Category Archives: The World

About Giuliani calling Obama ‘anticolonial’

Tout le monde is distancing itself from Rudy Giuliani’s recent comments about POTUS at the 21 Club, including fellow Republicans.

And let me display my right-thinking bona fides by saying, Bad Rudy — BAD!

But I think he probably hit the mark, in one small respect, when defending himself later:

We are at risk of running out of dead horse to flog, but there’s one more aspect of former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani’s anti-Obama comments that’s worth isolating. Speaking with reporters from the New York Times, Giuliani denied that his statement that President Obama doesn’t love America was related in any way to the president’s race. “This isn’t racism,” Giuliani said. “This is socialism or possibly anticolonialism.”…

Not on the “socialism” part, but on the “anticolonialism” bit.

We’ve been here before. We had one heck of a lively discussion of this point back in 2010.

And on another occasion, I referred to it in the next-to-last bullet of this list I composed explaining all the ways that Obama is different, way different, from any previous president (in a piece headlined, “It’s not just that he’s black, because he isn’t“):

  • His name. “Barack Hussein Obama.” It’s extremely foreign. Set aside the connection with Islam and Arabic, and all the freight those carry at this point in history (such as the uncanny closeness to the name “Osama”), for a moment. Just in terms of being different, it’s easily light years beyond the name of anyone else who has even come close to occupying the Oval Office. The most exotic name of any previous president, by far, was “Roosevelt.” I mean, “Millard Fillmore” was goofy-sounding, but it sounded like an English-speaker. And I don’t think it was a coincidence that the first Catholic to receive a major party nomination had the vanilla/whitebread name “Al Smith.”
  • His father was a foreigner, regardless of his race. He was a man who spent almost none of his life in this country. He came here briefly, fathered a child, and went home. Show me the parallel to that in the biographies of former presidents.
  • While he never really knew his father (he had to learn about him at a distance, the way we learn about figures in history), he did know his stepfather, who was Indonesian. Young Barry spent a goodly portion of his childhood in Indonesia. In my earlier column I drew a parallel to my own childhood sojourn in South America, but I was there undeniably as an American. Barry Obama lived in SE Asia as an Indonesian, or as close to it as someone of Caucasian/African heritage could.
  • The fact that, to the extent that he is connected to African roots, it is a heritage that is totally divorced from most presidents’ sense of connection to Europe. I didn’t fully realize that until the Churchill bust episode, which caused some Brit to note something that hadn’t fully occurred to me: This is the first president the modern UK has had to deal with who doesn’t have the Special Relationship hard-wired into his sense of self, if not his genes. In fact, quite the contrary: Unlike any previous president (except maybe Kennedy, who spent his adult life living down his father’s pro-German sympathies leading up to WWII), Obama’s grandfather actually experienced political oppression at the hands of British colonialists.
  • His unearthly cool. His intellectual detachment, the sense he projects that he takes nothing personally. Weirdly, this takes a trait usually associated, in most stereotypical assumptions, with Northern Europeans, and stretches it until it screams. He looks at problems the way a clinical observer does. Probably more maddeningly to his detractors, he looks at his fellow Americans that way — as though he is not one of them; he is outside; he has something of the air of an entomologist studying beetles with a magnifying glass.

When I say different, I’m trying to explain the visceral response that so many have on the right to this president. You can see their brains going, he’s not one of us, and it’s something that goes way beyond his being biracial. He just has a really, really different background from any other American who has risen up to lead the country. And people who have more conventional, staid, less-interesting, dare I say boring, backgrounds can be put off by it. (Actually, much of Obama’s background causes me to identify with him — see, “Barack Like Me.” But my personal story isn’t nearly as interesting and unusual as his…)

Back to anticolonialism… While many top American political leaders may look askance at the colonial era, and sympathize with the colonized, none before now had VERY recent ancestors who were colonized, and therefore an identification with the nonEuropean point of view. And I think that makes a difference, for good or ill.

So I don’t think Giuliani was off the mark on that point, however bad what he did with it may be…

Peggy Noonan’s right: Recrimination is not a plan. It never was…

Meant to post this over the weekend, from Peggy Noonan’s latest column:

Everything’s frozen. When you ask, “What is the appropriate U.S. response to ISIS?” half the people in Washington answer: “ George W. Bush broke Iraq and ISIS was born in the rubble. There would be no ISIS if it weren’t for him.” The other half answer: “WhenBarack Obama withdrew from Iraq, ISIS was born in the vacuum. There would be no ISIS without him.”

These are charges, not answers, and they are getting us nowhere. Bitterness and begging the question are keeping us from focusing on what is. We’re frozen in what was….

Of course, that’s SOP in Washington in this generation.

Be sure to follow the link, and see King Abdullah all dressed up like a combat soldier, to let you know he’s serious

 

The play’s the thing: Help enrich the lives of Thai youth

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I mentioned yesterday about our plans to go visit our youngest daughter, who is in the Peace Corps in Thailand.

Today, I offer you the opportunity to help in one of the Peace Corps projects: The Thai Youth Theater Festival, a chance for kids in that country to attend “a three day festival of learning educational theater activities, developing their personal potential, and performing a performance for their audience in English.” The operative concepts being both cultural enrichment and becoming more conversant in English — which is helpful wherever you live in this world today.

I’ve chipped in, and if someone as tight-fisted as I am can do so, perhaps you will, too.

