A Response to FLAMING BOMBADiER

Posted January 7, 2015 on 9:13 pm | In the category Iraq, Obama, syria, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

Why was Iraq in 2003 not a “vital American interest” while in 2014 it is. Bush certainly made an awful mistake in his judgment, no doubt aided by lousy advisors, but the US is once again attacking in Irag – and Syria -, and did not leave Afghanistan during most of the Obama presidency – and actually still hasn’t. This time it is on Obama’s orders. How come Bush was a fool while these military actions are (still?) supposed to be considered wise diplomacy?

Comment to earlier blog from Flaming Bombadier

Hey Flamer: Whoa!! take a deep breath and sit down. Fan yourself and relax. And consider some history and some contemporary events.

1. Iraq invasion in 2003 was an illegal invasion of a country, based on fabricated intelligence which led to the dismemberment of an (unpleasant, but recognized) government to satisfy the wet dreams of Dick Cheney and possibly W. Bush. It involved over 200,000 American troops, killed nearly 4000 of them, added hundreds of thousand of Iraqis to the death list, sent some 4 million Iraqis to refugee camps and cost the U.S economy between 2 and 3 trillion dollars. In terms of national interest it was an enormous deficit and we continue to pay the price., Which brings us to number:

2. U.S. troops sent into Iraq by Obama were and are sent specifically to support the currently existing Iraq government – not a terribly difficult to understand difference from sending in troops to overthrow a government – but it is a government produced by the Bush/Cheney war. It is a great example of the consequences of stupidity, but Obama has sent 1500 – soon to be 3000- and maybe more later – in response to a real threat. Ask The Parisians. Ask London, Ask Madrid. There is – in my view- a threat to not only our national interest, but the interests of all Western liberal democracies iby a theocratic, existential movement opposed to Western ideals and our right to hold them.

3. It has taken a long time (too long) to get out of Afghanistan, but to say the U.S. is ttacking Syria is a rather bizarre comment. Obama has been butchered in the U.S. by McCain, Lindsey Graham and their ilk for not invading Syria. He is holding back and resisting anything more than plane attacks on ISIS. And it is very hard to argue in favor of letting ISIS go its merry way unmolested.

It is an ugly world out there and today’s murder of journalists in Paris, and the beheadings of American and British journalists and the random bombings of innocent people every day, yes, every day, makes this battle one of national interest for us all.

Obama has been criticized for 6 years for being who he is – a thoughtful, careful, rational leader who has led America out of most of their foreign battles. It has become easy to just criticize him without thinking about what came before, what he was left with and what he has accomplished. Perhaps Flaming Bombadier would have been happier with a McCain or a Chamberlain, but I think not. There are always disappointments but in these issues Obama has acted wisely and with restraint.

Maybe Flaming Bombardier has some thoughts on how best to negotiate with ISIS, Al Queda, et alia and how to bring diplomacy to the process. if not maybe a bare chested Putin can do it. We shall see. But probably not

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Vladimir Putin: Leadership Redefined

Posted December 26, 2014 on 11:34 pm | In the category Obama, Politics, Press, Russia, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

“We don’t need tough guys. We need wise guys. We’ve tried tough guys, and it always ends in tears. Tough guys you know right away because they’re never scared of a fight. Wise guys you only know in retrospect, when you remember that they quietly walked away from the fight that now has the tough guy in a hospital.” Adam Gopnik, The NewYorker Magazine

As 2014 winds down we find the two Putins – the Russian Vladimir and Turkish President -Recep Tayyip Erdoğan – struggling to maintain their images of power, strength and competence. I’ll save Erdogan for a later posting, but for the Russian Putin the struggle has become increasingly difficult. This is in spite of the admiration expressed by the likes of America’s Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, former Chairman of the House Committee on Intelligence Mike Rogers and Fox News TV evangelist, Mike Huckabee. In fact,reviewing the past year or two, commentators from both respected and semi-respected media outlets have nourished the fantasies of the right wing by questioning Obama’s manhood while praising Putin’s bare chested virility. This has included analysts from beltway think tanks, the editorial board of the once great Washington Post and, of some note, the NYTimes’ columnist Maureen Dowd, who has consistently whined that Obama is not an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie character. Honoring Putin’s heroic posturing following his takeover of the Crimea, Rogers said that “Putin played chess” while Obama played marbles; Giuliani commented that Putin defined “leadership” while poor Obama spent too much time “thinking”. As for erstwhile presidential candidate and Fox News analyst, Mike Huckabee, he said “I know the only time that Vladimir Putin shivers is when he takes his shirt off in a cold Russian winter”, as opposed to poor old thoughtful Obama. Other notable comments on Putin’s manly leadership included these from some of America’s finest blowhards:

