The Talking Dog

May 31, 2010, Nothing to fear but stupidity

We can play a slight game of Rashomon between the generally reported version of events and the Israeli version of events, but the undisputed facts remain: Israeli naval forces attacked a group of five ships carrying aid to the blockaded Gaza strip in international waters, and at least ten (Israeli press reports fifteen) people, almost certainly civilians, are dead, and four Israeli military personnel were wounded.

In the last few years we have seen one of the most distressing things imaginable for American Jews: Israel's behavior, long some of the most careful and restrained in the world, has been as stupid and short-sighted as that of the United States. A huge part of this has been the departure of tens of thousands of upscale and liberal Israelis who emigrated after the indiscriminate violence of the second indifata, leaving behind somewhat more hard-ass people behind who would invariably vote for Likud or even more hard-ass parties... I'm well-along in my conclusion that the Israelis' problem-- like our own-- is no longer one of policy mistakes, but of affirmative stupidity.

Yes, there is a logic to the proposition that the Palestinian resistance ceased to have the upper hand when its weapon of choice went from hurled rocks to school-bus-bombs... but then, Israel managed to give back the moral high ground with its insanely disproportionate responses, whether in Gaza, or Lebanon, or now, in international waters. Worse, Israeli forces encountered a Hizbollah capable of digging in and holding ground with a willingness to take casualties-- and Israelis, used to having tanks and air power and overwhelming fire-power against rock throwing teens... haven't been prepared. And yet again...

No one is suggesting that Israel could tolerate the delivery of weaponry into Gaza; but at the moment, at least, there is no evidence this happened. Israel's fear of someone "breaking the blockade" seems to somehow have led its leaders to forget that Israel has a navy, a well-armed navy. that confronted five civilian vessels. Furthermore, these things have a traditional way of playing out: a standoff at the edge of Israeli territorial waters, with notes and conferences and ultimately, shots across the bow... the naval forces being in a position of defense of their own territorial waters against aggressive action by the blockade breakers. The reason for this is multifarious-- but it usually minimizes loss of life. And the diplomatic backlash.

Which will now be severe. Israel was already taking a hit in its standing with Turkey, the Muslim country with which it has long had its best relationship. Now, with Turkey being the de facto sponsor of the flotilla, and having recalled its ambassador, there will be much work to do before that relationship is back on track. Israeli PM Netanyahu has canceled his visit with President Obama, European nations are demanding an explanation of why the Israeli military apparently massacred their civilians... and at the end of the day... for what? Presumably, to satisfy some constituency of stupid people, whether in the Israeli general electorate or its elites, who think the answer to interloping upscale civilians (including, I suspect, a not insubstantial number of diaspora Jews) is to launch a violent raid in international waters.

Brilliant. With luck, the Netanyahu government will fall over this, and the Israelis will put in a different, hopefully less stupid, set of leaders. Unfortunately, I fear that like Americans, Israelis' view of the universe is a tad self-centric, and Netanyahu and company will only be more popular. And this at a time when Israel is mobilizing its Neocon fifth column here to suggest that the United States take military action against Iran in defense of it (Israel)! Good luck with that, geniuses,.

The irony at the end of the day is that Israel's greatest threat will not prove to be Iranian nuclear weapons or Hizbollah rockets or Hamas... but itself. Very much a paradigm of the situation the United States is in-- fully capable of dealing with all of its "threats".. except its biggest one: its own stupidity, which will cause the manageable to become unmanageable in no time at all. We really do have nothing to fear... but stupidity. I don't know about you, but I'm deathly afraid of it.

Update: While, just about uniquely, the official White House reaction has been a muted "we must have all the facts," it seems that a more important diversionary signal (for domestic consumption) is required: the announcement of the death of the drummer from Spinal Tap Number Three official in Al Qaeda. As protests against the Israeli action, and the blank support check given Israel by the United States, begin to grow in scale (and they will) one wonders if an "orange alert" can be far behind? Those who would accuse the Obama Administration of "selling out Israel" in any manner would do well to note what is happening now: we don't announce the death of an al Qaeda No. 3 for just anyone.

Update the Second: What Jim Henley said.

May 29, 2010, Top killjoy

Well, I'm as disappointed as anyone that the "top kill" procedure of simply pumping in mud and concrete to try to gunk up the hole causing the oil mega-leak in the Gulf of Mexico... well, "top-kill apparently didn't work." But then... what is it we can do?

