Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Whither Bernie?

In reality, the primary season is over. The path Bernie has to the nomination is basically to renege on his entire raison d'ĂȘtre, get a firm grasp on the Dark Side, and try to super delegate his way past the will of the people, the popular vote, and electoral process he so valiantly defends against "corporate money".

In truth, the primary was over when Bernie announced he was running. He probably kept Joe Biden out of the race (who would have stood a decent chance against Hillary, and certainly could match her vote for vote at the super delegate level and could conceivably have energized the same young voters that Bernie has. Google "Biden Bitchin' Camaro"). Sanders' mishmash organization, inability to cultivate even the super delegates in his own state...I mean, really, if you're going to descend into openly trying to steal an election anyway, you may as well be honest about it and stop disillusioning the youth of today...and absolutely barebones campaign infrastructure speaks of a man who made this decision basically about as carefully as a rich person chooses toilet paper.

His most important decisions -- hiring Tad Devine and Jeff Weaver -- speak volumes about his priorities and his willingness to thrown his believers under the bus for one chance at...what? The nomination? A chance to speak at the convention? A chance to get his issues on the party platform?

He never stood a chance at the nomination. Coming from 65 points behind to ten points behind is an admirable effort but it's still a losing effort. Second place is second place and double digits is double digits, and my suspicion is that a ham sandwich could have accomplished the same, especially with a layer of bacon.

He understood all this even as late as the New York primary, where he had a slim chance still but only spent $35,000 on a get out the vote effort. Now contrast that to the million he spent monthly on Messrs. Devine and Weaver.

Sanders has reached a fork in the road. He can choose to embrace the dark arts of the possible, lawyer up, spend even more money on irrelevancies and make a joke of himself and a parody of his campaign. Or, he can choose to embrace the good in his campaign, the positivity he brought, and the idealism of the tens of millions who believe in him.

See, he's in a difficult spot and there's a carrot dangling in front of him that, frankly, I don't see how he cannot take.

For one thing, he has tens of millions in illegal campaign contributions that have to be returned. Estimates run as high as $23 million. At March 31, he only had $17 million dollars, cash in hand. He is currently outspending his monthly hauls, diminishing faster than a reservoir in a drought in summer.

If Weaver and Devine returned their stipends since they've been hired, that would be enough to pay back the money Sanders owes. But they won't.

Sanders could hold onto the money, of course, but then he exposes the donors to criminal and civil prosecution and the campaign to sanctions (moot, as Sanders will not be running past the California primary).

He's between a rock and a hard place, to be sure, so he'll probably request a bailout (heh!) from the DNC, which has a fund for just these purposes.

The same fund that is replenished by those $350,000 a plate dinners George Clooney has to hold.

Oh, the irony: the People's Candidate bailed out by the very corporate whores he hates.

Note something else: because of this indebtedness (first to his donors, then to the DNC), there is no way in the world Sanders runs a third party bid. It would immediately be shut down by the FEC until the records are straightened out. He'd need an even faster cash infusion. Hello, superPACs!

But there's a flip side to this whole conundrum: he can't *stop* running either, if he wants to be a player at the convention (and certainly if he has any chance of flipping the nomination). This means he'll be deeper and deeper in debt as the hours pass by.

Which then calls into question his entire policy platform of redistributing the federal tax revenue to pay for his programs. After all, if he can't micromanage his campaign (and word on the street is that is exactly what he is trying to do, along with his wife) then how in the hell is he going to pay for college and single-payer, even with massive cuts to defense spending?

These are issues I could never have foreseen when I endorsed Sanders back in February. My concerns dealt with his possible success, but never about his probable failures.

It concerns me because, right now, Bernie Sanders is at another crossroads that has nothing to do with his campaign and everything to do with the future of the liberal progressive movement.

In the course of my lifetime, I've seen the liberal movement's concept of a President veer from the idealism of Robert F Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy to the sham of Michael Dukakis. You'll notice none of them won.

Meanwhile, the Democrats who have won: FDR, LBJ, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama -- Jimmy Carter being a mild outlier -- have been centrists who have enacted policies that tended to pull the nation leftward.

