Saturday, June 28, 2014

World Cup: Obama 2 and Putin 0

And now for the score in the World Cup competition for the world.

Obama 2 and Putin 0 as Obama cleans Putin's clock twice.  

My posting yesterday hailed Ukraine's joining with the modern Western world, signing a treaty this week that marked its abandonment of Russia and its alignment with Europe.  And I explained how Obama engineered this by squeezing the hot air out of Putin economically and showing the Ukrainians they were safe to stand up to that shirtless man.

Now comes word in the NY Times that the last of Syria's chemical weapons has gone bye-bye, which means gone to Finland to be destroyed. Obama engineered this nine months ago by threatening to bomb Syria unless Syrian ruler Assad turned over the weapons. By several adroit waltz steps Obama then lured Putin into getting Assad to an agreement, leaving Putin monitoring the removal.   All the pundits right and left blew raspberries at Obama.  He was (a) naive to trust Putin, (b) he was wicked to work with Putin, (c)  he came off as weak and Putin as strong. 


He was smart to trust Putin.  Putin is Syria's near neighbor and didn't want chemical weapons on his doorstep.  He also had stuck his neck out as a once-world-leader and needed to come off okay.

Further, it wasn't wicked to work with Putin when the goal was so good.  Besides, the Cold War is over and we have to adapt to realities as they are. 

Putin did, however, come off as strong.  That was the bait for which Putin fell.  He desperately needs to look strong in order to keep the support of the Russian people while their "empire" continues to melt away.  Obama was right to let him have his empty box. One always has to be aware of what the other guy needs in order to negotiate with him.

And did Obama come off as weak?  Only with the media and the American public. This same misperception has blanketed Obama's method of dealing with Russia over the Ukraine. As with Ukraine, the nature of his play made it impossible for him to explain how he had manipulated Putin.  Why?  Because he may need to do it again about something else. 

Obama did not, however, come off as weak in the view of other countries.  Any leader of a country big enough  to matter knows what Obama has done.  And they appreciate it and admire him for his skill.  Maybe they even learned a few moves as they watched him.

Nevertheless he gets no credit here at home.  His ratings have dropped generally but especially sharply on foreign policy.  The media doesn't get what he's doing and he can't explain it to them. 

Thus the NY Times today salutes the end of Syria's chemical weapons  -  not in the front page news story it warranted  -  but in an editorial.  That treatment downgrades the event in the eyes of the news media.  Further, in this editorial  the NYT buries its acknowledgment that Obama did the right thing.  Buries it in the ninth paragraph of the editorial:  "…the outcome has proved the wisdom of President Obama's decision to threaten, and then back away from, military strikes against Syrian targets when Russia proposed a negotiated settlement…. The chemical weapons are now out of the hands of a brutal dictator  -  and all without firing a shot."

What a contrast between that last sentence and the 100,000+  Iraqui dead and the 4000+ American dead gifted to us by George W. Bush.  A gift that even now keeps on giving…

Nevertheless, Obama has to pay a fearful price politically for his persistence in doing the right thing to save lives and not squander them.  He's gone down personally. The media has let him down.  And so have we. 

Nor will he get any gratitude from those he most benefitted  -  those who didn't die because he refused to be rash.  They will never know what he did for them.

But he will know.  And for a truly good man, that is enough.


Obama Cleans Putin's Clock in Time for the Fourth

This past week Ukraine voted to join the Western nations for trade and other activities.  This is a big fat slap in Putin's skinny face. This is what Putin dreaded. This is why he stirred up trouble in the Crimea and eastern Ukraine, as a way of threatening Ukraine. This is why Russian tanks were on the border of Ukraine. This is why the terrorism and intimidation.  And the violence that has taken more than 50 Ukrainian lives.

Putin put it all on the line to scare Ukraine out of aligning with the West.  And he has lost.

Thanks to Obama.

