Reality Show

March 7, 2009

Have you heard of the newest reality show? You may be surprised to find out that you and everyone you know is starring in it. The show has been broadcast on NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, and FOX, and started the moment Barack Obama was elected president and began naming his cabinet nominees. Political observers point to previews that were already playing during the campaign as proof that this is the reality game that we’ve been waiting for.

The reality show host, none other than the very famous Barack Obama, promised change that we could believe in. After a financial meltdown and economic reverberations that are generating some of the highest viewership in over a quarter of a century, the stars of the show (people across this great big country of ours) are giving a big thumbs up to the new rules of the game, which were shared in a recent prime time  announcement on network television broadcast from the Capitol Building.

Despite going head to head with radio host Rush Limbaugh– the newly crowned titular head, so called,  of the Republican party–the Obama show’s host has positive ratings. In fact, President Obama’s positive ratings remain over 60%. This despite a more than 31% drop in the Dow Jones since election day. Under George W. Bush, the Dow Jones dropped from a springtime high of 13,058 on May 2nd, 2008 to 9,625 on November 4th, 2008, election day. That was a 26% drop. It can be reasonably argued that Obama and his proposals have done more to scare the markets than the credit meltdown did under Bush. (And, we haven’t hit bottom yet).

The as yet unnamed Obama show, (New Deal, Fair Deal, Great Society — they’ve been used before), is fulfilling its promise as a thrilling, hope-filled viewing experience.

The props for Obama’s reality ride include a plummeting financial landscape, an economic bounce house, looming deficits that are guaranteed to outlast your new new energy saving government subsidized water heater, and a wildly anticipated wheelspin called “Global Warming.”

Change we can believe in. Change we’ve been waiting for. (Can we just change the channel?) I know the kind of change I’d believe in and am waiting for, and it’s not the change in leadership that we experienced in 2006, when the Democrats took over both houses of Congress and again in 2008, when “B. (the change)” Obama won the White House. Yes, we needed change from the Bush years and the disappointing Republican Congress, but the changes we’ve seen in the past 2 years have not inspired confidence.

Fellow game players, in the past 2 years, we have kicked off the island experienced leaders that we didn’t like very much and installed inexperienced leaders who are undergoing their very first tests right now.

Obama, a politician who until January 20th had virtually no administrative experience, only 2 years of actual of experience in the US Senate (before becoming a full time presidential campaigner), and a grand total of 12 years as an elected official– 5 less than Sarah Palin–  does not seem to value experience. Despite his thin resume, he started running for president as a youthful 45 year old. To inspire confidence in his ability to handle the financial and economic crises facing the nation, Obama installed a Treasury Secretary who, while widely praised for his intelligence and understanding of the problems on Wall Street,  cheated the IRS out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. This became known only when the Senate began to check out his past before affirming him. Incidentally, Treasury Secretaty Timothy Geithner is now in charge of the IRS.

Let’s not dwell too much on the economy though. In addition to financial and economic woes, we are still up to our ears in defending the free world from terrorist attempts to unhinge it. (In last year’s reruns, you can see how they used to refer to this as the War on Terror). In a wonderfully illustrative break from the past,  Obama’s new CIA director has absolutely no intelligence experience at all, and his new Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has very little foreign policy experience. Foreign leaders are, no doubt, salivating over the opportunities this long awaited change will afford them. In this respect, Obama is the hope they’ve been waiting for.

In some respects, “Nobody messes with” Joe Biden may be the events promoter with the best understanding of this new reality show we’re all participants in. Even more prophetic than Al Gore– well, that remains to be seen in this, the coldest, snowiest 2 year period in decades– Joe predicted with confidence that Obama will be “tested” by foreign governments within his first 6 months in office. That hasn’t happened yet, but provided it does, the game will get very real, very fast.

Conspiracy Theorists Need Huddle NOW

April 29, 2007

As with the “otherwise impossible to explain” collapse of the Twin Towers on September 11th, the collapse of the San Fran – Oakland bridge connector must have been caused by carefully placed explosives. Calif. interchange collapses after fire I suppose Rosie O. would explain it that way…perhaps the Zionists concocted a phony gas truck explosion to make it look more plausible that the WTC really could have collapsed as a result of a near fully fueled jet crashing into it at full force. Yes, and maybe those Internet idiots and the Hllywd crowd that believes them will reconsider? Nah. They would then have to admit that their loony land conspiracy theories are flimsy and that their intellects are infected with unaborted emotions, left over from the earliest stages of their still ongoing adolescence. More loonyness, or is this real? Oh, I’m so confused!

