May 07, 2011

Red State, Blue State

Just for the record, I do sometimes read conservative writers to gain a perspective on their points of view and to avoid the bubble-ization of my own political ideas. For example, I frequently read Karl Denninger's "Market Ticker" blog (I suppose Mr. Denninger is technically a libertarian); Peter Schiff; and, most fun of all, Redstate, which actually publishes some very good writing, much of it pretty funny. Redstate provides a lot of grist for the mill of the "Sorry, No!" blog, in fact, the photo-shop based lampoon site.

The difference between liberal and conservative often seems a species of theology in this country, and it concerns, logically enough, the relevant role of central government in everyday life. The extreme views of either side lead to equally implausible outcomes. The conservative belief in the "market" and capitalism as the solution to everything is just wildly impractical in modern times because of environmental issues. Conservatives, however, just can't see that; they honestly believe that the capitalist world, left to its own devices, will work life-and-death ecological matters out just fine without any Big Government oversight. This is the very height of naivete, and is in a sense the mirror image of the Enlightenment silliness about the "perfectibility" of man.

Liberals, on the other hand, often think that socialist/communist economic programs of mutual cooperation, centrally planned, are sustainable. They aren't. Certain features of a modern democracy can be socialistic, such as socialized health care, the post office, public education and transportation; in fact, the social democracies of Western Europe demonstrated that these systems worked best with such a socialistic framework. Those same social democracies are now in trouble because they decided to move away from such approaches toward the go-go, unfettered, Reaganesque capitalism of the United States, and now the American conservatives gleefully point out how wrecked Europe is becoming. Europe has imported not only all of our problems of wealth disparity and too-powerful central banks holding smaller countries (Ireland, Greece) in peonage, but also the practice of excessive import-based economies.

The world's power, obviously, has swung toward the East, and American political maneuvering now in an era of decline is about grabbing what you can and taking advantage of connections with the East for the future. We still have our big military, our trophy "kills" and dubious victories (bin Laden; invading Libya, where the oil is, but not Syria, where it isn't), but this isn't much compared to the general economic decline. It was kind of amazing that Barack Obama's "turnaround" in national polls centered on three events in the space of one week: revealing his "long form" birth certificate, trumping Trump at the Correspondents' Dinner, and pulling off the bin Laden hit. These pushed his sagging poll numbers up about 10%. What all three of these events had in common was that not one of them had anything to do with economic prosperity. Had they not happened, the United States would have been in the same position, no better, no worse.

The more realistic way of looking at politics in this country, at this point, is through the lens of Sheldon Wolin's "inverted totalitarianism," as described in Democracy, Inc., that is, as seeing the United States government as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Fortune 500. In such an environment, the actual "left-right" dichotomies don't matter. The utter neutering of the Tea Party caucus in the House of Representatives is an example of this process. A lot of noise is made about "debt ceilings" and "fiscal prudence" and the rest of it, but when the votes are actually taken, we can see that Wall Street, Big Business and the military-industrial complex are assured of power, as always, as ever. I read Paul Krugman's blog, as an example from the Left, and he continues the good fight against evil Republicans and rallies round the righteous Democrats, but this is all just show biz. He advocates "more government spending," and is confident that a Treasury market where the Federal Reserve is the effective buyer of 80% of the Treasury's issuance can go on forever. Or he pretends to believe such things in order to remain a Keynesian partisan and to denounce the "cruelty" of the Paul Ryan plan.

Simply street theater for the masses. All designed to earn a paycheck for the punditocracy (including, very notably, Mr. Krugman), and leaving undisturbed the actual predicament of the nation. A pathetic percentage of the working-age population with actual, decent jobs (not more than 58%), huge wealth disparities, and a globalized economy which keeps bringing the United States closer to a Third World mean.

So I read the Huffpost, and I read Redstate, with really only one thing on my mind: who's funnier today?

May 05, 2011

The faint aroma of performing SEALs

An amusing game one can play at home is the amateur forensic reconstruction of public events based on the information (reluctantly) provided to us by the powers that be. I had a pretty good time playing this game during the O.J. Simpson murder trial; for example, in response to the claim of the defense that O.J. was framed, and that the bloody glove found in the alley (which didn't fit so you must acquit) was planted there by the L.A.P.D., I wondered how, given the exigencies of the timing (the police who had just left the murder scene were the ones who found the glove, including Mark Fuhrman) the police could have managed to place not just Nicole Simpson's, but O.J. Simpson's blood inside the glove. O.J. was in Chicago at the time the glove was found. So where did they get the blood? There were attempted answers to this conundrum, but none was particularly convincing.