Anyway, here’s where you go to do so, if you’re willing to help out.

The Nazi monster responsible for the ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ signs

work-will-set-you-free

I’d better go ahead and post this before the news hook gets away from me completely…

Soldiers, and nations, are frequently whipped up into a warlike state with examples of atrocities, real or imagined, committed by the enemy.

One such outrage stands out in my memory as having instantly brought the urge to kill to the front of my mind. It was several years ago. I was watching a documentary on PBS. I forget the title or overall thrust of it. But at some point, it showed Jewish concentration camp inmates who were well-dressed and apparently well-fed and well-treated. Some of them were playing classical music for an appreciative audience of other contented-looking inmates sitting on chairs out in the sun.

The footage had been staged and shot by Nazis for homefront consumption, for newsreels in German cinemas, to show the folks at home how well their former Jewish neighbors were doing in their new environment.

That’s what put the blood light in my eye. I wanted to personally kill every Nazi who had anything to do with such a profoundly evil deception, which forced actual victims to play a part in making the Holocaust look hunky-dory. And I regretted that I was much too late.

Theodor Eicke

Theodor Eicke

I have a similar reaction whenever I see a photo with a concentration-camp gate saying “ARBEIT MACHT FREI.” I want to find the monster who came up with the idea of mocking and taunting his wretched victims with such a message, with an added twist of Teutonic self-righteousness. I wanted to subject him to punishments our Constitution would regard as cruel and unusual.

In both cases, I think it’s maybe the appalling lie that dwells at the heart of these particular forms of cruelty that sets me off, that increases the outrage exponentially.

Anyway, I felt that impulse a number of times over the last few days. It seemed no coverage of the 70-year observance of the liberation of Auschwitz was complete without the image: “ARBEIT MACHT FREI”

And this time, I paused to find out who it was, if that could be determined. Wikipedia made it pretty easy:

The slogan “Arbeit macht frei” was placed at the entrances to a number of Nazi concentration camps. The slogan’s use in this instance was ordered by SS General Theodor Eicke, inspector of concentration camps and second commandant ofDachau Concentration Camp.

Eicke was not, to say the least, just another good German swept up in the Nazi madness. He was an SS-Obergruppenführer, a serious, hard-core National Socialist. How hard-core? He was one of the two who killed Brownshirt Chief Ernst Röhm following the Night of the Long Knives purge. Not that Röhm didn’t, you know, have it coming himself.

Eicke, too, is beyond my grasp. He died when his plane was shot down on the Russian front in 1943.

But at least I have a name to assign to the outrage now. One name, among the many responsible, of course…

 

Turning our backs on the world

The problem is not that Barack Obama didn’t go participate in a feel-good march in Paris.

The problem is that when he pauses to talk about what he considers to be important, the rest of the world hardly gets a mention.

Dana Milbank went into this at some length in his column yesterday, headlined, “On terrorism, the State of the Union is strangely quiet.” An excerpt:

Not since before the 2001 terrorist attacks has there been such a disconnect between the nation’s focus and the condition of the world. As threats multiply in the Middle East and Europe, President Obama delivered on Tuesday night an annual message to Congress that was determinedly domestic. And his inward-looking gaze is shared by lawmakers and the public.

Thousands of foreign fighters have joined with Muslim extremists in Syria and Iraq, and their fanatical cause has inspired sympathizers across the globe: 17 killed by terrorists in Paris; terrorism raids and a shootout in Belgium; a hunt for sleeper cells across Europe; a gunman attacking the Canadian Parliament; an Ohio man arrested after buying guns and ammunition, allegedly with plans to attack the Capitol. Even Australia has raised its terrorist threat level.

And yet, when it comes to countering the terror threat in America, the State of the Union is nonchalant. “We are 15 years into this new century, 15 years that dawned with terror touching our shores,” Obama said at the start of his speech. “It has been, and still is, a hard time for many. But tonight, we turn the page.”

Obama, full of swagger, turned the page — several pages — from the start of his address, when he assured Americans that “the shadow of crisis has passed,” before arriving at his discussion of national security.

He went 32 minutes, more than halfway through his speech, before mentioning the “challenges beyond our shores.” He said that “we stand united with people around the world who’ve been targeted by terrorists, from a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris.” But he dwelled on the topic only long enough to say he’d “continue to hunt down terrorists and dismantle their networks” and “keep our country safe while strengthening privacy.”…

Essentially, the president paused in his lengthy examination of domestic policy to say, “And oh, yeah, the rest of the world, yadda-yadda…”

Of course, we’ve been hearing plenty of criticism along those lines from some of the president’s rivals, but the truth is the the GOP on the whole (with the exceptions of Lindsey Graham, John McCain and a few others) is offering no alternative vision for how we should conduct the affairs that are the primary reason for having a federal government. As Milbank noted, “The response to Obama’s address, delivered by new Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), gave terrorism no more prominence than Obama did. Indeed, the new Republican Congress has been just as domestic in its emphasis.”

Daniel Henninger wrote in The Wall Street Journal this morning about how jarring it was to see “American Sniper” Tuesday night, then return home to watch the president’s lack of concern about the world on display:

Opinions will differ, often bitterly, on the war in Iraq and the reasons for it. In the movie, a painful funeral scene captures that ambivalence. But what is just not possible to choke down is President Obama’s decision in 2011 to reduce the U.S.’s residual military presence to virtually zero. It was a decision to waste what the Marines and Army had done.

