid for – throughout the 59th State Senate district.

That alliance – and friendship – is likely strained now in light of Paladino’s 11th-hour endorsement of Jim Domagalski in the Republican primary for SD-59. It was a very public rift, publicly embarrassing DiPietro, and revealed more about Paladino’s opportunistic character than any “abortion clinic landlord” story or “gay club landlord” story ever could.

So, now at long last David DiPietro doesn’t want to know from Carl Paladino’s emails, and he wants this entire recipient list to know it.

Yet David DiPietro wasn’t always so displeased to be on Carl Paladino’s email distribution list. In fact, on at least two occasions, he contributed to it.

Nestled amidst Carl Paladino’s many salacious, racist, and equestrian emails disclosed to WNYMedia.net were two that were forwarded to Carl by his erstwhile friend, tea party candidate for SD-59, David DiPietro.

DiPietro’s political rhetoric is informed by a hodgepodge of anarcho-capitalist libertarian, anti-immigrant, right-wing conservogabber philosophies.  He hates Barack Obama almost as much as he hates Jim Domagalski and Pat Gallivan.

So much so, in fact, that DiPietro forwarded an email accusing President Obama of being a Muslim. DiPietro sent the email, entitled “Heeza Muzzlim…that’s why” to a small handful of people, including Carl Paladino. Carl, in turn, sent the email to an unknown set of emails hidden behind a bcc. The email itself:

As with most emails such as these, people who don’t know how to use email or the internet tend to forget to check Snopes (or Factcheck.org) before forwarding hateful, untrue, utter nonsense to their friends.  Snopes has an entry for the above-shown email, and describes it as FALSE.

Obama didn’t go to Saudi Arabia during that trip. He didn’t go to any of the small handful of countries in the entire world that are governed by Sharia Law, which differs from culture to culture. Even if he had, there is no prohibition in Sharia law against wives accompanying their husbands on trips, and Sharia law wouldn’t apply to a visiting dignitary like Obama, anyway. Oh, also – Obama isn’t Muslim.

It’s amazing that dumb Obama-muslim-secret-sleeper-agent nonsense is circulated at all, and even more so when it’s being shared approvingly between public political figures.

The second email forwarded by DiPietro to Paladino, which the gubernatorial candidate later forwarded to his email list, contained a powerpoint presentation that is more or less NSFW.

The Powerpoint is stupid and juvenile. It features jokes about the relative attractiveness of French women vs. American women, it jokes about the female form vs. the male form, it jokes about French promiscuity and Moroccan bestiality, and it makes an asinine joke about women shopping and men masturbating, featuring images of kids. I have modified the slideshow to redact female breasts and male genitalia.

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I wrote to DiPietro on Wednesday, and sent the following email:

Please note that your response may be used in a WNYMedia.net post. If you have no response, I may note that, as well.

Regarding the emails discussed below, the questions I have are as follows:

1. Why did you wait until _now_ to ask Carl Paladino to remove you from his email list? Why did you feel compelled to hit “reply to all”?
2. Do you think that President Barack Obama is a Muslim?
3. Do you think that the “Brilliant” powerpoint presentation, showing mild female nudity, makes a joke about bestiality, and shows a woman’s bare breasts, capped off with pictures of toddlers is in good taste? Does it comport with the ideals of the tea party movement?
4. Regarding your request that Carl remove you from his email list dated 10/12/10, you were only too happy to be the sender and recipient of pornographic and propagandistic nonsense in 2008 and 2009 (I only highlight the materials you forward to Carl below – you received many more). Why didn’t you opt out before?
5. On your campaign site, you state that the Park51 community center is “destructive to the moral fiber of the United States”. What about pictures of naked kids and perpetuating lies about the President ?

Of the many emails that were disclosed to WNYMedia.net from Carl Paladino’s sordid emailing history, two of them were emails that you had forwarded to Carl. One contained a pornographic powerpoint presentation entitled “Brilliant”, the last frame of which shows a boy, maybe 1 year old, holding a remote control in one hand, and his penis in the other. The header appears as follows… (omitted)…

…The other, entitled “Heeza Muzzlim, that’s why”, which you forwarded to Paladino on 12/12/09, contains the following text: (see above)

DiPietro has not responded to that email.