Thus taking us to the case du jour, the hit on Osama bin Laden. To begin with, and to restate the obvious, it is part of the Obama Doctrine that suspected terrorists, including American citizens, can be gunned down on sight, anywhere in the world, no questions asked. This is the ultimate "indefinite detention" idea at work, because once you're dead, you're pretty much detained forever. America in its post-modern phase has moved way beyond hidebound, antiquated ideas of due process. If we think you're guilty, you're guilty and we can kill you. Okay? I often think that Mr. Obama's Constitutional Law classes at the University of Chicago must have been a little unorthodox, but it doesn't really matter because except for the usual gang of malcontents in Congress (Ron Paul, Bernie Sanders), no one ever questions Obama's use of the Divine Right of Kings. You may believe that the American Revolution was about overthrowing just such tyranny. Silly you!

Still, it appears to make certain higher-ups a little nervous, this business of shooting unarmed Evil Masterminds in cold blood. Don't know why it should; it's what we do now. Nevertheless, as a result of these misgivings, and probably from watching lots of old Westerns where the Good Guy always insisted that the Bad Guy "go for his gun," a story has taken root concerning Operation Geronimo which holds that Osama bin Laden was "reaching for his AK-47" at the moment he was shot. We'll never really know. It seems I was mistaken about the idea that the Situation Room could follow the events in real time through helmet-mounted cameras (although I'm not sure about that; that's what the news shows originally said shortly after the story broke). But a couple of SEALs are the only ones who really know what happened, and maybe the wounded bin Laden wife, who is now being interrogated by our pals the Pakis.

But here's why I'm virtually certain that bin Laden was not lunging for his AK-47 at the moment he was shot. It's a matter of simple deduction, although I haven't seen anyone talk about it.

Bin Laden was on the lam, a fugitive from justice. He knew as well as anyone that once he was discovered, he would be immediately shot. Whatever else is said about him, no one ever thought he was stupid or uninformed. The main evidence against him, if you read the 9-11 Commission Report (not that anyone ever has, least of all any reporter transcribing narratives from the White House), are statements made by the Gurgling Confessor, Khallid Sheikh Mohammed, who sang (or gargled) like Tweety Bird on meth while he was being routinely tortured in Guantanamo a few years back. To put Osama bin Laden on trial, therefore, even in the concentration camp in Cuba, would have entailed all sorts of difficulties with this evidence, even given the benighted state of American justice at this point. To wit, troublemaking lawyers would have attacked the admissibility of statements against bin Laden made by KSM while he had a wet towel down his throat. Even though everyone already knows that bin Laden was guilty (because we just do, that's why we could shoot him), this could have been pretty embarrassing. What if the U.S. had lost the case against bin Laden? Hey, anything's possible. O.J. walked. Then Obama would have been in the position of ordering bin Laden detained for life anyway, despite the acquittal.

It's obvious when you think about it, and I'm sure bin Laden had figured it out. Thus, when bin Laden heard two helicopters land inside his compound, including one that crash-landed, in the middle of the night; heard a furious gun battle downstairs in which at least three of his associates were killed with automatic weapons fire; where at least twenty minutes had elapsed since the crash of one helicopter and the landing of the other, during which the gun battle described occurred; does it seem at all logical to you, if Osama bin Laden was going to defend himself with an automatic weapon, that he would have waited until two Navy SEALs had entered his sleeping chamber before "going for his gun?"

Maybe he's a really, really heavy sleeper, I suppose. Kidney disease can take it out of you. But what about the woman in the room. Another narcoleptic? It all seems very doubtful. The most logical explanation, the one that is left, as Sherlock Holmes would say, no matter how unlikely it may appear (because the other possibilities have been eliminated) is simple: bin Laden decided to die that night without resistance.