Once again President Obama played it just right.  He didn't let Putin lure him into overt hostile action, which would have given Putin the excuse to roll those tanks.  Instead he squeezed Russia hard enough economically that Putin had to pull the tanks back.  Ukraine's new president saw that Putin had been just bluffing, and therefore Ukraine's leader was emboldened to sign the treaty with the West.

Obama is getting no credit for his smooth moves in this matter, just as he got none for outfoxing Putin on eliminating Syria's chemical weapons.  The media doesn't understand how Obama finesses these tricks.  For a poker player, Obama is also damn good at bridge. But he leaves the media scratching its collective head.  And he can't explain his moves to the media.  The essence of his tactics is that they are secretive and quiet.  Once you start boasting of how you've just finagled one past Putin. you won't ever get a chance to do another such move.

Putin is all about pride.  That explains the shirtless photos, the monstrous Olympic opening, the strutting.  Obama knows this well.  He always allows Putin to hang on to a shred of pride, to keep a good face on his losses. Maybe this knack or focus comes from Obama's young years in Asia, where "face" is so important.  I doubt that.  Allowing the other guy to hold on to a pretense of respectability is standard tactics in all good, shrewd dealing.  Only rarely do you need to shame your opponent.

Some credit goes also to Ukraine for having the guts to sign the piece of paper and thus poke a finger in the eye of Putin, the Russian bear.  The Ukrainians have been brave throughout this difficult time.  They have now made their choice of a future.   On the same day, Georgia and Modova also signed up with the Western world. Like Ukraine these two are also breakaway former Soviet republics.

Welcome to the three of you.  You have had a long and dark time of it but now you have stepped into the sunlight.  So pull up a bench to the picnic table and have some barbecue ribs.  You're family now.

And just in time for the Fourth of July!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Obama Has Nothing Whatsoever To Do With Iraq

Everybody wants to tell President Obama what to do about Iraq.  Meantime the American people think less well this week of his foreign policy ability than they used to, according to a new poll, probably because of Iraq falling apart.


It's all nonsense.  Nothing Obama does about Iraq is going to make much difference in that country.  The one thing he might do that would be effective is put a dictator back in power, a "strong man" who will hold that country together by force of terror.  And that's something Obama isn't going to do.  Because then George W might come back too!

Iraq is going to do what Iraq is going to do. Chiefly it will continue to be the playground or, more accurately, the killing ground of what we today call "factions" but what Lawrence of Arabia would have called "tribes".  The media insist there's a three-way split in Iraq:  Kurd, Shitte, Sunni. It's not that simple.  The warring factions of the desert of old were not organized into such super-blocs.  They were tribal.  Thus today, even within the Sunni or Shiite there are multiple "factions".  These are the tribes of old.  And even as I write, the Shiite are dividing in Iraq just when they should (we think) unite in keeping out some Sunni from Syria.

Throughout the desert lands of the Arabs and Persians and throughout Africa, Europeans carved "nation states" into existence so they could have tidy little packages of governance.  It was ridiculous and arrogant, yoking together traditional enemies.   And it left us with eventual things like the Tutsi and Hutu horror.  It is still playing out in the fighting within African "nations".  Each of two or more tribes fights to secure control of an artificially created state.  Much the same thing is playing out on the sands of Araby.

Think of Lawrence of Arabia, desperately luring the Saudi tribes into cooperating to fight the Turks by offering gold.  No sense of "nation" there.  Just "me, my guys, my family, my tribe and my oasis and whatever we can pick up as the spoils of war."  Actually a very practical organization of reality in a culture dependent mostly on horses and camels for getting around.  When you live in a small world, a tribe makes great sense.

Of course, it's fun not only to fight the neighboring tribes but also  to fight that other religion that's so like yours but not quite.  Ask the Protestants and Catholics of Northern Ireland.  There may be only one God for Muslims, but there are various sub-religions among Muslims, the two chief ones going back to the time of Mohammed himself, if I understand correctly.  The two sides of that ancient quarrel recently made a bloody time of it in the war between Iraq and Iran after the Gulf War.  At that time it was possible to forget tribal and go national because strong dictators said that's how it was going to be. 

