Riding the Ebola Wave

Something changed after the Greatest Generation took care of Hitler and Mussolini and Tojo, when America ended up with the only economy in the world that hadn’t been devastated by that war. America hadn’t been bombed into smoking rubble, and now we knew how to make almost anything on a massive scale, and had the capacity to do so. Incredible prosperity followed, for almost everyone. We built cars, not tanks and planes, and the televisions, and then anything we could think of. Everyone wanted a house in the suburbs, and everyone could have one. There seemed to be good jobs for everyone, and if you didn’t like any of those jobs, you could go into business for yourself. You’d do fine. People had money in their pockets. They’d buy what you were selling, and back then the government wasn’t regulating much of anything. You could sell crap that didn’t work at all and then just move on, and then sell something else that might be a little questionable. Ten years after the war ended, Detroit started selling big wallowing cars with giant tailfins, the same cars as before, but now space-age snazzy. People bought them. Kids bought hula hoops. There was a lot of money sloshing around. The economy exploded in all sorts of directions.

That explosion is what changed things. Those of us born just after the war wouldn’t live our lives like our parents, in one respectable career, rising to the top, or at least to the respectability of loyalty to the firm, and the honor that comes with that. We disappointed our parents by job-hopping and even changing careers entirely, several times. We didn’t stick to anything, but then that was impossible, given how the world kept changing. Old industries died. Whole new industries were invented. Success became a matter of riding the next wave, and then the wave after that. There were many awkward conversations in the early sixties. What are your career plans, how do you want to spend the rest of your life? There was no good answer to that. Where do you see yourself in ten years, and how do you plan to get there – what are the specific steps you must take to get there? Okay, fine – tell me what the world will be like in ten years. You can’t, can you? Baby boomers went off into the world willing to improvise. There was no other choice. Their parents looked sad.

No one settled down, but that was okay, and all of us have our tales of how thing somehow worked out. Teaching high school English in the seventies was fine, but that was a dead end. Moving to California and working in the “real world” wasn’t. The aerospace companies were hiring, and Training and Organizational Development wasn’t much of a stretch, but that was a dead end too – but in the mid-eighties desktop computers suddenly arrived, and all sorts of Human Resources stuff could be automated. Suddenly there was such a thing as Human Resources Systems, another wave to ride, something no one saw coming. Cool – and that led to something else no one ever heard of before, outsourcing, dumping all the tedious systems stuff, letting a contractor do the work, and working for the contractor, not the aerospace company, was cool too. There were no dead ends there. They had other contracts, and running the systems shop at that locomotive factory halfway between Detroit and Toronto was something entirely new – the legacy COBOL-based manufacturing resource planning system, running on a competitor’s mainframe in Texas, was a hoot – but that was a dead end too. Why not quit? A chain of Catholic hospitals in Pasadena needed someone to manage the business operations shop – payroll, accounts payable, general ledger – and that was fine, until the nuns outsourced us all to another contractor, who “streamlined” everything and sent us elsewhere. Fine – it was good to learn their fancy system that handled HMO stuff – contracts and eligibility and such things, so the HMO made good money, by making sure no one was getting any sort of treatment that wasn’t authorized by the bean-counters. It was a slick system for maximizing profits, merciless, or looking at it another way, superbly efficient – but then the HMO that wanted to use it went under before any of us could get there, swallowed up by a larger HMO with a different system. Oh well – a year or two off was fine – and then working for an actual HMO was fine too. It was a way to look at the same set of problems from the inside, but their systems were in chaos and some of us were forced out in the churn.

That was okay. It was time to retire anyway, and looking back at all this, it’s clear that any career plan from 1964 or so wouldn’t have worked. As they say, who knew? Additionally, over all the long and strange years, one does learn what controls one’s fate. Others want to make money. They don’t give a damn about you unless you make them money – then they’re happy with you, if they remember your name. This was nothing like teaching high school English. Thirdly, it’s obvious that sooner or later we’ll all end up working in healthcare, one way or another. The boomers are getting old, needing the medical help age makes necessary, and the days when America knew how to make almost anything on a massive scale, and had the capacity to do so, are long gone. Others, overseas, make what we buy. We have a service economy, where we service each other, coupled with that financial world out there where the rich get even richer selling imaginary assets to each other.

Our parents wouldn’t recognize this world. No one stays in one career. There’s no longer any honor in that, and in fact that doesn’t make sense, not now. That hasn’t made sense since 1947 or so, when laissez-faire capitalism was fully unleashed, when Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand became more important than any of us. It’s every man for himself now, in a world where everything was always changing. There were parents, back in the day, who wanted their son to grow up to be a doctor, someone respected, who really helped others, and made a good living too. The daughter might be a nurse – the same thing, without the good money. They wouldn’t recognize this world, where such people are just tools of others, the ones who make the real money, who run the world.

The Ebola crisis is making that painfully obvious, and one of Josh Marshall’s readers over at Talking Points Memo offers this:

I have a perspective tying together today’s big news brouhahas. My wife is an ER nurse at a major urban hospital owned by the Hospital Corporation of America, the hospital chain once run by Rick Scott. It’s the largest for-profit medical system in the world, and is of course also notable for its “creative billing” practices in the largest Medicare fraud settlement in history. Scott was booted from the CEO position following that fraud investigation, so he’s not directly responsible for current conditions in those hospitals.

But it is obvious to those who work there that the combination of lax training and toxic labor relations “leaders” like him have brought to the company are emblematic of a big problem for US hospitals if a major outbreak of Ebola or other infectious disease occurs. My wife’s ER has an “Ebola cart” with some lightweight protective gear and written instructions for putting on a PPE [Personal Protective Equipment] but the instructions are a loose bundle of papers and the pictures don’t match the gear in the cart and has inaccuracies that put them at serious risk.

It’s an object of gallows humor for the staff. That’s the totality of their training or preparedness so far. As we all now know, PPEs are not easy to put on and take off correctly. Even though nurses all have experience with standard droplet control (they see TB and HIV all the time), Ebola is a special case. They have gone months and months without a nurse education director because no one wants to deal with their management and take the position. Her coworkers are clear that they will refuse to treat an ebola patient because they have woefully inadequate training in the correct procedures and lack proper gear.

Rick Scott is currently the Republican governor down there in Florida. The largest Medicare fraud settlement in history didn’t hurt him one bit. He said his subordinates did that and didn’t let him in on what they were doing. Scott was booted from his CEO position because he was a clueless executive who hired and trusted the wrong people. He wasn’t fired for the fraud, and he told the voters of Florida he’d end government waste, cutting everything in sight. He told them he’d drug-test everyone on welfare, and they liked that. He didn’t tell them his wife owned the company that would do all the testing and the two of them would make a fortune billing the state. It’s a strange situation, but conservative voters down there wanted someone mean – merciless or, if you wish, superbly efficient – to slap the state into shape. That’s what they got. He runs the state like he ran his hospital chain, ruthlessly – and he’ll make a bundle too, with a bit of slight-of-hand. He spent seventy-five million dollars of his own money to get elected. It was a good investment.

Josh Marshall’s anonymous reader knows this guy and this world, and his wife’s hospital. The hospital can’t handle Ebola. Everyone knows that:

And yet the head of infectious disease at this hospital went on the local news to proclaim the hospital was ready to receive ebola patients safely. They obviously didn’t bother to speak to a single nurse on the front lines. I’m not particularly panic-y about ebola, even though obviously the family members of ER personnel have a lot at stake in Ebola preparedness. But I think that this situation will be the weak link in any major national response.

So many of our hospitals are run by lunatics like Rick Scott who seek only the highest profit margin – they do not invest in training, they build charting mechanisms that are good for billing but not treating patients, they constantly fight with their unionized employees, they lie to the public, etc., etc. We like to imagine that competent, highly-skilled medical institutions like Emory will save us, but we have way more Dallas Presbyterians in this country than we have Emorys. You can see exactly this managerial incompetence—and toxic labor relations – woven through the statement released by the nurses at Dallas Presbyterian today. Also see the head of National Nurses United on All In With Chris Hayes for a similar perspective.

To put it bluntly: we’ve entrusted our national medical system to the managerial competence and goodwill of the Rick Scotts of the world, and that is much scarier than a podium fan.

In case you miss the podium fan thing see this:

In one of the weirdest and most Floridian moments in debate history, Wednesday night’s gubernatorial debate was delayed because Republican Governor Rick Scott refused to take the stage with Democratic challenger Charlie Crist and his small electric fan… Rather than waiting for the governor to emerge, the debate started with just Crist onstage. “We have been told that Governor Scott will not be participating in this debate,” said the moderator. The crowd booed as he explained the fan situation, and the camera cut to a shot of the offending cooling device.

“That’s the ultimate pleading the fifth I have ever heard in my life,” quipped Crist, annoying the moderators, who seemed intent on debating fan rules and regulations. After a few more awkward minutes, Scott emerged, and the debate proceeded, with only one more electronics dispute. When asked why he brought the fan, Christ answered, “Why not? Is there anything wrong with being comfortable? I don’t think there is.”

Rick Scott may not be governor down there much longer. He may be appropriately mean and merciless, but he threw a tantrum like a prissy sixth-grade little girl, thinking it would impress every voter in Florida. That might have been a miscalculation. The whole nation is making fun of him now. The little things matter. Perhaps he made some good points in that debate. No one will remember them now.

Rick Scott, however, may pull this off. He’s a Republican in this unforgiving world, the kind of guy who does what makes economic sense, not matter who gets hurt, and David Stirling explains how that relates to Ebola:

Ebola has been killing people since 1976, so why do we still have no vaccine?

There is no profit for pharmaceutical giants in developing expensive drugs for rare diseases in countries with no money to buy them.

They are interested only in mass-market medicines for First World conditions such as cancer and heart disease, or lifestyle drugs such as Viagra.

Even health experts have ignored Ebola. Two years ago, the World Health Organisation listed 17 neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) that afflict more than one billion people. Ebola didn’t rate a mention – until the current outbreak killed more than 4000 people so far and put the world on alert.

Of course, drug companies are not charities, they answer to shareholders, and for that matter, where’s the financial incentive for governments when the disease afflicts only Africa?

All that is rather obvious – the Invisible Hand has spoken. No, wait – market forces have spoken. Hands don’t speak. They slap people around, which may be the same thing, but someone will make money here. The Washington Post’s Abby Ohlheiser explains how that works:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Tuesday that a person has been diagnosed with Ebola in the United States. The market reacted accordingly. The most striking monetary effect of the CDC’s announcement was encapsulated in this headline from USA Today: “Ebola stocks soar after infection hits U.S.”

Yes, the makers of experimental drugs that have a shot at becoming the first confirmed Ebola treatment fared well in the markets after the Ebola-in-the-U.S. news broke.

“The first confirmed Ebola case in the U.S. is fanning fears around the country, but it’s also driving greed in some corners of the stock market,” CNNMoney said.

It was just the latest in a series of boons for those companies.

There wasn’t money in this before. There is now. Just add panic, and the “natural remedy” folks are seeing green too:

One of the more reliable byproducts of something like the Ebola outbreak in Africa (and its arrival in the U.S.) is the marketing of products that aren’t actually drugs as potential cures or treatments for the illness. This is something the FDA anticipated would happen this year, as Ebola began to spread across West Africa. “Oftentimes with public health incidences, like Ebola or even during H1n1, we see products that are marketed, often online, that claim to treat or cure the disease … without FDA approval,” FDA spokesperson Stephanie Yao said in an earlier interview with The Post.

Last week, the agency sent letters to three companies, alerting them that some of their paid consultants were marketing their products – which included essential oils and organic dark chocolate bars – as Ebola cures and treatments against FDA regulations.

That is rich:

Although two of the companies in question made it very clear in statements to The Post that they don’t condone the marketing of their products in this way, one company was promoting the idea itself.

Natural Solutions Foundation claimed in its online marketing materials that its Nano Silver product could cure Ebola, Hepatitis B and C, and H1N1, among other diseases. “WHO, FDA, the New York Times, etc., have gone on a rampage of disinformation to keep you in the dark about natural ways to dispose of dangerous microbes without damaging your beneficial bacteria,” the company added.

The ads will be on your television screen soon, and then there are the hedge fund managers:

It turns out that the spread of Ebola through West Africa prompted some hedge funds to bet on it affecting cocoa prices. The countries hardest hit by the outbreak border the Ivory Coast, one of the world’s largest cocoa producers. According to Bloomberg, the possibility that Ebola will spread there is one of many factors leading experts to speculate that cocoa prices will continue to rise.

A September 24 Moody’s report cited by Bloomberg notes that Ebola control measures might produce labor shortages during the beginning of cocoa’s harvest season in October.

It’s time to play those cocoa futures. There’s money to be made, and we do live in a world where laissez-faire capitalism was fully unleashed long ago. It’s every man for himself, alone, and we are actually all libertarians now. At Newsweek, Victoria Bekiempis discussed how that’s working out in Texas:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the first case of Ebola diagnosed in the U.S. on Tuesday, in Dallas, Texas. This presents both epidemiological and political questions. Libertarianism is a major political force in Texas, and Libertarianism generally advocates against government involvement in healthcare – so if the 135 Libertarians running for office in the Lone Star State this November were elected, would they want the government to fight the disease?

The answer is more nuanced than one might expect: Most Libertarians interviewed by Newsweek agreed government should intervene to protect public health in exceptional circumstances, but said intervention would have to be very careful and limited – and, perhaps, that it is better executed by the private sector.

That goes like this:

Carla Howell, National Libertarian Party Political Director, says “governmental bureaucracies” involved with epidemic control are ineffective compared to private and voluntary efforts, in addition to costing too much money and violating individual rights.