In FDR's case, yank it hard.

Sanders has an act to juggle here: he has to keep liberal issues at the forefront of policy discussions, yet he can't afford to have himself shunted aside as just an angry old man in a bathrobe who yells at clouds, no matter how bright and sparkly those clouds might be. That would destroy whatever progress we can make in the next four years, and render the liberal movement dead in the water for decades.

Again.

I'm all for Bernie continuing his crusade but there's an exit strategy that he needs to start implementing. The country can't afford his embarrassment.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

An Endorsement. And An Explanation.

I’m supporting Bernie. He better (not best, better) represents the values I want to see in a Democratic candidate. 
But Hillary is a very very close second. Close enough that the bullshit BernieBros and BernBots are tossing out there made me reconsider my vote, which is why I'm late to the endorsement. 
I've decided that I’ll vote for him anyway, if only to register my support for a left-wing platform, but it will not be a particularly happy vote unless the rhetoric starts redefining itself.
I have very serious practical & pragmatic concerns about a Sanders candidacy:
1) He will have to raise at least a half billion dollars, and more likely $2.5 billion (if you include SuperPAC and 501(4)c spending). The Kochs have committed $1 billion to getting a Republican in the Presidency already. I don’t see how that happens without going to Wall Street and even then, how that happens going to the very people he’s vowed to destroy….unless he sells out the way BernBots claim Clinton has. 
Maybe….MAYBE…if he gets the 50 million or so people who vote for him to pony up $50, he covers that nut. Maybe. Which brings me to point two:
2) He’s going to have to, inside of three months, define his brand of socialism to that slice of the population who have made reality TV popular — in other words, the uninformed. 
In fact, I think I should probably amend that $2.5 billion to $3.5 billion because a rough estimate of the ads he’ll have to run that say “No, the OTHER kind of socialism!” is massive. Meanwhile, the Republican strategy to defeat him is simple: Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Sanders. 
Hillary hasn’t stooped this low, thank God but does anyone think the Trumps of the world will play nicely? Which raises point three:
3) Right now, Bernie Sanders is the only candidate in either party with a net positive favorability rating (Dr Ben Carson flatlines at neither positive or negative. Hillary has a -8 net unfavorability rating). But you’ll notice, apart from the occasional joke tossed Bernie’s way, no one has truly vetted him in opposition research. There are serious issues surrounding him that have not come to light (or have been investigated and dismissed, a possibility I will admit). Burlington College will be an issue for his campaign (Jane runs his staff). His missing mid-1960s years (he’s not particularly forthcoming about them). His conscientious objector status during the Viet Nam war (remember, these are people who Swiftboated a decorated hero from that war). 
None of these have to be true to quickly turn that positive into a negative, in the skilled hands of Frank Luntz and Karl Rove. Hillary, for all her baggage, is pretty much naked in the fields: her ratings build in the best the Republicans have smeared her with.
So well have they smeared her that Bernie’s most zealous supporters are parroting Luntz talking points. 
So yea, I’ll vote Bernie and if he’s the candidate, I’ll work my ass off to get him elected because the alternative is Trump and the Idiocracy. But I hold no illusions that it will be hard work. Very very hard.

Monday, January 11, 2016

RIP David Bowie


The news of the death of David Bowie was profoundly shocking to me, and it's taken me a moment to collect my thoughts why.

Bowie was an artist who was always able to stay relevant without becoming a parody -- unlike, say, Madonna. It was the endless variety of music he could produce without losing the underlying thread of his talent by imitating a style. He lived that style, worked that style, mined it and made it his own.

From his early glam-rock days to his more recent "rock crooner" era, he never let you lose sight of the fact that it was David Bowie, no matter what name -- Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Thin White Duke -- he cloaked himself in. 

If anyone had found a veritable fountain of youth, Bowie had. The endless reinvention and reincorporation of music made him a walking performing encyclopedia of the past forty years.

And he never seemed to age physically. Sure, there were lines and wrinkles, the occasional wattle when he lost weight (possibly from the cancer that took him), gray hair so neatly combed and styled that you were sure he added the gray as a final touch, but you never sensed any less energy from him.

