Archives for: November 2012
You have to like what NYPD Officer Larry DePrimo did for a barefoot man in Manhattan one frigid night this month. In fact, more than 260,000 Facebook users have "liked" DePrimo's actions, a number that's growing every day.
After a tourist from Arizona snapped a photo of DePrimo, of Holbrook, giving the man socks and boots to ward off the cold, the image became an instant hit on the NYPD's Facebook page.
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From the Washington Post:
As Superstorm Sandy hit our region last month, Marvin Lee Kingsbury and Charles Kent Bowers hatched a really dumb idea.
The really dumb idea was this: Let’s make whiskey sours, and let’s get a raft, and let’s float five miles down the Monocacy River — the raging Monocacy River — so we can go shopping at Wal-Mart.
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In Response to Burr Deming's
Honest Republican Rage about Benghazi
They are merely a group of bitter neocons venting their hatred of Obama and exhibiting sour grapes behavior in a despicable fashion.
- Jack Jodell, November 28, 2012
Using the death of a United States Ambassador, feigning outrage, smearing an accomplished foreign service expert for simply doing her job, all to gain a political advantage, would be a cynical, cold blooded ploy. Going on television again and again to repeat furious charges against her, charges that are known to be false. Would any person with even a little bit of conscience do such a thing?
- Burr Deming, November 29, 2012
Frankly I could care less what Susan Rice said or did. She was simply being dutiful in touting the administration’s (intentionally) erroneous talking points regarding the terrorist attack. Petraeus did likewise for public consumption – initially. Rice’s confirmation, or not, to the post of Secretary of State will hardly damage our nation any more than it already has been under this contemptible and despicable Caesar. I frankly don’t see much difference between her or John Kerry at the post anyway. I could really care less accordingly.
As for Petraeus, he told Congress he never believed the Obama administration’s claim that the attack on the U.S. mission in Libya was a spontaneous mob action prompted by a crude anti-Islam video. In closed-door testimony two Fridays back, Petraeus said that he believed all along that Islamic terrorists attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on9/11. In so doing, Petraeus recanted his previous account two months ago of that terrible day that left four brave Americans dead in which he promoted the Obama administration’s official storyline.
It was further reported that a CIA analyst also testified that the intelligence agency’s talking points for the White House immediately drafted after the attack specifically stated that al-Qaeda played a role in the attack that claimed the life of Ambassador Stevens. According to Congressman King, somehow the passage about al-Qaeda disappeared from documents, “After it went through the process … that was taken out.”
Bill Kristol was told from his sources that “he (Petraeus) may have been under pressure …to go along with the administration line on September 14th about the video, which he knew was not true. Someone else told me that General Petraeus, on the Hill that day, Director Petraeus I should say, said privately to one of the members of Congress said, 'This is happened in Benghazi.' (sic) He said, 'Do you want the official line or do you want the real truth? So I think he knew that he was not telling the full truth.”
Now perhaps some Republican Senators are simply jockeying for political advantage by using Rahm Emanuel’s bromide of “never letting a crisis go to waste” as their guideline. Perhaps the constantly scheming Democrats in the Senate are merely projecting their own actions of what they would do were they in a similar situation. Regardless, there are some of us conservatives, and I imagine even too few remaining Democrats, that actually could care less about the politics of it all and are simply interested in doing the right thing and seeing that justice is done and the truth prevails. Unfortunately I suspect there will be damn little of any of that over the next four years under President Pinocchio.
Mr. Jodell, I think you and Mr. Deming are finding no incidents of wrong-doing whatsoever and wish to white wash this incident and shift blame to the GOP despite plenty of questionable circumstances and evidence that strongly supports my case, sir.
In addition to his contributions here, conservative T. Paine also writes for his own site, where interest in the right thing is maintained and justice is done.
Please visit Saving Common Sense.
My friend, the writer who made special efforts to encourage from the very beginning of blogging at this site a few years back, Jack Jodell of Saturday Afternoon Post, sends a comment about the campaign against UN Ambassador Susan Rice. It isn't so much about Benghazi as it is about Republican venom.
They are merely a group of bitter neocons venting their hatred of Obama and exhibiting sour grapes behavior in a despicable fashion.
Well yes, it is tempting to ascribe the poisonous darts as a natural result of bitter loss combined with cynical opportunism. Mitt Romney, in his secretly taped 47 percent presentation in Boca Raton veered from his expertise in foreign policy to comment on the sad lack of foreign crisis disaster. He fondly recalled another time:
And yet, in that election, in the Jimmy Carter election, the fact that we have hostages in Iran, I mean, that was all we talked about. And we had the two helicopters crash in the desert, I mean that's—that was—that was the focus, and so him solving that made all the difference in the world. I'm afraid today if you said, "We got Iran to agree to stand down a nuclear weapon," they'd go hold on. It's really a, but…by the way, if something of that nature presents itself, I will work to find a way to take advantage of the opportunity.
Yes, "if something of that nature presents itself, I will work to find a way to take advantage of the opportunity." And, once an American Ambassador was killed, within hours, Mitt Romney did try. It was pretty much perceived as a political ploy and it kind of hurt the Republican candidate.
My conservative friend T. Paine of Saving Common Sense tries to make the case against President Obama, but pauses long enough to acknowledge the obvious. "Perhaps I am indeed finding nefarious goings-on without ample evidence;"
And he has a lot of company.