I have spent many years working with the Native American tribes.  I know whereof I speak as regards tribal people.  Historically the Native Americans would not pull together against the whites because the ones they should have been uniting with were their old enemies.  Four hundred years after Columbus came barging in and when I was trying to be of use to them, the Native Americans were still not pulling together on the oars.  I thought I'd go crazy, but they had the right to do things the way they thought best.  We won our battles  -  big ones, in fact  -  but probably we could have done so much more.  It just wasn't for me to say. 

Iraq is going to do what Iraq is going to do.  Obama has already done what needs to be done by us in Iraq.  And that is to get ourselves the hell out of there.  We are no longer the prisoner of Arab oil.  There is no longer any reason for us to be prisoner of Arab tribalism.

Good job, Mr. President. You pulled our troops out and say there will be no boots on the ground in Iraq.  That's great for us and clears the way for Iraq to figure out what Iraq has to figure out.  Contrary to what the Euro-American always thinks, we don't know what's best for "our little brown brother," as Teddy Roosevelt would call these people whom we  -  in our supposed wisdom  -  keep deciding we can "control". 

Control?  Have an effect?  Nation-building?  It's enough to make a cat laugh.  If people weren't dying….  


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Did We Just Miss Extinction by One Vote?

We as a species may have just narrowly missed extinction, perhaps by as little as one vote on the United States Supreme Court.

By that same vote the planet may also have just missed one of those major kill-offs like the one that extinguished the dinosaurs and much of the life on earth.

A bit of background: outside the glare of the media, perpetually misfocused as it is,  President Obama last fall ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue regulations that will virtually wipe out coal-fired power plants.  This is a big step in curtailing global warming and also, hopefully, cutting off the acidification of the world's ocean.  It's big news about curbing Big Coal and saving life on this planet.

Big Coal and its friends have been firing back at the Obama administration over this issue for the last couple of years as the Supreme Court has been repeatedly holding that the EPA has the power to regulate climate-changing gases, chiefly carbon dioxide.  The potential harm that CO2 can do was not within the scope of scientific thinking when the Clean Air Act was passed back in Nixon's day.  (And, yes, Virginia, there used to be Republicans back then who were pro-environment, including  -  most emphatically  -  ol' Nixon himself).  Since no one was then much hip to global warming and CO2, the new law didn't expressly authorize the EPA to regulate against the menace.

But in an unusual burst of good sense, the Supreme Court has upheld exactly that power on the grounds that it comes within the duty to protect life and health that the law places on EPA.  And that's the Supreme Court using the term "duty", i.e. the EPA not only can but MUST regulate against the conditions that will turn Earth into the boiling Venus and fry us all on the way there.

This is encouraging.  What is sad is that Big Coal and its buddies have made three trips to the Court to try to get a different result. But we won't be discouraged by their refusal to concede they've lost.  Rather we should be grateful for these repeated court cases because they point out a really dreadful possibility:  If the Democrats lose the presidency in 2016, a GOP president could appoint a right-wing justice to replace the aging and sickly Ginsberg.  That would deliver us all into the hot pot.  The Big Coal signal is clear:  it won't give up but will keep trying and hope to catch a break.  Ginsberg's failure to resign while Obama is president may give them just that break, allowing a GOP president to choose her successor.

Even before the GOP catching a break in 2016, we could be on the road to becoming Venus.  If we lose the Senate this year, it's conceivable that a Congress controlled by the GOP in both houses could vote to scrap or amend the Clean Air Act so as to save Big Coal's you-know-what and destroy the rest of us.  This scenario would be a bit tough though for the GOP to pull off, since Obama could veto such legislation, and the GOP is not likely to have a supermajority adequate to over-ride a veto.