You look at a Mick Jagger or Paul McCartney, Elton John or Peter Gabriel, and you see how time wounds us, saps us of strength and vitality, despite our best efforts at covering that up.

But Bowie never seemed to drain, never seemed sapped. He seemed endlessly energetic.

Many years ago, he foresaw this day as Ziggy Stardust, in "My Death": 
My death waits like a beggar blind
who sees the world through an unlit mind
throw him a dime
for the passing time...
My death waits there between your thighs
your cool fingers will close my eyes
let's think of that and the passing time
My death waits to allow my friends
a few good times before it ends
so let's drink to that and the passing time

But what ever lies behind the door,
there is nothing much to do
angel or devil I don't care
for in front of that door... there is you
Of all the people I imagine who might beat death back, it was the Man Who Fell To Earth. Godspeed, David. You've brought us all joy.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

And So This is New Year...


So what have you done? Another year older. A new one just begun.

(Yes, I took license with the lyrics, sue me)

2015 was a weird year, to be sure. I remember writing early on that the year would be defined by marijuana, and while it wasn't as dominant an issue as I thought it might be, the year sure had the stank on it of old weed.

I mean, really...Donald Trump, the front-runner for a major party nomination? Why? Because he speaks his mind?

Yes, he speaks his mind, the trouble is he is half out of his mind. That this low-rent, tin-plated dickless wonder is even taken seriously by anyone is a testament to the failures of Republican education policies.

Libertarians around the nation lifted their snouts from the troughs of crumbs from their overlords and snorted, squealed, and then rose up on their hind hooves and murmured approvingly. Fucking idiots.

Personally, I can't complain. I had a good year. I cut a lot of chaff out of my life, culled the grain, dropped a lot of dead weight and managed to move on. I grabbed life by the throat and let me tell you, there is no more terrifying or liberating thing to do. And 2016 is poised to be fantastic now that I don't have all the hangers-on to deal with.

So, my dear reader....and I hope I still have many of you around, because goodness knows there were times I wanted to give this up and forget about blogging anymore...thank you for 2015. Thank you to my friends, my family, and my casual acquaintances. Thank you even to those who wished me harm, because fuck you, I won. You only hurt yourself, not me.

On to 2016, my preciouses!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

How to Defeat Terrorism

We need to try something different. America has waged a full scale war in South Asia for thirty years.  We've waged a sort of Cold War against Islam for decades longer, going all the way back to Mossadegh and Iran. 

All we've managed to do is inflame the situation. Europe has struggled with Islamic extremists for centuries, and while things were quiet for a long time, the beginning of the twentieth century saw Europe interfere yet again in Middle Eastern affairs, igniting old passions and angers.

Thirty years of war (going back to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan) has done nothing but make more rabid dogs. That's a failed policy. This is not a war against people, it's a war against an ideology -- the ideology of jihad -- and every time we've bombed a country, we created more enemies as we've attempted to wipe out that ideology.

One reason President Obama has been correctly circumspect about mentioning Islam in discussing terrorism isn't that he's afraid to call it that, but that by linking it to the religion and not to the morons committing these crimes, he gives our enemy comfort. 

The comfort of having his words slipped into a recruiting video to prove that "America is at war with Islam". A fine recruiting tool, to be sure. ISIS and Al Qaeda appeal to people who are looking for a scapegoat for their problems, and by isolating Islam as a cause of terror (it's not), we give the poor and tormented in South Asia something to vent their frustrations on. 

(It's the same schematic that the Tea Party uses here, I should point out, just not to such an extreme degree. That's a post for a different, more political day.)

All we've done with our "war on terror" is give potential members reasons to hate us, to join their organizations. We in the west have consistently installed dictators and tyrants over them and while those installations have helped tamp down the some of the international violence, it hasn't stopped the anger, only inflamed it. It's like clamping down a lid on a pressure cooker: you'll stop the steam from parboiling your hand over the pot, but eventually, the pressure will release in an explosion and destroy your hand. 

When we've decided to take out one of those tyrants we've installed, it's the people we claim to want to protect that have suffered the most. A hundred thousand Iraqis died in our wars against Saddam, and that's ignoring the collateral damage of the Iran-Iraq war that we probably ignited by weakening Saddam in the Nineties, too. Or the Kurds we abandoned back then. 