“The sole purpose of government is to protect our life, liberty and property from harm caused by others in those few instances where the private sector cannot do a better job,” Howell writes in an email to Newsweek. “Containing Ebola in Africa is best left to private charities such as Doctors without Borders rather than the NIH [National Institutes of Health] or the CDC.

“Screening is better handled by airlines and private hospitals that are both liable for damages and fully free of government red tape. (Sadly no such hospitals exist today in the United States).”

Digby (Heather Parton) summarizes the rest:

To be fair, some other libertarians who are running for office in Texas reluctantly agreed that as much as they loathe “government bureaucracies” like the CDC, they have “bigger fish to fry.” Others recognized that quarantines enforced by the proverbial men with guns might be necessary. Overall, they seemed to be more uncomfortable with implications of their belief system in this instance than we usually see. In fact, they remind [me] of the anti-abortion zealots when confronted with the inconvenient fact that if they consider abortion murder they are morally required to arrest the women who have them.

The spokesperson for the national Libertarian party is the only one who is unashamedly willing to spell out the solutions their philosophy truly requires.

Why not be honest about this? Everyone understands now. This is not the world of the Greatest Generation. There’s no respectability in loyalty to something larger. You’re alone. Ride the wave, and then the next one, no matter who drowns around you. We’ve lived our lives like that for many decades now. Now we know what that means.

Posted in Ebola | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Dead Ends

There are some curious people in Congress, particularly that high school dropout from Cleveland, who was indicted for grand theft auto – not the video game – multiple times. Each time he beat the rap. He’s a smooth-talker, although he did once receive six months of probation, when he was convicted of carrying a concealed weapon, without registration or permit. This would be Darrell Issa – on his seventeenth birthday he dropped out of high school and enlisted for three years in the Army. Somehow he became an Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician, trained to defuse nasty bombs, and claimed his unit provided security for President Nixon, sweeping stadiums for bombs before the 1971 World Series. Nixon didn’t attend any of that year’s World Series games, but Issa’s unit did perform security sweeps for the World Series. He exaggerated. After the World Series, Issa was transferred to a supply depot – poor ratings from his superiors – and there a fellow soldier claimed Issa stole his Dodge Charger – “I confronted Issa. I got in his face and threatened to kill him, and magically my car reappeared the next day, abandoned on the turnpike.” No charges were ever filed. Issa says it never happened.

Issa did go back to Cleveland and got his high-school equivalency diploma and was off to Kent State – not the real one, the one at Stark – and he joined the ROTC there, so he eventually ended up in the Army Reserve. Just before his discharge in 1980 he was indicted on charges of grand theft auto. Issa said it was a misunderstanding. He just bought the damned car, so the charges were dropped. There was also the hit-and-run thing. Issa crashed a truck he was driving into a woman’s car and, according to court records he told her that he just didn’t have the time to wait for the police. He had things to do. He left the scene. She sued him for twenty grand. They eventually settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. The whole thing went away. All records of that are sealed.

It’s odd that this fellow made it to Congress, but after all this unpleasantness Darrell Issa hooked up with the right electronics people and eventually made a fortune in car alarms, the ones with a speaker with Issa’s own voice – “Protected by Viper!” – “Stand back!” – “Please step away from the car!” Everyone remembers those, and the company grew by leaps and bounds, and it is headquartered out here in Vista, down in North County, San Diego. That’s where Issa became a severely conservative Republican congressman, and that’s his congressional district – Oceanside, Vista, Carlsbad and Encinitas – next door to Duncan Hunter’s district.

Everyone is severely conservative down there. Liberals are told to turn around and drive back to Los Angeles. Issa is also the wealthiest currently-serving member of Congress. He must know things, anyone that rich must know things, and in 2008 was appointed ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, leapfrogging over more than a few senior Republicans. He became the House Republicans’ bulldog, launching investigations into one scandal after another that would surely bring down Obama, forcing Obama to resign in disgrace.

That didn’t work out. The Fast and Furious gun-running scandal turned out to be about a secret operation the Bush administration had set up, that the Obama administration was trying to shut down. The IRS scandal wasn’t a scandal either – the IRS was denying tax-exempt status to odd liberal “public service” organizations too, not just the Tea Party folks. None of these groups should lie about not being purely political, to avoid taxes. The IRS was picking on everybody. That’s what they were supposed to do, and then Benghazi didn’t work out either. Barack and Hillary didn’t tell our military to stand down, because they wanted our ambassador and those three others to die, because Barack sympathizes with all terrorists and Hillary is incompetent and kind of likes to see our people die. It was a tragic screw-up, with the CIA and State Department not talking to each other. That can be fixed. There was nowhere to go with that, but Issa kept stirring the pot, which was a bit embarrassing. John Boehner took the matter out of Issa’s hands, setting up a Select Committee to look into all things Benghazi. It hasn’t convened yet. It may never convene. About the only thing that Issa has going for him now is that Bill Maher sometimes invites Issa to be one of the three panelists on his HBO show Real Time. Maher finds him amusing, but that means that Issa has to drive up here to Los Angeles. The Maher show is taped at CBS Television City, just down the hill here on Fairfax. That’s enemy territory.

Darrell Issa has met a dead end, but he won’t accept that. There’s always a scandal, or there should be because Obama is who he is and Democrats are still Democrats, and now Issa is accusing the EPA of working too closely with environmental groups. He’s appalled, and this is about a report from the New York Times about the “cozy” relationship between EPA administrator Gina McCarthy and David Doniger, a lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council:

Republicans say the most vivid example of a cozy relationship is an email exchange … celebrating legal maneuvering that provided Mr. Obama with something both the EPA and the environmental group wanted: a court-ordered deadline for release of a 2012 EPA regulation curbing greenhouse gas emissions on future power plants – a precursor to Mr. Obama’s announcement in June. (The environmental group had joined with others to sue the EPA to force the regulation, and the EPA quickly settled.)

On Dec. 23, 2010, the day the settlement was announced, Mr. Doniger emailed Ms. McCarthy, “Thank you for today’s announcement. I know how hard you and your team are working to move us forward and keep us on the rails. This announcement is a major achievement.” He added, “We’ll be with you at every step in the year ahead.”

Ms. McCarthy responded, “Thanks David. I really appreciate your support and patience. Enjoy the holiday. The success is yours as much as mine.”

Issa sees this as a smoking gun, but Kevin Drum doesn’t:

Explosive! “Thanks David. I really appreciate your support and patience.” Truly a smoking gun of improper influence! They used first names and everything!

Issa must really be getting desperate. I mean, normally I understand the supposed malfeasance in his investigations. I may think his charges are foolish, but at least I get it. But this time? Even in theory, what’s supposed to be wrong here? An environmental group expressing pleasure at a court ruling? The EPA administrator sending back a polite note? Everybody knew all along that both sides wanted the same thing, so this is hardly a surprise. And certainly light years from scandalous.

Issa must be going off his nut because his investigations keep failing to excite anyone. Or maybe this is just designed to provide some fodder for fundraising emails for the upcoming election. It’s hard to figure out what else could be going on.

It may be hard to figure out what else could be going on, but there’s a lot of this going on. All it takes is a little bit of something, like C. J. Chivers of the New York Times with a new piece, a backgrounder to tie up loose ends, about chemical weapons found in Iraq after the 2003 invasion:

The soldiers at the blast crater sensed something was wrong.

It was August 2008 near Taji, Iraq. They had just exploded a stack of old Iraqi artillery shells buried beside a murky lake. The blast, part of an effort to destroy munitions that could be used in makeshift bombs, uncovered more shells.

Two technicians assigned to dispose of munitions stepped into the hole. Lake water seeped in. One of them, Specialist Andrew T. Goldman, noticed a pungent odor, something, he said, he had never smelled before.

He lifted a shell. Oily paste oozed from a crack. “That doesn’t look like pond water,” said his team leader, Staff Sgt. Eric J. Duling.

The specialist swabbed the shell with chemical detection paper. It turned red – indicating sulfur mustard, the chemical warfare agent designed to burn a victim’s airway, skin and eyes.

All three men recall an awkward pause. Then Sergeant Duling gave an order: “Get the hell out.”

Five years after President George W. Bush sent troops into Iraq these soldiers had entered an expansive but largely secret chapter of America’s long and bitter involvement in Iraq.

That’s how it opens. The piece is very long. Cleaning up this crap was dangerous. Some of our guys died. The Bush administration kept this quiet, but that led to items like this:

Even when it publishes a detailed investigative report that basically says George W. Bush was right in stating there were dangerous weapons of mass destruction in Saddam’s Iraq – even when its own reporters reveal the truth about Saddam Hussein’s deadly chemical weapons stockpiles – the New York Times tries to vilify President Bush by essentially rewriting history and ignoring present danger.

Splashed across the front page of Tuesday’s Times is an article that repeatedly makes clear that one of President Bush’s main, stated reasons for invading Iraq post-9/11 was legitimate. There were WMDs – chemical weapons, lots of them – hidden in Iraq and discovered by our troops. …

In the ongoing attempt to “blame Bush” and cast the former president in a negative historical light, the Times piece attempts to condemn the Bush administration for, essentially, covering up the existence of those WMDs, thus leading to risk and injury for military personnel who found them and were involved in their destruction.

Brad Dayspring, a Republican explainer-of-all-things and a former aide to former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor argues here that “those who mocked any statement that there were WMDs in Iraq were/are wrong.” At the conservative Media Research Center there were other triumphant tweets too, including this one – “Every single thing media told us about Iraq and WMD was wrong.”

Again, Kevin Drum is not impressed:

This is ridiculous enough that – so far, at least – the savvier wing of the conservative movement is staying mum about the whole thing. There are three main reasons for this. First, most of these weapons were rotting remnants of artillery shells used during the Iraq-Iran war in the 80s and stored at Iraq’s Muthanna State Establishment as well as other nearby sites.

Drum says Murtaza Hussain of the Intercept explains what this means:

The U.S. was aware of the existence of such weapons at the Al Muthanna site as far back as 1991. Why? Because Al Muthanna was the site where the UN ordered Saddam Hussein to dispose of his declared chemical munitions in the first place – those weapons that could not safely be destroyed were sealed and left to decay on their own, which they did. The site was neither “active” nor “clandestine” – it was a declared munitions dump being used to hold the corroded weapons which Western powers themselves had in most cases helped Saddam procure.


In other words, these shells weren’t evidence of an active WMD program, which had been George Bush’s justification for the war. They were simply old munitions that everyone knew about already and that were being left to degrade on their own.

Second, the Bush administration kept its discoveries secret. If any of this were truly evidence for an active WMD program, surely Bush and Dick Cheney would have been the first to trumpet the news. The fact that they didn’t is pretty plain evidence that there was nothing here to back up their prewar contentions of an Iraqi WMD program.

Third, there’s the specific reason these discoveries were kept secret.

That’s where Chivers adds useful detail:

Participants in the chemical weapons discoveries said the United States suppressed knowledge of finds for multiple reasons, including that the government bristled at further acknowledgment it had been wrong… Others pointed to another embarrassment. In five of six incidents in which troops were wounded by chemical agents, the munitions appeared to have been designed in the United States, manufactured in Europe and filled in chemical agent production lines built in Iraq by Western companies.


Far from being a smoking gun of Saddam Hussein’s continuing quest for illegal WMDs, these discoveries were evidence that Western powers in the 80s were perfectly happy to supply illegal WMDs to an ally as long as they were destined for use against Iran. This was not something Bush was eager to acknowledge.

And there’s more:

Iraq had no active WMD program, and it was an embarrassment to the Bush administration that all they could find were old, rotting chemical weapons originally manufactured by the West – so they kept it a secret, even from troops in the field and military doctors. But lies beget lies, and American troops are the ones who paid the price. According to Chivers “the government’s secrecy, victims and participants said, prevented troops in some of the war’s most dangerous jobs from receiving proper medical care and official recognition of their wounds.”

Today, the consequences of our lies continue to haunt us as the rotting carcasses of these weapons are apparently falling into the hands of ISIS. Unfortunately, no mere summary can do justice to this entire shameful episode.

Jessica Schulberg adds perspective:

The existence of aging chemical weapons in Iraq was never the justification for Bush’s invasion, nor was it a secret. The secret was the harm that they were causing to U.S. troops and the subsequent failure to care for these individuals.

That story warrants attention. It’s just not the story the right was hoping for, and Derrell Issa is out of luck again – but of course this has nothing to do with Obama, so he won’t run with this.

But the New York Times is not done with their backgrounders. Now it’s Mark Mazzetti with this:

The Central Intelligence Agency has run guns to insurgencies across the world during its 67-year history – from Angola to Nicaragua to Cuba. The continuing CIA effort to train Syrian rebels is just the latest example of an American president becoming enticed by the prospect of using the spy agency to covertly arm and train rebel groups.

An internal CIA study has found that it rarely works.

The still-classified review, one of several CIA studies commissioned in 2012 and 2013 in the midst of the Obama administration’s protracted debate about whether to wade into the Syrian civil war, concluded that many past attempts by the agency to arm foreign forces covertly had a minimal impact on the long-term outcome of a conflict. They were even less effective, the report found, when the militias fought without any direct American support on the ground.

The findings of the study, described in recent weeks by current and former American government officials, were presented in the White House Situation Room and led to deep skepticism among some senior Obama administration officials about the wisdom of arming and training members of a fractured Syrian opposition.

The intelligence community was quite clear over a year ago that the idea of arming Syria’s “moderate rebels” was unworkable:

“One of the things that Obama wanted to know was: Did this ever work?” said one former senior administration official who participated in the debate and spoke anonymously because he was discussing a classified report. The CIA report, he said, “was pretty dour in its conclusions.” … The CIA review, according to several former American officials familiar with its conclusions, found that the agency’s aid to insurgencies had generally failed in instances when no Americans worked on the ground with the foreign forces in the conflict zones, as is the administration’s plan for training Syrian rebels.