We can consume things, to the point of having tens of millions of morbidly obese people and literally an entertainment program devoted to such people trying to lose weight! We don't seem good at having, say, created private sector wages. And we can't seem to rebuild New Orleans or the World Trade Center in any kind of "real-time", let alone .defeat irregular insurgencies in Asia, win a "war on drugs", or for that matter, apparently, control our Southern border. I could go on with infrastructure failure, health spending inefficiencies to the point of insanity, and a failed educational system that has given us some of the stupidest people in the industrial world, while we continue to worship unbridled capitalism as if it actually works for anyone other than the nation's owners in the kazillionaire class. I don't think that, collectively, anyway, we can do much of anything anymore,

Folks, I'm growing vegetables on my urban roof: I urge you all to do the same. Faith that our system will continue even to be able to consistently deliver food seems, well... it seems like just "faith." Nothing works anymore: we have spent decades de-industrializing, denaturing the quality of everything... we just have to resign ourselves to the point of simply saying that, like the Gulf mega-spill, sure, BP is a bunch of liars and criminals and its management should certainly be indicted for murder, and then, hopefully, tried and executed (as if any of that would ever happen!!!)... but in terms of cleaning up the mess... we have no reason to believe that those involved aren't trying their best...and that's the problem: our best just isn't good enough anymore. I feel bad that the President's daughter is asking him if he's filled the hole yet. Dearie, your Dad is the President of a country that can't shoot straight: it's not his fault-- he just got here. Indeed, the fact that a guy who himself has not managed to do anything with his own life other than self-promotion has risen to such a position of leadership is almost the perfect paradigm. The strivers were really good at climbing the ladders without delivering value. Congrats: you've arrived. And the rest of us, counting on you for basic competence... are screwed. That's it. We're just screwed.

We're not good enough at anything anymore. We have seen insane resume-inflation... to get into your average Ivy League college, you need a 4.0 average, perfect college boards, published peer-reviewed research, several varsity letters, volunteer work,... and then you might have a shot... and yet, those who "make the grade" don't seem up to, well... much of anything. Other than making insane amounts of money for little or nothing of value, while working on Wall Street sucking money out of our economy for... nothing of value. Ditto the health insurance, or defense sectors, or so many of our most successful ."businesses."

Of course, our rapid race toward total mediocrity and failure happens amidst a broader environmental and climate catastrophe that, being stupid, many of us won't even recognize, and of course, while the easy oil runs out (forcing us to insanely drill in water so deep that when anything goes wrong, we have no hope of fixing it before environmental catastrophe sets in). And at a time when our citizenry is so stupid (see above) that the mere mention of the word "terrorism" leads to a mental collapse to the point of tolerating totalitarianism, because.. well, we have to be kept "safe."

So... my advice to you all... is to look out for yourselves. Think about how you'll eat and drink amidst power failures and... broader economic and political failure. How you'll get around... where you'll live and so forth. Do you really want to be 40 miles from a city center dependent on an SUV, when gasoline will be $15/gallon if attainable at all? Just saying...

This has ben... "Top killjoy."

Update: What Dmitri said.

May 28, 2010, Courage under fire

Right now, I'm asking for yours: take action to assist Col. Darrel Vandeveld, who is under attack by our military for the crime of... wait for it... discharging his duty honorably and refusing to dishonor the flag and his uniform by engaging in misconduct as a Guantanamo military commissions prosecutor with respect to the case of tortured juvenile Mohammad Jawad (who has been released, btw) (via Candace)..

My own interview with Col. Vandeveld is here. Col. Vandeveld is a genuine American hero: a man of conscience, who answered the call and was willing to prosecute military commissions defendants to the full extent of the law... until he found out that the circumstances of the prosecutions-- both the disarray of the so-called :"evidence" against these defendants, and the abuse they suffered at the hands of American and coalition forces-- precluded him, or anyone else, from ethically doing so.

People of good will are under attack now. This is not North Korea, or China, or Cuba, or the Soviet Union. This is the supposed "land of the free and home of the brave"-- a country whose political "leaders" are so -crap-in-their-pants-scared that they are lashing out in any direction so they can blame someone else for terrorism... and men and women of honor, such as Col. Vandeveld, or habeas lawyers, are just today's target of opportunity for the feckless political opportunists who disgrace our Congress and military and executive branch with their anti-American sentiments.

With whatever energy we have left in our bodies and souls... I urge you to take appropriate action. No... I DEMAND it. Because today... it's "them." Tomorrow... it's the rest of us.