I want to be clear, the West is not the main problem here, but we exacerbate the very real problems of starvation and poverty and joblessness and the concomitant hopelessness all that implies.

It's no coincidence that since President Obama's "apology tour" early on in his administration that there have been no organized terror attacks in the United States. That's not to say that terrorists aren't licking their chops thinking about killing Americans, to be sure, but I'm betting it's been really hard to recruit suicidal terrorists to attack us, Obama is just that popular even in the Middle East and South Asia. 

The takeaway, in my view, is that America and the west must disengage from the region and let things settle themselves down, or we're going to end up in a world war, if accidentally. Already we've had frightening incidents that could easily have triggered nuclear annihilation. 

So how to defeat terrorism? Better minds than mine...yes, there are some...have tossed this problem around and come up with nothing. I'm afraid I've done little better. I can imagine a framework that solution might take, however.

1) Economics -- This facet is the easiest one: stop buying crude oil from the Middle East. We've had thirty years of warnings to prepare for this, from skyrocketing gas prices to global warming's effects. It's about time we made a commitment to stop using fossil fuels, but particularly oil. 

This might seem counterintuitive: if people are poor, buying oil can only help them. Well, no. That enriches the status quo, which means it enriches those who are at the top of the economic chain in the Middle East, like the emirs and kings, at the expense of the people. To give the people freedom, we have to defund those who would take that freedom. Note that this would also directly hurt ISIS, who have taken crude oil fields across Iraq. 

But notice something: global warming also directly impacts the people in the region in another way: the troubles in Syria began with a drought in Syria, which forced farmers to abandon their farms and migrate to the cities where they might try to find gainful employment.

But those jobs were non-existent as the economic meltdown of the late Bush administration worked its way through the global economy. 

We need to establish economies across the region that don't rely on the resources of the rich, but on the labor of the poor. Trade with the governments of the region is counterproductive. Trade with the people of South Asia is imperative. 

Trade what? What can replace oil?

Frankly, anything can. Remember, facet one of this discussion is to stop using oil: no oil, no oil economy, no reinforcing the status quo. 

2) The Marshall Plan -- After World War II, and despite the war's far heavier toll on the West, the United States in its capacity as the last man standing extended an olive branch not only to our allies, but to our enemies. We would commit to help them rebuild

Why? We learned the lessons of the interregnum of the two world wars: letting problems fester only made them worse, not go away. 

We do owe it to the people of South Asia, we in the West. We created artificial borders that ignored tribes, rivalries, nationalities and ethnicities in an attempt to be expedient. Literally. The divisions were drawn with a ruler on a map. We reinforced those arbitrary borders with force and armaments, and interfered in internal matters when those matters threatened our interests.

Imagine if the cops taped off your house and prevented you from using the bathroom, then stormed your part of the house if you took a piss in a flower pot. That's what we're doing in the Middle East. 

Some would call this appeasement. Some would call this a waste of resources. I would argue that the trillions the United States alone has spent in the last fifteen years to "defeat terrorism" was a waste of resources and that we have to find a better way. A few billion versus tens of trillions sounds like a bargain to me, even if the outcome might end up being the same (it won't.)

To me, this Marshall Plan redux would involve helping the Middle East and South Asia rebuild their infrastructure. It would bring permanent water to drought-stricken areas. It would rebuild roads that we've bombed to hell and back. It would build better schools and hospitals and it would all be done by paying the local residents to do the work and administer the projects. We'd provide resources. They'd get the credit for the accomplishments. 

And yes, we'd rebuild mosques, too. We have to. 

3) Diplomacy -- To sum this up, we need to get the fuck out of the way. The West has spent the last decade dictating policy to the Middle East and South Asia: you will do this, you won't do that, you'll take this and like it, we'll take that and you'll be quiet. 

What I see happening is a Middle East summit comprised of everyone: the nation-states, the sects of Islam (including the radical Islamists in some capacity), the South Asian states like Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, the Turks, the Russians, the Chinese and the West. 

