Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Annals of Asshattery

Dan Emmett, a former Secret Service agent, wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post suggesting that the current head of the service Julia Pierson be replaced.

Pierson should be replaced and the next director should come from outside the Secret Service, with the deputy director remaining an agent. In this role, a true leader, not a bureaucrat, is needed. Someone like Florida congressman and retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Allen West would be perfect for the role. West has successfully demonstrated that he possesses the leadership skills of a combat officer as well as managerial and diplomatic skills of a congressman, exactly the traits needed in the next director. Highly competent and beholden to no one in the Secret Service, he would be a superb director.

Yeah, that Allen West, the former congressman from Florida who is a Tea Partier and who believes that the military has a duty to commit mutiny against the president if they don’t agree with his orders and is basically the dictionary definition of a right-wing crazy guy.

Meanwhile, the good folks at Politico are suggesting that the only way to get things right at the Secret Service is to have a tragedy occur because President Obama is such a lousy manager.  As if the president is the person in charge of running the Secret Service and his death would be the only way to get the point across.  WTF?

Kissinger: “Smash Cuba”

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, aka Dr. Evil, plotted to overthrow the Cuban government in 1976, according to the New York Times.

Nearly 40 years ago, Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger mapped out secret contingency plans to launch airstrikes against Havana and “smash Cuba,” newly disclosed government documents show.

Mr. Kissinger was so irked by Cuba’s military incursion into Angola that in 1976 he convened a top-secret group of senior officials to work out possible retaliatory measures in case Cuba deployed forces to other African nations, according to documents declassified by the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library at the request of the National Security Archive, a research group.

The officials outlined plans to strike ports and military installations in Cuba and to send Marine battalions to the United States Navy base at Guantánamo Bay to “clobber” the Cubans, as Mr. Kissinger put it, according to the records. Mr. Kissinger, the documents show, worried that the United States would look weak if it did not stand up to a country of just eight million people.

“I think sooner or later we are going to have to crack the Cubans,” Mr. Kissinger told President Ford at a meeting in the Oval Office in 1976, according to a transcript.

Because that worked so well against North Vietnam, right?

I don’t think anyone around here harbors any special affection for the Castro brothers, but starting a war against them is just insane.  But then again, we’re talking about Henry Kissinger, who never met a country he didn’t want to conquer.

So say we attacked Cuba for whatever reason, and somehow we managed to win (although given his track record, that’s not necessarily a given).  Then what?  Welcome to Pottery Barn, as Colin Powell might say: You broke it, you bought it.  What would we have done with a country of 8 million people who were now dependent on us?  Put a puppet government in place?  Pour in tons of money?  Hand it over to capitalism and let McDonald’s and Marriott Hotels move in — along with NAPA Auto Parts to fix up the millions of cars left over from the 1950′s?  Well, that’s not for him to worry about; leave that to the next guy.  After all, Cuba has a long history of Jeffersonian democracy and squeaky-clean entrepreneurship.

Here’s another interesting revelation from the piece:

Mr. Kissinger, who was secretary of state from 1973 to 1977, had previously planned an underground effort to improve relations with Havana. But in late 1975, Mr. Castro sent troops to Angola to help the newly independent nation fend off attacks from South Africa and right-wing guerrillas.

That move infuriated Mr. Kissinger, who was incensed that Mr. Castro had passed up a chance to normalize relations with the United States in favor of pursuing his own foreign policy agenda, Mr. Kornbluh said.

“Nobody has known that at the very end of a really remarkable effort to normalize relations, Kissinger, the global chessboard player, was insulted that a small country would ruin his plans for Africa and was essentially prepared to bring the imperial force of the United States on Fidel Castro’s head,” Mr. Kornbluh said.

So it wasn’t that Castro was sending forces to Angola in an attempt to turn southern Africa into another worker’s paradise and spread the scourge of godless Communism.  It was because Castro got there first.

“You can see in the conversation with Gerald Ford that he is extremely apoplectic,” Mr. Kornbluh said, adding that Mr. Kissinger used “language about doing harm to Cuba that is pretty quintessentially aggressive.”

Shorter version: “Mine!  Mine!  Mine!  No fair!” followed by stomping of little feet and throwing of toys around the nursery.