Send in the troops, lots of them, to show these guys how to fight, by fighting alongside them, showing them how it’s done – or forget it. That’s what the CIA said. We’re now, finally, sending the “moderates” aid, and arms, but not the troops to fight alongside them, as role models of a sort. Did this ever work? No, it doesn’t, and Andrew Sullivan is stunned:

Did this stop the program of arming the rebels? Of course not! Even when the CIA itself argues against such a crazy idea, the underlying pro-intervention paradigm holds – always. Something bad happens anywhere in the world and Washington is addicted to its own fantasy of being able to fix it. Obama went ahead anyway – but with apparent reluctance. That could not be said of Hillary Clinton, Leon Panetta, John McCain and David Petraeus, the unreconstructed liberal/neocon hegemonists, who were passionately in favor of a proxy war that even the CIA opposed.

That’s worth knowing as we face the grim prospect of a future Clinton administration.

PM Carpenter sees it this way:

Had George W. Bush earnestly and patiently listened in 2002 and 2003 to all his intelligence officials, he never would have gone into Iraq. Four-thousand-four-hundred-eighty-nine Americans, tens of thousands of Iraqis and at least a trillion dollars would have been spared. A decade later, on the precarious matter of arming Syrian rebels, President Obama did listen to all his intelligence officials. Their empirical findings were pessimistic, and thus he rejected the interventionist advice of his then-secretaries of state and defense, as well as that of his CIA director.

And then he didn’t, because he couldn’t:

Beheadings and political pressure have forced Obama to an official reversal of policy. But it’s significant that he seems to be slow-walking training and arms materiel for Syrian rebels. … His reluctance appears to be holding. Present circumstances, no matter how ominous, don’t change empirical findings.

That, however, is cold comfort:

We are left, then, with the distressing question of why (probably) the next president of the United States advised the current president of the United Stated to intervene on behalf of Syrian rebels either in the absence of the CIA’s imminent conclusions (Mrs. Clinton left the secretary of state’s office in early 2013) or indeed in the “dour” presence of those conclusions. If all the CIA’s findings hadn’t yet come in by the time of Hillary’s departure, then she was offering somewhat blind advice. And if the findings were in, then she was offering advice in contravention of what intelligence officials were warning.

Remind you of any other US president?


Hint: He was in favor of the same war Hillary was in 2003. And she didn’t even read the full intelligence report back then either.

Here we go again. Obama doesn’t want to be George Bush so he’s slow-walking this, but then he is sort of walking this, and Hillary Clinton seems to want to be Bush. She’ll run with this. President Ted Cruz, or any Republican, will run even faster, and at the moment this could be the next big scandal. Obama foolishly didn’t listen to the experts, who told him go big or go home – there’s nothing in-between. What’s wrong with Obama? Darrell Issa should hold hearings!

That, however, could be another dead end. The country might not be ready for a third major war in the Middle East again, now, even if they’re not quite ready to go home, as an alternative to going big. Even if they don’t know it, Obama is probably doing what most Americans want, doing something – not much, and maybe the wrong thing – but doing something vaguely likely and hoping for the best. When public opinion removes the polar alternative there’s no scandal in mucking about in the middle, unless you make stuff up.

That’s been known to happen:

Conservative legal activist Larry Klayman has filed a lawsuit against President Obama for “providing material support and aid to international terrorism and facilitating terrorism” by not implementing a travel ban on people from countries facing an Ebola outbreak.

Health experts have advised against enacting a travel ban, explaining that such a move might actually increase the risk of an outbreak, but Klayman has his own idea as to why the Obama administration hasn’t enacted a ban: anti-white racism.

Klayman writes in his weekly column that “Obama has favored his African brothers over the rest of us by allowing them free entry into this country” and “relegating whites and others who are not black or Muslim to the back of the bus has become an invidious form of reverse discrimination. This was not right when blacks were subjected to this treatment, and it is not right now – particularly given its deadly implications.”

“I do not advocate violence, and I want Obama to be taken alive to be deported and pay for his inadequacies under the rule of law,” Klayman writes. “But he must be forced from office as soon as possible, before all is lost.”

Klayman doesn’t want violence. That’s awfully white of him, but this one is just one more dead end. This lawsuit is preposterous.

Klayman should talk to Derrell Issa, the car thief who made a fortune offering others protection from car thieves. You can talk a good game. You can dazzle folks and confuse matters so no one knows quite what’s what. You can cloud men’s minds like The Shadow used to do – “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!” But there are dead ends. Sometimes there is no evil and you end up looking like a fool. Derrell Issa is slowly learning that, even if that’s a work in progress.

Posted in Darrell Issa, No Obama Scandals | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hope in Unlikely Places

It’s good to have friends at CNN. Press credentials are cool, and that meant live-blogging the Los Angeles Democratic Presidential Debate on January 31, 2008, at the Kodak Theater here on Hollywood Boulevard – now the Dolby Theater of course – from the press room, with all the big shots. This was the big face-off between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, when Hillary still had a chance, but all the “Hope” posters and placards out on the street must have troubled her folks. The rest is history. She promised competence and steely strength, based on her vast experience as a consequential first lady, not some bit of fluff, and her many years as a senator, not Obama’s half-term so far. She knew stuff and she knew people – world leaders and such. Obama promised hope. He won the nomination, and then he went on to defeat John McCain – a man a vast experience and steely strength, even if he seemed a bit bloodthirsty and often a bit befuddled. Choosing Sarah Palin to run with him didn’t help much either – but the idea was that at least he really knew his stuff, and he’d slap the bad guys around until they did what America wanted them to do, or there’d be war, damn it. Obama offered hope, whatever that was, and won rather easily. Things could be different. They would be different.

The nation decided that was a good idea. They’d had enough of steely strength and war, and at home, neglect and incompetence offered as “freedom” from intrusive government. They hoped for something more from what was “their” government after all. Obama offered that hope – and now, six years later, his approval ratings are stuck in the low forties. No one is very happy with him – he keeps deferring action on immigration reform, and Iran still has nukes in the works, and Putin is still working on grabbing the rest of the Ukraine, for starters, and there’s ISIS and Ebola too, and Netanyahu calling him a fool in public, and to his face, and cops are shooting unarmed black kids dead every other week, with half of America staying they’re fine with that. What the hell happened? There’s no hope now.

Howard Fineman wonders what happened to the Barack Obama who once won over the country, but he says that there are subsets of that question:

What happened to that fresh, idealistic guy? What happened to his power and popularity in the United States? Why doesn’t he dominate the political stage the way he once did? Why isn’t he as effective as we thought he would be?

Fineman then offers some answers, like this on the Middle East:

The region that initially made him look wise now makes him look, at best, confused. His promise to end what turned out to be a nine-year war in Iraq helped win him the presidency. But while Osama bin Laden is gone, the Islamic State terrorizes people in his place. And the president who won a Nobel Prize for idealistic aims is raining bombs on Syrian territory and resisting calls to put “boots on the ground.”

And words matter:

Trained as a lawyer, Obama should be aware of the uses of ambiguity. But he makes sweeping declarations that damage his credibility. He assured all Americans that his health care plan would allow them to “keep their doctor.” It wasn’t quite true. He declared that if Syrian President Bashar Assad crossed a “red line” and used chemical weapons, the U.S. would respond severely. He did and we didn’t. Obama said that Ebola was “highly unlikely” to come to America; two weeks later a victim died in Dallas.

Of course some of the problem was Hope itself:

Obama arrived on the stage with Kennedy cool, youthful optimism, Ivy League credentials and self-evident proof that America was overcoming its “original sin.” His life story was a triumph of multiracialism and internationalism. By his very nature, he would end wars, make peace with Islam, help the downtrodden and save the U.S. and world economy. These expectations (which he did his best to stoke) were impossible to meet. He hasn’t met them. No one could.

Obama was wrong. We were wrong. There would be no wonderful post-racial age of sweetness and light in America – just the opposite, as many deeply resented that a black man was now in charge of America, a “first” they didn’t appreciate at all – and even Obama’s success with the economy was success stripped of hope:

Obama’s record here is more solid than critics and even some friends admit. His calm support for early bailouts helped prevent catastrophe. His “stimulus” worked somewhat. His team has kept the U.S. economy better positioned than most to compete (and cooperate) with China. Obama’s health care plan, though raggedly implemented, has aided millions and placed needed regulation on insurers.

He got re-elected in 2012 on this record, but still did not win enduring support. Why?

Because the rich have gotten richer while the middle class stagnates – productivity rises; real wages do not. Obama’s unspoken message is, “Without me, it would have been worse.” He’s right, but it’s hardly an inspiring slogan.

And then there’s the matter of competence and the man himself:

Obama has avoided a dramatic, Katrina-like administrative catastrophe, and his tenure has been relatively free of venal corruption. But everyday management is another matter. The rollout of his sweeping new health law was a mess, enforcement of border security has been spotty and the initial response to the Ebola outbreak was slow and low-key. The metastasizing Ebola threat could come to dominate the last two years of his term.

Fiercely proud and self-assured in public, Obama is also cautious and wary. He favors complexity over simplicity. Praised all his life for his gifts and path-breaking accomplishments, he is used to being respected even if he isn’t beloved. He likes to put others at ease and does not seek confrontation. He has climbed the greasy pole through charm and timing more than chesty combat.

His thoughtful, soothing, hopeful nature got him elected. It also made him disdainful of Congress and of unpleasant political realities in general… But the world is under siege today, making it easy to conclude that ferocity and confrontation are required.

That’s what Hillary Clinton and John McCain were saying back in 2008 – hope is nice, but you have to slap the fools around. They’re still saying that, although John McCain knows better than to run for president again, maybe. Everyone who is thinking of running for president is saying that. The Age of Hope is over. There won’t be another Obama. The new age may not be an age of despair, the opposite of hope, but it will be a return an age of nastiness, where we have to be nastier than the other guys. Howard Fineman, in these examples – and he has others – is just telling us it’s over. Obama was an anomaly.

Maybe you’ll have to look for hope elsewhere. Buy a lottery ticket. Marry that woman with her odd but lovable problems. Hope will revert to being a private matter, and it will still be foolish. That may be reading too much into what Fineman is saying here, but maybe it’s not. We got our hopes up. Now we know better. Even Obama knows better now.

There’s just the reality of things. People proud of their positions, based on their long-held beliefs, or insecure about both, aren’t going to change, no matter how much reason and charm are applied, by the most engaging of personalities. Public opinion won’t matter to them either. They’ll just dig in and double down, and it’s the same with hide-bound institutions, like the Senate, or the NRA, or the Catholic Church. Know hope? No hope is more like it.

Everyone knows that’s the way it is, but then there are occasional surprises. The new Pope is doing what Obama couldn’t do:

Gay rights groups hailed a “seismic shift” by the Catholic Church toward gays and lesbians on Monday after bishops said homosexuals had gifts to offer the church and that their partnerships, while morally problematic, provided them “precious” support.

In a preliminary report halfway through a Vatican meeting on family life, the bishops also said the church must recognize the “positive” aspects of civil unions and even Catholics who live together, with the aim of bringing them to a lifelong commitment in a church wedding.

The report summarized the closed-door debate that Pope Francis initiated to discuss a host of hot-button family issues such as marriage, divorce, homosexuality and birth control. No decisions were announced, but the tone of the report was one of almost-revolutionary acceptance rather than condemnation, and it will guide discussions until a final document is issued Saturday.

Pope Francis, who may be known one day as the Pleasant Pope, didn’t slap anyone around – like Obama, that’s not his style – but he still got the job done:

The bishops were clearly taking into account the views of the pope, whose “Who am I to judge?” comment about LGBT people signaled a new tone of welcome for the church. Their report also reflected the views of ordinary Catholics who, in responses to Vatican questionnaires in the run-up to the synod, rejected church teaching on birth control and homosexuality as outdated and irrelevant.

It did help that ordinary Catholics were telling the guys at the top that they were full of crap. Public opinion may matter more to them than that it does to our Republican Party over here, and that did the trick:

The bishops said gays had “gifts and qualities” to offer and asked rhetorically if the church was ready to provide them a welcoming place, “accepting and valuing their sexual orientation without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony.”

Perhaps something can be worked out now, and that’s a big deal:

For a 2,000-year-old institution that teaches that gay sex is “intrinsically disordered,” even posing the question was significant.

“This is a stunning change in the way the Catholic Church speaks of gay people,” said Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit author. “The synod is clearly listening to the complex, real-life experiences of Catholics around the world, and seeking to address them with mercy, as Jesus did.”

The bishops repeated that gay marriage was off the table. But their report acknowledged that gay partnerships had merit.

“Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions, it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners,” they said.

This would be like the Republicans admitting that the basic idea of Obamacare – that things should be arranged so that every citizen would buy at least some basic form of certifiable useful health insurance, for the good of everyone – was a pretty good idea. Obama could never pull that off. Pope Francis pulled this off.

Andrew Sullivan, a gay Catholic conservative, happily married in spite of his Church, is more than pleased with this Pope:

Both John Paul II and Benedict XVI understood the power of open dialogue, which is why they did all they could to shut it down within the Catholic Church. The sensus fidelium – the insight that ordinary Catholics may have into the Christian life – was all but banished in favor of top-down control and increasingly fastidious theological certitudes. And perhaps the most striking thing so far about the Synod now going on in Rome is simply that: a venting of reality in that airless context, that, while not in opposition to church teaching, is nonetheless frank about its challenges in the modern world.