It is true that Susan Rice told television viewers that it appeared that what happened may have been an opportunistic attack during a street riot. But that was the intelligence consensus at the time. She did stress that information was still coming in and assessments were subject to change. Tommy Christopher of Mediaite points out part of what she said on television about terrorism the Sunday after the attack.
I think it’s clear that there were extremist elements that joined in and escalated the violence. Whether they were al Qaeda affiliates, whether they were Libyan-based extremists or al Qaeda itself I think is one of the things we’ll have to determine.
The fact is Ambassador Rice was giving a faithful accounting of the unclassified side of what our intelligence people knew at the time. We know this, and have known it to a certainty for weeks. The Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper testified to exactly that with some precision under oath.
Within 48 hours after the attack, CIA Director David Petraeus briefed the House Intelligence Committee. He may have had his own private suspicions, but he told the committee that the best intelligence was that the attacks had been provided cover by a street demonstration that had gotten out of hand.
Undersecretary of State for Management, Ambassador Patrick Kennedy, testified to the same thing over a month ago. The narrative that Susan Rice was repeating the Sunday following the attack was "based on the best intelligence available."
What we heard yesterday from Senator McCain pretty much typifies the quality of reasoning behind Republican accusations. Republicans, he points out, find it mysterious that the administration did not know the details of the Benghazi attack as quickly as they knew the details of the killing of bin Laden.
Republicans are correct, of course. We did know the details of the bin Laden killing before bin Laden was killed. Because WE ... PLANNED ... IT.
They were too polite to point out that Democrats have a long, long history of that sort of conspiracy. For example, the Democratic administration was able to release lot of very accurate details about the atomic bomb shortly after it was dropped on Hiroshima, but we didn't know much about the attack on Pearl Harbor for a long, long time after it actually happened. Pretty suspicious, don't you think? That we would know so much more about one than about the other?
Part of the motivation behind Republican screams may well be the result of the unexpected shock, not only of the scope of the Obama victory on election night, but the outrage that he won at all. The need to validate their conviction that Barack Obama simply should not have been elected, then reelected, colors (so to speak) part of the impetus to manufacture a scandal from tragedy. More than any other fact in their lives, more than home address, more than Social Security number, more than the number of thumbs on each hand, they know -- they know -- to a moral certainty that this man should not be President.
But I have other suspicions. Republicans would very much like President Obama to nominate someone else to become the new Secretary of State, replacing Hillary Clinton. They have exactly that precise someone else in mind. If John Kerry were nominated, Republicans would climb all over each other in a clothed orgy of eagerness to confirm.
It isn't that Senator Kerry is popular. It's that part of the Republican helpless fist clenching was caused by what, to them, was a shocking loss of a Senate seat in Massachusetts. Republican Scott Brown was soundly beaten by pointy headed effete impudent snob Professor, Professor!, Elizabeth Warren. Even more outrageous, Senator Warren is known as a protector of consumers from fine-print financial fraud. So she's obviously against free enterprise.
If Kerry becomes the next Secretary of State, he would have to resign as Senator. That means a special election would be held to replace him. And, hoping against hope, Republicans might see that as a shot at having Senator Scott Brown, soon to become citizen Scott Brown, again become Senator Brown. And Republicans would be one Senator closer to blocking pretty much all functioning of government through continuing filibuster. Take that, Kenyon pretender to the highest office!
I don't know, though. Using the death of a United States Ambassador, feigning outrage, smearing an accomplished foreign service expert for simply doing her job, all to gain a political advantage, would be a cynical, cold blooded ploy. Going on television again and again to repeat furious charges against her, charges that are known to be false. Would any person with even a little bit of conscience do such a thing?
Okay, probably not. Any connection between blaming Ambassador Rice and the potential for a Senate take back is completely beside the point.
Senator Susan Collins (R-MN), put it this way while blasting Susan Rice. "I think John Kerry would be an excellent appointment and would be easily confirmed by his colleagues." Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) says a Kerry nomination would "sail through." He added, "I think he’d be much more easily confirmed in the Senate than Susan Rice." Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) put any suspicion to rest: "I’d rather have John Kerry."
See there? One has nothing, nothing at all, to do with the other. No bluster here. It's all honest rage.
Not quite a year and a half ago my excellent friend (that, by the way, is for real) and frequent debating antagonist T. Paine sent in a comment that contained this sentence: "I have met many a liberal who's god was the state."
Actually, I have met many liberals myself. I often see one in a mirror. I have met anti-war liberals. I have met Kennedy liberals. I have met cold-war liberals. I have even met one or two "radiclibs" of Spiro Agnew nightmares. That last is rare but I can testify to their existence. I have never encountered one, not one, who worshiped the state. I have never found one who glorified the state. I have never found one who did not regard government in general or politicians specifically with some skepticism.
Kathleen Geier, who writes occasionally at the Washington Monthly, made the case more succinctly, contrasting conservatism, which is captive to abstract, rigid ideas of what is right, proper and must be enforced, with its opposite:
Whereas American liberalism, rooted in the pragmatism of John Dewey and other philosophers, tends to have fewer stringent, a priori ideals and is more improvisational, practical, and interested in solving problems on a case-by-case basis. For instance, contrary to what conservatives claim, most liberals don’t have any ideological commitment to big government per se, but we do realize that a strong federal government is often necessary to perform important functions we believe in, such as providing retirement benefits for senior citizens, and universal health care for all.