No, the likelier hazard is that the Democrats lose the 2016 presidential race, the GOP thereby captures another seat on the Court and shoves us into the elevator shaft of our planet becoming a Hell.  We would not be tipping over into a slide toward a warmer Earth; we would be plummeting into a one-way, absolutely inevitable and self-accelarating fall into the boiling and sulphuric conditions of Venus. 

The fate of all of our grandchildren and their children and of this "little blue planet" rests in the hands of two women.  Justice Ginsberg and Hilary Clinton.  The former should set aside her self-serving decision to continue on into an older old age and instead resign in time for Obama to replace her.  We CANNOT risk her seat going to a Republican appointee.  As for Hilary, if Ginsberg puts us all at risk by hanging on to her seat until after 2016, some Democrat had damn well better win the presidency in 2016.  Can Hilary do it?

Can she? 

I wonder.

One vote on the Court may have saved us this week.  One woman may save or doom us in 2016.    



Sunday, June 15, 2014

Not Eric Cantor But Fathers Day And A Man Of Courage

 I was going to write about Eric Cantor but have decided Father's Day is more important.  Actually since last Tuesday anything is more important than Eric Cantor.

First, Happy Fathers Day to all the fathers who have transitioned to the new era of fatherdom and its higher degree of participation.  Lots of diapers and dishes. But lots of hugs too and being able to say, "You're a wonderful kid."  That didn't use to be allowed.

In fact, my dad never once said that he loved me.  But I knew he did.  He told me about the stock market when I was eight and about communism when I was ten:  "It sounds like a great idea on paper but doesn't actually work very well".  That's the best summation of communism I've ever heard. Even though I was a girl, and girls were nothing in those days, he talked to me.  So I knew he loved me.

And he bought me the occasional chocolate popsicle and let me watch him bowl.  In summer we took evening walks along the country roads where we lived in rural Illinois, and in winter he left the house braced to battle the blizzard down to the railroad station  to get to his job in Chicago. Sick or well, he never missed a day's work.  So I knew he loved me.

When we left rural Illinois for the push and shove harshness of post-war Los Angeles and its ugly pavement and my heart was broken with homesickness and my wicked Aunt Georgie was living with us and hated me, he walked me some evenings to the drugstore and bought me a chocolate soda and gave me a nickel to play Hoagie Carmichael singing "Old Buttemilk Sky".  So I knew he loved me because he knew when I was really hurting even though he never could abide "crocodile tears" and I had no tears for my terrible suffering.

My four Watt cousins told me in our middle-age and long after he was dead, how he came out into their backyard and held them all so they could cry when their father had died. "The rest of the family was in the house comforting Ma, and we had been sent outside to be out of the way. But he came to find us."  His mother had died when he was sixteen, leaving him an orphan.  Because he had had the courage then to face and experience his own pain, he was able to sense and console the pain of others.

That's a rare sort of courage in any man in any age.  Most hide from their feelings, frightened of their pain.   But my father was brave.  Brave emotionally and brave physically.  As an orphaned kid and a "newsie" he'd had to fight to hold his corner and sell his newspapers.  Not just fight other kids but the thugs with baseball bats that the rival newspapers sent.  He never spoke of these things.  His sister told us. When he was grown and married, he and my mom had four kids during the Depression.  That too was courage.  And when the war came he tried over and over to enlist but his draft board wouldn't take him because his job was designated "vital to the war effort".

He gave me something better than anything material and something better even then saying "I love you".  He gave me the gift of courage.  I've tried to keep faith with that.  And sometimes it's as if he is standing just behind me saying, "Come on, Dorothy Helen, you can do this."

But he never says, "I love you."  Not even now. 

He doesn't have to.     

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Eric Cantor's Defeat? Double Dipping With The Devil

Goodbye, Eric Cantor!  We won't miss your smarmy smirk at all.  Of all the nasties the GOP has served up in recent years, you are the nastiest. You smiled as you lied. You smiled when you cut food for poor children.

Your fatal mistake has been the same one Karl Rove made, the mistake that cost him his vision of running a nationally all-powerful GOP majority for decades to come.  His mistake? He dined with the Devil.