Announcing the decision at the White House on Oct. 21, Mr. Obama said, “After taking office, I announced a new strategy that would end our combat mission in Iraq and removeall of our troops by the end of 2011.” (Emphasis added.)

Military analysts at the time, in government and on the outside, warned Mr. Obama that a zero U.S. presence could put the war’s gains and achievements at risk. He did it anyway and ever since Mr. Obama has repeatedly bragged about this decision in public speeches, notably to the graduating cadets of West Point last May.

In January, months before that West Point speech, the terrorist army of Islamic State, or ISIS, seized back control of both Fallujah and Ramadi in Anbar province. The month after the West Point speech, the city of Mosul and its population of one million fell to Islamic State, and here we are with the barbarians on the loose there, in Yemen, in Nigeria and in France.

Watching “American Sniper,” it is impossible to separate these catastrophes from seeing what the Marines did and endured to secure northern Iraq. Again, anyone is entitled to hate the Iraq war. But no serious person would want a president to make a decision that would allow so much personal sacrifice to simply evaporate. Which, in his serene self-confidence, is what Barack Obama did. That absolute drawdown was a decision of fantastic foolishness….

But we expect that from Henninger and the WSJ, right?

So let’s consider what the editorial board of The Washington Post had to say last week in an editorial headlined, “The U.S. fight against jihadism has lost its momentum:”

PRESIDENT OBAMA’S neglect of the anti-terrorism march in Paris seemed reflective of a broader loss of momentum by his administration in combating Islamic jihadism. Five months after the president launched military operations against the Islamic State, fighting in Iraq and Syria appears stalemated. The training of Iraqi army units for a hoped-for counteroffensive is proceeding slowly and, according to a report by The Post’s Loveday Morris, looks under-resourced. Weapons and ammunition are in such short supply that trainees are yelling “bang, bang” in place of shooting.

Iraq, moreover, is the theater where U.S. engagement is most aggressive; elsewhere, the Obama administration appears to be passively standing by as jihadists expand their territory, recruitment and training. In Libya, the job of stemming an incipient civil war has been left to a feckless U.N. mediator, even though the Islamic State is known to be operating at least one training camp with hundreds of recruits. In Nigeria, where a new offensive by the Boko Haram movement has overrun much of one northeastern state, a U.S. military training program was recently canceled by the government following a dispute over arms sales.

The bankruptcy of U.S. policy toward the Syrian civil war was underlined again on Wednesday, when Secretary of State John F. Kerry expressed hope for a patently cynical and one-sided diplomatic initiative by Russia, which has been working to preserve the regime of Bashar al-Assad. It’s been nearly a year since the last U.S. diplomatic effort to end the war collapsed, and the administration continues to offer no strategy for how to stop the regime’s assaults on moderate Syrian forces it is counting on to fight the Islamic State. It has ignored widespread assessments that its program for training Syrian forces is too small and too slow….

This is a bad situation for our country and our allies. And I worry that it won’t get any better as the 2016 presidential campaign gets under way. No wonder Lindsey Graham is thinking of running — it may be the only way most of the world gets talked about.

‘The Interview,’ ‘American Sniper,’ and ‘Selma’

I’ve recently written about three movies — ‘The Interview,’ ‘American Sniper‘ and ‘Selma‘ — that I had not seen (which kind of limited what I had to say about them). This past week, I had planned to see them all and write about them further. Which would have been quite the hat trick for a guy who is accustomed to waiting until films show up on Netflix.

I managed to see two of them. I still hope to see the other soon.

My report follows:

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The Interview

This one took the least trouble to see, which was good, because I wouldn’t have crossed the street to see it. I rented it from iTunes on my Apple TV, and it didn’t cost me anything because I had a gift certificate I hadn’t used up.

It was about what you would expect, if you’ve seen enough Seth Rogen movies. On that spectrum, it was nowhere near as good as “Knocked Up” or “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” and a good bit better than “Pineapple Express” or “Zack and Miri Make a Porno.” I’m not saying it was more elevated or worthwhile than those latter two, but the bathroom humor was funnier. The dirty talk wasn’t nearly as funny or relevant as the dirty talk in “SuperBad,” so you are forewarned.

One of the more interesting things about this film was that North Korea was so ticked off about it, seeing that the guy who played Kim Jong Un was handsomer, more engaging — certainly more manly looking (both in terms of masculinity and maturity) — and more engaging on a human level than any of us have ever seen the Dear Leader be. I mean, even though the flick was making gross fun of him and making a joke out of killing him (which, one has to grant North Korea, is pretty offensive), it was actually kind of flattering to him.

If you can see it for free at any point and you want to know what all the fuss is about, it’s not completely unwatchable. But otherwise, don’t bother.

 

AMERICAN SNIPER

American Sniper

I had wanted to see this anyway, even more so after The Guardian (being The Guardian) practically painted Chris Kyle as a war criminal, but I sort of reckoned without the fact that everyone else in South Carolina wanted to see it this past weekend as well.

Bryan Caskey joined my younger son and me (neither Mamanem nor Bryan’s wife wanted to see it) at the 5:10 show at Dutch Square. Bryan got his ticket and went inside ahead of us. While waiting for my son to get through the queue, I spoke across the ticket-taker to Bryan, saying, “Don’t worry; there’ll be plenty of previews.”

