Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Media Hates Hillary

The media's hate boner for Hillary Clinton has reached call-your-doctor-if-your-erection-lasts-longer-than-four-hours levels in the wake of an otherwise innocuous comment Mrs. Clinton made with regard to her family's finances when her husband's second term as President ended in January 2001. Somehow, mentioning that the family was millions of dollars in debt because of legal costs associated with defending President Clinton has morphed into a sleazy hit and run job by the Beltway media that thinks it has split the atom by discovering the Clintons are now very wealthy.

The headlines scream about the $100 million Bill Clinton has earned in speeches, the hundreds of thousands Hillary is paid to speak to evil corporate elites and the sweetheart deal young Chelsea was given by NBC for a very modest amount of work. Wrap it all up in the Brazilian rain forest number of trees that have been felled since 1991 sliming the Clintons as first, Arkansas rubes who would turn the White House into a Waffle House, then into striving Gatsbys who summered on Martha's Vineyard to hobnob with the rich and famous, then as shameless carpetbaggers relocated to the tony New York countryside to launch Hillary's Senate career while shaming Bill into locating his post-Presidential headquarters in Harlem, and then, in 2008, as race baiters who were trying to kneecap Barack Obama, and you begin to understand that no amount of good either Clinton has done in their 40 years in public service will ever satisfy reporters, many of whom could only wish to make a scintilla of positive change in the world the Clintons have. 

Even more galling (and laughable) is the venom directed by cub reporters who were likely still in elementary school when Hillary was giving a groundbreaking speech about women's rights in Beijing in 1995 or declaring her support for "Palestine" (something for which she was ripped mercilessly) in 2000, not to mention all the work she did to improve access to health care as first lady of Arkansas when some of those now mocking her as a Wall Street sell-out were not even born. To pretend that the Clintons are the first two politicians to take money for speeches is also a joke, the irony being the person who made that action famous was none other than Ronald Reagan, who accepted millions in the months after his Presidency ended to speak to people overseas. George W. Bush made an offhand comment about the need to "refill the coffers" toward the end of his Presidency and no one batted an eyelash. Of course, unlike those Presidents, Bill Clinton formed the Clinton Global Initiative and has, over the last decade, funneled tens of millions of dollars, primarily into third world countries, to help eradicate diseases like AIDS, provide access to education, and support disaster relief, but that's of no matter, because he's rich. Seriously?

That Bill and Hillary Clinton, whose romance blossomed while they trekked around the country as staffers for George McGovern, are now being portrayed as insufficiently liberal would be idiotic on its face, but then I remember these same media types are putting every architect of the Iraq War on TV and, with a straight face, allowing them to rip Obama as having "lost" that war. In the end, Hillary only had it half-right. The "vast right wing conspiracy" was (and is) actively seeking to destroy her and her husband, but in some ways the more nefarious cabal is made up of so-called "mainstream" media types like Maureen Dowd whose nearly 200 columns about Hillary have been almost universally negative. Of course, this is all pseudo-intellectual masturbation for the Inside the Beltway crowd. Like so much of what they "report" on these days, the conversation is staged and directed at a fractional audience totally disconnected from the rest of the country. The opinion of ordinary Americans about the Clintons is much more positive. The President's approval hovers 70% as people appreciate more and more the litany of success that attended his years in the White House and Mrs. Clinton has been on the "most admired" list of women for the better part of 20 years. But then again, when have facts gotten in the way of a good media food fight? 

Follow me on Twitter - @scarylawyerguy 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Princeton - June 22

Now that classes have let out for the summer, Princeton University is a great place to spend a Sunday morning taking in the beautiful campus. 

You can start along Nassau Street. This first photo was taken at the corner of Nassau and Witherspoon using the "miniature" effect:

As I headed toward the University Chapel, I stopped at the Rothschild Arch and snapped this photo. The Latin phrase means: "Dedicated in love to mother and son." 

The University Chapel was open and an organist was practicing while I snapped away. The Chapel has many beautiful stained glass windows and its architectural design is quite impressive. The first photo is of the window above the altar, while the second is a close-up of the uppermost part, showing Jesus's crucifixion. 

After I left the Chapel, I headed for Prospect Garden. This botanical joy had many flowers and plants around a sculpture and fountain. I was able to take some great photos of roses, lavender, amaryllis, and a purple coneflower (thank you, Twitter!)

All in all, a great day to be out and about in Princeton. I hope to visit again soon!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The War Over Iraq

With some combination of "militants" and "terrorists" storming through parts of Iraq and American-trained Iraqi soldiers caving faster than you can say "Maginot Line," naturally, talk in Washington has turned to who "lost" Iraq. Republicans, never slow to pin everything from a rainy day to the impending socialist takeover on President Obama, have been shrill in their criticism. The President has been "taking a nap" according to John Boehner and was, according to John McCain, in such a hurry to leave Iraq that he forfeited the victory "won" by George W. Bush and the vaunted "surge." 