Quick Political Thoughts

12 Oct

I’ve had a couple political thoughts rattling around in my head for the last couple days – what’s the link:

1) President Obama and the Democratic Party have gone absolutely Beckian. Glenn’s basic rhetorical strategy is to say something outrageous about a person or group, and then dare them to repudiate (refudiate!) his conspiracy theories.

Enter Obama and the Democrats who have charged the US Chamber of Commerce with taking money from foreign corporations to be used specifically for attack ads against Democratic candidates. The Chamber says, “What are you talking about?” The Dems say “If it’s not true, then prove it!” Just like Beck has failed to prove he did not rape and murder a girl in 1990. If you can’t beat them, join them – see the end of item #2.

2) An inherent hypocrisy in modern American Liberalism’s disdain and contempt for the Right has been brought into clearer focus: material wealth as invalidator of political rights.

Slate noted recently that in today’s American politics, the Right thinks the Left is evil, but worse, the Left thinks the Right is crazy, pathetic, retarded, and unworthy of respect. Exhibit A’s is Matt Taibbi’s recent masterpiece of condescension, masquerading as a profile of the Tea Party. The pinnacle:

After lengthy study of the phenomenon, I’ve concluded that the whole miserable narrative boils down to one stark fact: They’re full of shit. All of them.

Taibbi’s article encapsulates not just the objective reasons for the Left’s dismissal of the Tea Party, but the feeling and flavor of it as well. Shorter Matt Taibbi: not only is the Tea Party wrong, but they don’t deserve to have a voice in the first place. Why? Because they are white, by and large, well to do (often by sucking at the government teat).

Thus the essential Liberal contradiction: the movement that dismisses material possessions as unimportant and race as irrelevant invalidates the political beliefs of the Tea Party because the material possessions and race of their followers. Wait?! I thought they didn’t matter? Shorter Liberalism: What are you Teabaggers complaining about – look how good you have it.

If material success should not be a prerequisite for power (see: the Civil Rights movement), then why should an entire movements’ political beliefs be dismissed based upon material success? Is being poor and of color the only way one is allowed to have a legit political voice now? Note that the Tea Party is reading Saul Alinsky, and used his tactics in the Health Care Screaming last year. Liberals loves two things: being smart and defending victims – if the Left thinks the Tea Party is so stupid, then they should be leaping to their feet to save these Teabaggers from themselves, no matter their race or economic success. 

3) It’s time we finally rid ourselves of Antoine Thompson. I mean, seriously. In case you have forgotten, here are all the reasons why.

He has a real opponent this year. Mark Grisanti is winning the lawn sign battle on Grand Island, at least. He can only win the election if the people who are disgusted with Antoine actually vote for him. I could hope Paladino’s coat tails drag him along, but I’d rather stump for him instead.

All About Being Deficit Hawks

7 Oct
Official presidential portrait of Barack Obama...

Communist adored by dependent African American subculture

I just adore this thread at the local teabaggers’ Google Group.  It starts out with Tea Party group “leader” Allen Coniglio noting how communard Obama is, and wonders why black people still support him.

E-mail TemplateThis is so insane. Blacks are backing obama for no other reason than that he is black. Isn’t that racism? How could anyone with any consciousness look at what that guy is doing to this country and still support him? It is shameful and virtually treasonous to give your vote and support to a guy whose only desire is to turn the US into a communist nation, ironically, just at the time that China and Cuba are abandoning communism because they have realized that it doesn’t work.

Allen

They may be abandoning communism, but they’re still deep into the whole “totalitarian dictatorship” thing.  I wonder if capitalism is more important to them than democracy.