May 26, 2010, First thing we do let's grill all the lawyers

It seems that the Government's latest exercise in poor sportsmanship in Guantanamo detainee contested habeas cases (in which it holds every advantage, but is still losing over 70% of them anyway) is to insert clauses in the very same House bill that ensures that Guantanamo will remain open (and hence an open beacon and focal point for all of America's enemies to rightfully regard us as the monstrous hypocrites we are, thus requiring a continued and expensive military presence everywhere) that will now add an extra level of harassment toward the intrepid souls who signed on to do detainee representation by authorizing Defense Department investigations of any detainee lawyer with the temerity to do his or her job too effectively.

No one is suggesting that anyone who uses the cover of being an attorney to actually facilitate acts of terrorism shouldn't be subject to investigation or prosecution for such conduct..but no one is actually suggesting that anything of that kind has actually happened. The stated grounds by the measure's sponsor, naturally a Republican Congressman, but that's too easy since the entire House Armed Services Committee passed the measure unanimously, Democrats and all... is that detainee lawyers who do their jobs too effectively, by, say, obtaining access to information concerning the torture and abuse of their detainee clients at the hands of American personnel are, in our best Kim Jong Il, being disloyal. Candace has more on this latest act of Congressionally sanctioned totalitarianism.

Well... actually, the lawyers-- unlike our fascism-loving Congress-- are actually acting in the interests of the rule of law, and the advancement of liberty. Lest we forget, between detainees released and detainees who have won their habeas cases and remaining detainees "cleared for release" by the Bush and/or Obama Administrations, over 90% of the men who have passed through Guantanamo have-- by the Government's own reckoning-- been detained improperly-- an insanely high admitted 90% error rate, that will, presumably, go higher as more detainees win more habeas cases. And yet... Congress-- and most of the public-- still behaves as if there were any merit at all to the "worst of the worst" canard.

I think I have a very different definition of "worst of the worst.". One of these days, the pharmacy is going to run out of a few things, and people are going to take to the streets. Or something. Except, of course, when they are picked up in mass-arrests, there will be no one left to represent them, because the rest of us were too busy being complacent and asleep when the Government began cracking down on the lawyers, because, of course, lawyers were and are the last line of defense to keep the Government honest... but hey, the lawyers were, you know, representing bad people, The Government told us so, so it must be true.

Hey... isn't the Idol final tonight? What do you think... Crystal or Lee?

May 23, 2010, Trial by fear

Let me be the first to say that I have no brief whatsoever for American/Yemeni dual national and pain-in-the-ass cleric Anwar al-Awlaki (who apparently is the subject of a new video released by a supposed al-Qaeda affiliate and hence is the subject of renewed calls for his extra-judicial execution). If indeed he exchanged e-mails with the Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan and he communicated with Christmas underpants bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in such a way as to facilitate either of their plots, then I say we find Mr. al-Awlaki, try him, and if found guilty, punish him to the full extent of the law, up to and including the death penalty,

Notice of course, the italicized three words: "if found guilty." It's not as if our criminal justice system is, in its outcomes anyway, "fair," or even "reliable." If you are White and of means, you will receive a less harsh outcome (such as an offer of a lesser charge) or even a less harsh sentence after conviction than if you are not White and not of means, and this is true whether we're talking about anything from drugs to shop-lifting to homicide. And with respect to our laws re: "terrrrrrrorism..,," a friend showing up in your apartment with raincoats he says he's talking to Afghanistan is now cause for hard-time, Indeed, one wonders just what the Government is afraid of with respect to going to court. And the answer, it seems, isn't really the outcome (defendants are found guilty well over 90% of the time in federal court terrorism cases), but rather, the Government simply is afraid of having to publicly justify itself and its actions, including its choice of means and methods of investigation and capture, In other words, our so-called democratic and constitutional republic... is annoyed at having to be such.

And hence, we fast-forward to al-Awlaki, who is as much a "pioneer" as Jose Padilla was. Padilla proved we can detain our own citizens in a military dungeon for years, and as long as the word terrorism and images of burning World Trade Center towers are broadcast enough, there will be nary a peep out of the cowed, over-medicated public (except from crackpots such as present company, perhaps). Al-Awlaki's pioneering role will be to prove that the Government can put a hit on an American citizen, and as long as its stenographers in the press recite how awful a person al-Awlaki is (and how awful the things he says are)... the public will be fine-- we needn't trouble ourselves with questions such as "did he really...?" and "shouldn't we have a trial and at least hear his side of events?" ,

And even better, Padilla required action by the despised fascist George W. Bush, whereas al-Awlaki's hit has been ordered by the beloved fascist, Barack H. Obama. And so you see, if or when an unmanned drone or CIA hit-squad finally does find and summarily exeecute U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, the rest of us can thank our lucky stars that this evil terrorist was exterminated like an insect, and not bother to have to trouble ourselves with wondering whether New Mexico-born al-Awlaki ever really presented the kind of threat that outweighs giving the executive the free hand to kill any of us--citizen or alien, Muslim or non-Muslim-- solely at his whim .