The ticket guy said, “Yeah, but there won’t be plenty of seats.” He said this was their 11th show of the weekend, and several of them had been sold out.

Boy, was he right. With stadium seating, I normally sit about halfway up, so that the center of the screen is at eye level. But this time, we had to sit with the groundlings on the third row, way off to the side. So Bryan, my son and I all had to slide down in our seats with our knees propped against the seats in front and our heads resting back onto the tops of our seatbacks, looking almost straight up, at a weird, distorting angle. But I got used to it by about the 75th preview (OK; honestly, I didn’t count).

But other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the show?

Good. But you knew it was going to be good. When’s the last time Clint Eastwood made a bad one? And the older he gets, he seems to get better. I’m thinking “Gran Torino” here.

And the portrayal of Chris Kyle was — matter-of-fact and respectful. It was the story of a guy who is definitely a sheepdog in the sheep/wolf/sheepdog model of killologist Dave Grossman — one of those who is neither a sheep nor a wolf, but one of those rare types who sees himself as a protector of sheep from wolves. And one of those rarer men (like, 2 percent of the male population) who doesn’t have nightmares after killing other people, if he has good reason to see the killings as morally justifiable.

Eastwood helps the viewer to understand a man like Kyle, without either condemning or overly glorifying him — although many will see him as a monster or as a red-white-and-blue excuse to wave the flag, according to their own proclivities. As I say, the depiction is respectful.

I could have used a little more examination of the psychology of a sniper. While many will feel like there was too much footage of Kyle taking careful aim on enemy combatants (and, in more than one case, “combatants” who are women and young boys, which is the thing that will make you want to walk out if anything does), I felt like not enough was done to show how most people would be torn up by that — say, with a side story about a fellow sniper who was not as unconflicted about his job. You know that the cost to Kyle is not nil, as you see the stress he undergoes after his fourth deployment. But I could have used more explication in that department.

Anyway, it’s worth seeing, whatever your attitudes on the subject matter. It’s well-done, and examines unflinchingly the moral ambiguity that accompanies any combat role, regardless of the conflict in question.

 

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Selma

Still haven’t seen this one. I passed up, with some misgivings, the Urban League’s annual breakfast, justifying it by saying that I was going to go with some friends to see ‘Selma’ at the Nickelodeon as my way of observing the day.

But even though we were there half an hour ahead, we couldn’t get into the 2:30 show. Sold out.

Has going to the actual movie theater experienced some huge resurgence when I wasn’t looking? I haven’t been to a show as crowded as “American Sniper” in decades, partly because I try not to go on the opening weekend at the most popular times. (Wouldn’t you think a 5:10 show would be an awkward time — neither matinee nor evening-out time? I did.)

And then, to not get into the show at all, when the film’s been out a couple of weeks?

OK, yeah, I realize it was MLK Day, and it looked like there were some school groups there. But still.

Have any of y’all seen it? Can you give us a review?

 

Lindsey Graham’s proposed presidential campaign

I see some of y’all have already raised the topic of Lindsey Graham forming an exploratory committee for a presidential campaign.

Kathryn asked whether he had a chance of beating Jeb Bush (in a way that indicated she knew the answer).

No, he does not.

But I’m pretty sure this is one of those “running to get free media in order to raise certain issues” campaigns. I think he assumes that none of those running will provide the kind of critique of the Obama administration on international affairs as he will. What I’ve been seeing lately suggests that both parties will be trying to out-populist each other on economic issues. To some extent, anyway. Graham’s probably reading stuff like this:

“You talk to any pollster, on the Democratic side or the Republican side, they’re in complete agreement on the idea that there has to be an economic populist message,” said Matthew Dowd, a top strategist for former president George W. Bush’s 2000 and 2004 campaigns.

And if you’re Graham, or John McCain, or me, that makes you think there’s not going to be nearly enough talk about collective security, or America’s relationships with the rest of the world.

I don’t think the campaign-to-be is about trying to beat anybody. But I could be wrong….

Le Pape n’est pas Charlie, soit.

As you know, Je ne suis pas Charlie. Well, as it turns out, if Google Translate is right, Le Pape n’est pas Charlie, soit.

And not only that, but watch what you say about his Mama.

I learned all this from this Tweet from Bryan:

My initial reaction was, “Whad’ya mean, ‘start’?” But then I went to find out what he meant, and found this:

Pope Francis said Thursday there are limits to freedom of expression, especially when it insults or ridicules someone’s faith.

Francis spoke about the Paris terror attacks while en route to the Philippines, defending free speech as not only a fundamental human right but a duty to speak one’s mind for the sake of the common good.

But, he said, there were limits.

By way of example, he referred to Alberto Gasparri, who organizes papal trips and was standing by his side aboard the papal plane.

“If my good friend Dr. Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch,” Francis said, throwing a pretend punch his way. “It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”…

Now, just watch people across the planet completely misconstrue what he said, claiming he’s “blaming the victim” or “excusing terrorists for murder,” when he is obviously doing no such thing. But he is saying what I’ve said before, which is this:

One’s right to free expression is a sacred thing, just like one’s right to freely practice one’s religion. The Pope said that clearly. And no sane person, least of all the Pope, believes anyone should be killed or threatened with death for expressing himself honestly.