  1. “Every time the president goes on national television and threatens Putin or anyone like Putin, everyone’s eyes roll, including mine,” noted war lover Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)
  2. “People are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil,” Former Alaska Gov. and heartbeat away from the presidency VP candidate, Sarah Palin said. “They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and equivocates and bloviates.”
  3. “This is Putin running rings about us. There’s no question what’s going on here, is Vladimir Putin is reassembling the Soviet Union,” said conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh.
  4. “The Ukrainians, and I think everybody, is shocked by the weakness of Obama’s statement,” Fox’s (noted psychiatrist) Charles Krauthammer said. “What he’s saying is, we’re not really going to do anything.”
  5. “For five years, President Obama has led a foreign policy based more on how he thinks the world should operate than on reality,” wrote the once great Washington Post’s editorial board.
  6. “President Obama’s attempt to seek peace through apologetic diplomacy while defunding and dismantling our military has failed. Today, our enemies don’t fear us and our allies no longer respect us,” Senator and noted climate change denier Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.
  7. “The president must now accept that the only way to deal with tyrants like Vladimir Putin is with a clear understanding that they can’t be trusted and that only decisive action will deter their provocative moves,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) “If Putin’s illegal actions are allowed to stand unpunished, it will usher in a dark and dangerous era in world affairs.”

So here we are some months after Obama did not get involved in a war in Ukraine and Putin is watching helplessly as the Russian economy goes in the toilet, and realizes belatedly that Obama’s sanctions combined with the drop in oil prices has pushed Russia into a catastrophic recession. He is forcing Russian companies to sell dollars in a hopeless attempt to strengthen the Russian ruble and the Central bank has increased its interest rate to 16% ensuring a disastrous 2015 for Russia’s economy. Perhaps Putin is now asking himself how he will pay the high costs of maintaining the Crimea as a vital part of his new Russian empire. American commentators seem puzzled by the success of Obama’s foreign policy moves that have placed a premium on avoiding direct American military involvement, invoking diplomacy over confrontation and waging economic war via sanctions over sending Americans to defend other countries’ interests. While many in American politics and the press have conveniently forgotten the lessons of America’s disastrous 2003 Iraq invasion, almost automatically seeking ways for American military might to be utilized, Obama has continued to resist the temptation to send American troops into foreign battles that do not threaten our vital national interests.

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THE 2014 REPUBLICAN “SUCCESS”

Posted November 9, 2014 on 12:05 pm | In the category Economy, Election, Obama, Politics, Press, Supreme Court, U.S. Domestic Policy | by Jeff

The Republican “long game” of demonizing the President which began immediately after Barak Obama was elected president in 2008 has finally crossed the finish line. Vowing to do anything to destroy Obama’s presidency, the Republicans and their Tea Party sub-contractor began the process of character assassination that culminated in this week’s midterm elections. The strategy put the political future of the likes of Mitch McConnell and John Boehner ahead of the needs of the country and therefore out of necessity had to ignore anything positive that might attach itself to the Obama presidency.

It is not surprising that much of the press largely played along with the story line, broadcasting Boehner and McConnell’s daily banalities after having given credibility to political hacks like Michelle Bachman, Donald Trump, Rick Santorum and pizza maker Herman Cain in 2012.

But hapless Democratic candidates were complicit in their own downfall by running away from Obama and simply ignoring anything positive in his record.

When Obama’s presidency began the United States was a living horror show, largely produced by Republicans. The country had wasted up to $3 trillion on a war fought over weapons of mass destruction that did not exist; it had allowed investment banks to run wild while bringing the American economy to its knees; the American stock market lost 54% of its value in the 2007-08 crash; unemployment soared to over 10% and thousands of homeowners lost their homes through foreclosure – or by simply walking away from suddenly wildly overvalued property. President George Bush’s last budget – for FY 2009 had a deficit of $1,412 billion. After six years of the Obama presidency the annual budget deficit ($483 Bn) is less than a third of Bush’s last deficit, unemployment is at a rate less than half of the 2009 rate, the stock market is at record highs, the housing market has largely recovered, housing foreclosures are at historic lows and the American economy has recovered better than any other Western country’s.