Later down the thread, “David” responds with this gem:

At the risk of being labeled racist (anyone who comments on an article  such as this is at risk of being labeled a racist), I believe that it is NOT just his skin color that causes A/A’s to continue to back  Obama.  I believe it is because, in our frequently wrongheaded  attempts to compensate for the years when we had slavery, we have  created a subculture of government dependency within the A/A  community.  Starting with the “Great Society,”  A/A’s have been given preference in hiring, allowed to file baseless discrimination charges  against employers, making it less and less likely that they will find employment, herded into population centers in the inner city, and put on government-funding IV’s.  Now we have a crime-ridden inner cities teeming with single-parent, low educated and/or unskilled people, who  resent the fact that their personal dignity has been sacrificed on the altar of “equality.”  I say, give A/A’s their dignity back.  Cut off the government teat.  Show them the respect that they deserve as human beings. They actually are as smart as people of different skin color, and can make it on their own if the crutches are removed.

I’ll let that speak for itself.

Like Rats Leaving the Sinking Ship

28 Sep

It has been a bad two weeks for poor Tim Geithner, Secretary of the Treasury. No, the unemployment news has been no worse than normal. And the stock market has not tanked (nor rebounded). Instead, the problem is that he’s running out of work mates – economic team member #4, TARP chief Herb Allison, just announced he was bailing too.

Add Herb’s name to a list that includes Larry Summers, high profile (why?) economic advisor, budgetary wiz Peter Orzag of OMB and Christina Romer. A mere twenty months into Obama’s administration, the chief architects of the President’s #1 policy priority are lining up to leave, to spend more time with their families and pursue other opportunities.

Well, thank goodness! That must mean the job is done, then. That the United States has kicked high unemployment, avoided a double dip recession, is growing well, and things are on the up and up. Oh, wait, they aren’t? I can’t believe such dedicated public servants would ever quit early. Robert Gibbs says they have been working so hard and are burned out. Don’t you feel bad for them? Unemployment benefits currently last more than twice as long (99 weeks) as these officials have been on the job.

And with Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel due out soon to run for Mayor of Chicago, and Political Advisor David Axelrod announcing he is headed back to Chicago as well to start the campaign, what exactly is going on here?

Heaven forefend that I make a positive remark about the previous administration, but like the policies or not, officials saw the process through. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were Bush’s #1 priority, and Secretary Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell, and General Myers all stuck around for four to six years. Where is the stick-to-itiveness of this round of officials? They aren’t even lasting to the midterm elections.

I can see moving on if the goals of the administration have been accomplished, but we are far from there on the economic front. What achievement is so great that Larry Summers can call it a day?

The biggest win is arguably the TARP, which is a Bush program, not an Obama administration initiative (lest we forget the timeline). Many major banks did not go bankrupt, the credit markets exist, money is being lent, and the government is getting its money back (with a profit) – in this case, the absence of an apocalypse must count as success.

President Obama’s initiatives are more mixed. A round of financial regulation reforms have passed, but we won’t know the true impact for years. Just as Clinton was the beneficiary of the Regan tax cuts, and the Dodd/Clinton Fannie Mae loan rule relaxation mess didn’t yield its ugly underwater mortgage fruit until Bush/Obama, we won’t know whether Obama’s finance regulations will bring fiscal sanity, or CDO Swaps 2.0, until many years down the road.

A second Obama initiative, the whimpering stimulus package, is a more obvious failure. The 2010 federal budget deficit ($1.4 trillion), much of it stimulus to get the economy plugging along again, is roughly equal to $100,000 for each unemployed person in this country (14.9 million). What have we bought with our money? Not a “new” economy or a “green” economy. It has not bought us bridge technologies (new natural gas pipelines), or new technologies (next generation batteries, solar arrays, etc). It has purchased some token investment in car batteries, but far more has been spent on asphalt for those cars to drive upon. Obama’s stimulus legacy will be expanded blacktop that will need resurfacing in five years – I could not have set up a more poetic metaphor. Reports say Cash for Clunkers moved demand up but created no more, the housing rebates seem to have had much the same effect, unemployment is still too high and not falling. Are the Keynesians yet humbled?

The economic team is may be the one most visibly leaving, but they are not the most visibly dysfunctional. Bob Woodward’s new book confirms what we have suspected: significant dissention in the foreign policy ranks, widespread derision of national Security Advisor Jim Jones, battles over turf overtaking those over policy, and that VP Biden is a jerk.