Reality is nice, and Ed Morrissey notes this:

The most intriguing part of that discussion – at least as noted in the briefing – was a call to change the language associated with those teachings [on marriage and sexuality] and find more inclusive and welcoming language instead. The specific terms that some bishops wish to stop using are “living in sin,” “intrinsically disordered,” and “contraceptive mentality.”


Each of these terms is designed to define human beings in ways that can only wound and alienate. A couple co-habiting before marriage cannot be reduced to “sin” without obliterating everything else that may be wonderful about their relationship – and that may well lead to a successful marriage that is perfectly orthodox. Suggesting that all couples who use contraception can be reduced to endorsing a “culture of death” is equally likely to push flawed human beings away from Jesus rather than toward Him. And, as for “intrinsically disordered”, Ratzinger’s prissy prose was impossible for a gay Catholic to read without feeling punched in the gut. The key to a renewal of Christianity in our age will be a shift in language, a reintroduction of the core truths of the faith with words that are not designed to wound, hurt or alienate, and that can convey truth in a positive manner for a new generation.

Language does matter, and Sullivan adds this:

Christianity is about, among many things, a defense of human dignity and a love of the family. The hierarchy – which again has no such direct experience of actually navigating the challenges of parenting, and which seems incapable of seeing gay people as “first-class citizens” – has lost sight of this. They are still bound by fear – fear of actual gay people, of our happiness and self-worth, of our living example of the complexity of human love and sexuality. They cling to arid doctrine with little appreciation of how anyone can actually live it and not, in the heterosexual world, be cruel or dismissive or discriminatory or callous, or in the homosexual world, be uniquely alone…

What we’re seeing, I think, is how the mere fact of open discussion can shift the very direction of such discussion. We saw this in Vatican II, when new currents in the world and church transformed the meeting in ways no one quite expected – and Francis’ leadership in this contrasts so powerfully with his predecessor’s. He is not telling the church what it should do or how it should change. He has simply made it impossible for the lived reality of most Catholics to be ignored or dismissed any longer.

Some things cannot be unsaid. Some testimony from actual, broken but struggling Christians can never be forgotten. Dialogue shifts minds and hearts from the bottom up, not the top down.

Someone should have told Obama. Or maybe he knew that. Some things are harder to change than the teachings of the Catholic Church. Sullivan reads the whole of the document in question and sees this:

Let me address one of the more controversial and revolutionary aspects of this document, and one which obviously affects me deeply: the section the document actually titles:

“Welcoming homosexual persons”

Yes, you read that right. Instead of being seen as intrinsically disordered human beings naturally driven toward evil – and thereby a contaminating influence to be purged when we become visible (see the recent acts of cruelty and rigidity toward gay parishioners around the country), the church is now dedicated to welcoming gay people. You can write a long disquisition on how this changes no doctrine, but it seems to me you are missing something more profound – a total re-orientation of the church toward its gay sons and daughters. I have managed to find churches that do indeed welcome gay people; but even they rarely publicly declare that they welcome us with open arms – as we are, “her most fragile sons and daughters, marked by wounded and lost love.”

And there’s this:

Gone are the cruel and wounding words of Benedict XVI to stigmatize us; instead we have the authentic witness of someone following Christ who came to minister to the broken and the hurt, the fragile and the strong, the people who had long been excluded from the feast – but now invited to join it as brothers and sisters – “a fraternal space” in the church. Notice too that the church is now emphasizing a pastoral “accepting and valuing” of homosexual orientation, yes, “valuing” the divine gift of our nature and our loves. Yes, the doctrine does not change. The sacrament of matrimony is intrinsically heterosexual – a position, by the way, I have long held as well. But it is possible to affirm the unique and wondrous thing of heterosexual, life-giving union without thereby assuming that gay people are somehow intrinsically driven to evil, as Benedict insisted. It is not either/or. It has always been both/and.

And look too at the positive aspects of a gay relationship: “mutual aid to the point of sacrifice.” Instead of defining us as living in sexual sin, the church is suddenly seeing all aspects of our relationships – the care for one another, the sacrifices of daily life, the mutual responsibilities for children, the love of our families, the dignity of our work, and all that makes up a commitment to one another. We are actually being seen as fully human, instead of uniquely crippled humans directed always and everywhere toward sin. And, yes, there is concern for our children as well – and their need for care and love and support.

What’s not to like? You don’t have to be a Catholic to see something extraordinary has just happened. Even an atheist can be impressed with Pope Francis’ political skills, no matter what the theology involved. This pleasant man promised hope and change, and he actually delivered, and as Thomas Roberts notes, this actually makes a difference:

What practically results from this document? Perhaps bishops will not be so quick to turn away from their schools the children of gay parents or to fire gays and lesbians involved in ministry because they are living openly with or married to a partner. Perhaps they will consider the “concrete circumstances,” as the document suggests, of people divorced and remarried and welcome them to the communion table.

A key term in Francis’s papacy from the start has been “mercy.” Application of the law and of doctrine, he preaches, must be tempered by mercy. In an earlier meditation, he said he wished the church to be “the place of God’s mercy and love, where everyone can feel themselves welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live according to the good life of the Gospel.” That is not a recipe for cheap grace. The good life of the Gospel places some extraordinary demands on the believer.

The approach is clearly disorienting, however, to those who believe that the church must be a place where teaching and practice are absolute and immutable, where the dividing line must be clear between those who are in and those who are out.

Sullivan calls it “a depth charge against the neurosis of fundamentalism” – a nice turn of phrase. See the full discussion-thread at his site – filled with theology and church history – if that’s your thing. If it isn’t, simply note that what Howard Fineman was saying about how hope always gets mugged by reality – that hope is nice but in the real world you have to slap the fools around – isn’t always do. Sometimes you can find hope in unlikely places.

Posted in Hope and Change, Pope Francis | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Ebola Weapon

Every family has a bad seed, or at least an oddball, which might explain Tucker Carlson – who grew up in Carlsbad, the very affluent resort town just north of San Diego, and immediately north of La Jolla, the extremely affluent resort town just north of San Diego, where Mitt Romney just built that mansion with the elevator for his cars. Carlson’s father was a news anchor up here in Los Angeles, and then our ambassador to the Seychelles – it seems we do have one – but he was later president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and director of Voice of America. He was exiled to the middle of the ocean for only a short time, and Carlson’s mother is an heiress to the Swanson food-conglomerate fortune – there used to be a lot of money in frozen dinners – and Carlson’s great-uncle was Senator J. William Fulbright – the famous internationalist who opposed the Vietnam War with deadly logic and great scholarship. In fact there’s his Fulbright Program to send people off to study international relations abroad, so they don’t do stupid stuff, or at least to study something abroad, so they understand the world. Fifty-three Fulbright fellows have gone on to win Nobel Prizes, but Fulbright’s great-nephew was not one of them. Tucker Carlson grew up to be a conservative pundit. He was glib. The bow-tie was cute. And no one took him very seriously.

There were troubles all along. Carlson joined CNN as its youngest anchor ever and was later tapped to co-host their political shouting show Crossfire – which CNN is still trying to make work. It certainly didn’t work with Carlson, who turned to be no more than a smug asshole, and he certainly should have never interviewed Jon Stewart in 2004 – because Stewart called Carlson and his liberal co-host Paul Begala “partisan hacks” and asked them to “stop hurting America” – and then it got really hot. Stewart, however, had a point. Sneering and name-calling was tearing the county apart – this was when John Kerry, the French-looking coward, was campaigning to unseat George Bush, the clueless cowboy. Shouting about that clarified nothing, and what CNN was doing certainly wasn’t journalism. Stewart stayed after the show at CNN that day and discussed this with their management, and everyone interviewed Stewart about this for a week or two. Everyone decided he was right. CNN dropped the show. It had been lively, and it had been irresponsible. Carlson was out of a job.

MSNBC picked up Carlson after that and gave him his own show, to show that they weren’t really total bleeding-heart liberals and could be fair about things, but that didn’t last long. Tucker Carlson was still a glib asshole and a mean bastard who smiled and sneered. MSNBC cut him loose and he ended up at Fox News, as a contributor. Even Fox News wouldn’t give him his own show – he just helps out. That’s why he started The Daily Caller – a conservative web news service that lets America know what’s really going on, not that crap on the news wires and on CNN and in the lamestream media. There’s still a lot of sneering going on. Carlson is still that smug and entitled teenager from Carlsbad, down the coast, still making fun of folks not as cool as him. The Daily Caller now refers to Barack Obama as President Ebola – all he had to do is agree with the CDC years ago and shut down air travel from nasty places with all those dark people, and we’d have no Ebola here now. But no, Obama listened to the airline executives and the civil libertarians and the damned internationalist fools – so he’s President Ebola now. The Daily Caller has graphics and everything. It’s clever. It’s smug. It’s high school stuff. Tucker Carlson turned forty-five in May.

Jon Stewart had been right ten years earlier – Tucker Carlson was a “real dick” – but this President Ebola thing was inevitable. It’s an election year again. The Senate is up for grabs, and key governorships are too, and even if Obama is not running, he is the top Democrat. Make him look bad and all Democrats look bad. They’re led by President Ebola. Ebola is not a medical issue, really. It’s a political issue.

The “nice” Republican, who is more of a libertarian, also sees the political issue here:

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, warned that the U.S. could be underestimating the potential for Ebola to wreak havoc in the U.S. because of “political correctness.”

“It’s a big mistake to underestimate the potential for problems worldwide,” Paul said on “The Laura Ingraham Show” Tuesday.

Citing reassurances by the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Tom Frieden, that there was little risk of a traveler bringing Ebola to the United States and causing an outbreak, Paul countered, “I really think that it is being dominated by political correctness and I think because of political correctness we’re not really making sound, rational, scientific decisions on this.”

Implicit in that is the idea that our refusal to offend those hopeless black folks over in Africa, or African-Americans here, will kill us all. Political correctness will kill us all. What seem like sound, rational, scientific decisions, from all these scientists and epidemiologists, might not be. Sometimes you have to call a spade a spade – even if that “spade” word offends people. Rand Paul didn’t use that word, but he might as well have. He’s a far more subtle name-caller than Tucker Carlson.

And then there’s Benghazi:

Fox News host Mike Huckabee is claiming the American public should distrust statements made by President Obama and the federal government about the spread of Ebola because they have purportedly lied about the September 11, 2012, attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

During the October 4 broadcast of Huckabee, the former Arkansas Republican governor and potential 2016 presidential candidate said that “the Ebola scare goes to the heart of a simple question: do you trust the government. Audience, do you trust the government?” After Huckabee’s audience responded no, Huckabee replied: “And why would you?” …

Huckabee concluded his Fox commentary by claiming he’s “feeling a little sick myself, but it’s not Ebola. I’m just sick of a government that I’m paying for telling me not to worry and just trust them. I wish I could, but if they repeatedly lie to me I just don’t believe them anymore.”

Frank Rich, who left the New York Times for New York Magazine – just another address in Manhattan – considers the politicization of a rather straightforward health issue and adds this:

I am waiting for Donald Trump to weigh in so we can have the definitive explanation of how President Obama has masterminded the spread of Ebola. True, his birthplace of Kenya is in East, not West, Africa, but I imagine Trump’s investigators will discover some heretofore unknown Obamas in Liberia, including those who infected Duncan prior to dispatching him to the red state of Texas to target Ted Cruz.

While we wait for Trump’s Tweets on all this, let’s step back one moment and marvel at the way anything and everything can be politicized in America.

That’s where Rich comes up with something curious:

A new Pew survey finds that only 48 percent of Republicans (as opposed to 69 percent of Democrats) have confidence in the ability of government to deal with Ebola. You’d think this might be because Republicans intrinsically are suspicious of big government, but Pew helpfully points out that when it asked the same question in 2005 during an outbreak of bird flu, 74 percent of Republicans had confidence in the government (as opposed to 35 percent of Democrats).

In 2005 the Republicans ran the government. They said government worked. In 2014 they don’t run the government, so of course government doesn’t work. That’s rather simple, but then this particular disease comes from Africa, and so did Obama’s father, and so much else that is so scary. That’ll rile up the base, but there’s a long way to go with everyone else:

The good news is that Pew also finds that an overwhelming majority of Americans – 67 percent – does not fear being exposed to the Ebola virus. It’ll be interesting to watch that number between now and Election Day as the president’s political nemeses do everything they can to spread panic about Ebola and attach that panic to Obama.

Tucker Carlson is doing his part to spread that panic, as in Rand Paul, as is Mike Huckabee, and of these last two, and the other Republicans carrying this forward, Frank Rich says this:

All this fire is coming from self-styled Reagan Republicans. Let us not forget that Reagan legacy in reacting to a spiraling health crisis. The first cases of the AIDS epidemic in America were reported in 1981; he didn’t give a serious address about the disease until 1987, after thousands of Americans had died. Pat Buchanan, Reagan’s communications director, called AIDS “nature’s revenge on gay men.” There’s political correctness for you.

Let it be further noted that one Republican with presidential aspirations, Rick Perry, has departed from his party’s line and expressed confidence in America’s ability to deal with Ebola. Trustworthy veterans of the infectious-disease battles, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, a major figure in the AIDS battle, agree. Obama is doing all he can. It is Republicans in Congress who are blocking the full $1 billion administration request to speed American military assistance to West Africa.

Hey, that money is going to Africa, a dark place, so one must be very careful:

The lawmakers are demanding detailed plans on uses for the funds, precautions to keep military personnel from contracting the deadly virus and prevent the mission from turning into an expensive, long-term Pentagon commitment.