May 04, 2011

Further Corrections & Amendments to Osama Episode

4 May 2011 (Washington) - Jay Carney, the White House's Press Secretary, appeared before the media today to offer some further clarifying remarks regarding Operation Geronimo:

Mr. Carney: Good afternoon. This Administration's commitment to transparency and to getting it right leads us to offer some further details about the Special Forces operation in Afghanistan a few days ago where bin Laden was killed. We do not want any false narratives circulating in the public domain concerning this important development. The situation is simply too crucial to allow incorrect information to remain uncorrected, and we regret that the first accounts of the operation, based upon the best information we had from actually watching the mission live, in the Situation Room at the White House, fed to us from helmet-mounted cams as events unfolded in real time, were in some respects inaccurate, and that this narrative, while it did lead to the optimally expected jubilation from crowds in the street high-fiving, chest bumping and setting off fireworks, cannot be allowed to stand when we come in possession of superseding data.

In that regard, a few amendments. We have previously noted that bin Laden, contrary to the first report, was not actually armed with an automatic weapon, nor does he appear to have been "going for his gun" as some later accounts described the event. However, the rumor that bin Laden, having swelled to about 300 pounds from complete inactivity over the last six years while eating a nonstop diet of lamb and hummus, was found on the toilet passed out, is obviously the product of a fertile imagination and a conflation of media images. Osama was, however, standing at the moment he was taken out, and contemporary accounts confirm that he was standing "in an aggressive manner" which ruled out any possibility of a live capture, transport home and a trial to determine what role, if any, he actually played in any of the events of September 11, 2001, events which form the basis of the last ten years of non-stop warfare, the bankruptcy of the country, the militarization of all foreign policy, the complete suspension of the Bill of Rights, and other adjustments to national life.

Bin Laden is, however, dead, and he now sleeps with the fishes.

As for the account of bin Laden's use of a woman, possibly one of his wives, as a human shield: this was a regrettable gloss on the initial story, and may have been based on confusion by one of the observers with a scene from "Casino Royale" with Daniel Craig, a really cool movie, which was viewed by the Situation Room observers via Netflix while awaiting the start of Operation Geronimo, the second feature that night. The story for now is that she charged the Special Forces team as they burst into bin Laden's room and was shot in the leg, but this account, like all other facts, is still under review and will be updated as necessary.

We are also looking into the possibility that the Pakistani government and military, our valued partners in the war on terror, may have been aware of bin Laden's presence for six years in an enormous walled compound a few feet from one of Pakistan's main military academies. A team is being assembled to get to the bottom of this mystery. The team will include many of the investigators from the White House team who conducted research into the person or persons responsible for leaking the name of Valerie Plame to the press.

That's it for today. We'll continue to keep you updated at all times so that your information is as accurate as possible.

May 02, 2011

Ding Dong the Evil International Criminal Mastermind is Dead

Well, good work, guys. I think we can all breathe a sigh of relief knowing that OBL took two to the head. Right now, as Bill Maher would advise, is the time for orgiastic celebration, not making trivial criticisms of this brilliant coup, this final affirmation of American competence. Wave Old Glory, chant "USA!" and spin Toby Keith on the CD player. I don't have any Toby Keith, but I'm going to get some. If Toby can front run, so can I.

Certain questions have at least been answered. For one thing, now I understand how OBL survived for ten years in renal failure while living without electricity in a Waziristan cave. He wasn't in a Waziristan cave for ten years, so the suppositions of Pervez Musharraf and Donald Rumsfeld, among many others, that bin Laden was already dead were mistaken. Bin Laden was living in a walled, highly-fortified compound "1/3rd of a mile" from a Pakistani "military academy," according to the Pentagon's spokesreporters at the New York Times. The Times also mentioned that a "military installation" was in the same small town of Abbottobad, one hour north of the capital city of Islamabad. The house was no ordinary suburban Eichler. According to Debka, the Israeli news source:

"The villa compound was encircled by 12-15 meter high walls topped by 7 foot privacy wall and barbed wire accessed through two steel, electrically-operated security gates. The Pakistanis could not have missed it when it was built in 2005 and more buildings were added later."
To say they couldn't have "missed it" is probably something of an understatement. Other reports put the walls at 15 to 18 feet, rather than meters, with barbed wire above that. Not sure it really matters. What we're talking about here is a huge fortress-like structure, with walls between 20 and 50 feet high with barbed wire on top for good measure. On a dirt road. Debka says the "military academy" was 100 meters away. It's not that hard to see a building with walls that high from a distance a little greater than a football field away. The Pakistani military probably didn't "miss it." I'm not a military expert, but it seems to me that if a commander of a military base noticed that someone was building a compound with high walls (considerably higher than any other building in the area) topped by barbed wire and accessible only through steel security gates a short walk from his fort, he would probably want to find out who the 6'-6" Arab on the dialysis machine at the compound actually was. Maybe the Pakistanis aren't psychic, but they would have their suspicions, you know?