You did it too.  And with second helpings.

The old saying is that "If you dine with the Devil, use a long spoon".  The kicker is that there is no spoon long enough.  If you once take the wrong people on board to advance your cause, you're stuck with them and the eventual outcome they can bring down on your head.  It's the story of Dr. Frankenstein but without Gene Wilder.

In Rove's case, he embraced the born-again Christians and fired them up into carrying the GOP on their shoulders, engaging them (and exploiting them) by emphasizing anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage as the marching tunes.  The far-right Christians, however, were not going to be led indefinitely by the likes of Karl Rove.  By 2006 some of them said, "Enough with politics.  We are about religion."  Others said, "There's more to being a Christian than being an anti-something, like being concerned about poverty and the environment."  In 2010 another segment morphed into being Tea Partyers.  And they beckoned the like-minded anti-government kooks to join them.  Rove lost control of his Republican party.  

But even more devastating, the GOP had lost its legs.  By shoving off the grass-roots precinct work to the churches, Rove allowed the GOP volunteer ranks  -  traditionally very strong  -  to just wither away.  That's why he couldn't believe on election night 2012 that Romney had lost.  He thought the troops were working the field in Ohio but they weren't. His GOP grass-roots had shriveled away, and the Tea Party troops do their own work, not the bidding of the GOP.

Eric Cantor not only embraced the far right as Rove had done, but he also fed it and stoked it. He became its self-appointed head in the House, even scheming against the attempts by his supposed partner, Speaker John Boehner, whenever Boehner tried to achieve some good things for the American people.  Cantor even went so far as to literally travel very far  -  all across the country, in fact  -  to raise money for Tea Party candidates.  He was theirs.  They were his. At least he thought so.

But before he was a self-designated Tea Partyer, he was a Jew.  He seems to have forgotten that basic identity.  Jews don't become Republicans and certainly don't became radically conservative Tea Partyers.  The moral convictions of the Jews and their historical experience have placed them at the heart of the Democratic party. It is a fundamental of Judaism to take care of the weak and helpless.  It's called being a human being.  That is not at all compatible with being a Tea Partyer with the mantra of "Every man for himself!"  

It is also an historical fact that many Republicans don't like Jews.  Insofar as Republicans have been the party of the country club and the Ivy League dining clubs, Jews have been outcasts.  Yes, there were exceptions.  There are Jews who have had Republican friends.  But not any more.  Those Republicans fled the GOP a couple of years ago.

It is quite possible, therefore, that Cantor lost his primary because today's Republicans hate Jews.  David Wasserman of Charlie Cook's highly regarded "The Political Report" stated yesterday, as reported in the New York Times, that Cantor lost for this reason, calling his Judaism and the hatred for it "the elephant in the room".  Wasserman, like other analysts, has been searching these past 12 hours for reasons Cantor lost his primary when establishment GOP elsewhere have been beating back Tea Party challengers.  Indeed, the talk this year has been that the Tea Party is done for, burnt out. Wasserman notes that Cantor had also been fine-tuning his district to make it ever more conservative, thus inadvertently making it ever more anti-Semitic. 

However he did it, Eric Cantor managed to lose to an unknown who was funded with pocket change from under the sofa cushions. 

My mother's favorite saying was "The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine."  In other words, "You'll get yours, Mac.  Just wait and see."

In Cantor's case, the mills ground quickly. Perhaps it was quick because Wasserman is right, that Cantor's being Jewish helped finish him off.  So much for double-dipping when dining with the Devil.  Cantor's was a double baddy, compounded by his betraying his own people and their ethic when he sat down to dine with the Tea Party-dominated GOP. 

My mother had another saying:  "God will not be mocked."  

Apparently Jews have to be especially careful whom they invite to dinner.  Maybe Cantor is lucky a lightning bolt didn't find him, though to judge from the screaming headlines, it did.

Goodbye again, Eric Cantor.  The crowd with the torches has just carried you away!