Fortunately for us, though, the plans went nowhere because Jimmy Carter won the election and Henry Kissinger shuffled off to the backstage of history.

Don’t Panic

Via the New York Times:

A man who took a commercial flight from Liberia that landed in Dallas on Sept. 20 has been found to have the Ebola virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Tuesday. He is the first traveler to have brought the virus to the United States on a passenger plane.

He was not ill during the flight, health officials said. Symptoms developed several days after he arrived, and he is being treated at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.

I will give you the next thirty seconds to freak out.

Okay, that’s enough.  Calm down.  Ebola is not contagious when there are no symptoms, and the patient exhibited none during his flight or for several days after.  The only way to contract it is through direct contact with body fluids such as blood or semen.  It is not airborne, nor can you catch it by shaking hands with someone who is asymptomatic.  In short, it is as communicable as AIDS.

Now comes the infection: the political kind.  Count on the Orcosphere to go bananas and of course they will blame President Obama because he said a couple of weeks ago that Ebola coming to the United States was “unlikely.”  But the good folks at Fox News will assure you that he said that because either he is hopelessly naive or it’s a secret plot he’s hatched to distract us from Benghazi! or just kill us all because he hates America.  (Hint: notice that the patient went to Texas.  This proves that President Obama wants to kill Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Ted Cruz, and anyone there who voted against him.)

I am sure we all hope that the patient will have an uneventful and swift recovery.  I doubt that the wingnuts will recover as soon as he does.

Footnote:  Get the facts on Ebola here.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Ignore Them At Your Peril

We’ve spent a lot of time over the last ten years reading about the extremism that has sprung up in the Republican Party in the last few decades, and for the most part we’ve treated it with the scorn that it deserves.

Steve M has a good post on how the Very Serious People are finally beginning to take notice of the fringe folk who are occupying seats of power and those who aspire to follow them, and Charlie Pierce tells the Democrats that ignoring or trying to make nice with them will lead to a bad end.

From Mr. Pierce:

The great failing of the Democratic party over the past three-and-a-half decades has been the party’s failure to take political advantage of the obvious prion disease that has afflicted the Republican party since it first ate all the monkey-brains in the mid-1970′s. Whether this was out of cowardice, incompetence, or an overly optimistic view of the inherent sanity of the electorate, is no longer an issue. The failure to make the Republican crazee the Republican party’s standing public identity has encouraged the increased spread, and the increased virulence of the prion disease, with disastrous consequences for the rest of us. Why, in the name of god, would you not call Michele Bachmann crazy? Because it might offend the people who vote for her? It’s supposed to offend those people. Those people beg to be offended, and, by doing so, you at least inject into the discussion the notion that the Republican party has thrown its marbles gleefully to the four winds. A few elections later, that may become the general opinion. After all, the Permanent Republican Majority wasn’t built in a day.

He points to the apparent lead that Iowa senate candidate Joni Ernst holds in her bid to replace Tom Harkin, noting that her views on certain issues such as climate change and international relations seem to be channeled from the urine-soaked screamer on the corner of Biscayne Boulevard and the MacArthur Causeway.  And yet the Democrats are afraid to call her out for being a radical wingnut.  Why?

Because if they do, they’ll be labeled as the haters.  The Republicans have mastered the culture of victimhood.  Everything they’re accused of is turned on its head.  The Tea Party holds up racist signs comparing the president and his family to simians and when reasonable people object, the GOP whines about “the race card.”  When fundamentalist Christians seek to deny gays and lesbians the equal rights promised by the Constitution, they claim their “religious freedom” is being stomped on.  They raise such a stink about their faux hurt fe-fe’s that no one dare call them out on it because it only makes the whining worse.  Also, the Republican Sound Machine has become very good at accusing the accuser of being the one with the radical and dangerous ideas, something they learned very well sixty years ago from the junior senator from Wisconsin, Joseph R. McCarthy.

Steve M:

But Democrats would have to do this right. Don’t call these people “crazy” — you have to establish that they’re dangerous. These people can’t be described as comical or eccentric — they have to seem like people you’d cross the street to avoid, because you don’t know what they’ll do.