So why have the Democrats suffered such a huge loss?

MONEY: When the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are people and that their money is a form of free speech an already lopsided election funding process became a game of craps played with loaded dice. It has become almost impossible to gauge the amount of money spent on elections but one estimate is that some $4B was spent on the 2014 midterms. Anyone trapped in front of a TV in October must have believed that they were faced with voting for either a swine or a hog.

SUPREME COURT: the U.S. Supreme Court has managed to play a powerful (and perhaps inappropriate) role in politics with its Citizens-United decision opening up funding of election campaigns to corporations and unions, and has decided that protection of voting rights is no longer needed despite the efforts of Republicans to make voting more difficult by requiring photo IDs at the polls despite virtually no evidence of voter fraud in the past.

THE PRESS: The American mainstream press has always been susceptible to the temptations of closeness to power, giving us what amounts to a courtier press. The Sunday talk shows wheel out the same tired lineup week after week: John McCain, Lindsay Graham, Peggy Noonan, Reince Priebus, etc. and they become insider clubs with little difference between the reporters and the politicians. Print journalists have become an endangered species and cable news stations are uniformly tedious – even stupid – , pumping up non stories like the so-called ebola threat and refusing to do the hard work of journalism.

DEMOCRATS’ INEPTITUDE: The Democrats seem to have drunk the Republicans kool aid. They ran away from Obama’s (and their own) accomplishments, refused to defend the Affordable Care Act, never developed a positive message, ignored the positive economic record of Obama’s administration, and did not force the Republicans to defend economic policies that have favored the wealthy at the expense of the poor and middle class. They allowed the Republicans to determine and control the narrative and refused to risk losing on Democratic party principles. Turns out they could hardly have done worse and could at least have looked at themselves in the mirror the day after the election had they stood strongly for something positive.

OBAMA’S PASSIVITY AND ADMINISTRATIVE INCOMPETENCE: The President’s noted rational approach to governing could only work if it was supported by energy or, better yet, passion – for what he is trying to accomplish. His inability- perhaps unwillingness – to sell the Affordable Care Act to his clients (all of us) is an example of a failure of politics. The ACA has been vilified by the Republicans largely by their lying about it. Death panels, free abortions, increased deficits, etc. ad nauseum. The administration never fought back effectively and in fact, by losing control over the development of the ACA website, created a nightmare for themselves – to say nothing of the people who tried to sign up for health insurance. The apparent unwillingness to play the hard politics that end up being a necessary part of the job contributed to giving the Republicans control of the narrative for the election.

VOTERS’ GENERALiZABLE ANGER: Americans are understandably pissed off. They saw their lives seriously disrupted by the recession of 2008-9, then saw bankers bailed out with taxpayers’ money, bank executives raking in record multimillion dollar rewards for incompetence while they were losing their jobs and homes. The rich do indeed get richer and the poor do indeed suck wind. So they looked around and – helped enormously by Republican money and ads demonizing Obama – decided to blame the President. Is that stupid? well yeah. Is it unexpected? well no. The hard work of figuring out what actually happened in the absence of a strong and honest press turns out to be beyond the capabilities of the American people. Or at least – so it seems.

So we come to the future and as our friend Leonard Cohen says, “I have seen the future brother: and it is murder”. And so it will be: possibly death to health care for all, more insane U.S.wars in places with little or no relation to our national interest; greater wealth to the oligarchs; less for the poor; no hope for immigrants; and a fundamental national commitment to all that works agains the interests of the vast majority of the American people. It is our democracy. Love it. Embrace it. Or work to change it.

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Race, Obama and the Deferred Dream

Posted September 1, 2014 on 10:52 am | In the category Obama, Politics, Press, Racism, Uncategorized | by Jeff

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
                                                     W.B. Yeats

Reading comments of readers of daily newspapers and reading or hearing the ongoing barrage of criticism and blame laid on the President by his political foes has led many who should know better to believe that President Obama is a human disaster, laying waste to the America we learned about in grade school. Listening to Obama’s supporters could lead us to the conclusion that he is too good to be true and that his political enemies are ignorant louts. Both sides can claim some evidence to support their views, but to get sucked into the mire of so-called analysis by our press pundits is to get lost in a maze of untruths, half-truths, facts, non-facts, beltway bullshit and sheer hate speech.