What is the unifying factor? It turns out running a campaign is not the same as running a government. Success in one is not a recipe for success for the other. President Obama’s advisors are either quitting or infighting, and neither is good for the country. Where are the Dem’s best and brightest. Where was the deep bench of Democratic officials waiting out their eight years of Bush to return competence to the government? There was a time when functional experts (Michael O’Hanlon at the Brookings Institution being an excellent example) would have come out of the woodwork once there was a party shift of power. Instead, we got Change, and rather than bringing in the Democratic elites, Obama brought his Chicago political insiders. President Obama has from the start been separate from the Democratic Party as whole (watch him sell out Congress for his 2012 re-election). Because of the way he won the nomination, Obama’s public spats with the Clintons kept some of the best and brightest on the sidelines. With Richard Holbrooke as the one notable exception, Obama brought in a Chicago team that is burning out early or fighting too late. Valerie Jerrett’s nearly assured and imminent promotion is a perfect example – what are her qualifications, besides friendship with the President? It is okay for an administration to bring on its insulated team, but didn’t Bush get a lot of flak for moving Texas to the White House?

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Not Like This

14 Sep

It’s Primary Day in New York State. Soon we’ll know how far to the Right the GOP has tacked in yet another state. The results, in other states until now, have been extreme. I’m a Republican, and even Conservative once in a while, and I want my party to win elections and policy debates. But I don’t want to win like this.

I’d like John Beohner to be the new Speaker of the House come November (and if you want any legislation passed between Nov 2010 and Nov 2012, you should too, but that’s another article for another time). But I don’t want to elect 50 Tea Partiers to make it happen.

I want to retake the US Senate as well. But we should do it with seven Scott Brown’s, not seven Sharron Angle’s.

I want the Islamic Community Center at Park51 to consider other buildings sites, that weren’t hit by aircraft debris in the 9/11 attacks. But I don’t want Muslim taxi drivers slashed, existing mosques to be intimidated, and property at mosque construction sites around the country to be attacked to make it happen. 

The country needs to have a discussion about Islam in America, nine year late. There has been no rise in this country of extremist Islamic-related violence, such as honor killings and female genital mutilation. There have been no open street riots of young Muslim men, as in France and other parts of Europe. Yes, there have been several attempted high profile terrorist attacks, but no more lately than in the last 20 years. There has been no new information that American Muslims are unable to integrate in our ethnic tossed salad. And yet, Islamophobes and their motivated apologist adversaries are waging a screaming match at the fringes out of touch with reality. But which responsible national figure can speak? President Obama can try, and should, but will be ignored (at best) or derided (not quite the worst) by the 58% of Americans who mistakenly believe he himself is secretly Muslim, or at least not Christian. How can you start an open and honest discussion when so many think you’re hiding something. But what Republican figure can speak? Guiliani? I don’t know.

The Republican Party is a rudderless ship. I do not believe Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are the leaders of my party. But that argument is harder and harder to make when the stage is bare. Nature famously abhors a vacuum. If Mitch McConnell or John McCain (or . . . . who?) doesn’t step forward to lead this party, then Palin runs it by default.

George W. Bush looks like Winston Churchill compared to the quality of leadership we have now. Ahh, the good old days, when Bush could barely speak, but also made it clear the United States was at war with Al Qaeda, not the entire Muslim faith, and certainly not the average Muslim American citizen, working a job and sending his kids to school like everyone else. President Obama says that we are not at war with Islam. True, but unhelpful. The better question is, how much of Islam is at war with us? Its a question no politician openly asks or answers.

Instead, Rush and Beck and Palin (and doubly unfortunate, Gingrich too) deliberately misinform, and are exceedingly unhelpful in the process of people of reasonable intent trying to make a good faith effort to solve delicate problems. There is no adult to tell them to shut up. So they prattle on.

Imagine if the Park51/Ground Zero Mosque debate had gone something like this:

A middle-of-the-road Imam (which means probably too conservative and Pro-Arab for the average American, but certainly not a threat or danger or deserving of mistrust) wishes to build a community center near Ground Zero. While a naturalized American citizen, he misreads popular culture, and the effect this will have. The building touches a delicate, sensitive nerve. Maybe not a nerve everyone is proud of, but nerve none the less. Where could this have gone?