This has to be done in the solemn warning tones Republicans use when they want to scare your grandparents on Fox. But if the press won’t do its job, will heartlanders take the word of mere Democrats? People who, by definition, have inappropriate ideas and suspect patriotism?

It’s tempting to ignore people like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, but when people who share their beliefs get elected, it’s going to be too late.

Quote of the Day

John Cleese on Fox News viewers:

If you’re very, very stupid, how can you possibly realize that you’re very very stupid? You’d have to be relatively intelligent to realize how stupid you are.

This is a version of something I’ve said before: Stupid people don’t know that they’re stupid because if they did know they were stupid, they wouldn’t be stupid in the first place.

It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who has come to that conclusion.

Cruz Is Running

As if it’s a big surprise, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is planning to make it official.  Via the National Journal:

According to sources close to the Texas senator, Cruz could be preparing for an end-of-year announcement and is now dedicating considerable time and effort to cultivating a foreign-policy foundation that might help his candidacy stand out in what is guaranteed to be a crowded field.

“At this point it’s 90/10 he’s in,” one Cruz adviser said. “And honestly, 90 is lowballing it.”

It’s always risky to make predictions about elections this far out, but when you have a candidate that is that far-out, it’s easy: if the fates have a twisted sense of humor and let him get all the way to the nomination, he’s going to make the Goldwater campaign of 1964 look like a squeaker.  The only candidate he could possibly beat is Teddy the Wonder Lizard, and that would be because the voters couldn’t tell one Ted from the other.

I’d give Rick Santorum a better chance.

Open Door Policy

Via the Washington Post:

The man who jumped the White House fence this month and sprinted through the front door made it much farther into the building than previously known, overpowering one Secret Service officer and running through much of the main floor, according to three people familiar with the incident.

An alarm box near the front entrance of the White House designed to alert guards to an intruder had been muted at what officers believed was a request of the usher’s office, said a Secret Service official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The officer posted inside the front door appeared to be delayed in learning that the intruder, Omar Gonzalez, was about to burst through. Officers are trained that, upon learning of an intruder on the grounds — often through the alarm boxes posted around the property — they must immediately lock the front door.

After barreling past the guard immediately inside the door, Gonzalez, who was carrying a knife, dashed past the stairway leading a half-flight up to the first family’s living quarters. He then ran into the 80-foot-long East Room, an ornate space often used for receptions or presidential addresses.

Gonzalez was tackled by a counterassault agent at the far southern end of the East Room. The intruder reached the doorway to the Green Room, a parlor overlooking the South Lawn with artwork and antique furniture, according to three people familiar with the incident.

Yikes.  I know there have been cutbacks at the Secret Service, but WTF?  This follows the revelation that the Secret Service didn’t know that someone had fired seven shots with an assault rifle at the White House and hit the windows in the family quarters until a housekeeper found broken glass.

And it’s not like this particular president hasn’t faced more threats than previous occupants.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Spring Sprung

Not the way to start the week: a spring on the garage door broke and I’m trapped in the house until the repairman gets here.

As a friend said on Facebook: “Life is full of little surprises.”  Yeah, tell that to the bug on your windshield.

Update: The repair was completed by 12:05 p.m.  Off to work I go.

They Just Can’t Help Themselves

So Chelsea Clinton had a baby.  How nice for her and her family.  And of course there are those who immediately come up with attempts at political humor at the expense of the baby and the family.

David Frum Tweet Chelsea Clinton 09-29-14

Of course his defense will be “can’t you take a joke?”  Oh ha ha.  Yeah, except it’s not even funny; it’s just a cheap shot that sounds more like something what’s-her-name would come up with and then get all pissed off when people remind them of how she hates it when people attack her family.

Welcome to our world, Charlotte.

HT to Balloon Juice.

Department of Obvious

Via ThinkProgress:

A Department of Justice letter sent to the Police Chief Tom Jackson of Ferguson, Missouri on Friday instructed all officers to stop wearing “I Am Darren Wilson” bracelets. Another letter issued on Tuesday ordered members of the police department to wear readable name plates, after officers were seen wearing unidentifiable tags or none at all.

Protests have not stopped in Ferguson since officer Darren Wilson shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was unarmed, in August. And in response to civil unrest, which gained steam again after Brown’s memorial was burned to the ground on Tuesday, and the use of the slogan “I Am Mike Brown,” officers were photographed wearing the bracelets supporting the officer who killed him.