I like "improvisational." It's a good word. Descriptive. Most of the things liberals believe in are conditional. I like big government as long as it gets us to where we ought to go. I don't much care for it when it doesn't. Government has no intrinsic value. I would worship government in the same sense that would have worshiped the bus I once rode to work, which is to say not in the slightest. It got me where I needed to go.
Most liberal ideas are that way. Taking from the poor to give to the rich is manifestly unfair on the face of it, manufacturing misery in order to benefit those who are already well off. So most of us favor a safety net with additional help for those who want to climb the economic ladder. Progressive taxation seems fair as well. Those of us who are well off should pay a higher percentage than the single mom who rides the bus to her minimum wage long-hours-each-day job. Fair is fair.
Some liberal ideas are simply what will promote the general welfare. Traffic laws, speed bumps, food and safety inspections. Are public sidewalks socialism because they are funded by government? Doesn't bother me. If that's your definition, then I'm fine with the accusation of favoring socialistic sidewalks, along with socialistic police protection, and socialistic traffic signs. I'm even for a publicly funded military. A privatized army would kind of make me nervous.
We can think of analogies. None are perfect, but they can serve to illuminate meaning. If I have an urgent reason to get from point A to point B, perhaps a desperately ill friend who has to be carried, I will look for the fastest way possible. Will that take me over a hill? Should I go around it instead? That will simply depend on what will fulfill my objective. A buddy who wants to help, insists we go on a longer route. He doesn't believe in hilltop travel. We argue for a moment. He says: "I have met many a traveler who worships hills."
Keynesian economics is an example of such a hill, taking us to our destination. Counter-cyclical government finance, deficits in bad times, surpluses in good times, seems counter intuitive to the deficit hawk conservative. It is, in fact, the opposite of what common sense might lead you to believe. Spend more during belt-tightening lean times. Pay it back in times of bountiful harvests. How can that work?
Well, I do recall a preacher explaining that the bumble bee is not suited for flight. The bee doesn't know it and flies anyway. The acid test of a theory is less whether it seems instinctive in theory and more whether it works in practice. In the real world, the last hundred plus years has provided evidence that counter cyclical government financial activity works.
The economic crisis itself has provided some guidelines on how to get back on our feet. For a while, American conservatives pointed to Europe as the model we should follow. Ireland, France, Spain, provided the examples of sacrifice and austerity that would, in the end, pay off. Ireland was the third fastest growing economy in the world. Those governments were engaged in the belt tightening that individual families had to go through. Seems fair. Why should government spend like a profligate while individuals suffer?
Even Greece, that spend and spend some more society had reached a point of having to pay the piper. Serves 'em right, doesn't it? But a little austerity will help even them.
You don't hear that argument as much anymore. Oh, we hear a lot about austerity. The entire pundit class and economic-level fellow travelers are preoccupied with shared sacrifice. Everyone has to give a little. The family in a mansion with manicured lawns and a servant or two might have to give up a few tax breaks. So the guy on Medicaid should be willing to give up a few chemo treatments in return. Fair is fair. Government should tighten its belt, and that means reducing medical "entitlements." Shared sacrifice sounds nicer than it is.
The argument you don't hear much anymore is about the wonderful results of austerity in Europe. Starving the patient back to health seems to be deteriorating pretty much every economy who is trying it. In 2012, a list of the 30 slowest growing economies includes most of the countries conservatives were pointing to as models for the United States a year and a half ago.
The fastest growing economies are dominated by oil producers and those coming out of centuries of impoverishment. A small base makes a high percentage of growth unremarkable.
One of the fastest growing economies among developed nations is that of the United States. It went from about 170th last year to what looks like seventh this year.
As Curly said over 20 years ago, "Day ain't over, yet." And neither is 2012. Even then, figures take a while to compile. It was not until a year later that economists were able to confirm that the US economy at the start of the Obama administration in 2009 was not shrinking at 3 percent, but rather at 9 percent. What we do know is that the hopeful direction of the United States provides a contrast with that of Europe.
Pumping more money back into the economy during a tough recession, cutting back to pay for it during an economic surge, that seems counter to common sense, but it works. It really does.
Austerity in good times, taxes and reduced spending just to work down the national debt, seemed pointless to conservatives ten years ago. Big spending now that times are hard seems irresponsible to those same conservatives. There is nothing of intrinsic value in either approach, at least not to liberals like me. The only virtue is that the economic strategy has been tried and it usually works. It's a walk over hilly terrain, but its the quickest way there.
I don't know anyone, anyone at all, who is in love with the theories of John Maynard Keynes. Just like I have never ever met anyone who simply adored the idea of big government.
But the talk of a grand bargain to quickly cure the national debt just as we teeter on the edge of recovery makes me as nervous as a GREEK URN on the edge of a tall fireplace mantle.
What's a Greek Urn?
A lot less than before austerity began.
The surprise news last night was that UN Ambassador Susan Rice will be visiting select Senators including her most vocal critics, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Both Senators have been explicit in their criticisms of Ambassador Rice. Her public statements about the Benghazi attack that resulted in four deaths, including that of a US Ambassador, have been riddled with omissions.
As Senator McCain put it:
"My judgment at this time is that four Americans were killed, and the information that our U.N. ambassador conveyed was clearly false."
It is now an established fact that Susan Rice failed to mention important details about the lack of protection afforded to the facility in Benghazi, and what that suggests about security for the rest of the foreign service.
