So What Do We Consider Good Policy, Anyway?

The economy grew by 5% last quarter. 5%! That’s China numbers. The Dow just hit 18,000, when it was 7,989 when the present administration took office. Job growth has been the best its been since before the last administration, which managed to lose millions of jobs. The price of gas continues to drop while US oil production is now challenging Saudi Arabia. We have – albeit a lousy one – a national health insurance policy which has lowered the number not covered by insurance to the lowest rate ever. Mubarak is out in Egypt. Tunisia just held free and fair elections. The US has significantly reduced its presence in Afghanistan – the country nicknamed the Death of Empires – and is mostly out of Iraq, a war we should never have been in in the first place. Russia, whom everyone had been saying was going to be a thorn in the West’s side, is now on the verge of economic collapse because the West seems to have found enough of a spine to sanction them.

There have been challenges, of course: Libya is still a mess. Syria is a mess. In fact, the entire Middle East is a mess, but as Donald Rumsfeld was so quick to tell us: Democracy is messy. Europe is still in recession, but it’s pretty difficult to blame that on the present administration. Wage growth has been anemic; big banks have become bigger; ACA, while covering more people, is in some ways a shambles. Yet overall, the US is in better shape than just about everyone else in the World, with the possible exceptions of those damn socialist countries of Norway, Denmark, & Sweden.

So given all that, what the fuck is up with some of the so-called experts commenting on the US?

There’s really no polite way to say this: There are great swathes of so-called experts who are just wrong; and not just a little wrong, but wrong in gigantic, fucking, mind-numbing, stupidly wrong ways. The examples that come immediately to mind are US policy towards Russia and the economy,

Take Russia, please!

Two years ago, the so-called security experts were howling that Putin was playing chess while Obama was playing checkers; that Russia was drinking the US’s milkshake; that we were somehow losing status to those damn Russkies and it was all the administration’s fault because they were not taking an extremely hard line with Putin.

So two years later, what exactly has happened? The US and the West have placed sanctions on Russia because of it’s aggression against Ukraine, and the Russian economy is making the Titanic look like a slow leak. No one, and I mean no one, amongst the many IR experts expected that the West would come together and sanction Russia. Yet the West did, including France which had just finished building two warships for Russia. Every single IR expert who had been complaining about how the US was weak towards Russia and that sanctions against Russia would never be imposed because the US was weak was wrong. Let me repeat that, every single IR expert talking about US weakness against Russia was wrong!

So you would think that the response in this case would be to admit you were wrong and move on.

Nope.

It seems what you do is you double down on being wrong. You continue to howl about how Putin this, Putin that, and how the present administration is screwing up, even while the facts on the ground show that you are completely full of shit. And the mainstream media, in their infinite unholy quest for higher ratings, brings you on and let’s you spout this stupidity without so much as a little question like, But aren’t you wrong?”

And the economy?

It is by far one of the largest abuses of public trust that the media has ever perpetrated on the American people that the American people do not know that the economy is getting better. The American people know it’s getting better as the Consumer Confidence Index is up to 94%, but again, you wouldn’t know the economy’s getting better if watch only the mainstream media. Because the guests that come on? Why, they are all experts who say the economy is getting worse, that this is the worst economy ever.

Yes, there are problems: wage growth is anemic; banks are finding ways to circumvent regulation; we need to do better rebuilding infrastructure. But 5% GDP in the last quarter? 200,000 + jobs month over month? Seriously?

The reality is is that the “experts” who keep telling us this bullshit just don’t like this administration and simply cannot see past their own biases. These “experts” are so locked into their particular view of reality that actual reality cannot intrude. Every mistake and misstep confirms their view; every positive action is dismissed as not relevant. Their confirmation bias is so extreme, they simply cannot admit to being wrong. So they continue to push forward with their policy proposals which have already been proven to be wrong as though reality were not happening. And, unfortunately, these are the people who get listened to.

So the question becomes: What are you going to believe? Actual facts, or the ramblings of “experts” who have been and continue to be completely wrong about everything?

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Willful Ignorance About Racism Will Get Us Nowhere

Two police officers were shot this weekend in New York. Another was shot in Florida. These are heinous crimes, and one cannot but feel anger and sadness at this senseless loss of life. No matter what anyone says, this is just wrong. I cannot describe just how badly I feel for the families of these three police officers, the emptiness and rage they must feel for the loss of a loved one through a senseless and ultimately useless act of violence. Every parent who has a child that is either in the military, the police, or a firefighter wakes up everyday hoping that their child will not be just another of the official statistics that most people only care about for the short time that the evening news covers it.