We won’t know, because it has descended into screaming matches, protests, rallies, and a race to the bottom in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

A leader would recognize the legitimate issue beneath the raw nerves and affronted feelings. That issue: what is sacred? How did New York City decide one patch of ground was sacred (the site of the two towers), and other ground was not? Whether this question was assumed, misunderstood, glossed over, debated, or not considered at all, it was at least not adequately answered. Imam Rauf, among others, has noted the strip clubs and OTB parlors nearby, and asks how a house of prayer can be any worse. Good point, but it doesn’t change the fact that many NYers want to have a debate now, after nine years of rebuilding and not when the strip club reopened, about what is sacred. They are the general public – they get a do-over. Now, what to do about it?

A leader would find a compromise. Mine? Form a commission of victim’s families, religious leaders of all faiths, local community leaders, and the National Park Service. Have them discuss (or re-discuss) what is the sacred ground of the 9/11 attack. Just the WTC? Any building hit by parts of a plane? Any building with human remains? How small? The Park Service is there to professionally lead the discussion, since they have experience caring for sacred sites across the US. The others are there to make the decision. Once a site is deemed sacred, they decide what to do about it. Kick out the current tenants, strip clubs and betting parlors first? If they could “clean up” Times Square in the interest of tourism alone, they can figure out a way to do this. Grandfather existing businesses in? Write new zoning laws? Open the door wide again to any legitimate business, reflecting the reality of a busy lower Manhattan? That would be up the commission to decide. But whatever the decision, the community would finally have the conversation that obviously has been simmering and waiting to happen. I am normally not a fan of busy-body citizen boards and endless public hearings. But if Buffalo can discuss Canalside for ten years, and then start over from the drawing board to chat all over again, then an issue this big deserves time it hasn’t had.

Will this happen? Of course not. The rudderless ship of my party does not have the imagination, political capital, or courage to do it. The Democrats would never give up their righteous indignation or self-identified moral high ground to have such a discussion. The fringes will argue until the issue fades after the November election, and die with a whimper when there isn’t enough money to build Park51 anyway.

An End and a Beginning (Updated)

2 Sep

Operation Iraqi Freedom started on March 20, 2003, in tanks on the Kuwait-Iraq border, in aircraft launching from Saudi and Qatari airfields, and on ships in the Persian Gulf. It ended last night, on August 31st, 2010, in the Oval Office, in a disjointed speech, on national television.

Taking the place of Operation Iraqi Freedom is Operation New Dawn. As more Americans die in Iraq, and as troops stay past the 2011 deadline, and into the 2012 election year, Republicans will rightly ask what is so “new?” President Obama may have handed his opponents a “Mission: Accomplished” banner, which would be unfortunate. Because despite the President’s wish to “turn the page” in Iraq, the country, and our co-mingled troubles, still exist. Note that the excellent Washington Post correspondent, Tom Ricks, in his book “The Gamble” on the Surge, speculated that the major events for which the Iraq War will be known have not yet happened. The war continues, but by a different name.

Still, such a marker is a convenient time to ask how history will judge at least the first act, now that Operation Iraqi Freedom is complete. Here is the opening sentence to the book I would write on the subject:

In an overabundance of caution, and reflecting the vengeful mood of a country still wiping its bloody nose, President Bush ordered an invasion of Iraq, and after meeting only one of the stated goals of the conflict, ended it by staunching the worst of the blood spilt in the civil war he created.

President Obama is not in that sentence because he did not materially contribute in any way to the ability to change the operation’s name last night. It was Bush’s war, for good or ill, and he ended this phase, with the Surge in 2007, a new Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), and the troop draw down starting in 2008. In this example, President Obama is Andrew Johnson, not Richard Nixon. Lincoln ended the war, albeit infinitely more cleanly and decisively, no matter how many Union troops stayed in the South for years afterward. President Obama is due no more, and probably wishes no more, in any event.

My colleague, Alan, wrote a column today on the end of major combat in Iraq, and in it sought to address the run up to the war as the major issue to be discussed today. I respectfully, and overwhelmingly, disagree.