The lawmakers have held firm in these demands despite the first Ebola case being diagnosed in the United States in recent days, releasing only $50 million of the request to shift $1 billion from the Defense Department’s war operations budget.

Senator James Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the recent cases involving Americans show that much is still unknown about protecting people in infected communities.

At least when the Republicans were in charge they didn’t just throw money around:

Between $1.2 billion and $1.6 billion in Iraqi reconstruction funds were stolen after the 2003 American invasion and moved to rural Lebanon, a former United States investigator said for the first time, but the trail ended there.

In the chaos of post-war Iraq, $12bn-$14bn was withdrawn from Iraqi government bank accounts in the US and flown to the country to provide a quick financial infusion for the new Iraqi government and the country’s battered economy, according to a report in The New York Times. But billions went unaccounted for, the newspaper said.

Stuart Bowen, an American lawyer, was appointed by then-president George W Bush, who he had previously worked with, to track down the missing money. Much of the money was probably used by the Iraqi government in some way, Bowen concluded. But for years Bowen could not account for billions more until his investigators finally had a breakthrough, discovering that $1.2 billion to $1.6 billion had been stolen and moved to a bunker in rural Lebanon for safe keeping.

Well, they found it, didn’t they? That’s eventual fiscal responsibility, even if our folks can’t get near the bunker yet, to see if any of that money is still there. Using that money, about the same amount that the White House and military is requesting to fix the Ebola problem at the source, will have to wait. Republicans know how to be careful about money. They’re the fiscally responsible ones here.

That may have just bit them in the ass:

As the federal government frantically works to combat the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and as it responds to a second diagnosis of the disease at home, one of the country’s top health officials says a vaccine likely would have already been discovered were it not for budget cuts.

Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the National Institutes of Health, said that a decade of stagnant spending has “slowed down” research on all items, including vaccinations for infectious diseases. As a result, he said, the international community has been left playing catch-up on a potentially avoidable humanitarian catastrophe.

“NIH has been working on Ebola vaccines since 2001. It’s not like we suddenly woke up and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we should have something ready here,'” Collins told The Huffington Post on Friday. “Frankly, if we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this that would’ve gone through clinical trials and would have been ready.”

It’s not just the production of a vaccine that has been hampered by money shortfalls. Collins also said that some therapeutics to fight Ebola “were on a slower track than would’ve been ideal, or that would have happened if we had been on a stable research support trajectory.”

“We would have been a year or two ahead of where we are, which would have made all the difference,” he said.

That stagnant spending would not have happened but for the Republicans, and the Democrats pounced:

Democrats are trying to turn GOP-backed budget cuts to health agencies into a bigger political issue, seizing on the Ebola outbreak to argue the cuts have slowed the U.S. response.

They are pointing their fingers at the sequester, which introduced automatic spending cuts to the government in 2013 that Democrats say hurt the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, told The Hill the bulk of the cuts were “dictated primarily by the Sequester,” and argued Democrats and President Obama have offered proposals that would repeal it.

“All you have to do is compare the budgets and you’ll find the president’s budget and budgets proposed by the Democrats had more responsible funding levels for these agencies – funding levels that would allow them to fulfill their responsibilities in a more effective manner,” he added.

Democrat after Democrat piled on:

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), said Republicans have “neglected” health agencies since they took over the House majority.

“From every version of the Ryan Budget to the Budget Control Act and sequestration, our crucial biomedical research and response institutions have been forced to do more with less, and sometimes less with less,” said DeLauro, the ranking member on the House Appropriations subcommittee responsible for funding the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). “That needs to end.”

Republicans, for their part, have argued it was the White House that introduced the idea of the Sequester, which enforced mandatory spending cuts across the government to defense and non-defense budgets.

Yeah, the White House introduced the idea, because the Republicans would have shut down the government unless there were massive spending cuts, mostly to social programs and other liberal nonsense. The White House didn’t expect the Republicans would agree to massive and indiscriminant mandatory across-the-board cut to everything, including defense, of all things. They did agree – because a crippled government, with everything failing would make Obama look bad. They got what they wanted:

The CDC’s budget in 2010 was nearly $6.5 billion, but fell to $5.8 billion in fiscal 2014. Likewise, the NIH budget peaked in 2010 at $31.2 billion and fell to $30.6 billion this year. … NIH and CDC budgets would have been even lower but for the 2013 budget deal between Budget Committee Chairmen Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), which restored some sequester cuts to the two agencies.

Now they want to fix this:

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) want to get rid of not only sequester spending cuts to the Pentagon, but to the NIH and CDC.

“I want to sit down with Senator McCain, Jack Reed, Dianne Feinstein, a coalition of the willing, to replace these defense and non-defense cuts that are destroying our ability to protect our country, do something like Simpson-Bowles, where Republicans have to give on revenue, close some tax deductions in the tax code,” Graham said on CNN last week. Reed (R.I.) and Feinstein (Calif.) are two Democratic senators who could be key players in the debate.

That’s nice, but that’s not now:

Senior CDC and NIH officials in late September told lawmakers that budget cuts had “eroded” their ability to respond to Ebola. Dr. Beth Bell, director of the CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, said the agency hasn’t fully recovered from the sequestration cuts.

There are consequences to budget cuts, and if the Republicans are going to call the guy President Ebola from here on out, well, two can play at that game:

A new TV ad blames prominent Republicans for Ebola deaths, attacking them for championing spending cuts that have gone after emergency public health funding for containing disease outbreaks.

The one minute ad, called “Republican Cuts Kill,” splices grueling images of body bags and workers in hazmat suits with footage of top Republicans like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) and House Speaker John Boehner (OH) calling for spending cuts. It also features 2014 Republican Senate candidates Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Pat Roberts of Kansas. …

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases, is shown in the ad lamenting the “damaging” spending reductions, including the automatic sequester-cuts of 2011.

The ad will run in Kentucky, North Carolina, South Dakota and Kansas — where the close Senate races are. This particular virus has been weaponized, turned into a political weapon.

Then it got a bit bizarre:

If a liberal group is going to blame Republicans for the Ebola outbreak, RedState editor Erick Erickson is going to blame “fat lesbians.”

Following the release of a brutal ad from the Agenda Project Action Fund that attacks the likes of Mitch McConnell and Pat Roberts for budget cuts, Erickson offered the GOP some material to fight back, highlighting examples of what he deemed as a wasteful use of federal dollars.

“For example, instead of studying Ebola, the National Institutes of Health were studying the propensity of lesbians to be fat,” Erickson wrote Monday on his blog, providing a link to a study on the link between sexual orientation and obesity.

Going forward, this isn’t going to be pretty. Erick Erickson, by the way, was a CNN contributor for a time, paid to weigh in on the topics of the day, and as with Tucker Carlson, CNN cut him loose. He was just one more of those smug conservative flame-throwers who once made CNN look irresponsible and desperate for ratings. They must have heard the echoes of what Jon Stewart had said long ago, but the odd thing is that Erick Erickson had a different back-up plan than Tucker Carlson had:

Erickson announced earlier this year that he was accepted to seminary, calling it part of his journey “to glorify God more fully in this multidimensional platform of a career God has blessed me with.”

Apparently God has called him to be a sneering and dismissive bully, like Jesus, or something. The seminary is not identified. He will, however, be out of circulation for a time.

Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller won’t be. Ebola will be the issue for the next month. There’s an election coming up – but of course Ebola isn’t the issue at all. It’s only a weapon. And although Tucker Carlson grew up down the coast here in Carlsbad, he was actually born in San Francisco – Nancy Pelosi Land, where all the gay people happily live. Maybe that can be weaponized too. Everything can be weaponized.

Posted in Ebola | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Dangers of Extrapolation

We’re all gonna die! Watch enough Fox News, listen to enough Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, or to what John McCain and Lindsey Graham are saying, or anyone on the right, and you know this is true. Ebola will kill us all – it’s far more contagious than the CDC is letting on. You can get it from sitting next to someone who knew someone who read about it, or who lived in Dallas, or who used to watch the old Dallas show, the one with Larry Hagman. He’s dead, isn’t he? Maybe you can get it from a random email message – those often carry viruses, as everyone knows – but it’s certainly going airborne (CNN) – unless it isn’t (scientists). Should we trust scientists? They’re the ones that say man-made global warming is screwing up the planet, badly, and we really ought to do something about that – we should stop burning so much oil and coal – but of the fifteen thousand or so peer-reviewed studies over the last decade or so at least three or four of those, the ones funded by the coal and oil industry, say that might not be so, maybe, so the jury is out. It could be that all the scientists in the world formed a giant secret conspiracy to destroy America, by taking away its sources of the power that keeps everything running. That might be what’s really going on, and it’s the same with Ebola:

In an interview with World Net Daily’s Paul Bremmer, conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly claimed that President Barack Obama is allowing people infected with Ebola to enter the United States in order to make the country more like Africa… The problem, Schlafly said, is that the president doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism.

“Obama doesn’t want America to believe that we’re exceptional. He wants us to be just like everybody else, and if Africa is suffering from Ebola, we ought to join the group and be suffering from it, too. That’s his attitude.”

Perhaps that’s what’s really going on. Obama won’t halt flights from Africa into the United States, or to be safe, close our airports to all international flights – someone from Africa could fly to London, then to Toronto or Tokyo, and then catch another plane to Dallas, or Cleveland. What about that? Obama wants us all to die. That explains why he’s having the CDC lie to us too. Obama is out to destroy the America we know and love – but then we will all die because God will turn His back on America, because we turned our back on Him. Years ago we made first-term abortions legal, saying women have a right to decide if that’s the best thing to do, and then Obamacare mandated that all qualifying health plans cover family planning, including birth control – which means women can get what Rush Limbaugh calls those “slut pills” – and now the Supreme Court has declined to review any of the recent lower-court decisions requiring states to recognize same-sex marriages in spite of any bans in place. The Supreme Court gave up – let gay folks marry each other – no one is going to die or anything. Let them have the right to do what everyone has the right to do – get married and settle down, for better or worse.

Most of the Republican Party gave up too. There’s no point in fighting this battle, not with more than half the country thinking gay marriage is no big deal, and thus thinking the Republican Party is full of jerks, but then there’s Mike Huckabee:

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said he would quit the Republican Party if it surrenders on gay marriage. In an interview, the possible Republican presidential candidate said he’s frustrated that party leaders are raising “the white flag of surrender” on the issue. …

“If the Republicans want to lose guys like me and a whole bunch of still God-fearing, Bible-believing people, go ahead,” he said. “And while you’re at it, go ahead and say abortion doesn’t matter, either – because at that point, you lose me. I’m gone. I’ll become an independent.”

God may smite us for our wickedness, and we’ll all die, but Mike will be safe – but even if Mike Huckabee, that mainstay on Fox News, with his own nightly show, is wrong, we’ll all be speaking Spanish. Everyone knows those Mexicans are pouring in, streaming across our southern border, taking our jobs and taking over. Obama refuses to build that flaming moat or declare war on Mexico, rolling the tanks into Juarez, and this is serious. It’s the perfect storm – the Islamic State collaborates with those drug cartels in Mexico to expand outside the drug trade, into human trafficking, and now terrorism, and at least ten ISIS fighters have been caught coming across the border in Texas, and all immigrant children are probably bringing Ebola across the border.

None of that seems to be true at all – no one caught any ISIS fighters coming across the border in Texas and as one sensible person put it – “The cartels are in the business to make money, and are not in the business of helping some wacko overseas Islamist group kill Americans, especially since those same wackos probably wouldn’t mind killing the drug dealers themselves.” There’s that, and Americans are their customers too. Don’t kill your customers. It’s bad for business. Even the big tobacco companies, after far too many wrongful-death suits, figured that out, eventually. Still people do extrapolate. Those ISIS folks are pretty nasty, and they could be poised to take over the world.

That has been discussed on Fox News:

Coming off of a takedown of President Barack Obama’s ISIS speech last week, Judge Jeanine Pirro opened her show Saturday night by slamming the president’s handling of ISIS and going as far as calling the Islamic extremist group America’s “single biggest threat in her 200-year history.”

The threat is even bigger than those America faced during World War I, World War II, and September 11th, Pirro clarified. She also predicted that ISIS will come to America, “if [they are] not already on American soil.”

We’re all gonna die:

“Everything I’ve been telling you for a month is accurate. You need to think September 11th, 2001. You need to remember what it felt like then. Don’t sit there and think that government has you covered. Hell, the White House itself and its perimeter were penetrated twice in the last 24 hours.”

Yeah, the Secret Service blew it, so one need only extrapolate:

“If our government were listening, our borders would be closed. If our government were listening, we’d be bombing ISIS nonstop. And if they were listening, our president would be following the advice of the military experts united on the issue of boots on the ground. But instead, our president thinks he knows more than the military experts, a disagreement highlighted this week and virtually unseen in American history. And if our government were listening, we would never have gotten out of Iraq the way we did.”

Yep, we’re all gonna die, and she doesn’t even mention ISIS’ secret powers. We spent eight years and billions of dollars building up and equipping and carefully training a new Iraqi army, from scratch, and when they faced a tiny group of ISIS fighters they threw down their arms and ran, except for those who turned in their weapons, and with the big stuff threw in the spare parts and user manuals, and then dug their own graves and lined up to be executed. How did ISIS do that? It must be magic. How do you fight that? We could send in two hundred thousand troops. We have cruise missiles and armed drones and fast planes that drop precision bombs. ISIS now has about thirty thousand fighters, mostly with small arms. We wouldn’t stand a chance. Do the extrapolation.