What Ms. Rice knew at the time of her public statements, but failed to tell the American people was that the Obama administration had begged for a minimum of $1.654 billion for the Worldwide Security Protection program of the Department of State for this year. Republicans slashed that amount to $1.557 billion. When Democrats in the Senate balked at the lower amount, Congressional Republicans reluctantly put back .034 billion.
This goes beyond scandal. Senator McCain spoke the truth when he said this:
"You know, somebody the other day said to me this is as bad as Watergate. Well, nobody died in Watergate."
Someone should be held accountable. Senator Lindsey Graham was right in pointing to Ambassador Rice as that very someone.
"I am going to hold her accountable. She volunteered for this assignment"
Ms. Rice certainly was aware of who was responsible for the lack of security. Nobody could entirely blame it on the cuts in security levels imposed by the Republican Congress for 2012. In point of fact, she could have addressed a problem that goes back further and is more serious than funding for a single security program.
The Department of State had made an urgent request for over $1.8 billion for security, construction and maintenance for this year. Republicans in Congress slashed that down to just over $1.4 billion. After Senate Democrats balked at the increased danger to US diplomats, Republicans finally agreed to restore a little over a billion.
Ambassador Rice was aware of Republican efforts to slash diplomatic security for this year, but said nothing in her television appearances.
Senator Lindsey Graham was blunt about the consequences of this lack of candor.
"I don't trust her. She doesn't deserve to be promoted."
It's easy to see why. In appearance after appearance, Ambassador Rice failed to point out that a single year's cuts to diplomatic security was not the entire picture. In 2010, Democrats provided over 1.8 billion for basic security, the entire amount asked for by the State Department. After Republicans took over, they knocked it down for 2011 to about $1.6 billion.
She could have revealed how much Republicans had reduced security for diplomats as soon as they got a majority in Congress. For some reason, she chose not to say a word about it. Could she have been covering up for the administration's failure?
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was on record about the cuts. Early last year she practically pounded the podium:
"The scope of the proposed House cuts is massive. The truth is that cuts of that level will be detrimental to America's national security."
If the administration was serious, why didn't they force Congress to act? Susan Rice was notably silent about that failure of the Obama administration to convince Republicans to protect our embassies.
Senator McCain accurately outlined the seriousness of the situation:
Four Americans died! Is that picking on anybody when you want to place responsibility and find out what happened so that we can make sure it doesn't happen again?
Quite so. At very least, Ambassador Rice should have told the American people what steps had already been taken to keep future danger to a minimum.
She could have talked about the increase to $2.15 billion that the Obama administration had said was needed for next year's security. But if she did that, she would have had to discuss President Obama's failures.
He has already demonstrated his lack of leadership. He has been unable to convince Congress to improve diplomatic security for the coming year. Republicans have already prepared slashes to that 2.15 billion, slamming it down to $1.9 billion.
She could have mentioned the Republican cuts to next year's security. She didn't say a word about it.
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) wasn't afraid to speak up early last year, slapping down administration efforts to increase diplomatic security. At the time of the Clinton statement, he bravely articulated the Republican position:
"Right now, we need to stop the Washington spending spree so the economy can grow and the private sector can create more jobs. We have confidence that the soldiers and diplomats serving in harm's way will have the resources they need to protect America."
That confidence that members of America's foreign service were as safe as they needed to be was supported by other Republicans. Majority leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) added his voice:
"My position, as far as that funding is concerned, we asked the appropriators to go about trying to identify cuts that we could withstand to bring spending back to '08 levels without jeopardizing our national security."
Senator McCain has paid a heavy price for his forthright quest for the truth. He has been relentlessly badgered by the press. When members of the news media hounded him about missing intelligence briefings while complaining about the lack of intelligence information, he would not yield:
"I have no comment about my schedule and I’m not going to comment on how I spend my time to the media."
Senator McCain is not one to meekly accept abuse or shrink from his responsibilities. As reporters demanded to know why he would not comment, he responded:
"Because I have the right as a senator to have no comment and who the hell are you to tell me I can or not?"
CNN even attempted to suggest that McCain was missing meetings about the very information he was upset about not having. The Senator quickly set the record straight:
"I’m upset that you keep badgering me."
The badgering, the bullying, the attacks that Senators Graham and McCain have been forced to endure for simply doing their jobs, the pressure to vary from their established talking points has been intense.
But they have stayed on target, letting the American people know what information they had been provided just as soon as it was provided to them. They have been unwavering in their attack on the way Ambassador Rice blindly repeated information she had been provided just as soon as it was provided to her.
Withholding information is simply another way of lying. It is lying by omission. The consistent pattern of security slashes should have been at least mentioned. Not stating the facts was itself misleading. A loss of credibility has to follow.
One hundred, yes 100, Republican Congressional Representatives signed a letter to the President opposing Ambassador Rice and supporting the charges of Senators Graham and McCain.
But the issue goes beyond Susan Rice. Those one hundred Republican Representatives know from personal experience who is to blame. The problem goes straight to the top: to one man who, despite his efforts to increase security of ambassadors and staff, simply lacked the leadership necessary to convince each of those Republicans to support the safety of those brave diplomatic servants of our nation.
In the stillness of each conscience, every one of those Republicans knows who really needs to accept responsibility for reduced security. Innocent blood is on the President's hands for failing to persuade them to stop opposing his increases in safety.
Senator McCain nailed the issue:
"She's not the problem. The problem is the President of the United States."