This is not to conclude that Obama has been a knight in shining armor; clearly he has not. But let’s review some of what he and we have had to put up with for six years:

* the idiotic nonsense of his country of birth with calls for his birth certificate continuing still some five years after it was produced;
* the absurd claims that he was a secret Muslim intent on bringing us sharia law;
* the public insults hurled at his wife for promoting healthy eating;
* criticism linking him to every failed democracy in the world, with John McCain leading a bitter vendetta against the man who defeated him in 2008;
* and, of course, the subtle and not so subtle, racist comments directed at him and his family. It is this factor that has mostly been an elephant on the table,    mostly ignored or simply pretended that the issue does not exist.

A good measure of where the U.S. is in its movement toward genuine racial equality is not so much the recent events in Ferguson Missouri, but rather the way in which the country has responded. A young, black teenager is gunned down with six shots by a white policeman. The teenager’s body is left in the street for over 4 hours without so much as a sheet over it. The police wait a few days and then finally release the policeman’s name, simultaneously beginning to slur the teenager with a video of him pushing a clerk in a convenience store. For many this was enough of a reason to execute the young man. The riots that followed were all too predictable as was the overreaction of the white police, which included arresting journalists, bringing in an ARMY TANK for God’s sake, shooting rubber bullets and tear gas canisters, and threatening law-abiding citizens participating in their constitutional right to protest. The NY Times did not help by publishing a front page story about the victim saying he “was no angel” and listing his many crimes – occasionally smoking marijuana, drinking beer underage, jostling a neighbor once – crimes that are consistent with growing up in America – white or black, and perhaps a reminder that none of us are “angels”.

So what has been the response? Well, it varied of course and mostly in predictable ways. There was the initial gnashing of teeth in most of the press with the notable exception of Fox News – an exception also predictable. Then over time the slurring of the victim, the calls for peace in the street, the calling of a grand jury investigation, the burial of the victim, and then back to a sense of normality which means that nothing much is likely to change. Although there is some public concern over their local police forces turning into military machines, dedicated to keeping the people under control rather than protecting them. We shall see where that goes.

But perhaps the best measure of where W.B. Yeats’ “worst…full of passionate intensity” have ended up is that a few weeks after the event, nearly $500,000 had been raised (some by the KKK) for the defense of a so far not even charged white policeman who managed to put 6 bullets in an unarmed black teenager. This spontaneous outpouring of support is as good a measure as any of where we are in our crawl toward racial equality. The money quote in the fund-raising for the officer came from one contributor who said: “We’ll all see this in the end that it was a good shooting. You know, it was a good kill.”

All of this keeps the issue of race on the table when thinking about Obama’s performance as President and the cost to America of continuing to avoid fully addressing the problems facing black Americans. Americans were justifiably proud of their willingness to vote an African American to the presidency – twice. Now they need to do the really hard work of persuading the rest of the country of the need for mutual respect and of the common interest in renewing the nation’s efforts to finally, at long last, put racism in its past. The effort needs a new beginning.

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Obama: Everyman’s Whipping Boy

Posted July 28, 2014 on 11:37 pm | In the category Canada, Germany, Obama, Republican Party, U.S. Domestic Policy, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

O-Bama, O-Bama, Wherefore Art Thou?

That is the question that many of us ask, but when we do we must also ask: what kind of country has the U.S. become and why are we unhinged in so very fundamental ways.  The previous entry on this blog by my pals from the friendly North is representative of what seems to me to be a lack of understanding (or empathy? God help us) of just what it is we are suffering through down here in the arid, thought-deficient South.

But let’s begin with our Northern pals’ comments. Right out of the chute (a Calgary rough rider reference, we should note) they wonder whether Obama is the least trusted president in recent memory. As my old Mom would have said, “are you kidding me? have you gone bonkers?” There was for instance “W” and his merry gang of thieves and eejits, led by the estimable Vice, Cheney. All they did was torture people all over the planet, with the help of countries like Germany – just to name one-  start a war on a lie (aided in a somewhat clumsy perhaps accidental way by German Intel), kill ca. 4500 NATO troops (most American but also Canadians, Germans etc.), kill ca 100,000+++ Iraqis, send 200,000+ Iraqis into refugee status, and empower a Shia dictator-to-be to screw Sunnis and Kurds in  whatever way he can thus producing a seemingly perpetual civil war which we are now – too late again – recognizing as a – well, problem.  I could go back further to Reagan and his criminal work with the Contras and Iran, or even Nixon – remember him? Trustworthy guys, eh?