But, there is a difference between what you have a sacred right to do and what you ought to do. And if you want to live in a civil society, in which other people have some basic modicum of respect for you, you have a moral obligation to show at least some minimal respect for others.

This is not a terribly hard thing for most experienced editors to understand, because they live in that space between what one has a right to publish and what one publishes if one has any respect at all for one’s readers.

And folks, you don’t have to be an editor or the Pope or somebody with an advanced degree in ethics to know where the lines are. That’s what the Pontiff was getting at with the mock punch. He was saying, we all know where the limits are: Insult my mother, I’ll smack you down. It’s not complicated.

I mentioned the other day that I’ve heard my good friend Samuel Tenenbaum state clearly, on many occasions, where the line is. Samuel takes a back seat to no one in defending civil liberties. But he makes no bones about the fact that you’ve crossed the line with him, and made an enemy, when you insult “my wife, my Mama or my faith.”

Does that mean Samuel would be justified in coming into your office and blowing you away for insulting Judaism? No, of course not. But he’s describing where the boundaries lie in civil society. He’s telling you what is beyond the pale, in case you missed that class in kindergarten.

Charlie Hebdo is wrong to publish childishly obscene (and not even funny, to an adult eye) cartoons that deliberately slap Muslims in the face, that insult them in the most obnoxious possible manner. Millions of those Muslims are people who mean Charlie no harm, and would never resort to violence against them. But they are deeply insulted, and now, with nonMuslims around them all saying “Je suis Charlie,” they feel more marginalized and looked-down-upon than ever. These people don’t deserve such treatment.

The fact that there are a few murderous jerks who will kill you for publishing such cartoons does not make you right for publishing them. If something is wrong, it is wrong whether people shoot you for it, or give you a big, wet kiss for it.

And that’s what the Pope was trying to say…

Oh, and by the way, he also said global climate change is real, and man-caused. That kind of got downplayed….

That female person of interest in Paris attacks

I know practically nothing about Hayat Boumeddiene — variously described as the “partner,” “common-law wife” and “widow” of Paris kosher-grocery attacker Amedy Coulibaly — but I had several thoughts in quick succession when I read this over the weekend:

French authorities on Saturday were hunting for a woman said to be “armed and dangerous,” who they believe is connected to three days of violence that reached a bloody denouement in twin sieges Friday.hayat-boumediene-e1420918057857

Hayat Boumeddiene, 26, may have fled France ahead of the attacks and may now be in Syria, French media reports said Saturday. The reports, which cited unnamed police sources, raised further questions about the attackers’ connections to organized Islamist militant groups.

Boumeddiene, 26, is the partner of Amedy Coulibaly, who on Friday seized a kosher grocery store in eastern Paris, killing four people at the height of pre-Sabbath shopping before being killed himself after an hours-long standoff. A day earlier, he killed a Paris police officer, authorities believe. During the Friday standoff, he said he was affiliated with the Islamic State, which is headquartered in Syria…

The thoughts, such as they are, were:

  • The initial, visceral one: What a lovely young face (despite that jaded look in her eyes). If she is actually a terrorist, what a terrible waste of someone who looks so fresh and innocent. One wants to protect her. (In other words, the male equivalent of the way various women, particularly the motherly sort, viewed the picture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover of Rolling Stone.)
  • “Armed and dangerous?” What is this, a return to the 70s? Are we back to the days of Red Brigades and Baader-Meinhof, with young women who are every bit as radicalized, unfeeling and violent as the most testosterone-infested young men?
  • This really explodes one of the stereotypes of Islamist terrorists. The caricature is of sexually frustrated young men who can’t get a date, who will do anything to get at those 72 virgins. But at least one of these had a girlfriend.
  • Hold on a minute. We also tend to think of these terrorists as guys who are such devout Muslims that they are psychotically obsessed with what they imagine their religion’s demands to be. But what even mildly devout Muslim lives with a woman without benefit of marriage?

None of which is helpful to the investigation or anything (turns out she wasn’t even in the country at the time of the attack, but it’s understandable that authorities would like to talk with her), but those were the things that occurred to me at the time….

Krauthammer bravely pushes the Energy Party line

Enjoyed this Charles Krauthammer piece over the weekend:

For 32 years I’ve been advocating a major tax on petroleum. I’ve got as much chance this time around as did Don Quixote with windmills. But I shall tilt my lance once more.

The only time you can even think of proposing a gas tax increase is when oil prices are at rock bottom. When I last suggested the idea six years ago, oil was selling at $40 a barrel. It eventually rose back to $110. It’s nowaround $48. Correspondingly, the price at the pump has fallen in the last three months by more than a dollar to about $2.20 per gallon.

As a result, some in Congress are talking about a 10- or 20-cent hike in the federal tax to use for infrastructure spending. Right idea, wrong policy. The hike should not be 10 cents but $1. And the proceeds should not be spent by, or even entrusted to, the government. They should be immediately and entirely returned to the consumer by means of a cut in the Social Security tax….

A $1 gas tax increase would constrain oil consumption in two ways. In the short run, by curbing driving. In the long run, by altering car-buying habits. A return to gas-guzzling land yachts occurs every time gasoline prices plunge. A high gas tax encourages demand for more fuel-efficient vehicles. Constrained U.S. consumption — combined with already huge increases in U.S. production — would continue to apply enormous downward pressure on oil prices….