Make Your Choice

October 19, 2006

It’s just overwhelming. The newsmedia has outdone itself this election season with the most thorough news creation in a century. Unhindered by diverse and honest thought (thanks to the death of competition in the print media that began in the 1970’s and continues to this day) and unhinged by a liberal bias so fervent that it might be confused with religiosity, the newsmedia is daily adding to an impressive political fiction of its own making.

It is no longer an intellectual question as to whether the press made much more of the Mark Foley affair because he is a Republican. The press characterized the story using unfounded data, charging that Foley flirted with an 16 year old page when in fact the page was 18 and no longer a minor– a small point on the surface, but which gives a tinge of the sinister to the otherwise seedy tendancy of the closeted gay Congressman . The press fueled the flames of controversy by amplifying calls for Dennis Hastert’s resignation, a suggestion that was purely political (but not identified as such) and which had the effect of rocking the Republicans back on their heels just weeks before the November elections. At best this was done to sell papers. At worst it was done to highlight the hopes of Democrat leaning journalists and create a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is likely that the truth lies with both possibilities: the left leaning journalists can’t help themselves, while their bottom line oriented publishers salivate over attention-grabbing controversial headlines.

 Do you recall when Ted Kennedy got drunk at a party and caused the death of his secretary at Chappaquiddek in 1969? The only sound heard was the pin drop of compassion, sympathy, and maybe a tinkle of handwringing. Where was the outrage then? Where were the calls for resignation?

I won’t predict whether or not the Republicans will hang on to their majorities in both houses, but I do think that their chances are being purposefully hindered in the mainstream press. The constantly reinforced messages of Republican defeat in the print, radio, and television media are almost deafening now, weeks before the first votes are to be cast.

Turn  down the din. Listen to your own heart and your own mind. Vote your conscience and make your choice.

Neither the Democrats or Republicans are completely united respectively on any of the big issues, but there are discernable differences between the two parties, nonetheless. In essence, the Democrats wish to change some aspect of our handling the Iraq insurgency so that they can prove that President Bush’s strategy is flawed. Listening carefully to a number of their candidates, it is unclear whether they would draw down the troops and bring them home, re-deploy them to places in the world where they are not needed, or, illogically, re-deploy them in Afghanistan in direct contradiction to the strategy of NATO. There is no other meaningful plank that the Democrats are presently putting forth. The Democrats represent the anti-Bush vote, pure and simple.

The Republicans are running around with their heads cut off as well, although they will support President Bush who sticks stubbornly to the only war and peace plan that has half a chance of succeeding: Congeal the forces of terrorism in one region where we can more or less identify, battle, and contain them.  It’s unpleasant stuff, but there isn’t a better alternative that has been suggested by anyone. Not a one. While there have been numerous and significant tactical mistakes in this war, historical context reminds us that this is the first war of modern terrorism we have engaged in– mistakes and adjustments are to be expected.

What will Americans wake up to if the Democrats oust the Republicans from leadership? Many of you already realize that we will not look very different in 2008 than we do now. One thing for sure is that we will not pull out of Iraq if the Democrats are elected to a majority or to majorities. Legislative action, which has been hampered for the past 6 years, will continue to be hampered, but the focus of Congress will shift from one of mere stagnation and counterbalancing to one of aggressive political warfare against the Bush administration. The politics of division, which were codified and laminated by the election debacle of 2000, will contine to be unerasable from the American psyche, held hostage by an increasingly hostile and ill-civilized left wing of the political spectrum.

Foley’s follies

October 5, 2006

Republican Congressman Foley’s emerging desire to flip young pages is a real headline grabber. It reminds us all that hypocrisy can rear its ugly head in the strangest places. What makes the story juicy is Foley’s two-faced leaderhip in an area of law that directly impacts his own fate. Foley is a Florida Republican who felt compelled to resigned when ABC News made it clear that they had the goods on him. The most important part of the story, however, is the fact that Foley’s seat, once assured, is now in question. Conceivably, Foley’s seat could affect the outcome of the race for majority party in the House.