Then we have the concern that Canada – our best friend to the north of us – supposedly moving away from us with the indisputable fact that our ambassadors are not top drawer. Without making a huge point of it, Bush appointed former Massachusetts Governor Paul Cellucci as ambassador and frankly his best strength was his wife, a bright, articulate librarian at Boston College before she agreed to sacrifice a life in a real city for duty in Ottawa. Fact is that Canada has not had a real U.S. Ambassador for over thirty years and even then they got a guy with blood on his hands. And I do not here discuss the Keyspan pipeline, aka, the Pipe of American Death and Canadian Profit.

And yes, we are reluctant to build a bridge from Detroit to Windsor – but is Obama to blame? I remind those who live in a Parliamentary political system that we have a system of “checks and balances” which has ensured in this time that nothing can ever happen. We live in a Kafka novel.  It is not fair to blame Obama for the failures of a Republican party that has decided not to participate in governance. I know not whether it is because he is black or a democrat or just whether the republicans have drunk the kool aid — what i know is that nothing happens, nothing can be done, and every bad fking thing that happens in the world is presented as the fault of the black American Democrat – and democratically elected – – president.  When considering anything that involves expenditures of federal money always look at congress and specifically the House of Representatives.. They have broken my country and are traitors to the core interests of our country.

Now, onto the unpleasant fact that we are listening to everyone’s phone calls and reading everyone’s emails, including Frau Merkel’s….On one level it is simple to say that of course we spy on Germany  – they are an important player – and that is what intel services do. Alas there are issues of trust – and issues of competence.. When i read about the spying on Merkel I thought that – well – ok, but why are you listening to MY calls and reading MY emails? Obama has clearly been sucked into the security organizations’ thinking and that is not a good reflection on his judgment. The CIA has – at best – a questionable record and that a President with a background in constitutional law would do what he has done is more than very troubling.

But for we who live in this country the mood of the people is more troubling. There is a strange and nasty beast out there and it is ignorant, stupid, lazy and ugly and it blames Obama for everything wrong in its  world. So more of this in the future. More on President Obama’s failures, Congress’s complicity, and the failure of the American people to grasp and deal with reality. It is, alas, a rich subject.

 

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Hucksters and Suckers: The Politics of Healthcare in America

Posted November 20, 2013 on 10:13 am | In the category Healthcare, Obama, Politics, Press, Republican Party, Tea Party | by Jeff

For over four years we have been barraged with misinformation, disinformation, lies, and misrepresentations by the Republican party, its politicians and media hacks that has apparently convinced many Americans that a national attempt to bring down costs of health care AND to make it available to all is a bad thing.

America has the most expensive health care system in the Western world, with per capita costs 25 to 300% higher than other Western democracies’ plans. While one might assume that we get better results, one would be mistaken. Bloomberg News did a ranking of national Healthcare systems using data from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Health organization and the Hong Kong Dept, of Health (for Asian data). For any American who has bothered to look at facts beyond the political game shows played on their local TVs, the results are not surprising. The U.S. spends over $8500 per capita on health care; this is almost 4 times what Israel spends; almost 8 times what Hong Kong spends, almost three times what Italy spends, etc. See the chart at Bloomberg News.

There is no country that spends more but there is a boatload of countries that while spending less, get equal or even better results. The statistics for all of this are readily available to both American voters AND their congressional representatives and Senators. Bloomberg News’ study ranked the U.S. at 46th among nations for the effectiveness of their healthcare system. Among the countries ahead of them in the rankings were all the Western European countries, most of the advanced Asian countries, and some surprises that included Libya(!), Israel, Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela, Canada, Turkey, the Czech Republic and the list goes on. Every part of the world except most of Africa (beyond Libya) is represented. It is – and continues to be – for the U.S., a national disgrace.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) – dubbed “Obamacare” by Republican and Tea Party hacks, is an approach to a problem that was clearly out of control. Costs were becoming prohibitive, significant parts of the population were unable to obtain affordable insurance, people with chronic, serious diseases were unable to get insurance, people that got sick soon found themselves dropped by their insurance companies and medical expenses became the most frequent driver of personal bankruptcies.