Quixotic, yes. But I stand up and cheer whenever anyone has the courage to speak sense on the gas tax.

I don’t know whether his FICA rollback is the best thing to do with the money. I’d like to see some serious investment in infrastructure. But it doesn’t matter. Raising the gas tax and using the money unwisely is actually better than not raising it at all, for the reasons Krauthammer cites.

By the way, in praising Krauthammer for being so Energy Party, I don’t mean to claim he got the idea from me. As he says, he’s been pushing this uncommon sense idea for 32 years. The Energy Party has only been around for a fourth as long.

But of course, the odds against us are as great as ever. Too many on both the left and the right hate the idea of gas tax increases. But at least there’s something afoot in Congress…

Graham on Paris terror attack

Since reading about the terrorist attack in Paris this morning over breakfast I’ve meant to post something but been busy.

So I’ll share what Lindsey Graham put out, to get a conversation started:

Graham on Terror Attack in Paris

 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today made this statement on this morning’s terrorist attack in Paris which has left at least 12 people dead.

 

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, the families, and the French people in the wake of this horrendous attack.

 

“Simply stated, radical Islam – through extreme violence and intimidation – is trying to replace our way of life with theirs.  I have no doubt they will ultimately fail, but the question is how many will be injured or killed before that day arrives?

 

“Here at home, we must use this horrific attack as an opportunity to reevaluate our own national security posture.  I fear our intelligence capabilities, those designed to prevent such an attack from taking place on our shores, are quickly eroding.  Through a combination of poor policy choices made by the Obama Administration regarding detention and interrogation policies, and budget cuts approved by the Congress with President Obama’s support, I believe our national security infrastructure designed to prevent these types of attacks from occurring is under siege.

 

“President Obama should immediately change his interrogation and detention policies as we are gradually losing the ability to detect, disrupt and prevent future terrorist attacks.  In addition, it is time to restore the necessary funding to our intelligence-gathering and national security operations.

 

“I fear we can expect and must prepare for more attacks like this in the future.  ISIL is well-funded and has an entrenched command structure that is actively inspiring terrorist attacks throughout the world.  And while President Obama has the right goal in destroying ISIL, I fear the policies he is using are grossly insufficient and leave our homeland increasingly exposed.

 

“Finally, we should acknowledge that radical Islamists have no limits when it comes to destruction and the taking of human life.  That is why it remains imperative that we never allow radical Islamic terrorists to acquire weapons of mass destruction.  While today’s attack in Paris involved conventional weapons, I fear the terrorist attacks of the future could be even more lethal and even more tragic if these organizations acquire chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.  Denying them this capability is the challenge of the time.”

 

#####

Obama: Sony ‘made a mistake,’ and N. Korea better watch out

POTUS

Two things are being reported out of the president’s last scheduled presser of the year this afternoon:

  1. Sony “made a mistake” in canceling “The Interview.”
  2. We’re gonna get even with North Korea.

The first point raises interesting questions, but I find myself focusing on the second one.

So… exactly how do we retaliate against North Korea for throwing a snit fit over a silly movie, and then creating cyber havoc with a large corporation’s virtual existence?

POTUS promises our response will be “proportional.” What’s proportional in this instance? Do we somehow sabotage Dear Leader’s favorite TV show? His country has no large, successful corporations that we can mess with, so what else is there?

It’s like the opposite of “What do you give the man who has everything?” In this case, it’s what do you do to a country where the people all starve, they lack electric lighting and the absolute ruler is so paranoid he wipes out his own relatives to hold on to power?

The president is headed for vacation in Hawaii, leaving the West Wing to ponder how to get back at the North Koreans. Why do I picture the guys in Animal House planning their big revenge at the homecoming parade?

Previous White Houses had to decide how to respond to Pearl Harbor, or the Berlin Wall. We have this….

 

Benghazi committee should add Sony hack to its brief

Let’s see…

A foreign terrorist attack wreaks havoc on an American (cultural) outpost, resulting in an untimely death (of a movie — and after all, aren’t all Hollywood films really ambassadors of the American Way?).

The government tries to make us believe it’s all because of a tasteless, ill-advised video that it had nothing to do with. So far, all administration officials seem to be sticking to these talking points.

So maybe Trey Gowdy’s Benghazi committee should take on the big Sony hack of 2014. Seeing as how another GOP-led committee has already said it found no administration wrongdoing at Benghazi…

 

Obama’s bold move on relations with Cuba

Barack Obama seems determined to avoid irrelevance and have a real impact in his last years in office. Not long after stepping out unilaterally on immigration, he’s braving the potential ire of Cuban émigrés by stepping toward a more reasonable relationship with their homeland:

US President Barack Obama has hailed a “new chapter” in US relations with Cuba, announcing moves to normalise diplomatic and economic ties.

Mr Obama said the US’ current approach was “outdated” and the changes were the “most significant” in US policy towards Cuba in 50 years.

Cuban President Raul Castro said he welcomed the shift in a TV address.

The move includes the release of US contractor Alan Gross and three Cubans held in the US.

Wednesday’s announcement follows more than a year of secret talks in Canada and at the Vatican, directly involving the Pope….

Good for him. And good for the Pope, too. It’s good to have a Pontiff from Latin America, it seems…

Why must our international free speech crises be over such stupid things?

REALLY? These are our free speech heroes?

REALLY? These are our free speech heroes?