Besides: the Lost finale is on tonight. This has been... "Trial by fear."

May 20, 2010, Shades of Gray

Well, we'll start with Kentucky Senate candidate Trey Grayson... well, the guy who beat him in the Republican primary, anyway, Dr. Rand Paul, son of Ron Paul, who is of course, "the Tea Party" movement favorite in Kentucky... and now we know why. In an editorial board interview, it seems, Dr. Paul managed to combine the two obsessions of that movement (libertarianism and, of course, racism) in one sentence, suggesting that the hard part of freedom is believing that the Civil Rights Act should not prohibit blatant racist acts of discrimination (say, "Whites only" lunch counters) by private enterprises. And so here we go again: I find myself not unsympathetic to the stated thrust of Tea Party ideology-- the government is way too big, too powerful and too complicated, and elites (such as Goldman Sacks) are running it for their own benefit and must be stopped-- and unable to embrace the movement at all, because like the rest of the Republican Party (which at least also stands for advancing the plutocracy), its fundamental driving force (if not for its candidates, at least for its "base") is simply racism.. If anything, at least Paul is honest enough not to bother with the dogwhistles anymore and just come out and say it.

And speaking of honest, or the opposite thereof, we'll go to another shade of Gray, the Grey Lady,and to another Senate candidate, and the New York Times' deliberately deceptive coverage of Connecticut Attorney General RIchard Blumenthal's discussion of his military service record, In this case, the Times was spoon-fed a video of Blumenthal evidently saying that he served in Vietnam, which, of course, he did not, resulting in quite the kerfuffle. However, the full video, the context of which the Times declined to provide, shows that Blumenthal cited his usual mantra-- that he served in the military during the Vietnam era, which is true. The Media Matters piece shows that in responding to criticism of the story, the Times behaved as if it were actually the Republican candidate from whom it obtained (and then stenographically reproduced) the "story". In other words, the Times engaged in small-time "gotcha" journalism, catching Blumenthal in a clear slip... but in context, not necessarily a "lie"... despite the clear intent of its hit-piece. (One wonders if somewhere along the line, Blumenthal did anything to piss off one of Pinch Sulzberger's old girlfriends or something.)

Well, then. It's 2010. It seems in so many ways the country, if not the planet, is circling the drain. We have an apocalyptic climate scenario looming, which most of humanity outside the USA recognizes, but we of course, deny (and we won't even mention the insanely apocalyptic oil spill that could devastate if not wipe out marine life in the Gulf of Mexico that is being allowed to worsen because private property is more important to us than life itself). We have a moral/legal crisis that "allows" our government to torture, to summarily execute, to strip the accused of all rights, in the name of protecting our freedom. We have an apocalyptic financial situation, that now results in some kind of a crisis, such as the one we just saw in Greece, every few months. The United States is engaged in two major ground wars in Asia, and there are some who desperately want us in a third with Iran. Our populace is cowed, obsese, medicated, ill-educated, overworked, underpaid, and stressed out on its good days, And I could go on...

But at the end of it all... we have to look at what our underlying values actually are. And it seems for many of us, they are, alas, shades of grey... for Dr. Paul, it means the freedom to be a bigot.. or perhaps, freedom for a leading newspaper to fudge and misrepresent the facts to support some agenda or other.... "freedom" divorced from any kind of responsibility. A gray outlook indeed,

May 17, 2010, I just don't think it's fair to condemn a whole program because of one slip up

We'll start with the absolute outrage of that Trump having the audacity to name a Muz-lim as Miss U.S.A. this HuffPo piece by former GTMO Chief Prosecutor and current gad-fly retired Colonel Morris Davis in which he likens the win-loss record of (my fellow Columbia College alumni) Barack Obama and Eric Holder in Guantanamo detainee habeas corpus actions (13 wins against 35 losses) to the win-loss record of ousted Redskins coach Jim Zorn (a comparable percentage at 4 wins/12 losses). Col. Davis goes further, and ties in the recent "liquidation of enemies of the state because the President decides they have ties to terrrrrrrorism" doctrine, and notes that we don't really want a government that actually manages to get its guilt determinations wrong most of the time the "right" to off citizens without due process of law of any kind (let alone a trial finding guilt beyond a reasonable doubt). Well, I don't want such a government; the rest of youse people should think good and carefully if you do.