All of this is nonsense, of course, but such talk is in the air. Slate’s Fred Kaplan gets real:

The Syrian part of Obama’s anti-ISIS strategy was always a deferral. He seems not to have thought it through, perhaps because he didn’t think he’d have to. It would be hard, and take long, enough to “degrade and destroy” ISIS before he’d have to deal once more with Assad. He didn’t count on two factors. First, ISIS-in-Iraq and ISIS-in-Syria turn out to be inseparable; it’s hard to fight one without contending with the other. Second, America’s allies in the region – on whom Obama’s strategy depends – have interests that are at times at odds with American interests. This becomes a problem in coalition warfare. ISIS, in fact, gains much of its strength from the fact that the countries arrayed against it – which, together, could win in short order – can’t get their act together; they have too many conflicting interests tearing them apart.

Turkey’s ambivalence – even with ISIS controlling much their border with Syria – says it all, but Kaplan sees something more:

The international system, in which we all grew up, the system of the Cold War, has shattered, and nothing has taken its place. There are no real power centers. Nations, even small and medium-sized ones, are freer to pursue their own interests, which often collide with ours. Large nations have less leverage than they once did, and it’s harder to coerce or persuade other nations to put our interests above their own. Obama is in a tight position (and future presidents should take note, because they will be, too): He may have to succumb to mission creep – or slowly, carefully, creep away.

One thing leads to another. The international system, the system of the Cold War, did shatter. Nothing took its place, although we tried to replace it with a new American century. The struggle of our times, after Hitler and Tojo were gone, was the epic battle between consumer capitalism, with its assumption that only the individual matters and individual choice determines all good, and rigid communism, where the state determines what is good for everyone, generally, where the individual doesn’t matter a whole lot, as only the collective does. That’s what the Cold War was all about, and that would be an endless stalemate, forever.

It wasn’t. Communism collapsed. The Berlin Wall fell and then the Soviet Union just up and disappeared. The eternal struggle was over. That called for a reassessment, and Francis Fukuyama decided to write about “the end of history” in a 1989 essay that he turned into a book three years later – explaining the end of history as “the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

Everything was settled. The Cold War was over. Communism was dead – in fact, every other system of organizing human society for the greater good was dead too. The job now was to find a way to have everyone settle down and deal with the inevitable – everyone was going to be just like us. They might not like that but they’d eventually see the light, or we’d help them see the light – for their own good, because we’re nice guys and do have the only proven way to run things. That’s what was in the air. That was the premise of the whole neoconservative thing that eventually gave us eight years of war in Iraq and thirteen years of war in Afghanistan, after all the other reasons for those wars fell apart. We extrapolated. We could now see the inevitable sweep of history. Every nation would be a secular Jeffersonian democracy, with an economy based on consumer capitalism, where the individual is everything and the state does next to nothing at all.

Francis Fukuyama later decided to take it all back. History didn’t end – the players just changed – and Fukuyama admitted as much and went on to split with the crew who hadn’t figured that out. There would be no New American Century after all – sorry about that.

Don’t worry. He’s back. In the Literary Review, John Gray has a review of Francis Fukuyama’s latest book Political Order and Political Decay – all about what it takes to make democracy work, and Gray offers this:

Today, possibly somewhat chastened by events, he is no longer writing in such triumphalist terms. He recognizes that democracy is showing signs of decay, such as gridlock in Washington and the rise of extremist parties in Europe. Yet the prophet of the end of history has hardly changed his tune: though the tone is different, the message is essentially the same. A quarter of a century after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Fukuyama is as convinced as he was then that democracy is the only system of government that has a future. The West may not be as powerful as he once thought, but Western-style democracy remains the end point of modern development. …

For Fukuyama, as for many other modern thinkers, today and in the past, political development is an evolutionary process. What drives this process is never specified; if there is a social equivalent of the natural selection of genetic mutations, we learn no more about its workings from Fukuyama than we did from Karl Marx or Herbert Spencer, who produced similar speculations in the 19th century. It is never explained why political evolution should have any particular end state, nor why the process should involve the convergence of institutions. As it operates among species, evolution shows no such tendency. Drift and diversity, punctuated by extinction, are the normal state of affairs. Why should evolution in society – if there is such a thing – be any different?

The answer, of course, is that Fukuyama takes for granted that the end point of political development is the system of government he prefers. As he puts it here, the problem that most of the world faces is ‘getting to Denmark’ – where ‘Denmark’ means not the actual country but ‘an imagined society that is prosperous, democratic, secure, and well governed, and experiences low levels of corruption’. He sees many of the humanitarian and military interventions of Western governments as bungling attempts to promote this imaginary society: ‘The international community would like to turn Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, and Haiti into idealized places like “Denmark,” but it doesn’t have the slightest idea of how to bring this about.’ Oddly, Fukuyama omits Iraq from his list of Western failures. The reason for all of these fiascos, however, is clear: ‘We don’t understand how Denmark itself came to be Denmark and therefore don’t comprehend the complexity and difficulty of political development.’

Sometimes extrapolation is impossible:

One of the merits of this ambitious and wide-ranging book is that it recognizes the daunting difficulties of creating an effective state – democracy’s most essential precondition. ‘Before a state can be constrained by either law or democracy’, Fukuyama writes, ‘it needs to exist. This means, in the first instance, the establishment of a centralized executive and a bureaucracy.’ Much of the book is a catalogue of the vicissitudes of state-building, and Fukuyama recounts in impressive detail the disparate results in countries such as Prussia, Italy and the United States. Part of the book is given over to examining semi-failed states, with an instructive chapter devoted to Nigeria. Here Fukuyama’s analysis is incisive: ‘Lack of democracy is not the core of the country’s problems.’ What Nigeria lacks is ‘a strong, modern, and capable state … The Nigerian state is weak not only in technical capacity and its ability to enforce laws impersonally and transparently. It is also weak in a moral sense: it has a deficit of legitimacy.’

George Bush listened to Dick Cheney and the neoconservatives, who listened to Fukuyama back in 1989, and decided that “spreading democracy” was the answer to everything. That was an extrapolation from the fall of communism and it was dead wrong:

In some ways Political Order and Political Decay may be Fukuyama’s most impressive work to date. The upshot of his argument is that functioning democracy is impossible wherever an effective modern state is lacking. Since fractured and failed states are embedded in many parts of the world, the unavoidable implication is that hundreds of millions or billions of people will live without democracy for the foreseeable future. It’s a conclusion that anyone who thinks realistically is bound to accept. It’s also a view that runs counter to nearly all currents of prevailing opinion.

Of course it does. Fukuyama is not Judge Jeanine Pirro on Fox News, and Andrew Sullivan is a fan:

His sanity continues with his opposition to the current intervention in Syria and Iraq to do again what we tried to do last time, i.e. to defeat a Sunni insurgency on behalf of a hapless and largely useless Shiite government in Baghdad. It’s such a mug’s game you have to have the judgment of the man who picked Sarah Palin as a vice-presidential nominee to endorse it.

Unlike so many in our political elites, Fukuyama has also had the wisdom to reassess the question of Jihadist terrorism after 9/11 and come to a different conclusion than the hysterics in the media and the political opportunists in Washington.

Sullivan then cites a new profile of Fukuyama in the New Statesman:

“There was a really serious question: is this the wave of something generally new and important in world history, or was this just a really lucky blow they got in?” Fortunately for his academic consistency, he concluded it was the latter. “These are really marginal people who survive in countries where you don’t have strong states . . . Their ability to take over and run a serious country that can master technology and stay at the forefront of great-power politics is almost zero,” he says now.


As ISIS threatens Baghdad and the war-machine and neocons go into high gear demanding a full scale re-invasion, that’s worth keeping in mind.

And there’s this from the profile:

When I suggest that half-hearted interference is likely to prolong conflict in the region, he comes close to agreeing with me. The wars engulfing the Middle East are essentially a Sunni-Shia war, he says, that “could go on as long as the Thirty Years War in Europe”, which raged between 1618 and 1648. “Under those circumstances, I think it’s a little hard to figure out how American power is going to settle that conflict. I don’t think we’ve got the wisdom to actually see our way towards a political settlement.”

Does he believe that the rise of Isis might have been avoided if the US had intervened militarily earlier on in the Syrian conflict? It is possible, but unlikely, he concludes. “The one thing that both the Iraq and Afghan wars should have taught us is that, even with a very heavy input in boots on the ground, and nation-building, and the trillions of resources poured into these countries, our ability to bring about a specific political result like democracy, or even basic stability, is very limited.”


This is fundamentally a reality-based conservative position. Do not let the fanatics on the right persuade you otherwise. The neo in neoconservatism stands for war – always war. It is close to an end in itself.

Back in February, Sullivan has said this of the Iraq war:

I saw that war as an almost text-book refutation of the logic behind US intervention in this century. The Iraqis were not the equivalent of Poles in 1989. They were deeply conflicted about US intervention and Western liberalism and came to despise the occupying power. The US was not the exemplar of liberal democracy that it was in the Cold War. It was a belligerent state, initiating Israel-style pre-emptive wars, and using torture as its primary intelligence-gathering weapon. Its military did not defeat an enemy without firing a shot, as with the end-game of the Soviet Union; it failed to defeat an enemy while unloading every piece of military “shock and awe” upon it. A paradigm was shattered for me – and shattered by plain reality. A realist is a neocon mugged by history.

There was another way to see the Cold War:

For me, the end of the Cold War was a blessed permission to return to “normal”. And “normal” meant a defense of national interests and no countervailing ideological crusade of the kind the Communist world demanded. In time, it seems to me that the basic and intuitive foreign policy for the US would return to what it had been before the global ideological warfare against totalitarianism from the 1940s to the 1980s. The US would become again an engaged ally, a protector of global peace, but would return to the blessed state of existing between two vast oceans and two friendly neighbors. The idea of global hegemony – so alien to the vision of the Founders – would not appeal for long, at least outside the Jacksonian South. As Islamist terror traumatized us on 9/11, however, I reverted almost reflexively to the Cold War mindset – as did large numbers of Americans. It was the rubric we understood; and defining Islamism as the new totalitarianism helped dispel what then appeared as the delusions of the 1990s, when peace and prosperity seemed to indicate an “end of history”, in Fukuyama’s grossly misunderstood and still brilliantly incisive essay.

From the perspective of 2014, however, the delusions seem to have been far more profound in the first decade of the 21st Century than in the last decade of the 20th. The conflation of Islamism with Communism was far too glib – not least because the former was clearly a reactionary response to modernity, while the latter claimed to be modernity’s logical future; and the latter commanded a vast military machine, while the former had a bunch of religious nutcases with box-cutters. And the attempt to use neo-colonial military force to fight Islamism was clearly doomed to produce yet more Islamists – as the Iraq and Afghanistan interventions proved definitively. More to the point, Americans now understand this in ways that many in the elite don’t.

And now they’ve forgotten that again. We’re all gonna die!

Of course we are. No one gets outta here alive. But there’s no point in making things worse, by making things up. The world isn’t coming to an end, or it always is, and never does. There’s not much you can extrapolate from that.

Posted in Francis Fukuyama, ISIS, Republican Doom-Sayers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

On An Early Morning

Carl Jung has done a lot of damage. All that talk about archetypes and the collective unconscious might have been insightful, and true, but it wasn’t particularly useful. There are true things we all know, and have always known, individually and collectively, but we are quite unaware of them, but they drive all our behaviors? That seems to be the idea, but would our knowing these things, at the conscious level, make our lives any better? It’s a way of explaining the why of our existence, but it doesn’t address the how – the how to get along in the world. The Mythopoetic Men’s Movement tried to bridge that gap. That was an complement to modern feminism, where men, to avoid the trap of perpetual goofy adolescence or absurd macho posturing, become mature and responsible men, by getting in touch with the Jungian archetype of true manhood. The movement was a bit obscure. There was a lot of sitting around in the woods beating drums, which may have done no one any good at all, but there really are a lot of men out there who never grew up. Maybe that’s most men – the world is full of Peter Pans and schoolyard bullies – and maybe the drum circles and rituals, and talk of the true father, did some good. At least that’s what the poet Robert Bly thought – he was a central figure in that odd Jungian movement – but he was also a fine poet, who kept that stuff out of things like his Poem in Three Parts:

Oh, on an early morning I think I shall live forever!

I am wrapped in my joyful flesh,

And the grass is wrapped in its cloud of green.

Rising from a bed where I dreamt

Of long rides past castles and hot coals,

The sun lies happily on my knees;

I have suffered and survived the night,

Bathed in dark water, like any blade of grass.

The strong leaves of the box elder tree,

Plunging in the wind, call us to disappear

Into the wilds of the universe,

Where we shall sit at the foot of a plant,

And live forever, like the dust.

That’s pretty cool. That’s how retirement should be. Those of us who grew up in the fifties and came of age in the sixties, who then spent decades in this career or that, or in many careers, who married perhaps a few times, who did the true-adult thing and paid all the dues, should wake up every morning like this. No, we won’t live forever, but if we’re in tune with the universe, we will. We’ll become part of it. We’re already part of it. We have suffered and survived the night. It’s a new dawn. The long nightmare is over.

No, it isn’t. There are still long rides past castles and hot coals. The money will run out, eventually, or sooner – people live too long these days. Social Security and Medicare can’t cover everything, and if the Republicans have their way those two will slowly be transformed into a Social Security brokerage account, where some well-paid financial advisor helps you pick stocks, and a voucher system where you use that small Medicare voucher to try to buy whatever minimal healthcare policy private insurers decide to sell this year, if they do, if they can make a profit at it. Social Security and Medicare will dwindle and disappear, and private pension systems have all but disappeared, and the Republicans say that public pension systems are ruining America. They bankrupted Detroit. Those must go. You’d better have lots in savings or perhaps a 401(k) – but if you live a few too many years you’ll outlive those. You’ll have to spend them down until they simply disappear.