When I saw this news this morning

“The Interview’s” premiere, which was to take place at Sunshine Cinema in New York on Thursday, has been canceled, a Landmark Theatres spokesman told the Hollywood Reporter. The news came after a group calling itself Guardians of Peace, or GOP, issued a threat to movie theaters warning of Sept. 11-style attacks against those that show “The Interview,” scheduled to premiere Christmas Day. Now there’s a serious question of whether anyone will screen the movie at all. Guardians of Peace is the same group that claimed responsibility for the Sony Pictures Entertainment hacks. Some investigators believe North Korea is behind the attack.

The Los Angeles Times reported Sony executives attended a meeting of the National Association of Theatre Owners on Thursday, where they told the trade group Sony would be supportive if owners elected not to screen the movie.

The Georgia-headquartered Carmike Cinemas, which operates 276 theaters and 2,904 screens in 41 states, has already taken Sony up on the offer and announced it would not be showing the movie….

… My first reaction was, If you cancel the premiere and hold off from showing the movie, the cyberterrorists win!

So my next thought is that instead of cancelling, Sony and the theaters should…

… should what? Stand up for noble principle by showing a stupid movie about a couple of doofuses trying to kill a real-life foreign leader, played for laughs?

Dang. You know, I wish that when people in the West want to go toe-to-toe with repressive regimes around the world and stand up for freedom of speech, they wouldn’t always do it with such stupid things as this, or that idiotic, offensive cartoon contest deliberately intended to mock the Prophet.

Can’t we step up our game a little bit, fellow Westerners? Let’s try going to the mat for the Magna Carta, or the Declaration of Independence, or something that doesn’t make us feel queasy to defend. This is no way to get people in benighted countries to embrace pluralism or liberal democracy.

Come on, folks. I want to advocate for our way of life. Give me something to work with…

The ACLU wants to send people to prison. Anyone besides me see the irony in that?

Whether on the left or on the right, no one in the political mainstream is calling for anyone to go to prison over the CIA’s interrogation practices. Most of us just want to make sure we don’t do it any more in the future.

It seems ironic, therefore, that the ACLU, of all people, wants to get all punitive:

This is a shocking report, and it is impossible to read it without feeling immense outrage that our government engaged in these terrible crimes. This report definitively drags into the light the horrific details of illegal torture, details that both the Bush and Obama administrations have worked hard to sweep under the rug. The government officials who authorized illegal activity need to be held accountable. The administration’s current position – doing absolutely nothing – is tantamount to issuing tacit pardons. Tacit pardons are worse than formal ones because they undermine the rule of law. The CIA’s wrongful acts violated basic human rights, served as a huge recruiting tool for our enemies, and alienated allies world-wide. Our response to the damning evidence in this report will define us as a nation.

This should be the beginning of a process, not the end. The report should shock President Obama and Congress into action, to make sure that torture and cruelty are never used again. The Department of Justice needs to appoint a special prosecutor to hold the architects and perpetrators of the torture program accountable for its design, implementation, and cover-ups….

Anyone else see the irony here?

Tom Friedman’s take on torture report

I liked Tom Friedman’s latest column:

Why do people line up to come to this country? Why do they build boats from milk cartons to sail here? Why do they trust our diplomats and soldiers in ways true of no other country? It’s because we are a beacon of opportunity and freedom, and also because these foreigners know in their bones that we do things differently from other big powers in history.

One of the things we did was elect a black man whose grandfather was a Muslim as our president — after being hit on Sept. 11, 2001, by Muslim extremists. And one of the things we do we did on Tuesday: We published what appears to be an unblinking examination and exposition of how we tortured prisoners and suspected terrorists after 9/11. I’m glad we published it.

It may endanger captured Americans in the future. That is not to be taken lightly. But this act of self-examination is not only what keeps our society as a whole healthy, it’s what keeps us a model that others want to emulate, partner with and immigrate to — which is a different, but vital, source of our security as well….

It’s not a unique point of view. Even The Guardian, in expressing its high dudgeon over “America’s shame and disgrace,” acknowledged in a backhanded way that issuing the report illustrates something special about America, even though they were just using it as a way to beat up on HMG:

In one sense, it is a tribute to the US that it has published such a report. It is certainly a huge contrast to the cosy inadequacy of UK policy, practice and accountability – shortcomings that parliament must address.

But I particularly appreciate Friedman’s approach. His headline was “We’re Always Still Americans,” and it came from this John McCain quote at the end:

… I greatly respect how Senator John McCain put it: “I understand the reasons that governed the decision to resort to these interrogation methods, and I know that those who approved them and those who used them were dedicated to securing justice for the victims of terrorist attacks and to protecting Americans from further harm. … But I dispute wholeheartedly that it was right for them to use these methods, which this report makes clear were neither in the best interests of justice nor our security nor the ideals we have sacrificed so much blood and treasure to defend.” Even in the worst of times, “we are always Americans, and different, stronger, and better than those who would destroy us.”

Whether, of course, we remain Americans, true to our ideals, depends on whether we truly have put this shameful practice behind us.

Was getting bin Laden a sufficient justification for torture?

An "enhanced interrogation" scene in "Zero Dark Thirty."

An “enhanced interrogation” scene in “Zero Dark Thirty.”

I raised this somewhere in this earlier thread, but I was reminded of it when I saw this story in The Washington Post this morning, which addressed one of the first questions that occurred to me when I saw reports about the torture findings yesterday: The report said torture was ineffective, but didn’t it lead us to bin Laden?