Ambassador Susan Rice will be meeting with her critics today. It is clear that somebody owes somebody an apology.
The West Wing was a fictional series about an intelligent, which is to say Democratic, administration. I enjoyed the made up President Jeb Bartlett His make believe Presidency sustained me through most of the Bush administration, the second one, the most destructive one.
One of my favorite episodes of The West Wing dealt with a Presidential gaffe and efforts of White House staff to deal with it. During a series of remote campaign season interviews with television stations from around the country, President Bartlett stays on line with a reporter. He makes a few off camera remarks about the middling intelligence of his likely Republican opponent and how competence is important in a dangerous world.
It doesn't seem to matter that the insult was unintended. The opposition party goes into a berserk level of fury, demanding an apology. Staffers insist the President just didn't know the camera was still live, but the whirlwind continues.
As the furor goes on and on, one member of the administration gets an epiphany. Is it possible that it is a singularly unwise strategy for Republicans to dwell and dwell and dwell on the possible incompetence of their own candidate? Toward the last, she confronts President Bartlett. You knew all along, she says, that the camera was still on. The President smiles and just moves on.
I thought about that episode during that horrible foreign trip for poor Mitt Romney. The Republican candidate fell over his tongue so many times it looked like vaudeville minus the baggy pants.
Mitt insulted the British handling of the Olympic games, comically forgot the name and misspoke the title of the opposition party leader, and screwed up common English idioms to the extent of implying that he had looked outside the Prime Minister's hindquarters. That was after sending two high ranking aides to make the case to a conservative publication. Those attending the meeting took the reasoning for a President Romney to be a racist presentation. And that was just the first country visited.
It occurred to me that President Obama might want to make a Jeb Bartlett "mistake" about Governor Romney's intelligence. But I supposed that would be so close to plagiarism that it would be noticed. Instead, President Obama made a straightforward observation that the hapless Governor was a bit inexperienced. No clever little gaffe. Just a this-side-up opinion.
In fact, after the assassination of the US Ambassador to Libya as he visited Benghazi, President Obama made a gaffe of his own, and conservatives went to town with it.
The Ambassador was killed one Tuesday night, and the response of the Muslim Brotherhood backed President of Egypt was maddening. The first reaction of Mohamed Morsi Wednesday morning was, well, nothing. After pretty much every other leader of note strongly condemned the killings of the Ambassador and three other Americans, Morsi ventured a tepid acknowledgement that something had happened. He expressed his powerful anger at the video that had caused widespread demonstrations. Then he assured one and all that the Egyptian government recognized that it had an obligation to protect residents of embassies.
The forceful denunciation of a video accompanied by a lukewarm assurance that governments ought to do their duty was met with some derision and much concern. It provided quite a contrast with the contrite apology of Libya and that country's strong condemnation of the killers. What sort of leader did Egypt have?
At that critical time of crisis and death, President Obama made his own gaffe. He was asked whether Egypt could be considered an ally. He answered:
"I don't think we would consider them an ally. But we don't consider them an enemy. They are a new government that's trying to find its way."
Within a day, the Egyptian leader revised and extended his remarks. In a second statement, Morsi went beyond his perfunctory assurance of embassy protection to something made of sterner stuff.
"This is an act that we reject, and such an act is rejected by Islam as well.
"Those who are attacking the embassies do not represent any of us. At the same time, on my behalf and on behalf of the entire Egyptian people, I'd like to issue my sincere condolences and my deepest concerns, and I strongly condemn the killing of the American ambassador in Benghazi and those who were with him."
His remarks were broadcast on Nile TV.
At the time of his election, we had two visionary, but dim, hopes about Mr. Morsi. One was that his popularity would fade with time. The other was that perhaps he would adopt a more peaceful attitude toward Israel. Now it looks like the first wish may interfere with the second.
It occurs to me, watching the tenuous cease fire between Israel and Hamas, an agreement brokered by Mr. Morsi, that there was something more to President Obama's little mistake.
"They were democratically elected. I think we are going to have to see how they respond to this incident, how they respond to maintaining the peace treaty with Israel."
Tommy Christopher of Mediaite looks to the behind-the-scenes activity leading up to the truce and suggests that we should be thankful that Barack Obama is President of the United States.
Perhaps that gratitude should include artfully contrived mistakes that might communicate more than a direct warning.
President Bartlett would be proud.
St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Florissant, MO
When I feel like I have no one,
this is where I find the best friend I could have.
When I feel unaccepted,
maybe even unacceptable,
this is where I find love flowing like a river.
When I feel like a motherless child,
a long way from home,
when I’m hungry and alone,
this is where the table is set, and my spirit is fed.
We are all hungry children of God.
And we all need to come home
to the house of the Lord,
where we are welcomed, and accepted,
Found on Line:
"I could sing of your love forever"
Performed by Hillsong
Every once in a while PZ Myers, writing for Pharyngula, comes up with an amazing thought. This time he does a sort of hall of mirror takeoff of evolutionary determinism:
Belief in Evolutionary Psychology May Be Hardwired, Study Says.
Vincent is back (YAY!) at A wayfarer's notes. He reviews an example of evolutionary development, then parallels into the evolving of spiritual belief, eviscerating Robert Wright's The Evolution of God and organized religion along the way. Did I mention Vincent is back? (YAY!)