Oh, on an early morning there’s only dread. Wrapped in your joyful flesh you sip coffee and plow through the morning paper – gee, the world is falling apart again, as usual – and you glance at CNBC now and then, to see if the economy is falling apart again. When the economy collapsed in Bush’s last year you lost half your net worth – that 401(k) collapsed too – and if you owned a house, you lost all your equity, and then some – or you lost your house. In Obama’s first six years the markets recovered, so you may be back to break-even, but that’ cold comfort. You’re where you started, and the housing market still hasn’t recovered. If you have to sell the house you’ll take a loss, if anyone will buy the place. They won’t. They can’t. Mortgage rates are low now, but no one can get a mortgage. Banks make money now selling each other exotic investment instruments, based on hypothetical assets. There’s more money in that than in underwriting mortgages. You’ll have to find an all-cash buyer. Good luck with that.

That collapse can’t happen again. It just can’t, but it can. There are ominous signs:

It was the steepest of roller-coaster rides for investors this week, and it ended with a 115-point drop in the Dow Jones industrial average that wiped out the year’s gains for the benchmark index.

Throughout the nation and worldwide, major indexes fell Friday, mostly on concerns of a weakening European economy and slowing growth in China.

Fundamentally, the U.S. picture remained unchanged, and fairly positive. Corporate earnings, for instance, haven’t shown particular weakness, analysts said.

But, they said, investors are concerned about the disconnect between a strengthening U.S. economy and the darkening economic situation in Europe and elsewhere that could pull the U.S. down.

Okay, by October 10 this year, all the gains of the year were gone, and things were moving ever lower. The Obama Party may be over, and the odd thing is, this has nothing to do with Obama. Europe is falling apart, and this has to do with those Germans:

As if the global economy didn’t have enough troubles, it looks like Germany, Europe’s traditional growth engine, risks falling into recession – or growth so weak it holds back the entire euro currency union’s weak recovery. Europe’s largest economy has seen a run of lousy numbers for factory orders, industrial production, exports and business confidence.

All that is bad news – because exporting industrial goods such as machines and cars is the heart of Germany’s globally linked economy. And if Germany isn’t selling goods, it suggests other parts of the world’s economy are not strong enough to keep buying them.

This Associated Press item then covers the issues here:

As Germany goes so does Europe, in many ways. Strong business activity in Germany has made the overall growth figure for the 18 countries that use the euro look a lot better in the past few years. And Europe showed zero growth in the second quarter. Germany is 28 percent of European GDP. And the value chain for companies in other countries often runs through Germany. Suppliers in Italy or France, for example, sell chemicals, coatings or parts to a Germany company that assembles the final factory machine or car.

When Germany sneezes, all of Europe gets a cold, but so does everyone else:

A renewed slump or long-term stagnation in Europe is a risk for the global economy as a whole. That’s one reason why International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde keeps urging more stimulus for the region. The European Union, of which Germany is the biggest economy, is the world’s largest economy and trading bloc. It’s a key export market for many firms in the U.S., and a source of investment capital, big-ticket goods and technology for China. In particular, U.S. auto firms such as Ford Motor Co. and General Motors, through its Opel subsidiary, have struggled through a long slump in consumer demand for cars in Europe.

A bit of stimulus really would help:

Things in Europe are so worrisome that the European Central Bank is launching more stimulus measures. It cut its interest rate to near zero and is preparing to purchase bundles of bank loans to encourage more lending.

And then there’s Putin:

Germany makes what economists call investment goods – big-ticket items like printing presses, heavy trucks, or industrial lasers that companies use to make other goods. Uncertainty makes businesses and consumers hesitate, because they can always put off such purchases until things look a little clearer. That’s the effect of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which has resulted in the EU and the U.S. imposing economic sanctions on Moscow. Business in the Middle East has also been dented by military conflict in Syria and Iraq.

And then there are the Germans themselves:

Some say Germany can help right its economy by spending more. It has good public finances, after all. But Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has focused on balancing the budget, even as her governing partners, the Social Democrats, have called for more investment spending to fix roads and bridges. Germany can borrow money for essentially zero interest on bond markets; even its longer 10-year bonds yield an astonishingly low 0.91 percent annually, compared with 2.31 percent for U.S. 10-year Treasuries.

But Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has made it clear the government’s in no mood to increase borrowing.

They have bought into austerity. They will take on no debt, even if at that zero interest rate it’s essentially free money. They’ll let the roads and bridges crumble. Debt is bad. They’d rather suffer:

Official data showed a massive 5.8 per cent drop in German exports in August and a 4.0 per cent decline in industrial output during the month. Leading German think tanks also slashed their growth forecasts for the biggest Eurozone economy.

‘The German economy is stagnating. And there’s no indication for the moment that will change before the end of the year,’ said Ferdinand Fichtner, an economist at Berlin think tank DIW.

The International Monetary Fund trimmed its 2014 global growth forecast to 3.3 per cent, down 0.1 percentage point from July, as it warned of stagnation in advanced economies…

Stagnation in advanced economies means your 401(k) and the value of your house will erode slowly but surely – but you should be renting anyway. The Germans aren’t going to change their minds about austerity, as the Telegraph’s Ambrose Evans-Pritchard shows here:

The Kaiser Wilhelm Canal in Kiel is crumbling. Last year, the authorities had to close the 60-mile shortcut from the Baltic to the North Sea for two weeks, something that had never happened through two world wars. The locks had failed.

Large ships were forced to go around the Skagerrak, imposing emergency surcharges. The canal was shut again last month because sluice gates were not working, damaged by the constant thrust of propeller blades. It has been a running saga of problems, the result of slashing investment to the bone, and cutting maintenance funds in 2012 from €60m ($77m) a year to €11m.

This is an odd way to treat the busiest waterway in the world, letting through 35,000 ships a year, so vital to the Port of Hamburg.

The Washington Post’s Matt O’Brien is stunned that Germany continues to tell the world about the virtues of austerity as Europe edges ever closer to a triple-dip recession:

Germany should stop obsessing about its short-term deficit, and start spending more on roads and bridges and schools instead. Markets are all but begging it to… But out of some misplaced sense of fiscal self-righteousness, Germany would rather let its critical infrastructure fall into disrepair than take this free money. …

But Germany is stubbornly sticking with spending cuts instead, and it’s making the rest of Europe do the same.

It’s an austerity suicide pact, and Germany doesn’t even want the ECB [European Central Bank] to cushion the blow. It turns out, though, that forcing your customers into a worse depression than the 1930s isn’t good for you, either. It’s left Germany, which despite its image as an economic powerhouse has only grown 1.1 percent a year the past decade, teetering on the edge of its own slump – with Russian sanctions maybe enough to push it over.

This sounds familiar to Kevin Drum:

It really is stunning to watch this play out. Germany is playing the same role that Republicans played in the US in the aftermath of the Great Recession, except that Europe’s economy is in worse shape than ours was and Germany’s enforced austerity is worse than anything even the Tea Party was able to achieve. The evidence is overwhelming that this conduct is hurting Germany itself as well as the rest of Europe, but there’s simply no budging them. What are they thinking?

Others are asking that question:

As Europe confronts new signs of economic trouble, national leaders, policy makers and economists are starting to challenge as never before the guiding principle of the Continent’s response to six years of crisis: Germany’s insistence on budget austerity as a precondition to healthy growth.

France this week stepped up what has become an open revolt by some of the Eurozone’s bigger economies against Chancellor Angela Merkel’s continued demands for deficit reduction in the face of slowing growth. Italy has warned against too rigidly following Germany’s preferred approach. Even the president of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, is pushing for Germany to loosen up.

Ah, Germany has become a problem in Europe again. It’s like old times, without the tanks and guns, but it is kind of war:

“After going along with the damaging strategy of austerity in the hopes that Germany would eventually moderate its position, countries are now saying, ‘Enough is enough. We’re going to have to act to arrest the downward spiral in the economy,” said Simon Tilford, the deputy director of the Center for European Reform in London…

Eurozone countries are “stuck” in low growth, Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the IMP., said in an interview. “That is clearly weighing on their perspectives going forward.”

The Brits and the French may have to do something about Germany again, and the Germans aren’t happy either:

While still a firmly popular leader in her ninth year in power, Ms. Merkel is also under fire at home. In a new book, “The Germany Illusion,” one of the country’s leading economists, Marcel Fratzscher, takes the government to task for declining to invest in infrastructure and failing to encourage private investment or foster a modern service sector that would yield better pay and thus fuel higher consumer spending. He also criticizes large German companies for directing ever more of their investment to Eastern Europe, Asia and the United States, rather than to the Eurozone.

Germany seems to have its own Paul Krugman, but there are two sides to every argument:

Critics of austerity say that more government spending would increase demand for goods and services in Europe and help avert a dangerous fall into deflation, a downward spiral in wages and prices that can cripple an economy for years. Proponents of austerity say that governments that fail to get their budget deficits and accumulated debt under control risk losing the ability to borrow at affordable rates in the bond markets and sowing the seeds of financial instability.

Yeah, yeah – we’ve heard that over here for years, but over there things are heating up:

Prime Minister Manuel Valls of France has intensified a showdown with Germany and Brussels in recent days, unveiling a “no-austerity budget” designed to cut the deficit more slowly than austerity advocates would like. During a trip to London on Monday to visit with Prime Minister David Cameron, Mr. Valls reiterated France’s defiance, saying the government would mend its finances “at our speed while not losing sight of our priorities.”

As Italy, the Eurozone’s third-largest economy, has stumbled back into recession, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has admonished Berlin not to threaten its partners and turned up warnings that Germany’s austerity prescription might threaten political instability by stoking the appeal of populist and far-right politicians should economies worsen.

But Germany won’t budge. This is a preview of what we can expect here when the Republicans are back in charge of things, with something parallel to this anger:

Bernadette Ségol, leader of the European Confederation of Trade Unions, said Tuesday that the emphasis on budget rules was hindering attempts to pull out of problems that first appeared with the global financial crisis of 2007-8.

“Europe’s disastrous response to the crisis – austerity – has led Europe to a social crisis and to within sight of a political crisis,” she said, according to Agence France-Presse. “Europe does not need more austerity; it needs new policies.”

The only hopeful thing about this is that Angela Merkel is not a Tea Party kind of gal:

As evidence grows that the German economy, the largest in Europe, is beginning to stall, Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed a growing willingness on Thursday to use government spending to stimulate growth, a possible shift in position that could ripple across the entire Eurozone.

Ms. Merkel’s new tack, signaled in a Berlin news conference, may be partly a response to increasingly clamorous criticism from the International Monetary Fund, independent economists and fellow Europeans that her longstanding emphasis on balancing the federal budget needs to give way to pumping more money into the lethargic German economy.

We don’t get that kind of sensible responsiveness on this side of the pond, and the data matters:

Discouraging data in recent days, as well as a warning on Thursday by the nation’s leading economic institutes that German growth was slowing, also seem to have increased Ms. Merkel’s willingness to listen to the advice of Mr. Draghi and Ms. Lagarde.

Faced with what she acknowledged were “somewhat worsened” forecasts for the German economy, Ms. Merkel said her government was examining how to encourage investment…

That’s nice, but she has her own Tea Party caucus to deal with:

Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister, speaking in Washington on Thursday, insisted that “writing checks” was no way for the Eurozone to increase growth, according to Reuters. Mr. Schäuble urged France and Italy to do more to overhaul their economies instead.

Those two really do need to talk to each other, and the Washington Post’s Matt O’Brien also suggests some discussion should happen over here too:

Welcome to Austerity U.S.A., where the deficit is back below 3 percent of GDP and growth is still disappointing – which aren’t unrelated facts.

It started when the stimulus ran out. Then state and local governments had to balance their budgets amidst a still-weak economy. And finally, there was the debt ceiling deal with its staggered $2.1 trillion of cuts over the next decade. Add it all up and there’s been a big fiscal tightening the past few years, something like 4 percent of potential GDP. Indeed, as Paul Krugman points out, real government spending per capita has been falling faster now than any time since the Korean War demobilization.

And our economy limps along because of this. Our deficit hawks and the budgets scolds drone on, and half the country takes them seriously, in spite of clear evidence from Europe, where things have finally come to a head, that what they propose leads to disaster, for real people.

Oh, on an early morning I think I shall live forever! No one feels that way now. There’s dread in the air. If we insist on austerity, as a moral good, even if it causes great pain, or perhaps because it causes great pain, we’ll live forever, like the dust. No one wants to live that way – and as for that odd movement Robert Bly started, to get American men to get in touch with the Jungian archetype of the ideal responsible man, not the goofy adolescent into schoolyard bullying and macho posturing, well, someone here needs to grow up. Dread is no fun at all, and it shouldn’t be necessary. These last few years should be easier than this.

Posted in Austerity Economics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Obama’s Successful Failed Presidency

Pay for Performance is a wonderful thing – those who are good at their jobs get big raises, year after year, and stick around and do even better work, because they know something will come of it. At least that’s the idea. In the current economy these folks don’t ever get raises, but they’re the ones that get to keep their jobs, and that’s more than most employees can expect, even if their work doubles and triples as those whose work is merely adequate are shown the door. Keeping your job is your reward for excellence. Those who are good at their jobs will get promoted too – even if it’s a “dry promotion” with no change in pay. The idea is the pay will catch up, one day, and in the meantime there’s the status of the new title, and usually power over others, the losers stuck below.

That’ll do, and more promotions will follow, until these sharp folks end up at a level where they don’t have any idea what they’re doing, or should be doing – but that’s okay, because no one knows that either. Senior management is far removed from the real work being done down in the trenches, where you have to know your stuff and keep up on everything, but senior management is working on strategic direction and growing markets and such things. They don’t need to know the details, because they think big thoughts, and those who are particularly adept at big thoughts become CEOs – far removed from everything below, and perhaps far removed from everything.