Obviously, we won't just hold one meeting and be done with it. This will take time and energy and focus. It will require reaching out even as we kill terrorists, or finding intermediaries to understand the problems that we can solve with diplomacy and those we'll just have to let them sort out on their own. We can't settle the Shi'a/Sunni divide, for one thing, but if we can persuade the Muslim people that we'll accept any settlement between them that keeps everyone in the region safer, they'll sort it out.

After all, Northern Ireland seems to be working its Troubles out, and surely they've been more peaceful now than twenty years ago. 

Eventually, these disparate talks can be built upon, bringing factions together in the same room, then bringing the agreements made in those rooms to bigger rooms and higher levels. 

If the West gets out of the way and makes the Middle Eastern nations enforce these agreements -- and frankly, without oil and the commitment to rebuilding, why the hell would we even be there anymore? -- they'll eventually work things out. We may not agree with their solutions, but the point is, we won't have to, as we do now.

4) Stealth -- Let's face facts: we're going to have to cripple ISIS and Al Qaeda (again). We don't have to commit to waging a regional war to do so. We have the tools and ability to decapitate the leadership. As we saw with Al Qaeda last decade, that at the very least buys us time. Time can buy us the space to implement the rest of this plan. It lowers the heat under the pressure cooker of recruitment. It buys us the eyeballs and attention span of the people we want to stop from joining these organizations.  

Clearly, this means an unconventional war fought under the radar. We have national policies that prevent us from interfering in the internal affairs of other nations, but those were state matters, and this is a criminal enterprise. And besides, since when has the United States paid anything but lip service to any international agreement? If we're going to break one, let's at least break the right ones, and not the Geneva Convention.

5) A Thicker Skin -- This applies to the West more than to the Middle East and South Asia.

Americans and Europeans are going to die. There is no way to prevent that. Whether we declare all out war and our soldiers die by the thousands or we fight this fight the way I outline above, and citizens and soldiers die by the dozens, we're going to have deaths. My argument is that there will be far fewer casualties for a far shorter period of time.

We're going to have to mature a bit and shrug them off. A little. We're going to have to put aside the bloodthirst for revenge and retribution and work to understand that these deaths are martyrs for a greater cause: the safety and security of all citizens of our nations. 

We can rattle sabres, to be sure, just as we did after 9/11 (and failed to defeat even the enemy that attacked us, much less protect ourselves from future threats), but remember that on 9/11, we even had the "Arab Street" on our side. And lost it in our monumental hubris. We had the opportunity to exhibit dignity and grace and would have prevented hundreds of thousands of enlistments against us. 

Today, the day after the Paris attacks, even Iran has expressed condolences and condemned the attacks, as they too are in the fight against ISIS in Iraq. It's a glimmer of hope. We can take them up on that gesture. 

The other facet of that "thicker skin" is the more troubling one: we have to present a unified front on this project. In America, that will be next to impossible and we may have to cede leadership here to China and Russia. The old dictum that politics ends at the border was thrown out the window by the yahoos of the Tea Party and any attempt to implement this program will have to shut them up somehow. They'll need to develop a thicker skin and stop betraying our national interests. That's the only way we can be effective in this construct.

I think this five step program may be the only way to defeat an ideology. A good parallel in American history is the Mob. We didn't beat the Mob on the battlefield, we beat them by starving them of them of members, by giving immigrants better jobs, and better education, by assimilating them into our culture and providing the opportunities to attain the benefits of that culture to them, and finding ways of tying up the resources of the Mob so they could no longer wage an asymmetric war. 

After all, it took an accountant to put Capone in jail and effectively end his reign of terror. We won't defeat ISIS or Al Qaeda in the desert, we'll finally defeat them when we get the people in the region to stop joining them. Suicide bombers and jihadists have a very short shelf life, so the organizations are always desperate for new members.

It took decades, and even today, we still have mobs and gangs and violence, but only to the extent that we can now treat them as criminal organizations and not an armed resistance. We'll always have ISIS and Al Qaeda and Hezbollah and Hamas or something like them because there will always be underinformed people who are easily manipulated by charismatic leaders and simplistic solutions. This project will make it harder for them to be effective.