We'll juxtapose this with a pair of Supreme Court decisions today,. One of those decisions struck down as Eighth Amendment violations of the ban on cruel and unusual punishment of the punishment by the majority of states of juveniles who were guilty of being in Florida while Blackfor non-homicide crimes which were punished by life without parole. (Justice Stevens noted that the Court, unlike Justice Thomas, did not believe that the death penalty was appropriate for a seven year old found stealing $50). The other decision permitted states to extend (up to forever) the sentences of sex offenders via the dodge that the sex offenders were "mentally ill", and so finding by a standard less rigorous than "guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." Many states have opted to do this kind of thing, because their legislatures didn't have the cojones to do with adult sex offenders what they would do with Black "violent" juveniles, and impose a throw-away-the-key life sentence for sexual assaults, instead imposing a seemingly "more proportional" sentence (thus still managing to treat crimes against women as a joke)... but, well, you know... sex offenders... you know... they suck. So screw them if they think that just because they have served their stated debt to society, they can get out of jail.

Because, you see, like terrrrrorists (and let's face it, Muz-lums and furriners in general-- specially them Mexicans), these sex offenders might do something really bad any minute. So... best trust that Government of ours to protect us by eliminating any of us who might cause trouble. You know: to keep us safe. Does this make sense?

Only to our put-upon, obese, over-medicated countrymen, I suppose. Because I think it's kind of, well, insane. But that's just me.

May 14, 2010, Postcard from the post-constitutional era

This comment from Jeralyn at Talkleft on the Obama Administration's proposal to alter the rights of terrorism suspects (Charlie Savage in the Grey Lady has more) by delaying the time before which they would be presented to a judge for arraignment so that they may be waterboarded interrogated longer... pretty much sums up my rather unified feelings toward the third term of the Bush Administration first (and at the rate things are going, hopefully only) term of the Obama Administration; specifically, Jeralyn's take:

Taking rights taken from terror suspects today just makes it easier to take them from all of us tomorrow. It's ironic that this is one right even the Bush Administration didn't try and tinker with, and its our Democratic president showing so little respect for the rule of law.

Many if not most Americans think that Miranda rights only protect Blacks Latinos criminals, and can't for a minute think that the jackboot will eventually come down on them. What's amazing is that when it comes to terrrrrorism... nearly everyone seems to be universally deranged; even tea-partiers who believe that Barack Obama is a Kenyan-born socialist fraud will nonetheless concede totalitarian powers to him as long as they are exercised against terrrrrrrorists, who we all know, are solely and exclusively Muz-lums and never, ever REAL Amurkinz.

Well... whatever reduction in constitutional rights do manage to get out of the trial balloon stage, at least we can count on Justice Kagan to eventually rubber-stamp them. (It's amazing that the President even had time to make this proposal after his kabuki-BP-berating... but, at least if he bashes accused terrrrrorists... maybe someone will actually be, you know, paying attention. ) This has been... postcard from the post-constitutional era.

May 10, 2010, Let the post-constitutional era begin

I have little to add to what Greenwald or Paul Campos has about my college classmate and President Barack Obama's choice of Elena Kagan as his nominee to replace retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.

The Cliffnotes version is that, like Barack himself, Kagan has left virtually no paper trail, and, as an ideological matter, is a complete tabula rasa (that's pretty much code for "stands for nothing") but has convinced smart glib people that she is smart and glib, and as a Harriet Miers-like cipher and loyal retainer won't give Barack too much trouble in the nominating process, and most especially, as any kind of irritating progressive or anything.,

As Solicitor General, her job has been to carry the Administration's water, and if that means adopting the Bush Administration's totalitarian view of executive power, then she has been a good soldier and adopted it (even as lower ranking and irritating people like Greg Craig or Phil Carter, who weren't so jiggy with the program, didn't go with the program so much, and left to spend more time with their families and all). And she's been peculiarly good at doing what she's told.

In short, Ms. Kagan is a well-credentialed Harriet Miers. Only unlike Harriet Miers, she... has better credentials,.. oh, and Barack Obama isn't George W. Bush. Even though Miers would without doubt have been a more pragmatic figure, and certainly could not have been worse than Scam Alito, and was around ten years older than him to boot... liberals were too interested in embarrassing George W. Bush and political gamesmanship to see the possibility of replacing O'Connor with a decent justice,... Republicans knew that Miers would be another Souter...and trashed her. Why are their eyes on the prize, and Democrats always falling in line like screaming teenage girls at a rock concert?