Which makes the reactions from the reactionaries and so-called law and order types all the more disgusting.  The fact that Rudy Guiliani can get on national television and essentially accuse the President of the United States, the present Mayor of New York, the protesters against police brutality for the act of one man is the most spiteful, hate-filled display of political pandering in recent memory. The fact that the mainstream media has put forth this narrative as a viable position shows just how little we value truth or facts in the mainstream media anymore. There is simply no other way to say it: If you believe that people exercising their First Amendment right to protest are responsible for the death of these policemen, you are a foul piece of work.

Rafael Ramos did not deserve to die. Wenjian Liu did not deserve to die. Charles Kondek did not deserve to die. Eric Garner did not deserve to die. Michael Brown did not deserve to die. Tamir Rice did not deserve to die. John Crawford did not deserve to die. The list could continue here for days.

There are many who say if you just follow what the police tell you to do, you will be fine. Tell that to Levar Jones, who was shot reaching for his driver’s license when the officer asked him to get it. If you just follow the law, don’t do anything wrong, you will be fine. Tell that to Chris Lollie, who was tazed while waiting to pick his children up from school. Can you guess what these two had in common?

Study after study after study shows that there are inherent biases that WE ALL HAVE. Yet, quite a few people would have you believe that there is no racism issue in America; that blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Semitic people get treated the same as Caucasians. This is clearly not so. There is ample evidence that this is not so. A recent AP poll shows racism has actually increased with 56% of Americans holding implicit racist attitudes about Blacks and 57% of Americans holding implicit racist attitudes about Hispanics.

I could show you the piles and piles of evidence that show racism is alive and well in the US. Yet there will be those who deny it and call it Identity Politics. They will say the police are within their rights to forcibly deter citizens from doing what the police do not want them to do, whether that is to play with a toy gun, pick up their children from school, sit on the sidewalk, give their spouse a kiss in public, or keep their hands in their pockets. They will deny white privilege; they will, in fact, deny the very foundations this country was founded upon, as those of us who have read The Constitution and understand it, remember that the Founding Fathers, who claimed all men are created equal, believed that Blacks were only three-quarters of a man. Cows were treated better, as no one considered different types of cows only three-quarters of one.

As long as a majority of Americans continue to deny there is a problem, we will never come to terms with this problem. We will never be a post-racial society as long as we choose to ignore reality, as long as we choose to NOT do some serious soul-searching. The challenge, then, is how do we get those who see no problem to actually question their attitudes and behaviors. Any ideas?

Checkers Seems To Be A Better Game Than Chess

Senator Ted Cruz, that master of turning a promising situation into a disaster, once said that Vladimir Putin was playing chess while Obama was playing checkers, the implication being that Putin was a master International Relations strategist while Obama was simply some yokel sitting on the stoop of the local general store. Considering how much conservatives pay lip service to yokels, one has to wonder how this was considered an insult, but that’s neither here nor there.

What is of some import is that there is a whole class of IR people who continue to complain about how the present administration is dealing with Russia and that US policy towards Russia isn’t coherent nor effective. In fact, I read just yesterday a fairly well written though obviously mistaken blog post which holds to this very position. The obvious question then is what exactly do these critics of the present administration’s policies toward Russia want to happen that isn’t happening?

Just yesterday, both the Senate and House voted unanimously to place further sanctions on Russia, and the president plans to sign that today. The Ruble is collapsing, dragging the Russian economy down with it, and the Russian Central Bank has gone into panic mode, raising interest rates to 17% while blaming the Russian public for the country’s down the drain spiral. The US has also stated they intend to provide more military aid to Ukraine, and somehow – this really is a miracle – Western Europe is on board with the sanctions, including the FRENCH. THE FRENCH, for God sake!

Yet you wouldn’t know it if you listen to the IR pundit class. We’re told that Vladimir Putin is somehow outwitting us, that we are being bamboozled and hoodwinked; that Putin is some sort of master strategist, even while the economic press points out that the Russian economy is eerily close to collapse. So what’s going on?