The DC media, who have not met a war it did not like since Vietnam, an inchoate threat it would not mindlessly regurgitate directly from GOP talking points, or an opportunity to second-guess Barack Obama, has joined the pile on, echoing Republican assertions that something, anything, needs to be done, and please, do it fast, and make sure you do not think through the repercussions because every complicated policy decision has to be hashed out in the span of a news cycle.

While others can better rehash the litany of fuck ups, erroneous predictions and straight up lies that were told in selling the Iraq War, the fact of the matter is that the things that are roiling that country now have been known for some time - sectarian differences between Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd, endless struggles among those groups for the valuable oil reserves in various parts of the country, an authoritarian "leader" whose reflexive unwillingness to mend religious rifts that have built up literally over centuries suggested that all we had accomplished in toppling Saddam Hussein was installing a new strongman, just one who was sympathetic, not antagonistic, toward Iran. Not a small thing, by the way.

There is nothing wrong with Monday morning quarterbacking decisions that have been made, but if you are going to do that, a little honesty is probably in order. For example, the "surge" that Senator McCain is so fond of trumpeting was a lot more nuanced than simply sending more troops into harm's way. We also bribed, sorry, paid, the very Sunni militants we had been fighting to turn their guns against "terrorists" instead of us, tacitly wrote off the southern part of the country to the acolytes of Muqtada Al-Sadr (remember him?), gave a wink and a nod to nominal Kurdish independence in the north, and had little to do in Baghdad other than cement (literally, with walls) the ethnic cleansing that had largely separated Sunni from Shia. Of course, those facts don't fit comfortably on a bumper sticker or in a narrative that demands that we believe some go for broke strategy magically worked. [1]

As for the idea that some legacy force should have been maintained and that such a force would have made a difference when the people wearing the uniform of the home country refused to fight is laughable. The last status of forces agreement (SOFA) we signed had the name "George W. Bush" on the dotted line, not Barack Obama. When the current President sought to extend the SOFA, Iraqis refused to grant American soldiers immunity from prosecution in its courts, a non-starter that helped ensure our departure. [2] That fact notwithstanding, American troops left more than two years ago, at which point the "standing up" (as Shrub put it) of Iraqi forces was long past its due date. If the leaders in Iraq have done so little to engender the support, trust and loyalty of its own army, one, I might add, we spent north of $25 billion (not a typo) training, why is it our responsibility to now pull their chestnuts out of the fire? 

The fact is, our record of nation building in the Middle East is woeful and the mission creep now being advanced by people like McCain and his running buddy Lindsey Graham will do little but require that we take ownership of a problem for which we will not be able to impose a solution. The sectarian battles that are playing out in places like Iraq and Syria do not end in some Middle Eastern George Washington riding in on a white horse and creating what we think of as "democracy." In Egypt, a massive uprising of students who DID want something closer to the freedom we know and love were left in the dust because the only two factions that had the organization to take advantage of the political vacuum were the Muslim Brotherhood, who won the free election for President, and the military, which overthrew that leader when the people started rebelling against him. In Libya and Tunisia, halting progress is often rewarded with steps backward that no amount of American intervention will resolve. 

If what Mike Allen has reported is true, that is, that the Obama foreign policy distilled down to a bumper sticker would read "Don't Do Stupid Shit," not involving ourselves in Iraq is a no-brainer. We would be inserting ourselves on the side of a leader who thumbed his nose at us, at other major parties, and surrounded himself with a coterie of flunkies and sycophants who would not have looked unfamiliar in Saddam Hussein-era Iraq. We also cannot be expected to invest blood OR treasure into a country whose own people refuse to fight for its leader. What does it say that a band of a few thousand (at best) was able to overrun a major city like Mosul when tens of thousands of troops were at the country's disposal? 

As others have noted, the first rule of digging yourself out of a hole is that you stop digging. At some point, we need to say enough - having left behind the cookbook for how to run a "democracy," we need to allow the Iraqi people to decide whether they want it. If Republicans think so little of our $600 billion a year Department of Defense (not to mention the untold billions that go to the NSA and CIA), that they are incapable of defending us in the event these extremists DO take over Iraq, what, pray tell, are we paying for now? 


1. That McCain would fetishize a "go for broke" strategy is unsurprising coming from someone who picked an obscure (and unvetted) Alaska Governor as his running mate and thought it a great idea to suspend his 2008 Presidential campaign when Wall Street melted down. 