In this context the Republican party has spent the past four years lying about the ACA, promoting scare stories about its content, insulting in almost racist terms the President who initiated the plan, – in short doing everything possible to make the plan fail while presenting NO alternative plan. It has been a criminal – even traitorous – approach abetted by all Republicans, even those so-called guardians of moderation like Susan Collins of Maine. The lies have been obvious, easy to disprove by simple fact-checking, but abetted by a supine press willing to pass on the nonsense and lies without vetting or comment. The press should be ashamed for treating an issue of such fundamental importance to the public good as a crass political game.

This could not happen without a population too lazy and/or too stupid to seek and care about the truth, and a political party that has no interest in governing the country for the good of the country.. We are a country of hucksters and suckers.

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Canucks cruise into offshore power

Posted October 13, 2013 on 1:27 am | In the category Canada, Immigration, Obama, Tea Party, U.S. Domestic Policy, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

September was one of the finest months for Canadians to demonstrate their rising power in the arena of foreign politics. The US government has shut down through the monty pythonish behaviour of  the so-callled pillars of democracy. John Cleese, where are you when the Ministry of Silly Walks would represent a  a crucial place  of stability and order in the otherwise dysfunctional pecking order of Washington D.C.?  I’ll tell you where you could ussefully demonstrate your walks.   Take a stroll  on the floor of the US Senate for 25 hours with Canadian-born Senator Tom Cruz, an expat Canadian currently living in Texas.   You could follow him as he paced about telling  you everything he knows about the awful socialist, maybe even Commie health care system in his northern  homeland, where every citizen – even Cruz, should he ever visit his homeland  – has the absolute right to free medical care, no matter who they are and what they earn.  And amazingly, he seems to know absolutely  nothing and says he didn’t even realize he was a citizen of another country, which disqualifies him from becoming US president.  He also says that he is ready  to replace President Obama, but looks like foreign affairs won’t be his strong suit.  Instead he rambled on about everything under  the sun except the tiny little step towards some sort of sanity that Obamacare would bring to the  the US medical system, which  as it is is adequate  for most of the middle and great for the upper class and non-existent for something like 45 million US citizens, who have no insurance at all if  they have any medical problem.

Meanwhile in another election in a far-off universe, the people of the Republic of Austria went to the polls, and gave a new party named after and led by Canadian auto-parts magnate Frank Stronach almost 10% of the vote.  His main strength  seemed to lie in the feeling that anybody from  a place like Canada would have to be a better leader than anyone currently involved in the chaotic dysfunctional political climate of the splendid imperial city of Vienna.   As if to prove the point, the major  right wing party received 21 % of the vote in Austria while the one with similar views on immigration and the European Union in Germany   received an almost invisible  percentage of the votes in last month’s German election, coming nowhere near the 5%  needed for entering parliament. So what do we make of it.  In a single month  a Canadian wins the Nobel Prize for Literature, another one  becomes a political force to be reckoned with in Austria, and a third one is a major mover and shaker  in the self-inflicted shutdown of the US government and considers himself to be a dark horse shot for President.  Watch out!   From Vienna to Stockholm to Washington D.C.  The Canuck are coming, the Canucks are coming!  If only they would take on Ottawa next.

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Strange Bedfellows

Posted September 3, 2013 on 3:55 pm | In the category McCain, Obama, syria, U.S. Foreign Policy, Uncategorized | by Jeff

The weird new Bromance between President Obama and John McCain surged (so to speak) over the weekend as they agreed to a general strategy over Syria. This after everyone’s (except my) favorite cranky uncle, Joe Lieberman, reminded us of the importance of bombing something, anything, anytime something happens in the Middle East. This morning we find that Speaker of the House John Boehner is also supporting Obama’s plan for intervening in Syria. So for the first time in his presidency Obama has the support of Republican leaders – although Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell might be holding out. One might think that Obama would give pause to the source of his support, but it appears this train of battle has virtually left the station.

But the fundamental issue of whether such action is in our national interest – and whether it can do anything but harm – seems to have been skipped over to become now a struggle for political support in the Congress, regardless of the quality of the basic decision and regardless of the judgment of the American people. There seems to be no doubt that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons against its own people and this time it is seen to qualify for a military response, while the 100,000 plus earlier deaths by other means did not.

