Wednesday, September 17, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 15, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Sunday, September 14, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, this was Fox Nation late last month:

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

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

Saturday, September 13, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 12, 2014


In The New York Times today, Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman and the Times Editorial Board assert that we're in a legal and constitutional crisis because President Obama seems likely to ramp up military action against ISIS without getting Congress's explicit approval. I understand that the Authorization for the Use of Military Force drawn up right after the 9/11 attacks doesn't really apply to a group that didn't exist in 2001, and that's in conflict with Al Qaeda. I understand that what the president plans to do will take ongoing military action past the deadline imposed by the 1973 War Powers Act.

But America is a failed state now, so I have to confess that I'm struggling to care.

Let me address one objection from the main Times editorial:
By avoiding responsibility, [lawmakers in Congress] allow President Obama free rein to set a dangerous precedent that will last well past this particular military campaign.
I don't think that matters. The Bush administration wiped its keister with the Constitution and didn't need any "dangerous precedent" to do so, just an overabundance of unmitigated gall. After that, I have no doubt that the next Republican president -- and quite possibly the next Democratic one -- would ignore our legal framework for war-making even if this followed eight years of Obama respecting every word of the Constitution and the law, even the Congress-declares-war provision that was last properly observed in 1942.

A key issue here is that we have one political party that has deliberately chosen to render America's government unable to function as long as a Democrat sits in the Oval Office. Ackerman says that "leaders of both parties have signaled a willingness to engage in a serious debate" on this matter. Yeah? Really? If Ackerman's definition of "leaders" is "titular leaders," then I think he's missed a few transmissions from Republican Zealot Central. I don't care what John Boehner thinks -- what does Ted Cruz think? Are he and his posse going to demand the repeal of Obamacare and the construction of a Great Wall of the Rio Grande in order to allow a vote on the president's plan?

I'd add that America doesn't really believe in the nation's war-making law in any case. All the talk leading up to the president's speech on Wednesday concerned what Obama would do about ISIS, not what the government as a whole would do. If there's a vote and it fails, Ron Fournier will tell us that Congress has absolutely no responsibility for what happens next, because the president could have won the vote if he'd led harder.

If Republicans in Congress resist voting (see that Jack Kingston quote) and resist working with president, then we have a non-functioning government, and that's the real constitutional crisis.

In the mid-1980s, I worked in what I gradually realized was an irreversibly dysfunctional division of an otherwise solid company. A situation like that prompts two responses: at first you try to do other people's jobs for them, and then eventually you just do your job and wait for the whole thing to collapse (or you don't even bother to do that much). To me, America increasingly feels like that job. These days, the president often seems as if he's moved on to Response #2, but on ISIS he's chosen Response #1.

I'd be in favor of a properly hashed-out, fully constitutional response, but there's no reason to think it's possible. So somebody has to step up.

You know what we always learn when Americans are asked what should be done about the federal budget: they want budgets to be balanced, they hate hate hate deficits, but give them a list of programs to cut and they're unswervingly opposed to cutting anything (entitlements, defense) that's actually a significant part of the budget. At most, they're in favor of taxing the rich more (which would help reduce deficits and debt, but wouldn't be enough on its own), and they want to cut foreign aid (which is a tiny sliver of the budget). In fact, they usually want to increase spending programs.

I'm starting to think that's where we are with regard to ISIS-- we have a public that wants the impossible. From a New York Times roundup of opinions from ordinry citizens:
Yet even as Mrs. Anderly wanted to "bomb the hell" out of the militants, she was uncomfortable with a protracted campaign.

"We've been doing this for 11 years. Another three years? We’re not supposed to be a war nation; we're not Rome."
"We really don't want to get bogged down in another war," said Mr. Marsette, who faults Mr. Obama for "just sitting back" while ISIS grew. "Before it grows too big," he said, "there has to be some kind of action."
Well, sir, we are where we are. What are we going to do now? Bitch about what we think should have been. And now we should kick ass -- but not in a long-term, burdensome way.

But if the president's response to these conflicting, contradictory demands is a containment plan rather than an all-out war plan, and someone in the adminstration acknowledges that what we're planning falls short of full-scale war, then Fox is going to flip out in response to that, and Americans are going to grumble some more.