So we will have Ms. Justice Miers Kagan on our Supreme Court for decades to come, where she will be a far more programatic automaton of "rationality" (read "right wing positions") than the actual Republican John Paul Stevens whom she is replacing. And right now, we're talking about indefinite detention and liquidation of the enemies of the state... just this week, we're talking about ending the reading of rights to criminal suspects, because of a feeble attempt at a terror attack somewhere. We will need people of stature on our Supreme Court to act as a bulwark against this rapid, populist slide to dictatorship. And Ms. Kagan will not be such people. .

Honestly, I wish President Obama had nominated Bob Bennett (I hear he has some time now)... for one, a Republican ex-senator from Utah, shouldn't have much trouble getting through the Senate (Mitch McConell might not even filibuster him)... but mostly, because I'm sure that once in a while he'd vote his conscience, because unlike the record-less Ms. Kagan, at least I'm certain that he has a conscience.

Did I say that out loud? I realize that Ms. Kagan hails from a Jewish intellectual tradition here in New York, got really good grades and went to the Ivy League, and favors abortion on demand and Brack nominated so I'm supposed to rally around her, Sorry. Can't.

You see, the Supreme Court has, throughout American history, tended to be the most conservative, (both small and large c) branch of government, famously upholding the rights of slave owners or striking down Progressive or New Deal social legislation... but every so often, we'd get a Brown v. Board of Education, or the civil rights advancing cases of the 60's and 70's... or even the Guantanamo cases... when the Supreme Court stepped in to prevent social collapse through an advance of rights under law. Yes, the courts all too often exist to preserve the rights of the rich and powerful... but every so often, they get in the powerful's way in the interest of fairness, because if the members of the public don't feel they are treated fairly, they will take to the streets with Molotov cocktails and man the barricades. In the last two or three decades, since the public largely became obese and medicated, the powerful feel they have less to fear... and well,.. here we are.

And so we will hear crap about how hard it will be to confirm Ms. Kagan, whether or not she is a crypto-lesbian (seemingly now a requirement to be appointed to the Court by Barack Obama), and of course, whether she favors abortion on demand (maybe). Who. The. F***. Cares?

It's over, folks. It's been over for a while. The Constitution, or at least, the illusion of it, All hail Elena Kagan. Let the post-constitutional era begin. ,

May 8, 2010, The Age of Incompetence

I'm not complaining mind you, that would-be Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad
evidently did not apparently get training from any serious terrorist organization
, as widely reported... the last thing I'd like to see is yet another major atrocity in the heart of the city in which I and my family live and work. But this is a week that must make us ask over and over and over again... how do people get their jobs? Mr. Shahzad, for example, got an MBA degree and had a job in the financial sector... despite , evidently, being enough of a loser to manage to lose that job, have his house foreclosed on, return to Pakistan, and come back to try to be a terrorist, all while not being competent enough even at being a terrorist to know even the right fertilizer to use, or how to cover up his tracks to prevent being almost immediately caught. That part doesn't bother me: if terrorists were smarter, or more competent, they would manage to kill a lot more of us, I am somewhat bothered by the reporting on the subject, which will teach future terrorists a great deal, Then again... given CSI, NCIS, and Law and Order and their ilk, much is out there.,.. and yet... Shahzad still couldn't pull it off.

But why stop with him? Our best and brightest-- in terms of what they are paid, to be sure-- managed to come very close to melting down the financial system with what appeared to be a simple clerical mistake in trade execution, Meanwhile, another human error (or lots of them) that led to the Gulf mega-spill could not be corrected with a large containment structure. Dmitri Orlov, btw, brilliantly juxtaposes the incompetence that surrounded Chernobyl and that surrounding the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Honestly, folks.,. we went to the moon using pencil, paper and slide rules. Why is everything falling apart on us? Not even terrorists know what the hell they are doing (and we won't even mention our efforts to thwart them, such as the vaunted "no-fly list" which Mr. Shahzad almost evaded by the simple expedient of the fact that airlines weren't actually required to look at the no-fly list!) And we won't talk about the fact that a rather nasty bit of policy on our part-- unmanned drones that kill dozens if not hundreds of innocent people for each suspected "terrorist" they hit-- might be fueling more than resentment... but a whole generation of Shahzads. And notice the incompetent response: morons like Joe Lieberman proposing we strip citizenship first and ask questions later, presumably so we can go right to waterboarding!