2. Even if we had signed a SOFA, the residual force was expected to be fewer than 10,000 troops. 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Curious Case of Bowe Bergdahl

Last weekend, President Obama announced that the United States had negotiated the release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who had been held by the Taliban since 2009. In exchange for Bergdahl's release, the United States turned over five "high ranking" Taliban commanders who had been held in Guantanamo Bay for more than a decade. These men were taken into the custody of the nation of Qatar, where they will remain for a year before being fully freed. 

The reaction from critics was immediate and over the top. Initially, the complaints had to do with the high price paid for Bergdahl's release, but quickly morphed into questioning whether Bergdahl was even worthy of release because of the suspicious nature of his capture, which may have occurred after he deserted his fellow troops. The story quickly snowballed and consumed news cycles for days, as allegations that other troops had died looking for Bergdahl popped up, others speculated that Bergdahl had been "flipped" like the fictional character Nicolas Brody in the TV show Homeland and others suggested the President had engaged in an impeachable offense for failing to provide notice to Congress as required by a proviso inserted into a recent Defense Appropriations bill. The fact that men were being held without due process in Gitmo for years on end was of no moment for those suddenly concerned about the rule of law. 

Of course, much of this narrative was driven by Republicans whose motivations were belatedly (as usual) discovered - John McCain had voiced support for a deal in the past, while others deleted anodyne tweets of support for Bergdahl in the wake of all the blowback. The same party that labeled anyone who questioned George W. Bush after 9/11 as flirting with treason now openly questioned the propriety of securing the release of one of our prisoners of war and much of the D.C. media gave them a pass. 

Indeed, the conduct of many in the media was even more shameful than that of the Republicans, who, after all, would find a way to criticize Obama if he declared his love of mom and apple pie. The President has been in office long enough that we have become desensitized to the odious, incessant, and unfair invective hurled at him by the other party, but the media's complicity in driving the narrative of Bergdahl as at best a deserter and at worst an enemy of the nation, was a travesty. The tone on Fox News was to be expected, but TIME Magazine put a photo of Bergdahl on its cover under the headline "Was He Worth It?" and the supposedly "mainstream" Washington Post joined the chorus of questioning the deal, allowing Allen West space on their website to publicly call for the President's impeachment. 

All of it reported without any context, little verifiable fact, and an almost reflexive desire to obscure the truth instead of illuminate it. It took days for the media to get around to reporting relevant information, like Bergdahl's condition at the time of his release (not good), that the claim that others died searching for him was tenuous, that the Taliban required secrecy regarding the negotiations in order to complete the deal, and that the "reporting" requirement that people claimed the President ignored may not have been ignored at all, and even if it had, its legality, as a limit on the President's authority as commander-in-chief was at a minimum, in question. In the meantime, Bergdahl's family was maligned, a welcome home parade for him was canceled because of threats that were directed to the town he comes from, and he has been tried, convicted and sentenced in the court of public opinion.

And these were just the facts about the instant case missed by the media. They ignored entirely the fact that George W. Bush had released hundreds of prisoners from Guantanamo and that other countries (most prominently, Israel) have done similar exchanges. Further, the idea that somehow the Taliban are unique enemies ignores history. Nazi scientists were recruited after World War II to lead our space program (look it up - "Operation Paperclip"), men who fought us in the rice paddies of Vietnam were leaders in that country when we re-established full diplomatic ties in the 1990s, and many of our closest allies were onetime foes (e.g., Germany, Japan, Italy, Mexico, England) who were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of our soldiers over the course of our nation's history.  

Of course, this is of a piece with what passes for "journalism" inside the Beltway these days. Republicans stir a pot to get Eric Shinseki fired and reporters happily pile on, ignoring the fact that a bill that would have helped address the scandal they were gleefully reporting on was filibustered by the same Senate Republicans who wanted Shinseki's ouster. Once Shinseki was unceremoniously let go, those same Republicans negotiated a deal while the media moved on. 

What is particularly egregious about what now happens is that the benefit of the doubt, and indeed, the cheerleading the media did before the Iraq War without a hint of skepticism of anything other than those who questioned that war's justification, has now been flipped on its head so that even the most specious claims raised by Republicans regarding anything having to do with the Obama Administration is immediately reported as immutable fact, except the "facts" usually turn out to be at best shaded truths and at worst total fabrications (see, e.g., the litany of Obamacare falsehoods starting with death panels and ending with insurance death spirals, Shirley Sherrod, the IRS "scandal," etc.). The mea culpas get buried 20 pages into the newspaper (if anyone is bothering to read them anymore) or left to the Rachel Maddows of the world to point out. 

Such would have been the case with Bergdahl, regardless.The same Republicans screaming "impeachment" for negotiating his release would have done the same had he died in captivity.


Summer has brought a newfound appreciation for flowers. Here are some photos from a rose bush in my neighborhood.