It's too bad the wars in Grenada and Panama were so quick, as was Gulf War I. Twenty and thirty years later, we're still spoiled. Even after the past thirteen years, we're still longing for a rapid little war. So the president and his team shouldn't do stupid stuff, but they may have to say some stupid stuff, just to mollify the public.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


Charlie Pierce today:
What happened in New York 13 years ago deranged a nation that was almost begging to be deranged. The Soviet Union was gone. Grenada, Panama, the First Gulf War, the Balkans, in all these places where we made war, we had what were essentially walkover victories. We had no geopolitical enemies, no country strangling our trade, or impressing our seamen, or bombing our Pacific fleet, or pointing nuclear missiles at our cities any more. Then the planes hit the towers, and the towers came down, and we had an enemy again. We declared war on a tactic. We declared war on "terror." ... Then, we elected a new president, and the new president extricated us from the occupation of Iraq, and from whatever the hell we were doing in Afghanistan.... But the war on the tactic never ended because it cannot end. You cannot defeat "terror," because it has too many allies, some of them in your own government.... War against someone, war against something, somewhere, anywhere, is one of the last unifying elements in a country that was encouraged by both its declared antagonists, and by far too many people within its own government, to become deranged.
Well, you can tell how ready we were to be deranged just by looking at that list of "walkover victories" and recalling how seriously we took most of those enemies. Ronald Reagan had us persuaded that it had been necessary to invade Grenada because it might have become a launchpad for Soviet nuclear missiles, via an airport he described as "suspiciously suitable for military aircraft," even though a World Bank study had encouraged runway expansion and Canada, Mexico, and contractors from Britain and the U.S. were involved in the financing and construction. George H.W. Bush called Panama's Manuel Noriega "an outlaw in the world community" and all but suggested that he was singlehandedly responsible for the fact that some Americans used illegal drugs. Poppy Bush also told us before the first Gulf War that Saddam was worse than Hitler.

There wasn't much talk like that with regard to the Balkans -- recent Democratic presidents haven't been very good at that type of tough talk. But the Gipper/Poppy wars made clear Americans are all too willing to be worked up into a state of derangement, on the flimsiest of pretexts -- and if there's no actual foreign foe, we'll fear invasions of violent illegal immigrants or marauding thugs marching en masse from the ghettos to the suburbs or whatever the hell the NRA wants to scare us with in order to loosen gun laws further. So, yeah, when a real attack happened, the level of derangement was, inevitably, quite severe.

One line in President Obama's speech last night led to eye-rolling from Think Progress and Bill Kristol alike:
This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.
Juan Cole, however, thinks that's a sign that the president is talking about containment rather than war, and may be correct to do so:
What if Obama wants to prevent the fall of Baghdad, Erbil and even Riyadh? What if he is privately skeptical about Baghdad recovering Mosul any time soon? ...

The best that can be said for US actions against AQAP in Yemen is that they may have forestalled AQAP and kindred groups from taking and holding some provinces. For instance, AQAP took over Zinjibar and some other towns in Abyan Province in 2011, but in 2012 a government offensive backed by US air power and aided by grassroots anti-al-Qaeda popular committees expelled AQAP from Abyan....

Obama hinted in his speech that he wants to help Baghdad and Erbil take back towns from ISIL just as Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, the president of Yemen, took back Zinjibar. And just as AQAP hasn’t disappeared in Yemen, Obama expects ISIL to be around for a while. In essence, the Yemen policy has de facto yielded a sort of containment with regard to AQAP, though how successful it will be in the long run can be questioned.

What if Obama is a sharper reader of the Middle East than his critics give him credit for? He knows ISIL is likely not going away, just as, after 13 years, the Taliban have not. US military action may even prolong the lifetime of these groups (that is one argument about AQAP) even as it keeps them from taking more territory.

Don’t listen to his expansive four-stage program or his retooled, stage-managed John Wayne rhetoric. Look at his metaphors. He is telling those who have ears to hear that he is pulling a Yemen in Iraq and Syria. He knows very well what that implies. It is a sort of desultory, staccato containment from the air with a variety of grassroots and governmental forces joining in. Yemen is widely regarded as a failure, but perhaps it is only not a success. And perhaps that is all Obama can realistically hope for.
Obama's job is not to try to rid the world of evil. Obama's job is to protect America and U.S. interests. With regard to ISIS, that means curtailing the group's ability to be a threat to our country and our interests. If Cole is right, and if something like this gets Obama's actual job done, I'd prefer that to a bloodlust-satisfying full-on quagmire of a war that inflames our enemies and inspires ISIS's current enemies in the Arab/Muslim world to rally around the group. Please read Kurt Eichenwald in Newsweek on the subject of how many people hate ISIS -- but hate the U.S. more, and might become ISIS fans out of anger at us. (Hat tip: Tom Ferrio in comments.)