So far there has been only vague lip service given to whether it serves our long term strategic interests to get involved. There are comments to the effect that if we do not do something we will lose prestige, but with whom, and so what? There is also fear that the President will lose personal prestige because he drew the “red line” and now must respond regardless of any collateral damage to our interests. The talk shows on Sunday were all focused on what kind of military response is needed – how robust, how long, what targets, etc. The issue of WHETHER we should do something has been pushed aside and now we focus on the process of gaining political cover for the decision from the Congress.

The role of the press has been largely reactive, focusing on process issues rather than substantive strategic concerns. One exception was the appearance of John Mearsheimer on the PBS Newshour Monday night. He argued convincingly that the U.S. does not have a central strategic concern in Syria, that if we get involved we will likely suffer unpleasant consequences in the future, that we really have no idea what kind of government we would end up with in Syria if Assad is driven out and that our track record when getting involved in the region is a miserable failure. As for the moral case, it is not America’s job to be a kind of global moral force, given our own record in places like Vietnam, Chile, Nicaragua, Iran, Iraq – even Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Obama may have wanted a working relationship with the Republicans for lo the past 5 years, but this smacks of his going away from some core American values in search of love in all the wrong places.

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Speak loudly and carry a tiny little stick

Posted September 2, 2013 on 3:31 pm | In the category Europe, Germany, Middle East, Obama, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

Now let’s get this straight. Ten years ago, the neatly attired Secretary of State of the United States told the UN Security Council that his security experts had definite proof that the nasty Arab dictator of Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that council should therefore  approve a military action that would remove them from his control. Okay that turned out to be a fib – there were no such weapons and it may even be that the poor secretary didn’t know it – and the results are very much central to the problems of the middle east today. Iraq is a dangerous place, its minorities have fled or are hidden in holes and the once legendary city of Bagdad is a disaster zone.  The nasty dictator was executed, but chaos rules in his absence and for the normal Iraquis, if they managed to survive the ensuing war, life is no better or worse than before.   My brother was at the Baltimore Ravens football game when that attack was announced by then President George Bush and explains  that the president waited until half time to announce the news on  the giant jumbo screen that the invasion had begun.  Didn’t want to interrupt the game when it was on.  The 80,000 spectators cheered.

Now we have the next president announcing in best sports lingo that he was drawing a line in some kind of sand (beach volleyball?) and if anyone dared venture  over that  he would take out his big stick and thump them, just like the Ravens’ defense did that afternoon a decade ago.  Now it seems clear that somebody did  that recently by throwing poison gas across the line, and the current Secretary of State, very nattily attired,  is haunting the talk shows to announce that the security aces of the United States, who know everything about you, also know who is guilty of crossing the red line, namely the nasty dictator of Syria this time.  He denies it, though it may well be the case, but it is not yet proven and the Iraqui past haunts this present like a ghost.  The powerful president of Russia says he doesn’t believe it ,  and then the British parliament cut down their prime minister at the knees by voting against his decision to join the attack with the US, apparently forgetting that in the UK the Parliament has to approve such an action.  The Prime Minister of Canada, which did not join the attack on Iraq,  says he is a”reluctant convert” to this one (whatever that means), and won’t contribute any military help.  Germany says it will never join a military action not sanctioned by an international body like the UN (as they well know,this one doesn’t have a chance there).  Even Israel is not taking sides on this one, afraid of the results of any such invasion, no matter who wins.  The only real military power answering the call to use the big stick is France, which, according to Secretary of State Kerry, is the longest-standing ally of the US.  (He said that with a straight face, but many thought he remembered the French contributions in the Second World War,  Vietnam, NATO, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. and meant it ironically).