The Democrats are trying hard to turn Foley’s unhealthy (and possibly illegal) behavior into a national referendum on Republican morality. Dennis Hastert, Republican House Majority Leader, is being pressured to own up to his part in Foley’s misadventures. It is alleged that Hastert had inside information on Foley’s behavior long before it came to light last week. If this is proven to be true, then Hastert should step down as majority leader and he ought to be rebuked. Given that there is no known smoking gun, however, the cry for Hastert’s head must be seen for what it is: a cheap attempt by Democrats and the media to smear the Republicans at election time by implicating Hastert in a coverup.

The Democrats should show some restraint here, for you never know what skeletons lie under their rug. It doesn’t impress independents in the least when Democrats behave so opportunisitically. It rather confirms the argument that they will do anything to get elected, and that they simply don’t have better ideas.

Republican leaders need to show some dignity, as well. When their sound bites merely pay the toll (by repeating over and over again how “disgusting” Foley’s electronic messages were and by assuring us that they are “disgusted” by Foley’s behavior with this young page) independents see their attempts to dig out as a caving in to their yappy yellow dog opponents and the media elites — certainly not a display of strength and cool under pressure.

Will Foley’s misbehavior (and not just its political consequences) matter anymore to Democrats and Republicans on November 8th? That’s the question we ought to be asking ourselves.

Election 2006

October 4, 2006

It is interesting (and even kind of amusing) to see the sharp uptick of newstories giving rise to a perception that there is damage on the Republican side of the fence. The Democrats are braying and kicking with all of their might (and the press is amplifying the screeches with a sense of delight as the November election beckons). Consider President Clinton’s angry interview with Chris Wallace, in which he is said to have surgically implanted “backbone” into Democrats who are waging war with the War on Terror.

True to type, the media has not focused on the veracity of the former President’s assertions, easy though they might be to verify, prove false, or ascribe ambiguity. Instead they are focused on Bill Clinton and his surprisingly pungent temper: “Was his temper tantrum pre-meditated?!” “Did he ‘serve it hot’ to Wallace the Younger to fire up Democratic voters?” Completely lost is a discussion on the merits of Clinton’s contention that he did as much as President Bush to get bin Laden.

In fact, it is hard to find any discussion at all on presidential intentions to ‘get’ bin Laden that are not colored by Bob Woodward’s new book: State of Denial: Bush at War. Excerpts from Woodward’s book point to an administration in disarray, a war effort that is destined for infamy by its blind conception, and urgent warnings about terrorism ignored.

It is hard for a fair minded and fair hearted person to believe that it’s all just a case of bad timing for Republicans. For, if it were, wouldn’t there be equally good tidings about the economy, with unemployment at near record low levels, inflation kept at bay for 5th year in a row, mortgage rates still in the 6% range, home ownership at record levels, the stock market hitting a new record high despite the trauma to our economy of 9/11 and a fourth straight year of war.

I see a fairly unified media message emerging in print, radio, and television: It’s that the Republicans are in trouble at a precarious time. They have attempted to establish that President Bush’s policies are a political liability for Republicans right now. Despite the picture the media is painting, polls show that Bush’s popularity is on a slight rise after a series of Trumanesque speeches making a case for his strategic gamble in the Mid-East, combined with a real-time demonstration of Islamic mal-intent in response to the Pope’s (decontextualized) remarks to a scholarly crowd in Germany, which seemed to affirm the direction if not the precise strategies that Bush is pursuing with respect to Islamo-facism.

It’s also kind of amusing to note that the conventional wisdom on Bush’s bump up is that it is due to decreasing gas prices. If that’s truly the case, we may surmise that President Clinton’s popularity– even during Monicagate and a miserly response to Islamo-facist terrorism at home and abroad– was due to $10/barrell oil.

Terrorism vs Warfare

August 3, 2006

The Iraq war has been contentious in the media for a number of reasons, not least of which is the opportunity for political polarization and controversy, which understandably enough is good for the old bottom line. Similarly, politicians have used the grist of controversy and doubt to further their own aims, temporarily forsaking the unity of purpose that existed for a brief moment after the terrorism of September 11th.

As young boomers, former hipsters, and want-to-be political activists across the political rainbow began to digest the highly enriched food for thought given in soundbites and news articles devoid of context and historical understanding, there began a significant expansion of tolerance for fringy explanations and analysis of history, warfare, decisions at the highest levels of government, and the overall temperment of our national leadership.