Jack Jodell at THE SATURDAY AFTERNOON POST explores Republican motives in attacking UN Ambassador Susan Rice over Benghazi information. He doesn't omit the bitter hatred, but suggests a strategic aspect as well. My take is here. T. Paine contributes his anti-Obama anger here.
Manifesto Joe of Texas Blues, entertaining as always, offers his reaction to the reaction of post-election Republicans.
The Heathen Republican is one of the most diligent researchers in conservative opinion. This week he posts four quotes from extremely biased mainstream media about politics and conservatives and debunks them all.
Here's the problem. Although he provides direct quotes from those extremely biased sources, "ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, AP, Reuters, and The New York Times," he forgot to include any links. Hey, no problem. Being the helpful old soul I am, I devoted some time to running each quote through search engines. Sure enough each quote really did appear somewhere. Sadly, each source turned out to be The Heathen Republican.
Nate Silver, the genius of poll averaging and statistical probability, describes the idea of epistemic closure, without naming it as such. Silver's new book, The Signal and the Noise, is about unintended bias in statistics-based prediction.
According to a reader's review published by Keith Humphreys, Nate Silver looks to technological history to illustrate unpredicted consequence.
When printing decreased the cost of books by a factor of three hundred, the people of Europe were exposed to an information explosion, one of whose consequences was the proliferation of writings which were isolated along religious and national lines. The cost of “too much information” is selective engagement with it, picking out what we want to read and ignoring the rest. Greater sectarianism, accelerated by increasing information, led to a series of bloody religious wars in a Europe fragmented by people who chose different kinds of information as a focus of their attention.
For a while, it was still possible for a dedicated member of the financially elite to read and understand virtually all published knowledge in the English language. Thomas Jefferson was said to have read everything published in his day. At some point, the choices were to learn a lot about a little or to know a little about a lot.
Now even that choice is harder than a frozen boot. The proliferation of information in the internet age has made knowing more than the tiniest of tiny fractions a daunting task. Donald Trump knows a lot about making money on property. There is no room in his head for anything beyond that but his astonishing hair.
The problem is that absorbing information becomes like drinking from a fire hose. Selectivity has gone from a the instrument of choice for bias to a necessity for intellectual coherence.
"Epistemic Closure" is a term coined by Julian Sanchez of the Cato Institute to describe a system of information that forecloses any contact with opposing views. It is not the simple intellectual practice of closed mindedness. It is, rather, a mutually reinforcing reporting and opinion complex that shuts out any other consideration.
To some extent, we are forced by the volume of information to narrow it down to sources we consider reliable. We go to those we trust. Epistemic closure is the reason we are likely to avoid long missives intended to prove an earth centric universe. The Flat Earth Society may be a source of creativity. It would be one I am unlikely to encounter. I don't have enough disposable time to warrant the investment.
It is this technological explosion of available information, and the need for choices, that provides the underpinning of the debate here about the future of the GOP.
Even during the 2010 campaign, the season we all knew was leading to election disaster for Democrats, I was predicting a short life the Republican Party as a party of national influence.
Technology offers conservatives a respite from actual events. If the cold bright light of reality is bothersome, a new light switch is now available, provided by the internet and cable TV.
The GOP will be murdered by technology. The home computer done it.
This is the step by step. The weakest links I see are the fifth and sixth steps:
If GOP candidates get few enough votes in enough elections, the party will disappear.
If the GOP grows extreme enough, it will attract fewer voters, thus fulfilling Number 1.
If less conservative members continue to leave the party, the party will become increasingly extreme. Thus fulfilling number 2, which makes number 1 a certainty.
If more conservative members of the party continue to believe ideological purity is the key to victory, they will continue to make the GOP a less and less hospitable home for mainstream conservatives. Thus fulfilling number 3, thus making numbers 2 and 1 a certainty.
If extreme conservatives listen to what they are being told by conservative media, they will become increasingly certain that any setbacks are caused by a lack of ideological purity. Thus fulfilling number 4, making number 3, 2, and 1 a certainty.
- If conservative media stop telling extremists they are right, extreme conservatives now have the easy ability to find other more conservative media alternatives. Thus making it all come together in a very happy, yellow-brick-road ending.
One objection to my observations has been that political parties have always pulled back from the ideological brink after electoral loss. That seems to me an unreasoned dismissal of the thesis I have presented. When a case, even if that case is wrong, is presented for a departure from previous historical patterns, it is inadequate to reply that those same previous historical patterns disprove the case.
A second objection has been a lack of symmetry, based a sort of goose and gander instinct. If this tendency applies to conservatives, it must also apply to liberals. I have to acknowledge that this point depends on a largely undocumented observation. It rests on the tendency of conservatives to embrace what is comfortable, and a counter tendency of liberals to quest after what is useful and true. I have offered a plausible theory about why this might be the case. It is that more conservatives than liberals begin with a conclusion and seek evidence to support it. Liberals have societal goals in mind and look for ways to achieve those goals.
There are also studies, but I share with many a suspicion about social and psychological studies on ideology. They seem unfair on the surface. Ideology should rest on perceived truth and personal approach. It should be respected as having an integrity all its own. My prediction is not intended to discredit conservatism, although that is my own bias. It is intended to make a simple prediction based on available evidence.
So I go to a case study, the halfway point between anecdote and data. Nate Silver provides just such non-conclusive evidence.
In 2010, Silver offered data supporting a foreseeable Republican triumph. Democrats pretty much accepted his data and his conclusions, and worked to find ways to turn a bad situation around. We were unsuccessful.
In 2012, Silver offered data supporting a foreseeable Democratic triumph. Republicans almost universally dismissed his results, often with personal hostility.
These contrasting experiences are not unique to Nate Silver. A Republican pollster, quoted by E.J. Dionne, notices a parallel difference in reactions. "When you give conservatives bad news in your polls, they want to kill you," he said. "When you give liberals bad news in your polls, they want to kill themselves."
Dan Senor was a high ranking Romney campaign adviser. He can testify from personal experience the absolute certainty in Republican circles that their candidate was going to win and win big. "There is some kind of systemic crisis today in the world of polling," says Senor, "I think particularly on the right-of-center polling."
If members of the Republican base independently conclude that some revision, some reform, some less extreme ideology is necessary, Step 5 of my prediction will be disrupted and I will be proven wrong.
If existing information sources begin to suggest that some revision, some reform, some less extreme ideology is necessary, and if members of the Republican base are convinced, Step 6 of my prediction will be disrupted and I will be proven wrong.
Either is possible.
But remote control is, after all, part of the new technology. I think it's more likely they will just change the channel.
The American day of Thanksgiving, by popular tradition, began with a celebration in Plymouth not quite four centuries ago. The thanks was given for an end to hungry times as a bountiful harvest came in that year. Meeting primal needs after seasons of profound anxiety will sometimes do that.
That celebration, and the beginnings of the tradition itself, are not well documented. In fact, the habit of hosting a day of Thanksgiving might go back a hundred years before that to a reaction against some religious practices in Europe.
Holidays were taken very seriously in those days, and there were social penalties, sometimes legal penalties, to be paid for non-observance. But religiosity was taking a toll. The popular consensus in the early 1500s was that there were just too many holidays. It was beginning to interfere with economic life. Counting Sundays, the number of days of productive standstill was nearly 150 every year.
So a church reformation, which is to say a Catholic reformation, reduced the number of official holidays by almost three fourths. The more activist fringe of religious folk, the forerunners of today's conservative evangelicals, wanted more. They thought holidays were just a touch short of blasphemy. Puritans campaigned to eliminate all religious holidays, every one of them.
Yup. The original War on Christmas started with religious conservatives. The War on Easter was what might be considered an unquiet second front.
Those Puritans wanted to replace all religious holidays with sort of ad hoc days of fasting or thanksgiving. These would be held as needed. If times were hard or there was a plague or the harvest was lousy, or war was at hand, days of fasting would be the order of the day. War, famine, or pestilence would provoke prayers of penitence. And, if things were good, food was plentiful, there was peace in our time, and folks lived long and prospered, days of prayer and thanks would be appropriate.
Back when things were more than a bit rough in my life, I invented a practice of responding to the ordinary greeting of "How you doin'?" with a sort of private affirmation. I'd say "Better than average." Nobody had to know my average at the time was horrible, and my private little ceremony reinforced the notion for me that, every day in every way, things were getting better and better. Well, it was one way to deal with situational depression.
I kept the practice. The how-you-doin produces an absent minded better-than-average even today. At this stage of life lots of things are absent minded. Better than average, though.
Some friends, those in the know, tease me a little about my better than average disposition. A couple of days ago, I answered "Better than average" and a friend responded, "Yeah, but what is your average?" I thought quickly and said, "It's a little worse than I am now." He gave me a courtesy laugh. Or maybe it was more of a sympathy chuckle.
Okay, not every formula works out to be a positive affirmation. Still, I remain better than the average Burr.
I'm grateful for a lot of things today. Life itself is a gift. I live in a time and place of relative freedom and security. I am surrounded by family and friends, even if some of that surrounding is at an inconvenient physical distance. Our young Marine has served his country well and is safely out of Afghanistan.
Wars are closing. The nation is coming out of a desperate economic period. Marriage rights for different sexual orientation has received four, count em four, ratifications. More are on the way. The nation's first openly gay US Senator will take office in a couple months, accompanied by several gay Congressional representatives. A very good President has been re-elected, and now has a realistic chance of becoming a truly great President.
All in all, taking everything into account, the arc of the moral universe is ever so gently bending toward justice. Birds are singing. Skies are blue. God's in his heaven.
Things are better than average.
In response to Burr Deming's Benghazi Cover Up - Means and Motive
If the exact same scenario had existed, only with Bush in office, instead of Obama, the GOP would not have made up a scandal at all. They don't like Obama. Their emotions are genuine. They should dislike him for the reasons they dislike him and not spend all their time disliking him for reasons they invent to justify the disliking.
- JMyste, November 20, 2012
For people to be honest about their reasons for action, they have to know their reasons for action. But they can all blur together.
If we dislike someone, we are disposed to think the worst of his intentions. Our very perception changes, such that the bias is imperceptible to us. It even feeds itself: the bias makes us see wrongdoing where there is none, which in turn makes us dislike the target more, which in turn supports our bias.
Given enough time, that process can build up such a wealth of false or unwarranted beliefs that change becomes incredibly difficult. At that point, it is no longer reasonable to expect self-awareness.
Some people do intentionally make up reasons to dislike Obama, usually for political purposes. But for most people, the process is unintentional.
I just might prefer the dishonest ones.
Ryan also writes for his own site, where he frequently deciphers logic to reveal the underlying premise.
Please visit Secular Ethics.