That’s just a question, not an argument. I don’t think we should have used torture whether it led to bin Laden or not. I’m with John McCain on this one (by the way, the Post also had a piece this morning about how for once, McCain and Lindsey Graham were in disagreement).

The Post reports that the Senate Intelligence Committee report directly refutes the story we’ve heard in the past, which was dramatized in “Zero Dark Thirty” (the credibility of which took a hit yesterday along with the CIA’s). The report says torture did not lead to bin Laden, or at least that its role was greatly exaggerated. The CIA continues to say otherwise:

In a detailed response to the committee report, the CIA rejected the study’s interpretation of events leading to the killing of bin Laden. It reiterates that coercive measures helped, saying the tactics led two detainees in agency custody, Ammar al-Baluchi and Ghul, to provide important clues to the courier.

It was “impossible to know in hindsight” whether interrogators could have obtained the same information that helped locate bin Laden without using enhanced techniques, the agency said.

“However, the information we did obtain from these detainees played a role — in combination with other important streams of intelligence — in finding the al-Qaeda leader.”

But here’s my BIG question: Even if torture was necessary to get bin Laden, was torture justified?

I say not. Partly because it was wrong, but also because it wasn’t that essential that we find him and kill him — and therefore not worth setting morality aside, if that is ever justified.

As much of a sense of justice, or closure, as it may have engendered in American hearts, as much as it told those who would kill innocent Americans, We will find you, and exact retribution, it was never necessary to the war effort, and it certainly wasn’t conclusive. It was a great coup de main, an exhibition of American arms and prowess (and as I’ve said, sound decision-making by the president in deciding to send in the SEALs, and not tell the Pakistanis we were coming). And bin Laden certainly had it coming.

But it wasn’t like catching the snitch in Quidditch. It didn’t win the game. The conditions that engender terrorism still exist. ISIL has morphed into something more dangerous than al Qaeda ever was, despite its one great coup.

The only thing that would solve the problem is systemic change in the region — cultural, economic, political change. Which is why some of us favored reshuffling the deck by taking out Saddam Hussein, in addition to tossing out the Taliban, overthrowing Qaddafi, and pressing allies in the region to liberalize their societies to the extent that is possible.

President Obama can kill bin Laden and every other identifiable terrorist in the region, with drones where commando raids aren’t feasible. Others will take their place, unless the conditions that produce them change.

But this nation lost its appetite for nation rebuilding several years back. The purpose of this post is not to try to reverse that trend. The point is to say, things being as they are… was it worth using torture to get bin Laden? If that’s even what we did…

The mission that took out bin Laden was a bravura performance by the Navy. But was it worth using torture to bring about?

The mission that took out bin Laden was a bravura performance by the Navy. But was it worth using torture to bring about?

How the CIA torture report story was reported

The above image caught my eye on Twitter this morning, and I followed The Guardian‘s link to this story.

I found it interesting that even though the headline was, “CIA torture report: how the world’s media reacted,” the story led off with how American papers played it — the NYT, the WashPost, the LAT…

If you scroll down in the story, though, you see more international fronts. I found it interesting the extent to which the Arab News played the story down. It looks like it might even be below the fold.

Anyway, I thought I’d pass all this on…

Torture report: CIA was ‘brutal,’ ineffective and deceptive in its interrogations

nyt

This is what everybody is leading with at this hour.

Here’s the NYT version:

WASHINGTON — A scathing report released by the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday found that the Central Intelligence Agency routinely misled the White House and Congress about the information it obtained from the detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects, and that its methods were more brutal than the C.I.A. acknowledged either to Bush administration officials or to the public.

The long-delayed report, which took five years to produce and is based on more than six million internal agency documents, is a sweeping indictment of the C.I.A.’s operation and oversight of a program carried out by agency officials and contractors in secret prisons around the world in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It also provides a macabre accounting of some of the grisliest techniques that the C.I.A. used to torture and imprison terrorism suspects….

From the WashPost version:

The 528-page document catalogues dozens of cases in which CIA officials allegedly deceived their superiors at the White House, members of Congress and even sometimes their own peers about how the interrogation program was being run and what it had achieved. In one case, an internal CIA memo relays instructions from the White House to keep the program secret from then-Secretary of State Colin Powell out of concern that he would “blow his stack if he were to be briefed on what’s going on.”

A declassified summary of the committee’s work discloses for the first time a complete roster of all 119 prisoners held in CIA custody and indicates that at least 26 were held because of mistaken identities or bad intelligence. The publicly released summary is drawn from a longer, classified study that exceeds 6,000 pages….

From The Guardian’s version:

The investigation that led to the report, and the question of how much of the document would be released and when, has pitted chairwoman Feinstein and her committee allies against the CIA and its White House backers. For 10 months, with the blessing of President Barack Obama, the agency has fought to conceal vast amounts of the report from the public, with an entreaty to Feinstein from secretary of state John Kerry occurring as recently as Friday.

CIA director John Brennan, an Obama confidante, conceded in a Tuesday statement that the program “had shortcomings and that the agency made mistakes” owing from what he described as unpreparedness for a massive interrogation and detentions program….

I’m up against a deadline in my day job, but y’all go ahead and start chewing on this, and I’ll join you later…

guardian