And now the wielder of the big stick has run for cover and suddenly announced he will wait for approval from a Congress which won’t be able to deal with that for some weeks.  Obama will be meeting with Putin in a couple of days at a G-20 conference in St. Petersburg. As  a warm-up to the reception he will receive in St. Petersburg, he will spend his first European night in Stockholm where the frosty fall nights are already  well underway. Needless to say Sweden will not be supporting an attack on Syria.  When he sits down with  Putin, he must be prepared for the following difficult questions.  1. What will he do if the US congress does  not support him, as happened in the UK to the now lame duck PM Cameron?  It is clear that there is substantial bipartison opposition to the Obama attack proposal, though it seems  likely to pass.  2. Just how does he imagine  the attack?  Most observers think it can only be a brief attack on military targets, airfields , strategy centres,barracks, etc. The Syrian government now will have ample time to remove much of value from such targets in the next weeks.   Cruise missles are very accurate but not 100%, and any variance will inevitably land on civilians.  Is the US prepared for the reaction of the Moslem world if that happens?  3. Worst of all, has the US considered what the  consequences would be if the security information, much of it apparently gathered by tapped telephone calls, turns out to be planted information by the other side, a standard spy-ploy. Many suspect that’s what the Russians suspect – they are no novices at that – and it is not inconceivable.  What if it turns out the US with unmanned drones bombed the wrong targets in another legendary Middle-Eastern city out there in the cradle of civilization.  4. And finally, how does the US imagine the reaction  in the Arab world after an attack.

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Obama prepares for War

Posted August 30, 2013 on 4:34 pm | In the category Obama, syria, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

“Political realism refuses to identify the moral aspirations of a particular nation with the moral laws that govern the universe. …All nations are tempted — and few have been able to resist the power for long — to clothe their own aspirations and action in the moral purposes of the universe. …There is a world of difference between the belief that all nations stand under the judgment of God, inscrutable to the human mind, and the blasphemous conviction that God is always on one’s side and that what one wills oneself cannot fail to be willed by God also.”
― Hans J. Morgenthau

Morgenthau’s comments (above) are useful reminders of some of the realities in play as the United States stands on the threshold of using military force in Syria.

Morgenthau was driven out of America’s foreign policy establishment because of his disapproval of America’s folly in Vietnam and some 10 years later when – after some 58,000 American and over a million Vietnamese deaths – Morgenthau turned out to be right, we walked away from the war while one of its last main architects, Henry Kissinger, stayed on as Secretary of State until 1977. Today Vietnam is a favorite stopover for American tourists.

The lessons of Vietnam lingered until the early 2000’s when the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center opened a Pandora’s Box of national self pity, false belief in America’s omnipotence, and a belief that we know how to help other countries move toward re-inventing themselves in our image.

We went into Afghanistan originally to seek revenge for the 9-11 attacks and in a short period drove the Taliban into a relatively short-lived exile, installing in its place our almost comically corrupt ally, Hamid Karzai as President. But almost at once, the George Bush administration saw 9-11 as an excuse to do something neocons had wished for some time – the removal of Saddam Hussein from the world stage. There is no need to review the fiasco that became the Iraq War, nor its dreadful consequences. The decision to invade Iraq was built at least partially on the delusions that we were doing God’s work in bringing democracy to Iraq, that Saddam was an evil person that we needed to punish, and that we would easily carry the day. Today Iraq has an ongoing civil war, lacks democratic ideals, is unable to function even as well as it had under Saddam, and thousands of American troops and millions of Iraqis, have died or suffered irreparable damage.. If that is not enough, we can reflect on the results of over ten years’ effort to bring democracy to Afghanistan.

But here we are, trying to figure out the best way to punish the president of a country who has done something of which we disapprove and on the other hand wondering how best to help countries, including Syria move toward “democracy”.

President Assad of Syria is a nasty person and his apparent use of chemical weapons on his own people is a despicable act. But does it really warrant a military intrusion by the U.S.? Or, more importantly, is it in our national interest to intervene militarily in a civil war in which we do not have anyone to support, that we know that the rest of the world does not support our getting involved, and that the only American support for getting involved rests with the same tired, old neocons and internationally naive warriors like Senators McCain and Graham. I see nothing good coming from this unless you count Obama’s polishing his power credentials as worth the present and likely future costs. It is perhaps useful to remember that the chemical attack killed ca. 1000 civilians, the more traditional and “acceptable” weaponry like bombs, shrapnel, bullets, etc. have killed upwards of 100,000 Syrians. Dead is dead, whether by chemical or bomb, or bullet and there is considerable recent evidence that whenever we get militarily involved in that part of the world we make matters worse. (It is instructive to remember our complicity in Saddam’s use of chemical warfare on Kurds in 1988 – go to the link for more detail). The immediate result of U.S. bombing in Syria would be to add to the dead. We can only guess at the long-term results but might reflect on life in Iraq today for some suppositions.

Today it seems that the administration has decided to intervene in Syria in some way and is putting together a rationale to support a decision already made but apparently based on our God given right to punish sinners and not on America’s core national interests.

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