The DOJ letter sent to Jackson explained that the bracelets contributed to an “us versus them” mentality and “upset and agitated” others.

If it had to be pointed out to the police that wearing those bracelets might upset people, then perhaps they shouldn’t be wondering why the people of the town of Ferguson don’t really trust them.

Of No Value

While we normal folk were enjoying a weekend of whatever it it we do over the weekend, the people who spend their time freaking out over same-sex marriage and President Obama’s birth certificate were having one of their little orgies in Washington.

Yes, the Values Voters Summit was back in town with its collection of hate and persecution complexes, rallying the troops for freedom and Jesus for all Americans who are white, Christian, and straight (although I hear that Grindr gets busy when those lonely values voters head back to their hotel and there’s nothing on TV except Modern Family).

The usual parade of lovelies trooped to the stage, including a former governor of Alaska who arrived late because she had the wrong address or something, and they summed it all up by conducting a straw poll for their presidential choice in 2016.  That was won by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) because of course he’s the perfect choice to appeal to Republicans and Americans across the whole spectrum of the party as they see it: white, Christian, and straight.

The bad news for Sen. Cruz is that no one who ever won the straw poll at the Value Voters Summit went on to win the election.  The good news for the rest of us is that no one who ever won the straw poll at the Values Voters Summit went on to win the election.  Yet.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sunday Reading

Stopping Mass Killings — Tom Junod in Esquire says that everything we know about them is wrong.

NOBODY KNOWS who he is and nobody knows who he was. When he was a young man—a boy, really—his anonymity fueled his desperation, and for a short time his desperation made him known. He didn’t become famous the way other desperate and aggrieved young men have, but he made himself well-known enough to think that when he came home after eight and a half years in prison, there might be cameras waiting for him on his front lawn and people interested in asking him questions. There weren’t. There was just his family and the rest of his life.

So Trunk—a nickname he acquired when he went away—has returned to where he started out. He couldn’t be more unknown. He couldn’t be more anonymous. On the days he goes to college, he takes a bus. He walks a half hour to the bus stop, no matter the weather. He walks in the heat, he walks in the cold, he walks in the rain, he walks in the snow. The bus ride takes another forty-five minutes, and when he gets to the school, it’s also an anonymous affair—a small college attached to a state system and situated a long way from any major highway. He doesn’t care; he works hard at his studies and his academic record is immaculate. He has ambitions. He has friends. He does not mind being anonymous or feeling alone, because he feels accepted and has accepted himself. “The last year and a half, everything is as it’s supposed to be,” he says. “I have zero feelings of societal frustration.”

Trunk does, however, think often of the person who is out there right now feeling the way he used to feel. The person with a grievance. The person with a plan. The person with a gun—hell, an arsenal. The person we feel powerless against, because we don’t know who he is. All we know is what he—or she—is going to do.

Can he or she—they—be stopped before they become what we in America call “mass shooters”? We are so convinced they can’t be that we don’t even know if anyone is trying to stop them. Can they be understood? We are so convinced the evil they represent is inexplicable that we don’t try to explicate it. Mass shootings have become by now American rituals—blood sacrifices, propitiations to our angry American gods, made all the more terrible by our apparent acceptance of them. They have become a feature of American life, and we know very well what follows each one: the shock, the horror, the demonization of the guilty, the prayers for the innocent, the calls for action, the finger-pointing, the paralysis, and finally the forgetting. We know that they change everything only so that everything may remain unchanged.

But we are wrong about that. Mass shootings are not unstoppable, and there are people trying to stop them. They are not even inexplicable, because every time Trunk hears of one he understands why it happened and who did it. We have come to believe that mass shooters can’t be stopped because we never know who they are until they make themselves known. But Trunk was almost one of them once. He was a heartbeat away. And what he understands is that shooters want to be known, not through the infamy of a massacre, but before they have to go through with it. They want to be known as much as he, years later, wants to remain unknown, walking to the bus stop in the rain.

Unaccountable — Pedro Noguera in The Nation looks at the lack of transparency in charter schools.