In part, we can look at our "leaders" of late, and ask if, while certainly sporting degrees from our elite educational institutions (our last four Presidents had degrees from Yale, Harvard or both)... Joe Lieberman went to Yale too btw... are symptomatic of something else? Obviously, we can extrapolate across the board, to business, culture, academia and so forth, and ask the same question,,, wtf do these fancy credentials mean? Is there anyone... liberal or conservative, who would tell us that Yale undergrad and Harvard MBA George W. Bush was a superior leader to Eureka College's Ronald Reagan, or degree-less Harry Truman, Abe Lincoln and George Washington? Somewhat different eras, to be sure... but I miss the era when it at least seemed that people gave a crap about anything besides their own personal ambition, how much money they can make, and how effectively they can pad their own resumes. When achievements of actual substance mattered in some way.

And, at the core of everything, was competence, because mere connections wouldn't save your ass unless it were the family business... which you might well drive into the ground by being a turkey. Now, it seems, no enterprise anywhere-- from al Qaeda to Alcoa to Alabama-- seems to be safe from the scourge of rank incompetence in their midst, and the rank incompetents often sport gaudy credentials of some kind or other, But what do they mean?

We have no idea anymore: we selected Barack Obama (among whose credentials is the same undergraduate degree-- BA, 1983, Columbia, Political Science-- as myself) to be our President simply because he managed to get elected president of the Harvard Law Review, which seems to sound impressive... and yet, there is no record that the man ever practiced law, or for that matter, ever had a real job since he was 24 years old. I'm just saying: he's performing about as well as expected as President... it's just that's probably not going to overcompensate a world in which everyone seems to be incompetent, and yet demand top notch compensation for it (the Greek civil service now willing to kill for their privileges, evidently),.

At some point, we will have to own up to it one way or another. We can either take steps to correct it... or we can learn to enjoy the inevitable collapse that a generalized inability to do seemingly anything will bring us. The smart money will bet on the latter, as even recognizing that we have a problem may take more competence than we have. This has been... "The Age of Incompetence."

May 3, 2010, Real terror

It seems essential to believe that furriners, especially those people (in this case, from Pakistan) must be invariably involved in nefarious plots, and hence, this "breaking news" report that the person wanted for questioning in the failed attempt to detonate a car bomb in Times Square has FOREIGN connections, As usual, we forget that whole "innocent until proven guilty" thing, and we can expect the usual suspects to draw their own conclusions, which, of course, will validate their own world view that all Mexicans illegal aliensswarthy furriners-- 'specially them Muslims-- is out to get us. I'll just say, maybe, and maybe not, Whomever is determined to be guilty of this plot after receiving full due process of law should be punished appropriately. But only after. I realize that's a radical position these days..

I will say that my own thought about this plot (which, I confess, I only heard about on the radio while driving back from finishing the Walter Childs Race of Champions/Holyoke Marathon in Massachusetts (marathon number 26 and state number 14), making me rather oblivious to what is happening in my own city), was that this had all the earmarks of domestic terrorism-- particularly because of the McVeigh style fertilizer in the car, albeit thankfully the wrong kind. But I readily admit that I have no evidence either... and I will say that as I get older, I realize that jumping to conclusions, while entirely human, is often exactly the wrong way to go, and that my own profession, that of litigation attorney, has it exactly right: one should invariably have sufficient evidence before concluding anything.

I do note that there is more than sufficient evidence that people like former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, now implicated in squelching dissent to his own deliberate and wanton causing of the housing bubble, which in turn led to our current national financial situation, in terms of shortened lives from stress and financial ruination, have, by virtue of their purely evil conduct, dwarfed anything the Times Square terrorist(s) (whomever he is or they are) would have accomplished even had the insidious plot not been (thankfully) thwarted, (We can throw in this allegation from Speaker Pelosi that the Bush Administration deliberately withheld information on the financial crisis from Congress,)

Where was I going with this? Oh yes... in terms of actual human suffering by actual Americans, the economic woes that have been brought on by Greenspan and the poohbahs in the Bush Adminstration (and we can throw in, for example, Senator Ben Nelson and his sponsor Warren Buffett, who deliberately impeded financial reform).. have proven far more detrimental to the health, welfare, and longevity of Americans than all "the terrorists" that have ever existed. And I for one am sick and tired of our predliection for punishing the pettiest of petty criminals while letting kingpins of criminality (especially if they are rich, powerful, White and wearing an expensive suit) escape all accountability,

Which is why I propose something appropriately serious: the enactment of federal law designating the kind of conduct that is sufficiently detrimental to the national economy by some significant number (pick one... a billion dollars? ten billion? a hundred billion?) as financial crimes against humanity. The punishment for such crimes would be equivalent to whatever penalty is applicable to other crimes against humanity. If the prospect of sending rich and powerful White men to lethal injection (or, my own preference, public firing squads) causes us to re-think our love affair with the death penalty, I'm o.k. with that, although, quite frankly, the firing squads (only for those proven guilty of course) would probably adjust the kind of anti-social behavior we have been seeing from Wall Street and its "public servant" vassals faster than anything else I can think of.