Why? Because America in 2010 is in far more danger of losing a long war in which it is stuck than beginning a new war with mixed evidence. I am more worried about our ability to pacify Afghanistan than our propensity to end up in open armed conflict with Iran or North Korea. Israel may bomb Iran, but we won’t. Afghanistan, however, is another matter. And so the proper topic to discuss today is what actions, by a President, allowed yesterday’s speech to happen, if we wish to see another one cheering our exit from Operation Enduring Freedom.

I understand Alan’s desire to beat the WMD and Neocon Hawk drum. It is effective and popular. Fortunately, I think history will give a more nuanced response. One tiny example; Alan says:

UNMOVIC inspectors under Hans Blix were in Iraq for 111 days, and they never found a single WMD.

United States troops were in Iraq for 2,724 days, and they never found a single WMD.

Alan provides a link for the first and not the second. Why? Because its not factually true. We found lots of chemical Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq [Updated Author Note: misleading reference to all types of WMDs, including bio, radiological and nuclear weapons, removed for the sake of clarity]. We found old nerve agent filled artillery shells in the Kurdish areas, where Saddam committed genocide in the 1980’s and 1990’s. We found weapons caches of empty bombs, mortars and projectiles, with the main chemical agent filler since evaporated, but still plenty dangerous to handle. We found mustard agent filled rounds in roadside bombs, where it was clear that insurgents were not aware of what type of explosive they were using. Soldiers ended up in hospitals with blister agent burns, nerve agent induced nausea, and the Technical Escort Unit, a Army outfit whose job it is to package and transport chemical weapons, stayed plenty busy flying from their hub in Baghdad all over the country. We found WMDs.

What we didn’t find was enough, or of the right type, to justify an invasion, 4500+ Americans lost, 45,000+ injured, and 100,000+ Iraqi’s killed.

But such debates are only relevant today if Secretary Clinton starts war-mongering in the UN about dropping bombs on Iran. The bigger question now is how to find “success” in Afghanistan. The litany of reasons why Afghanistan is a more difficult problem than Iraq is long and well known: it is larger, younger, more divided, less developed, and has a greater history of violence. The Persians, Turks, Brits and Germans (in that order) all recently successfully conquered Iraq. For such a list in Afghanistan, I have to go back several thousand years.

If I look for Hope in President Obama that we will be successful in Afghanistan, I am left with two troubling pieces of evidence from last night:

1) Then-candidate Obama predicted the Surge in Iraq would fail, and he was wrong. Very, very wrong. He predicted the fresh troops would make no difference, and then, when they did, he said military victory with no political reconciliation was no victory at all. Iraq does not have a government – what is different now? He spent too long reformulating the strategy for Afghanistan, only to end up with essentially the same plan he previously derided. The only thing similar between Iraq and Afghanistan is that it is hot in the summer. Just because a Surge was the right strategy for Iraq does not make it right for Afghanistan, especially when the only clear goal I know of for Afghanistan is to start leaving next year.

2) In an Oval Office speech, only the second of his 20 month tenure, on the end of major combat in Iraq, he spent nearly half the time talking not about Iraq, or Afghanistan, or the military, or foreign policy, but the economy and jobs. Either he is “taking his eye off the ball,” or has political ADD, or is pandering for elections. I find all three a problem, and I question his seriousness, and whether he considers fighting our nation’s wars a priority. 

Alan wants a return to the Powell Doctrine. Too late – we’ve already broke it and bought it. And anyway, it was the Powell Doctrine that got us into this mess. Let’s have some new ideas.

The Fear Machine

25 Aug

The demographics of the voting class in this country have forever changed.  This has forced some changes in our national politics and the way the two parties work to maximize turnout in support of their agenda.  I’ll address how one party is handling this demographic shift because, well, it’s my site.

The Republican agenda or platform, as far as I can tell, consists of the following issues: tax cuts for the wealthy, cuts in social spending, corporate deregulation, abolition of unions, privatization of municipal services, perpetual empire building/foreign war, increased military spending, Israel, Israel, Israel, and in recent years…promoting a fear of “the other”.