In hopes of establishing a more accurate definition of terrorism, I’d like to offer the following: terrorism refers to violent acts designed to increase the leverage of small non-state entities through notoriety, fear-spreading, and implicit threats of more destabilizing acts. States, on the other hand, that conduct violent, lawless acts against civilians or other armed players are committing military crimes, not terrorism. The difficulty in equating “terrifying acts” of terrorists and state actors (even when there is not that much discernable difference in the means) is partly due to the question of legitimacy and partly due to the infrastructure of the respective entities.

With respect to legitimacy, if a state conducts an act of war, the very nature of its internal support or international partnerships lends “legitimacy” to its acts; not that the military tactic is necessarily fair, or nice, or designed to engender a friendly response, but that it is designed to effectuate the ends of the will of the electorate, or, in the case of an unelected government, the will of a leadership that is driving the political and economic mechanisms that define that state in relation to other states.

Legitimacy is therefore conferred upon those entities that we do business with or conduct negotiations with or in some case even go to war with, not because their aims are seen as legitimate to us, but because we believe that there is a reasonable hope that they and we have some commonality of interests that may benefit both parties. Hence, the USA and Japan were negotiating right up to the time that Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in the hope that our competitor might see an advantage in subscribing to our view and reduce its aggressive strategy in the Pacific. The Japanese government was not a democratically elected one, its aims were directly antagonistic to our own, yet it was legitimate to talk with them because this was the least costly way available to us (in terms of money and lives) to communicate our goals with an entity that had the capacity to alter its own in response.

Was the American military action in Vietnam terrorism, as some would claim, simply by virtue of its unpopularity and generaly perceived lack of obvious and urgent necessity? Were the military actions of Nazi Germany with all of its collateral cruelty terrorism? One should legimately answer “no” to both questions, despite the temptation to ascribe the strongest descriptor to the means applied by both state actors. To do otherwise is unwise, because it equates the totality of motivation of states and terrorists. The actions taken by both states (legitimate or illegitimate depending upon your brand of nationalism) were militaristic and terrifying, especially to those they targeted, but they were not terrorism.

Very small non-state entities, like Hamas, or the Jewish extremist groups in 1946, do/did engage in terrorism, on the other hand. Terrorist groups of the Arabs and Jews held no legitimate status among non-local actors and were not equipped for other, non-military engagement, as states generally are. States, due to the necessity of trade and regional and international relations have certain pressures that constrain them, even as Germany would have been, had Chamberlain not bent his body forward in sublime submission. Palestinian Hamas’ was recently getting closer to negotiating with their sworn Zionist enemy, Israel, which prompted Lebanese Hamas/Hezbollah to change the subject. Had Palestinian Hamas engaged itself as a state actor, it would have done so in response to the pressures of statehood (i.e., the necessity of paying government workers who have been starved of wages for too long, as well as the necessity of trade and international aid, ect.

Hamas, a terrorist group that recently ducked under the alien roof of democratc government, began to bend further under the requirements of legitimacy. The roof is presently shattered. Because Palestine Hamas is not free of the influence of the non-state Syrian Hamas/Hezbollah leadership, their actions remain terrorism.

Terrorist groups have no diplomatic and relational pressures reining them in. This is the huge distinction between terrorist groups, such as Hezbollah or al-Qaeda, and militarily active nation-states. Since 9/11, pacifist activists have made the argument that any state that engages in military action is a terrorist state. This is simplistic and it tends to dilute the gravity of terrorist actions by eliminating a properly distinctive category for its reprehensible acts.

War is hell. It is even worse when civilians are purposefully targeted, regardless of who does it, but terrorists are not mainstream representatives of their nation’s people. If they were, they would become the government itself, as was not quite the case in Taliban Afghanistan or with Arafat’s PLO in Palestine. Consider this: When state entities act, the local, regional, and international communities may react and force concessions– remember South Africa before Nelson Mandela? When terrorists act, who exactly does the international community join forces against? It is much more complicated to coordinate anti-terrorist military moves than anti-state actions.