No one really knows what those folks do, or how to evaluate their performance. Things may fall apart because of a shift in exchange rates in the currency markets, caused by some fools halfway around the world going to war again. Whose fault is that? The CEO is safe, and even a CEO who actually runs a corporation into the ground will often be picked up by some other corporation, often in an unrelated industry, and be paid hundreds of millions a year to “lead” – whatever that means – but then a disgruntled board of directors can show them the door too. There’s no yearly formal performance evaluation of their work, as with those down below, but their performance is evaluated.

Everyone is judged in our economic system. Some succeed. Some fail. Sort them out. There are objective measures of success, and failure is pretty obvious. It’s not all that hard. Reward success. Dump the failures. Anything else is socialism or communism or something, where profits don’t matter, or it’s kind of French. It’s almost impossible to fire an employee in France, but here it’s pay for performance, which is what makes America great. We sort out the losers. We make them go away.

This is fine system, and it doesn’t work with teachers. For a decade or more we’ve been talking about how to fix our woeful public schools. Pay for performance often comes up – reward the good teachers and dump the bad teachers – but that’s easier said than done, and it’s not just the teachers’ unions protecting their members. There’s the problem of deciding on objective measures of success in teaching. Are the kids inspired to learn? Everyone says that’s important, but there’s no way to measure that – that may be a function of the kid’s home environment, the attitude and habits of the parents, or it may be a function of the kid’s innate personality, or the kid’s diet, or the family’s religion or heritage. No teacher is part of that, but you can ask another question. Did a whole bunch of kids end the school year as dumb as they were when the school year started? The problem might be the raw material too, not the teacher. Did the kids learn and grow and thrive in a particular teacher’s classroom? They might have done the same with a crappy teacher – or not – it’s hard to tell.

It’s impossible to tell, and the current effort to evaluate teachers – to sort out the good from the bad through the aggregate results of endless standardized tests the kids take again and again – doesn’t measure much about the teacher, other than he or she is pretty good at getting the kids to memorize this and that, and getting them to understand how the test is constructed, so they know the odds when they choose B, not A or C or D, after B has been the right answer too many times. They may understand little else, and none of it is very good preparation for life. Few careers call for memorizing stuff you don’t understand and then beating the immediate system in place.

No one is happy with this – but everyone knows a good teacher when they see one, or when they’ve had one, and everyone certainly has stories of awful teachers who should have been fired long ago. That’s obvious, but the problem is those are subjective judgments. Ask for objective measures that show either success or failure and you’ll get a blank stare. There are some things you just know? You only pretend you’re being objective about it. You’re just sensing something. That leads nowhere. Much is life isn’t like the business world with its endless performance evaluations, tied to verifiable productivity and profit. We only pretend it is, and as Obama nears the beginning of his last two years in office, the “performance evaluations” are popping up all over. This has to do with the upcoming mid-term elections, where the “failed presidency” of Barack Obama can be used to tar all Democrats. It’s a weapon, but the thought is out there:

In another sign of President Obama’s deteriorating public support, more than half of Americans now say that he is failing as president, the latest IBD/TIPP poll finds. The poll, which ended Friday, found that 53% characterize Obama’s presidency as a failure vs. 41% who rate it a success. Just 6% say that they aren’t sure.

Obama’s standing among independents is even worse with 58% calling his presidency is a failure. Half of those who live in states that voted for Obama say that his presidency is failing.

People “sense” this as Charles Krauthammer notes:

They have a sense of things falling apart. You look around and just the basic competence, just the delivery of health care and the V.A., just the Secret Service, the one agency people would idolize in the past. And then you look abroad of how America is no longer really respected. Our enemies have contempt for us. ISIS will proudly and gloriously behead two Americans and distribute it to the world on a video as a way to show how much it discounts, how much it disdains America. In that sense of America diminished, America in decline, I think even though it’s not an explicit issue, it weighs very heavily on the presidency and by association it weighs on the Democrats running for office…

All this just feels bad, but Robert Tracinski at Federalist has a kind of performance evaluation with a list of Obama’s failures:

1. He didn’t heal our racial divisions.

2. The stimulus didn’t stimulate.

3. Financial reform didn’t reform.

4. ObamaCare is a boondoggle.

5. Obama failed to reform immigration.

6. He withdrew prematurely from Iraq.

7. He blew the Arab Spring.

8. Obama ignored the threat of a resurgent Russian dictatorship.

9. He didn’t shut down Guantanamo, keep the NSA from spying, or rein in the drones.

10. He has made America irrelevant.

If you read all the details that Tracinski provides you’ll see these are the usual Republican talking points, except for that first one. Obama was supposed heal our racial divisions? Even Jesus couldn’t do that, and the Jesus that the Christian right in America imagines would never stand for it. The ninth item on the list is odd too – every time Obama proposed to shut down Guantanamo the Republicans blocked him, because we couldn’t house those people stateside in any of our maximum security prisons. They have magical powers. They’d walk right through the walls, grab a taxi and then recruit a hundred million Americans to their cause, and then take over America. They’re far too dangerous. They know the Jedi Mind Trick. Those Republicans really know their base, which wants those guys far away lest they too would somehow end up turning off that Rush Limbaugh show and joining the new al-Qaeda in America, or something. Oh, and who failed to reform immigration? Tracinski gets very tricky here. You might say he’s lying, but then he believes it all. That only means he lives in alternative universe.

The economist Paul Krugman makes the opposite case, that Obama has been amazingly successful:

Back in 2008, when many liberals were wildly enthusiastic about his candidacy and his press was strongly favorable, I was skeptical. I worried that he was naive, that his talk about transcending the political divide was a dangerous illusion given the unyielding extremism of the modern American right. Furthermore, it seemed clear to me that, far from being the transformational figure his supporters imagined, he was rather conventional-minded: Even before taking office, he showed signs of paying far too much attention to what some of us would later take to calling Very Serious People, people who regarded cutting budget deficits and a willingness to slash Social Security as the very essence of political virtue.

And I wasn’t wrong. Obama was indeed naive: He faced scorched-earth Republican opposition from Day One, and it took him years to start dealing with that opposition realistically. Furthermore, he came perilously close to doing terrible things to the U.S. safety net in pursuit of a budget Grand Bargain; we were saved from significant cuts to Social Security and a rise in the Medicare age only by Republican greed, the GOP’s unwillingness to make even token concessions.

But now the shoe is on the other foot: Obama faces trash talk left, right and center – literally – and doesn’t deserve it. Despite bitter opposition, despite having come close to self-inflicted disaster, Obama has emerged as one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history. His health reform is imperfect but still a huge step forward – and it’s working better than anyone expected. Financial reform fell far short of what should have happened, but it’s much more effective than you’d think. Economic management has been half-crippled by Republican obstruction, but has nonetheless been much better than in other advanced countries. And environmental policy is starting to look like it could be a major legacy.

The rest is details, from a Nobel Prize economist and not light reading, but there’s this that sums up how Krugman is thinking about objective measures of success:

There’s a theme running through each of the areas of domestic policy I’ve covered. In each case, Obama delivered less than his supporters wanted, less than the country arguably deserved, but more than his current detractors acknowledge. The extent of his partial success ranges from the pretty good to the not-so-bad to the ugly. …

Am I damning with faint praise? Not at all. This is what a successful presidency looks like. No president gets to do everything his supporters expected him to. FDR left behind a reformed nation, but one in which the wealthy retained a lot of power and privilege. On the other side, for all his anti-government rhetoric, Reagan left the core institutions of the New Deal and the Great Society in place. I don’t care about the fact that Obama hasn’t lived up to the golden dreams of 2008, and I care even less about his approval rating. I do care that he has, when all is said and done, achieved a lot. That is, as Joe Biden didn’t quite say, a big deal.

Andrew Sullivan agrees, and he frames things this way:

The current indiscriminate pile-on about a “failed presidency” is just bandwagon bullshit. Unlike Krugman, I’ve long had confidence in Obama’s long game, even as I have had several conniptions in his term of office (his early prevarication on gay rights, and that phoned-in first debate in 2012, his negligence with healthcare.gov, his caving into hysteria over ISIS). And I see little reason to question its broad thrust now.

Just a year ago, I had a conversation with a friend as the healthcare website was crashing. All that mattered, we agreed, was if, this time next year, the healthcare reform is working and the economy is doing better. Well, both of those things have happened – Obamacare is actually a big success so far; the growth and unemployment rates are the envy of much of the Western world – and yet we are now told that he’s a failure. WTF? The architects of the Iraq War – like, yes, Clinton and McCain – somehow believe they have a better grasp of foreign affairs in the twenty-first century than he does. And the party that bankrupted this country in eight short years now has the gall to ignore the fastest reduction in the deficit ever, and a slow-down in healthcare costs that may well be the most important fiscal achievement of a generation.

Add to this the two massive social shifts that Obama has coaxed, helped or gotten out the way: marriage equality and the legalization of cannabis. These are not minor cultural shifts. They are sane reforms, change we can absolutely believe in and have accomplished on his watch. Jihadist terrorism? It has murdered an infinitesimal number of Americans in the past six years, compared with almost any other threat. Yes, Americans are still capable of PTSD-driven panic and hysteria over it, and Obama has failed to counter that more aggressively, but to be where we are in 2014 is something few expected after 9/11.

Robert Tracinski is also wrong to argue that we lost Iraq because Obama wouldn’t force Malaki to tear up the agreement he had made with Bush and accept us keeping ten thousand troops there on our terms, not his:

The idea that he has “lost Iraq” is preposterous. We “lost” Iraq the minute we unseated the Sunnis, disbanded the Baathist army and unleashed the dogs of sectarian warfare.

The only sane response to continuing unrest there is to cut our losses, act as an off-shore balancing power, and protect ourselves. And one reason we have this capability is that Obama managed to pivot nimbly last fall to ensure the destruction of Assad’s WMDs. The Panettas and McCains and usual suspects still seem to believe that it would have been better to have bombed Assad, let him keep his WMDs, and … what exactly? Can you imagine ISIS with its hands on those weapons in a failed state with a deposed leader? Think Libya today with poison gas. Who prevented this? Obama. And he is still pilloried for it.

And there are those other bad guys over there:

And over six long years, Obama has made it possible – still possible – to put Iran’s nuclear program in a safe box, and avoid another polarizing war in the region. If Obama ends his two terms having rid the Middle East of the threat of nuclear and chemical and biological warfare, he will have advanced our security almost as significantly as Bush and Cheney degraded it. Yes, he failed on Israel. But he has no real power over that. That tail has been madly wagging the dog for a long time now – and in some ways, Obama tried to restrain it more than any president since the first Bush. As long as fundamentalist Christians and even liberal Jews continue to support the ethnic cleansing and de facto apartheid on the West Bank, and do so with a fervor that reaches apoplectic proportions, no president will be able to establish a sane foreign policy with respect to the Jewish state.

The problem might be the raw material too, not Obama, and so consider this:

Financial reform? Well, if even Krugman says it’s working better than he expected, chalk another one up. Torture? He has acted with more restraint than I would have and deferred far too much to the CIA, but the end-game has yet to be played. It is not unreasonable to believe that we will have established, by the end of his term, a clear and definitive account of the war crimes the last administration perpetrated. That is something. Maybe about as much as a democracy can handle in the time since the atrocities were committed.

Forget the media-click-bait pile-on. Just watch the economic data after the worst depression in many decades (and look at Europe or Japan for comparison). Follow the progress in universal health insurance (itself a huge positive change in American life). Measure the greater security from WMDs. And observe the tectonic cultural shifts.

Krugman and Sullivan, then, have their own objective measure of success. Charles Krauthammer has how all of this feels, and there is what those who were polled feel, and Tracinski has his dubious list what he imagines Obama should have done. Choose what Obama should have done, and how you feel about that, or choose what Obama actually did do, and write your own performance evaluation.

It may not matter, if the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza is right about this:

What polarization is in the process of doing – and I’ve had this conversation with Democratic and Republican pollsters – is redefining how we look at the traditional success markers of any president. Sixty percent-plus approval ratings – unless they come at the very start of a presidency or in the wake of a national disaster or tragedy – are things of the past for as long as the current partisanship gripping the country holds on. Given how vast the gap is between how the two parties view the right next steps for the country – not to mention how negatively they view the other side – it’s impossible to imagine a president enjoying any sort of broad (or even narrow) bipartisan support for any extended period of his or her presidency.

Increasingly, there are two political countries in the United States. One, a liberal one, is governed by Barack Obama. The other lacks a clear leader but views itself as at war with Obama’s America. And, there’s no reason to think that if, say, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio gets elected president in 2016, things will be any different. Rubio will be president of a conservative America. The liberal America will see itself in diametric opposition to that America.

That screws up the performance evaluation:

Krugman chooses to call Obama successful because of the Affordable Care Act, his work to preserve the social safety net and his policies on the environment – among other things. Of course, to conservative America those are the pillars of Obama’s failure as president.

Cillizza is arguing that we can never have another “successful” president ever again, or at least not in any America he can imagine, because there are now two fixed and entrenched Americas. They used entirely different ways of measuring success. So Obama has had a quite successful failed presidency, or an utterly failed presidency that was remarkably successful. And we probably have great teachers out there, who are total failures, or awful teachers who are doing a fine job – but we have built an edifice of accountability, which has served our economy well, unless no one is ever sure what people are being held accountable for, or why. Perhaps we should just stop talking about success and failure. Things got done. Other things didn’t get done. We move on.

Posted in Obama's Failed Presidency | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment