Monday, September 30, 2013

Tea Party on the brink of destruction

The hard core right wing Tea Party wing of the Republican Party is finally getting what it wants, to shut down the government which it hates so much.  The idea is to shut off the spigot of goodies that create a culture of dependency.  So the only thing they really want to end are those programs that help people in need.  They seem to be obsessed by the notion that a small percentage of people abuse the entitlement programs like food stamps and Medicare.  This is just silliness, in my opinion.

I don't think it is possible for any big program of any big organization to be run with absolutely no fraud or abuse.  But does that mean that the program shouldn't exist?  Are bridges built without some fraudulent cost over-runs?  Are airports built without any featherbedding of contracts?  Any huge endeavor has potential for abuse, but should we abandon building bridges or airports because of that?  I think the obvious answer is to fight the abuse but keep the programs. That is what management is all about, isn't it?

How about the financial industry, if one is looking for corruption and abuse of a massive, complicated system?  Are we to shut down the banks because the upper management has turned them into corrupt sources of multi-millions for themselves?  I would dearly love to see some of the top thieves in the financial industry ruined financially and sent to jail, but even I don't want the banks themselves to disappear.

So, the Tea Party seems to be suffering under the delusion that they can blame Obama for the government shutdown.  What nonsense.  The hard core right wing, the Confederate wing of the Republican party, is doing what it knows how to do, destroy itself while it congratulates itself for its manly courage.  I think it is no accident that the heart of the hard core is in the old confederate states, the deep south, with Texan Republican Ted Cruz proclaiming himself to be the face of the "rebellion." 

One of the things that I am seeing so clearly in all of this is how ideology works.  Those inside the ideological bubble see themselves as being at the heart of a world changing movement that is destined to sweep us all up in it so that we can all see the brilliant light of its goodness and truth.  That's what the Communists thought, that's what the Fascists thought, that's what the Libertarians think, that's what the Evangelicals think.  As a matter of fact isn't that what the Catholics thought as they were torturing their way to dominance in the Spanish Inquisition?  Isn't that what the Islamist Jihadists think while they blow themselves up in crowded places?  

They are delusional.  Too bad that their delusions are so costly and painful to all the rest of us.

Fanaticism is not an attractor.  Closing the government is the action of a three year old child - throwing a tantrum and holding their breath until they get their way.

Well, they are not going to get their way, but they will drive people out of the Republican Party.  I left in 2010 when the Tea Party took it over and I found them to be repulsively intolerant, inflexible, and childishly willful.

But, maybe that is what they really want after all, to follow in the footsteps of their ideological founders, the Confederacy - to bravely fight a hopeless battle and feel very manly while they are destroyed by those who see them as nutcases, and who just turn away.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Syria - bumbling, fumbling, stumbling, but managing to stay out of their Civil War? So far...

Bumbling, fumbling, stumbling... oh dear, President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry are having real problems with Syria.  Why?  Are they incompetent fools?  Maybe.  But the real problem is the Middle East and how it compares to American values and interests.

It seems to me that there are some obvious truths.

First, the Middle East really seems to want to have a Middle East wide civil and religious war and carve up the Middle East along religious and sectarian lines - Shia, Sunni, Kurd, Allawite, and whoever else is out there wanting to live only with people just like themselves and are anxious to kill everyone else. 

I think it would be very nice if they all just got along and allowed religious, ethnic, and cultural diversity and tolerance, but the area is centuries behind the West in this respect, and the West isn't real good at it either, witness the bitter conflicts between the South and the Tea Party on one hand, and the North and the Liberals on the other.  At least we had our Civil War a century and a half ago, so the shooting is over, I hope.

Second, the nation does not, does not, does not want to go back into the sands of Middle East and spend its blood and treasure trying to pick sides between, or even to calm down, the killers in those civil and religious wars.

Third, the West finds it almost impossible to stand by and do nothing when we see brutality, slaughter, and massacre on our TVs and computer screens.  

Fourth, the interests of the U.S. and the West are best served by Syria remaining in the control of the Assad regime, but not Assad himself, rather than being taken over by radical islamist jihadists.  The Assad regime has no particular aim to kill Americans or other Westerners, whereas jihadists seem dedicated to killing infidels wherever they find them.  How to show the compassion of civilized people without empowering jihadist fanatics?

So, what can a president do?  Any president?  Of either party? Given these completely contradictory forces?  Probably either look like a bumbling, stumbling, fumbling fool, by being indecisive, kind of like Obama - or look like a bull in a china shop trashing and crashing everything he touches by being really decisive and militarily strong, kind of like W. 

Why is Syria of interest to us?  It's not, really.  But humanitarian hawks want to Do Something.  Why was Iraq of interest to us? It wasn't, really, but neocon hawks wanted to Do Something.  I was one of those, to my regret now.  

If I thought that adding American military to the Middle East would end the slaughter there, I might think it was OK.  But, as best as I can tell, American blood in Middle Eastern sands only adds more deaths, not fewer.  They are going to have to fight their way into newly drawn countries, or learn to live with each other, and the U.S. and the West aren't going to be able to have much to do with that process, as best as I can tell.

I continue to think our only option is to try to identify and train and support those factions that are more modernist and moderate.  Or at least, once some winners emerge, to add our expertise and guidance to allow them to create pluralistic democracies.  Our hopes were raised by the February 11 peaceful uprising in Egypt that deposed Mubarak, but that beautiful movement of the bulk of the Egyptians was taken over by... the Muslim Brotherhood, who proceeded to build an islamist dictatorship.  Not exactly a surprise, at least in retrospect.  

The real hope that I have is that they get tired of killing each other and decide to find a way to either separate from each other as a function of diplomacy, or to find a way to live together in relative peace.  

I concluded after the disaster of the Viet Nam war that I should only support a U.S. war if a mother and father could look at each other upon hearing of the death of a child in that war and say to each other that the pain of that loss is unbearable but at least we can comfort ourselves by knowing that our child died for a worthy cause.  I don't see how getting sucked into the Middle Eastern Civil and Religious wars satisfies that criterion.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

I can't enjoy watching a sport that includes brain damage

 I lost interest in baseball and football when they became showcases for cheating by using steroids and other performance enhancing drugs to ruin the games. Football has an even deeper reason for me to not watch - brain damage. I just can't enjoy watching a sport that has brain damage as an integral part of the sport.

In the '60s I was an avid football and boxing fan.  I thought the athletes were the pinnacles of athletic excellence.  I loved the sports.  Muhammed Ali, Joe Frazier, Jim Brown, Dick Butkus, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice - these were thrilling heroes to me, and it filled me with many hours of joy to watch them.  

But then, the drugs ruined the games for me because of the inhuman levels of size and strength and speed of the players.  In a way, baseball was more spoiled for me than football because at least the football players were all supersizing at the same time and the competitors were still on a par with each other, whereas in baseball the game is a balance between the geometry of the ballparks and the strengths and abilities of the players, and when they became supersized they outgrew the dimensions of the parks, and the statistics became meaningless.

And now, we know the terrible price that football players are paying for the enjoyment of the sports fan - permanent brain damage.  I always knew that the players crippled their knees, shoulders, backs, feet, elbows, etc. but thought that if they were willing to pay the price, I would just ignore the whole issue and admire them all the more for their physical courage.  

But brain damage is different.  A football player cannot do anything to make his brain immune to concussion and permanent damage.  Better designed helmets will not protect his brain from concussion.  Apparently, it is not just the vicious headhunting practices where a tackler or blocker tries to knock out an opponent, but rather it is on most plays that blockers and blocked, and tacklers and tackled, jar their brains enough that even then they suffer a form of concussion that is less than a total loss of consciousness and is enough to kill off brain cells and create conditions for brain disease.

Famously, one of the greatest linebackers, Junior Seau, and Dave Duerson as well, committed suicide by shooting themselves in their hearts so that their brains could be studied postmortem.  Their brains showed that they had been suffering from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a brain disease caused by multiple concussions and sub-concussions, as a result of a lifetime in football.  The result?  A lifetime of dementia, confusion, depression, aggression, violence, and even suicide.  Much too big a price to pay for the enjoyment of sports' fans.

The sport has become a multibillion dollar industry.  It is the main advertising venue for beer and cars, a symbol of hyper masculinity that viewers try to identify with and imitate.  I think one of the reasons we have an obesity epidemic in America is because men have an image of masculinity where being thee hundred pounds is admired.  Weighing three hundred pounds is pretty easy to accomplish with beer and pizza and sugars.  How many couch potatoes with one hundred pound bellies think of themselves as fitting into the mold of supersteroided and growth-hormoned football freaks?  The nation is killing its athletes and its fans at the same time with a love of a game that is intrinsically damaging to its participants.

Enough of my rant.

Enough of football too, as far as I'm concerned.  How many fathers will let their sons play a game that will cripple their bodies and permanently damage their brains?  

The NFL is trying to put this all behind them by settling a lawsuit and promising to make the game safer.  They are fooling themselves.  The damaged veteran players are not going to go softly into the night, and neither are their families and lawyers. They shouldn't.

I watch golf and love it.  No steroids that help performance, no brain damage, no injuries that cripple golfers for life, a code of honor and honesty rather than of cheating and winning at any cost.  It is actually a sport rather than a sports racket that uses up athletes and throws them on the dung heap when they are washed up.

I think football is on its death bed, and I think it knows it. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Humanitarian hawks under Obama are pretty similar to neocons under W

Susan Rice and Samantha Power are a lot like Paul Wolfowitz and William Kristol in that they are each ideologues who push for military action against tyrants, just from different sides of the political spectrum.  Obama has humanitarian hawks pushing him, W had neocons pushing him.  I have hopes that Obama is less malleable that W was, and that he will manage to keep us out of a major military involvement in Syria.

As I wrote before, the U.S. has no real national interest in Syria.  David Stockman writes passionately in that the U.S. needs to get out of the business of military interventions that aren't connected to defending the homeland or connected to real, tangible issues of national security.  His main point is that after WWI and after WWII the U.S. cut its military in half because it wasn't needed to be the same size as during such huge wars.  But, after the U.S. won the Cold War the military was not slashed appropriately, but rather we have charged out into the world to make things right by either the ideologies of those on the right or those on the left.  Key quote:

"The screaming strategic truth is that America no longer has any industrial state enemies capable of delivering military harm to its shores: Russia has become a feeble kleptocracy run by a loud-mouthed thief, and the Communist Party oligarchs in China would face a devastating economic collapse within months were they to attack their American markets for sneakers and Apples. So the real question now before Congress is, how is it possible that the peace-loving citizens of America, facing no industrial-scale military threat from anywhere on the planet, find themselves in a constant state of war?"

9/11 certainly happened, but are the fanatical Islamists really all that concerned about overthrowing the U.S.?  Didn't they just want us out of the deserts?  Why do we keep meddling in their religious and civil wars?

Secrertary of State John Kerry made a lovely, impassioned speech trying to inspire Congress to do the right thing and avenge the deaths of innocents by chemical gas.  But, does anyone think that Assad is going to unleash sarin gas and wipe out half the population of the U.S.?  Stockman says that the propaganda war machine is constantly:

"...falsely transforming tin-pot dictators and tyrants like Ho Chi Minh, Daniel Ortega, Slobodan Milosevic, the Taliban, Ayatollah Khomeini, Saddam Hussein, and now Bashar al-Assad into dangerous enemies... Only after the fact, when billions in taxpayer resources have been squandered and thousands of American servicemen have been killed and maimed, do we learn that it was all a mistake, that the collateral destruction vastly exceeded the ostensible threat, and that there remains not a trace of long-term-security benefit to the American people."

As to Syria, the U.N., NATO, the Arab League, pretty much everyone is staying out of this one.  But, the U.S. left wing humanitarian hawks are so appalled at watching bad people do bad things that they feel compelled to Do Something.  But, how do we drop missiles into a civil war without it blowing up in our faces?  How do we stick a military toe into the quicksand without eliciting a response that demands our whole foot?

The real question that the left wing humanitarian hawks and the right wing neocons never really understood the answer to was, what happens after the bad guys are dethroned? Quite frankly, Assad is bad for the Syrians, but he's not bad for the national interests of the U.S.  The guys fighting him are very bad for the U.S., as I understand it, al Nusra is associated with al Qaeda. I have hopes that modernists and moderates can gain power over time, and I hope the U.S. and the west can help them take over.  But that is not going to be helped with missiles form ships offshore now, as best as I can tell.

George Friedman of observes that Obama has no appetite for nation building in Syria.  He has learned the sorrowful lessons of W's failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, and from his own failures in Lybia.  He suggests an interesting possibility, that the Alawite regime stay in place but get rid of Assad.  That sounds interesting to me.  It could open the door to reduced slaughter by the regime and open the door to some political negotiations.  I wonder if Russia could offer Assad asylum?  Or maybe Iran?  He seems to have friends.  Or the Alawite regime could just let him die of pneumonia or some such.

One thing for sure, whatever Obama and the U.S. does, he and we will be blamed for everything that happens in the Middle East.  Friedman sums up ironically:

"It is not easy to be president, nor is it easy to be the world's leading power. It is nice to be able to sit in moral judgment of men like Assad, but sadly not have the power to do anything. Where life gets hard is when sitting in moral judgment forces you to do something because you can. It teaches you to be careful in judging, as the world will both demand that you do something and condemn you for doing it."

I think it is too late, and Obama feels he must do a Limited Attack.  I pray that it is a one time shot, or better yet that Congress says no and Obama concedes, just as Cameron did in Britain.  Sometimes, a president needs to let the country talk him into using common sense, and Just Say No to the very well intentioned but wrong ideologues in his own administration.