Advocates of charter schools frequently make the argument that by providing parents with “choice,” the educational system—public schools and charter schools alike—will be forced to improve through greater accountability. As the New York City Department of Education has insisted, charter schools “offer an important opportunity to promote educational innovation and excellence [and] bring new leaders, resources, and ideas into public education.” Michelle Rhee, the former Washington, DC, schools chancellor (and ex-CEO of StudentsFirst, a market-based school-reform organization), seemingly agrees, stating that “accountability has to sit everywhere in the system. The children have to be held accountable for what they’re doing every day; the parents, teachers, school administrators, all the way up.” Education Secretary Arne Duncan, supportive of many charter-school initiatives, has spoken on how we “need to be willing to hold low-performing charters accountable.”

The problem here is that charter schools are frequently not accountable. Indeed, they are stunningly opaque, more black boxes than transparent laboratories for education. According to a 2013 study by the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes at Stanford University, only 29 percent of charter schools outperformed public schools with similar students in math, while 31 percent performed worse. Most charter schools, in fact, obtained results that were no better than traditional public schools. So what was that 29 percent doing right? And what went so wrong with the failing 31 percent? There are a few reasons why it’s nearly impossible to find out.

To begin with, unlike public schools, which are required by law to show how they use public resources, most charters lack financial transparency. Many of the most successful charter schools pay higher salaries to teachers and administrators and offer students a longer school day and year. A recent study of the highly acclaimed charter-school chain KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) found that “KIPP receives an estimated $6,500 more per pupil in revenues from public or private sources” compared to local school districts. The study could only document an additional $457 in spending per pupil, however, because KIPP does not disclose how it uses money received from private sources. The additional spending appears to be made possible by supplemental funding from organizations like the Walton Family Foundation (run by the founders of Walmart), which has been a major donor to charter schools across the country. According to its website, the Walton foundation supports charters because “we invest in organizations and programs that empower parents to choose among high-performing schools and insert competition into public education.” However, unlike public schools, charter schools are not required to disclose how such funds are raised and used.

Transparency is especially important with for-profit charter schools to prevent fraud and the misuse of public funds. The Pennsylvania auditor general found that the state’s largest charter operator had pocketed $1.2 million in “improper lease-reimbursement payments.” In Philadelphia, where dozens of public schools have been closed due to budget shortfalls, the 2013 state budget projected spending $729 million on charter networks, despite several reports of scandals involving their operators. In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has emerged as a national spokeswoman for the charter movement; she earns over $500,000 a year—more than double what the city’s public-schools chancellor makes, even though Moskowitz is responsible for only a fraction of the number of students.

[...]

Transparency will not put an end to charter schools or eliminate the threat they pose to traditional public education. However, we could begin to address these inequities by fostering a level of public accountability that currently does not exist. Moreover, if charter schools are to serve as the engines of innovation envisioned by their earliest advocates, we must also determine whether the ones that obtain the best results do so because of truly novel and innovative approaches to teaching and learning, or simply because they have more money and fewer disadvantaged students. Finally, if it is true that some charter schools have genuinely found more effective ways to serve children, then they should be encouraged to collaborate—rather than compete—with traditional public schools.

Despite the considerable momentum that charter schools have gained in terms of growth, it is important to keep in mind that around 85 percent of American children attend traditional public schools. In most parts of the country, these schools continue to be our most accessible and stable institutions—a vital part of the social safety net for poor children, whose numbers have grown dramatically since the 2008 recession. Charter schools, on the other hand, were never intended to serve all children. So if the charter-school movement is going to serve as a means of revitalizing—not undermining—public education, greater transparency and collaboration with public schools must be required.

Never Too Late — Andy Borowitz on the GOP attack on the Clintons’ granddaughter.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report) — A Republican Super PAC defended the broadcast, on Saturday morning, of an attack ad highly critical of Hillary Clinton’s newborn granddaughter, Charlotte, who was born on Friday.

The ad raises several serious questions about the newborn, at one point accusing her of being “related to Benghazi.”

In criticizing a one-day-old infant, the ad is believed to be the earliest political attack ad on record.

“Charlotte Clinton Mezvinsky is fair game,” a spokesman for the Americans Concerned About Charlotte Super PAC said. “We have to assume that she is the presumptive Democratic nominee in 2052.”

Doonesbury — Watch this space.