Did I say that out loud? This has been... "Real Terror."

May 1, 2010, Harumph! Harumph!

The Grey Lady joins what I guess must be a chorus wanting to know why the Obama Administration "didn't do more... and faster..." with respect to the disastrous Gulf Coast oil rig disaster and mega-spill. At least we already know why the oil company involved, BP, didn't ask for more help sooner and take decisive action sooner: because it is a profit-driven enterprise, with every incentive to cut corners to maximize profits, damn the human and environmental costs. That's capitalism folks: we're supposed to admire that attitude. Indeed, we're supposed to admire it when the Government behaves the same way... that is, to use public money to advance private profits... Blackwater, Halliburton, Lockheed Martin anyone?... , because the Government's function (at least as perceived by the dysfunctional and sick mentality that has taken over the put-upon, yet still largely deranged, American populace) is that the Government (which is too big and costs too much) must still magically make all our problems go away, preferably before they even happen, while helping its clients make money. Got all that?

And so, we see comparisons of the Obama Administration's reaction to the Gulf Coast mega-spill to the Bush Administration's handling of Hurricane Katrina. Maybe there's a point in that, but I'm hard-pressed to see what it is. After Katrina, thousands of Americans were simply left for dead, for days and in some cases, weeks... they were, of course, largely poor and swarthy. While 11 men working the oil rig are missing and presumed dead, there will not be comparable loss of life from this event (let alone loss of life that was easily preventable by anything other than callous government inaction). And unlike Katrina, where the Government could have rescued people from drowning in a flooded city... it's clear that efforts at boom containment, burning off the top and so forth... were hampered by the weather, and were unlikely to succeed all that well in a spill of this magnitude... So....

There will, of course, be a probably unprecedented-in-the-lower-48 environmental disaster, possibly devastating to Gulf fishing and tourism, but we're talking literally about the life-blood of American society: the holy elixir of petroleum. Given that choice, let's face it: we will opt for the oil every single time, and you know it. We simply lack the societal discipline to do without-- to not issue the permits for the McMansion subdivisions on farmland 30 or 40 miles outside of city centers, to turn down the plans for road expansion, to bite the bullet and develop public transit, or to require that auto-makers sell only state-of-the-art-efficient vehicles, or be prohibited from access to our markets... No... we won't do that. ANY of that. And so it's... drill baby drill.

Look... we have to recognize that without a steady diet of oil, not merely our economy would come crashing to a halt, but, given how much we depend for our food, between fertilizer and operating farm machinery and transit for those grapes from Chile and apples from New Zealand and all... many of us would probably die of starvation if we cut off our oil supply... and hence, the ambivalence that led a foolish Democratic President hellbent on pissing off every single person who voted for him to propose offshore drilling himself just a few weeks ago... a proposition he has immediately put on freeze.

It seems to me that oil rigs that have the capacity to malfunction, crash and burn and release millions of gallons of crude oil into an environmentally sensitive marine environment should have been subject to tight government regulations and thorough inspections... I haven't seen any accounts, of course, that this was the case. (See above re: Government's role as assisting "its clients"... not the fools who pay for it, i.e., taxpayers like you and I... but the smart money, literally, that pays a micro-fraction of what we pay in taxes to lobbyists and campaign contributions to see to it that the rules don't apply to them.)

The fact is, BP is one of the most profitable corporations in the world: it will be sued for this spill, and it can probably absorb the costs of containing and remediating more easily than the overstrapped governments (federal, state and local) can... but just you wait, 'Enry 'Iggins: NO. WAY. WILL. IT.

Like the Exxon Valdez case, BP will fight this out in the courts, and like the toxic waste in the financial system, the toxic waste floating around the Gulf Coast now will ultimately be the subject of a federal bailout. BP will pay a pittance, of course... but that's it. And capitalism will be served: because, you see, the Government's job is to help the rich and powerful stay rich and powerful, while the rest of us remain stressed out, without security, dignity, or preferably, hope, so that we will eat what we are served, work for the pittance we are offered, and most importantly, not complain about it... all remediated somewhat by ready access to antidepressants.

And without oil, we won't be able to get you those antidepressants on time, so you kind of see why we need the oil, right? This has been... "Harumph! Harumph!"