The only reasonable explanation that comes to mind is that we have manged to silo our thinking so much that we cannot see what is actually happening even when it is right in front of us. By this I mean we place so much emphasis on Putin and what Putin does that we manage to ignore the rest of Russia. For example, did you know that Russia just voted Putin Man of the Year again for the fifteenth time in a row? Focusing only on Putin and Putin’s actions shows just how oblivious we are to understanding the Russian character and the Russian mindset. Russians are quite good at living through hardship. They’ve done it for centuries. And Putin is Russian through and through. We may believe that if he were to go that the next leader would be more pliable, but Russian history shows otherwise.

So while critics of the present administration’s policies focus on the administration and it’s interactions with Putin, they manage to miss the big picture. The administration is doing a fine job handling Putin, but it’s not just Putin we have to worry about. The administration may be playing checkers, Putin may be playing chess, but Russia is playing Stratego.

Update: Seems the administration just also yanked Cuba out from under the Russian rug. Must be that checkers thing again.

Thinking about Torture

The Senate CIA Torture Report came out last week and has been the topic of discussion since, in ways that are simultaneously informative and unsettling. It is both informative and unsettling that there are quite a few people who believe they can do whatever they deem is necessary for whatever reason as long as they believe that reason to be right. They are convinced of their righteousness. Much like Jihadis are of theirs.

Yet they do not wish to talk about the Senate Report because somehow that is seen as grotesque. These same people who have no qualms about torturing people don’t think we should talk about torturing people. It seems the act of torture is less repugnant to them than the act of talking about torture.

But since they must, they have pulled out all the stops in defending torture. As I’ve said, they are convinced of their righteousness. Bryan Fischer, that paragon of moral values who hates Gays for being Gay and everyone else for not following the tenets of The Bible to the letter and calls himself a devout follower of Christ, believes that Jesus Christ would have no qualms about torture. Christ would be OK with it. In fact, he would condone it. Wonder if Christ has anything to say about that?

This, by the way, is the same Bryan Fischer who would condemn Muslims for violence in the name of their religion. Hypocrisy, it seems, knows no bounds.

Not even going to mention Dick Cheney. There is no defense of him or his position. If you believe there is, your moral compass needs to be recalibrated. Suffice it to say that if you believe as he does that anal rape is not rape, perhaps you and he should volunteer to have it done to you.

It’s difficult now for us to claim the moral high ground, given that we no longer can. We know what we did is morally wrong. We cannot argue that we did not know.

Yet there are more nuanced defenses of torture; one of these being degree. In this defense, it’s not really torture, it’s Enhanced Interrogation Techniques. Water-boarding isn’t torture, as Dick Cheney clearly will tell you. Why, it’s only like getting your face wet or swallowing wrong. Never mind that the US did indeed put on trial and hanged Japanese officers who used water-boarding on Allied troops during World War II. Water-boarding just isn’t torture, not like getting your fingernails torn out or whatever. Of course, these apologists for torture don’t mention anal rape and freezing to death. As if there is some level of torture that falls below the threshold of moral culpability.

Then there is effectiveness. Torture may be morally repugnant, we shouldn’t do it if we can avoid it, BUT… But what if there’s a ticking time bomb, and we need to immediately get information which could save countless lives? Tick.. tick… tick…

The obvious question no one seems to ask is just how likely is it we will capture someone at just the right time before an event that torture might actually be effective? Think about it: the conditions have to be perfect for this scenario to make any sense. We need to be just early enough that torturing someone will be effective in getting the needed information out of them in time, but not so early that other methods would have worked just as efficiently and would not have required that we discard the very principles we are supposedly working so hard to protect.

If we’re too early, normal interrogation techniques that appear to be more effective at getting actionable information would suffice. If we’re too late, all the tortured individual has to do is hold out until the bomb goes off or send security services on a wild goose chase until it does. And let’s not pretend that this individual isn’t prepared for this very scenario. This scenario requires that all the planets align in just the right order, just the right time, and just the right outcome.

The reality is torture doesn’t work. Those that say it does are simply apologists for those who torture.

Torture is just lazy terrorism.

Postscript: It seems that Americans don’t really believe in any of that moral high ground we claim. By a 2 to 1 margin, we don’t care about torture. Given that many consider this a Christian nation, that means there are a good many followers of Christ who simply don’t understand or choose to ignore his message.

We are lost.

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