Let’s go to the data to back up that last assertion.

In 2008, 90% of those who cast a vote for John McCain and his VP nominee, Crazypants McGee, were white. As a percentage of the overall voting populace, McCain captured a total of 55% of the white vote while Obama took 45% of the vote.

Yes, a candidate won a race for President in the United States without carrying a majority of white male voters. The 45% of white American men who cast a vote for Obama were not necessarily spread out around the country in an orderly fashion. Here’s a handy map reflecting the national distribution of white male votes for Obama.

whitemen_obama

Unsurprisingly, you’ll note that Obama did poorly in the southern states as well as other traditional red states which now make up the national dixie belt. Obama did surprisingly well in some of the least diverse states in the North like Wisconsin, Vermont, Oregon, Washington and Maine.  There is something to that data point that I hope to get to in the future.  However, Obama didn’t need the white male vote because he took 59% of the vote for non-white men.  This chart shows Obama’s non-white male vote distribution around the country.

nonwhitemen_obama

Looks a lot different, doesn’t it?

Combined with data which show the GOP fares very poorly with the expanding hispanic and african-american demographics, the strategy for the GOP and the conservative movement is clear.  Foment a feeling that America is being taken over by radical minorities, muslims, gays and radical “leftists” with their un-american “urban” agenda.

We’re watching this strategy being implemented right now and it is morphing as needed along the way.  At the start of the Obama administration, we saw all sorts of Lee Atwater style tactics and buzzwords used to covertly describe how the black man wants to take away the white man’s rights and privileges.  Socialism!  After a while, the message grew repetitive and Americans have short attention spans, they needed to up the ante to keep the fear machine primed.

Now, we’re seeing the right wing media and tea party movement foment a fear and loathing of Islam.  It’s unifying white people behind the idea that this isn’t “their” America anymore, it’s being taken away from them by elitist, atheist, college educated snobs in the northeast and their black/muslim/gay friends.  Somehow it is a slap in the face of freedom loving Americans everywhere to have Sufi Muslims build a community center on the hallowed ground next to the titty bar and OTB near Ground Zero…right around the corner from another mosque which has been there for decades.

The fear machine provides the GOP its only chance to regain national power in the face of massively and rapidly changing voter demographics. Fire people up, get them to throw tea bags at each other based on misinformation; compare Obama to Mao, Stalin, Hitler.  Claim that Sharia Law is on the way, that the President is a muslim sleeper agent born in Kenya, sent to destroy America from the inside.  They’ll do whatever it takes to motivate the angry white guy who lost his job at the plant due to globalization to get off his ass and get to the polls and maximize turnout.  Demonize gays, blame job losses on unions (not automation efficiencies, shareholder demands and CEO priorities), turn hopelessness into anger and blame.

Will it work?  Can this short-term strategy effectuate a return to power for the GOP?  It might, especially with the President and his castrated Congress alienating and disappointing the liberal base on a daily basis.  Long term, what is the GOP plan to reach out to these changing voter constituencies?  Will they make an effort to reach recent immigrants and minorities and bring them into the GOP tent?  By all accounts, the current plan seems to be a doubling down on maximizing turnout in their shrinking core demographic.

The trends are not on their side; poor, uneducated, misinformed white people will not be a massive voting bloc in many parts of the country for much longer.  However, they’ll continue to stay in power in nationwide rural areas and in the Dixie Belt, which will provide them with enough useful idiot voters who will vote for noted Congressional morons like Louie Gohmert and Joe Wilson.  They’ll create a regional/rural party which will be obstructionist and give them just enough power to work toward the goals noted in the second paragraph of this article.  I’ll dig into all of that and why Congressional Democrats can’t seem to govern in the face of obstructionist dummies as time allows.

Think about this chart until we meet again, it’s probably the most telling of all. It’s a difference between the vote totals of George H.W. Bush in 1988 and the vote totals of John McCain in 2008. It’s stark to see how the GOP base has shrunk so drastically into the dixie belt in just 20 short years.  It also underscores why the GOP has made a permanent shift toward the fringe of the party and why they’ll need to continue doing so to remain relevant.

bush_mccain_88_08