By definition, terrorist organizations are a very slippery target. No land to lose, no armies to target. That puts terrorists at a distinct advantage, and helps explain why they must be fiercely and mercilessly hunted. Too, because of the decentralized, confederated nature of terrorist groups, negotiation becomes a very tenuous and unreliable option for state actors. Governments and legitimate entities may negotiate, but terrorists don’t. The PLO ceased to be an official terrorist organization once they began talking to Israel—this was explicitly stated in the Oslo accords. Of course, the PLO’s subsequent actions betrayed their shallow “commitment” to a negotiated settlement, but this just punctuates the point that terrorists can not conduct meaningful negotiations until they lose the veil of illegitimacy. Obviously, Arafat could not be the negotiating partner for the Palestinians, because his support for terrorist actions did not dissipate, even as his international standing grew.

For talks between Palestinians and Israelis to be successful, someone who represents a larger segment of the Palestinian Arab population, and someone for whom ultimate ends are not achieved by ultimate means, but rather by negotiated means, must be empowered to speak on their behalf.

With regard to the argument that this is all a game of semantics and that the definable boundaries are, after all, flexible, I would say that it is a mistake to believe that we in the West do not possess the capability (or empathy) to understand the underlying motivations of terrorists, as if all of the wrongs perpetrated by the powerful upon the oppressed middle classes in developing countries have given rise to a new strain of necessity among the latter that we cannot understand.

That the oppressed and disappointed choose terrorism as their vehicle through the iron ceiling imposed upon them by thuggish dictators and kings is certainly an indicator of their feeling of powerlessness, but this recognition should not be used by Western elites to legitimize the actions of terrorists, nor should the definitions of patriots and freedom fighters be rewritten to accommodate such cowardice. Such an abdication of one’s duty to empathize honestly with the weak is patronizing to other cultures and indicates a debauched sensibility among those who have inherited great power, i.e., the West. In truth, those who would give condonation to terrorists have extremely low expectations of the middle class populations of color who have suffered oppression at the hands of their leaders. In another context, George W. Bush called it the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”

As it is, the media and university elites were until very recently treating Palestinian terrorism with a good deal of sympathy, while similar actions would be labeled as unforgivable if committed by Israelis. Ariel Sharon was excoriated as a brutal military leader who failed to stop the Lebanese massacre of Palestinians, as the man who brought the Intifada II to life by visiting the Temple Mount, and as the man who was bent on re-establishing permanent Israeli rule over the occupied territories. Arafat, on the other hand, was forgiven his role—indeed, it was rarely, if ever, mentioned—as the leader of the PLO that brought airline hi-jacking into being, that assasinated nine Israeli Olympians in Munich in 1972, and that hi-jacked the cruise ship Achille Lauro, tossing an elderly wheelchair bound Jew off the deck and into the sea. This forgiveness was extended by President Clinton, who welcomed Arafat, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, to the White House more than any other world figure during his 8 years in office.

We should substitute reasonable expectations of dignity and hope for the unlimited sympathy that is currently given by the scholarly and media elites. Case in point: Were Ghandi’s masses any less poor than the Palestinians? (In fact, they were much poorer!) Any less educated? Any less oppressed? Yet the burdened, oppressed masses of 20th century India were able to bring into being a revolutionary victory over a region many, many times larger against a foe infinitely stronger and more influential. Why are the Palestinians only “able” to respond with cowardly terrorism by “martyrs?” Well, for one, India had the great advantage that their spiritual and political inspiration was wielded by Ghandi, instead of the corrupt, dictatorial Arafat. It is a cruel irony that the most oppressive force that Palestinians face comes from within.

The terrorists of Al-Qaeda do not represent the interests of the Arab or Muslim populations—just their frustrations. Terrorism is not a legitimate form of action when it cannot lead to freedom and sustainability for the populations it claims to benefit. Therefore, it must not be tolerated or condoned. By the same token, brutal military actions of “legitimate” states that fail to meet the requirements and expectations of democratic and free populations are no more tolerable.

The emotion associated with issues of war and politics must be channeled properly in order to allow us to have intelligent discussions about issues of the day. The stakes are too high to continue placing our feet into the quick sand of true believership. The confusion of what constitutes terrorism is but one symptom of our slowly sinking reasoning power. It is time to reclaim our integrity, our realism, and our unlimited energy to light the world with the centuries old momentum toward a world of reason and hope.


August 3, 2006

My hope is that this blog will become a place where visitors and I will use reason, creativity, and cold blooded intelligence to clarify issues of the day. Please feel free to comment on the words you see posted herein and share them with your friends.