In response to Burr Deming's Benghazi Cover Up - Means and Motive
Maybe they don't want the public to know why they dislike Obama, so they have to make up reasons to attack him.
- Jerry Critter, November 20, 2012
I don’t like Obama because he is largely anti-capitalist and a big-government progressive. I don’t like him because he is mendacious in the extreme. I loathe him because he thinks what would otherwise be considered an act of war if it had been executed by another nation is just a “bump in the road” and not the “optimal” situation for him.
I am enraged that four Americans were killed. Two of them were former seals that were told to stand down and not assist the ambassador when help was requested. They violated those orders to try and do the right thing and died accordingly.
I am pissed that a “spontaneous” demonstration was the initial cause given for this terrorism as caused by some damned film that nobody had ever heard of prior to that day and only had a few hundred hits on Youtube accordingly.
I am angered that the story seemed to change to it being a coordinated attack by al Qaida affiliated terrorists on the anniversary of 9/11 after the fact, and yet they still imprisoned the maker of the video for “unrelated charges”.
I am angry that this fire fight in Libya lasted over 6 to 7 hours and President Obama did nothing to order assistance to our ambassador from other military personnel that could have assisted.
I am really really mad that the left thinks this is all about politics instead of accountability from an inept and incompetent administration that could have and yet failed to protect four Americans that subsequently perished in a non-“optimal” way accordingly.
If there is anything politically that angers me about this, it is the fact that the media was largely spiking the story before the election but now have turned it into an episode of The Housewives of West Point when they find there are lurid affairs involved.
I am disgusted that probably a lot more good people will die over the next four years of this administration due to neglect, incompetence, or flat out stupidity.
And I am really saddened that most Americans seemingly don’t give a damn.
In addition to his contributions here, T. Paine also gives a damn at his own site.
Please visit Saving Common Sense.
Scandals typically involve motives.
Watergate was about power.
So was the "fair game" policy toward CIA operatives during the Bush/Cheney years.
Tonkin Gulf was about policy.
So were the mushroom cloud fantasy fabrications leading to the Iraq invasion.
Watergate led to several jail sentences, although not for the primary conspirator. The "fair game" policy led only to an ancillary conviction for the coverup, not the crime. A presidential pardon made that semi-disappear.
Tonkin Gulf and the mushrooms led only to historical disrepute.
In Benghazi, a terrible tragedy fell over the United States foreign service as a US Ambassador was killed, along with three career employees.
The scandal behind the assassinations seems to elude a howling Republican pursuit. Susan Rice was initially held to be responsible for misinformation that was force fed to Congress, the press, and the public. She, and the administration, responded that she had simply articulated the best unclassified information that the administration had at the time.
This is what she said on Meet the Press the Sunday after the attack, after cautioning that nothing was yet known for sure:
Our current assessment is that what happened in Benghazi was in fact initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo.
General Petraeus was put into a hearing. He said that he had been certain from the beginning that terrorists were behind the killings. AHA.
But he went on to say that a consultation of several agencies, the normal procedure, had produced the reports that had been given to the administration and to Susan Rice.
After the testimony, Senator Dianne Feinstein read from the original authorized intelligence talking points that had come from those agencies.
The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the United States embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault.
If Ms. Rice was not guilty of anything other than innocently adding coherence to carefully worked out intelligence gathering, keeping the public as informed as was she, then she is a scapegoat for others who acted dishonestly, right? After all, she did provide information that was later proven false. This narrative would make her the Scooter Libby, sort of, of the Obama Presidency.
There are two main difficulties in producing a coherent theory behind that coverup.
The first is the paucity of what is covered up. Republican rage centers on the manipulation of information to keep from the American people the fact that a US ambassador was killed by terrorists acting without cover by any enraged crowds. Ostensibly the motivation was to keep alive the pre-election story that President Obama had ordered the killing of the most notorious terrorist in living memory. If that cover up actually happened, it has to rank among the tiniest of motivations possible.
It is hard to imagine a voter who would be swayed by the information that al Qaeda is still strong enough to send a dozen armed gunmen to storm a compound. It is hard to imagine a voter who would think other voters would be affected by that knowledge. It is even harder to imagine a strategist contemplating such a thing.
It is possible I am missing something, of course. But whether the assassins had the benefit of crowd cover or acted in the silence of the night would have had little effect on the public standing of the President. It would be about as important a public consideration as whether the killers parted their hair on the left or the right.
The second difficulty is the magnitude of the conspiracy needed to carry off such a coverup, even temporarily. A substantial number of administration officials would have had to have been so delusional as to engage in a scheme involving the changing of intelligence documents. It is not easy to imagine the shared degree of confidence that would have been necessary that the change would go unnoticed by the very agencies who collaborated on the documents.
It would have to have been a staggering effort by a massive number of people with enormous political and legal danger, all for miniscule benefit.
John McCain has been chosen, pretty much by chance, as the team leader in launching demands for accountability. That chance has been somewhat unfortunate. While expressing outrage at not being provided with a clear account of how intelligence reports were formulated, Senator McCain missed hours of briefings held to provide a clear account of how intelligence reports were formulated. His office blamed mistakes in scheduling that took him out of session with officials sent by intelligence agencies to provide information, putting him instead in front of television cameras complaining of a lack of information.
Which leaves us with a difficult Republican storyline.
The motive for any administration scandal is difficult to discern.
The motive for Republicans pursuing such a scandal is obvious as a hot sun on a cloudless summer day.