Thus, I suspect that the story will come out that bin Laden survived because the Pakistani military protected him and provided him with medical care for about 6 years. At some point recently, the United States decided that November 2012 was just getting closer by the day and whether the Pakis were on board or not, we were going to drop a chopper into the compound and take OBL out.

As for the burial at sea: the Times dutifully reports that this was "presumably" done so that no "shrine" could be erected to bin Laden. Yet if we were the ones who had custody of the body, I don't quite follow how anyone could have built a shrine over a body they didn't have. I've learned to accept illogical nonsense from the MSM, however. If the Administration says it, if the Times writes it (as it will), then it makes sense whether it makes sense or not. Naturally, the conspiracy theorists are going to have a field day with this one. Presumably, a DNA match was made using a PCR technique in something like 12 hours, although ordinarily this process takes much longer if performed at, say, Harvard Medical School. Still, my guess is that they've got tissue samples which they'll match against I don't know what. Look, it's bin Laden - just let it go.

As I say, caveats, if any, can be expressed later. It's over, we win at last. I'm sure we'll pack up and leave Afghanistan now, along with Iraq. On the other hand, there's no chance whatsoever that will happen.

A cool week for the President: the birth certificate, now bin Laden. He's on a roll.

May 01, 2011

James McMurtry at the Freight&Salvage

I caught James McMurtry's act at the Freight & Salvage last week in Berkeley. Went by myself, which turned out to be oddly appropriate given that so many of his songs are about the essential loneliness of his own life and that of Americans in general. Songs like "Holiday," a bleak recounting of the hopelessness of forced intimacy and bonhomie of relatives thrown together periodically by red dates on the calendar. James is the son of the famous writer Larry McMurtry, and I don't suppose that's a particularly easy thing to be, scion of the creative force who produced Lonesome Dove, The Last Picture Show and Terms of Endearment.

James, however, has his father's eye for the naturalistic or emotional detail which captures the essence of a scene or feeling. A few lyrics about a freight train passing in the gloom of twilight out on the Great Plains with "half an inch of snow on the coal cars." Or the rowdy white trash saga about his Uncle Slayton in "Choctaw Bingo," where he sings of a family reunion up somewhere north of Oklahoma, and where one family (presumably his) drives north from Texas after the kids in the back seat are tranquilized with a little vodka in their cherry cola on the way there, and with Benadryl as the additive on the way back.

James brought the house down with a "medley of his hit," the searing "We Can't Make It Here Anymore," all about the hollowing-out of the American economy, the deracinated dispiritedness of a country which had come to rely on modern manufacturing but had had the props kicked out from underneath it by offshoring, and by the resulting joblessness, hopelessness, drug abuse, and reliance on the military to provide "jobs" that the private sector no longer comes up with. So a listless Middle America looks at the shuttered factories, the "For Rent" signs in the city center and at the malls as they drive to Wal-Mart to buy a shirt, "made in Singapore, because we can't make it here anymore."

The Texastentialist is a good guitar player, a good singer, and reminiscent, if I were going to compare him to anybody, to a roughneck cross between Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan, but without any of Springsteen's faux-commoner shtick wrapped up in glitzy commercial packaging. Which means, of course, in this day and age, in America, that James, unlike his dad, remains obscure, even after barnstorming around the country and Europe for twenty years. Well hell, 99% of the American population has never read The Last Picture Show, either.

I was glad when the show was over. I'm a little too familiar, personally, with the themes and personalities of the white trash anthems like "Choctaw Bingo" to be entirely comfortable with them, and in general McMurtry just hits a little too close to home for any of us. This is "entertainment" of a particularly difficult kind. Life in modern America is a mess and he gets it all down. What happens, he seems to be asking, when you take away those old folkways down in Texas and elsewhere, when people would sit out on the front porch at night and watch the stars come out as entertainment; and they stop doing that because they've now got satellite TV and jobs in town at the mill or factory; and then you get rid of all the jobs, and the folkways of mutual reliance and comfort are gone, too, and the star-watching is gone in favor of the satellite for as long as you can keep it hooked up? He writes about such things in "Level-land," "Small Town" and in all his songs, really. I suppose you wind up with a country that looks like modern America, where the ethos of extreme financial and emotional independence worked well when the economy was the envy of the world. But kind of a bitch when the bottom falls out.