Saturday, May 30, 2015

The crazy debate about which Americans caused the rise of ISIS

Which stupid American or Americans are responsible for the rise of that murder/torture group extraordinaire called ISIS?

The usual conservative story is that it's Obama's fault. He took all the troops out of Iraq, and that's why we have ISIS. (Examples: typical versus more intelligent than usual.) The usual Dem counterpoint is that Bush destabilized the region.

Why isn't someone pointing to players in the Middle East? I doubt that Obama was involved in financing and developing the recruiting strategies. So who was?

This story fits into the narrative that the US is so strong it can do anything or prevent anything, if only we were cognizant and had the will to act. Any failure in the world can be laid at our feet because of something we did wrong or something we should have done right but didn't.

In the case of ISIS, I reject that thinking. The Sunni paymasters have put together jihadi force after jihadi force. I'm not sure how we're supposed to prevent that, short of taking over the oil-rich Gulf states. A bunch of rich Saudi/Gulf guys support jihadis in Afghanistan, and that's good, Then they support a bunch called Al Queda, and that's bad. Then they support a bunch called ISIS and it's bad. However, the pattern time after time is A BUNCH OF SAUDI/GULF GUYS SUPPORTING JIHADIS. Doesn't that tell us how this happens?

It's true that maybe we should have foreseen that the 'Arab spring' uprising in Syria against Assad was going to be an opportunity for the rich Gulf guys to raise another jihadi army. Maybe we became too enamored of the Arab spring idea, and the many brave Syrians fighting for freedom. Maybe we missed all the signs that it was a civil war that would attract outside money that would mushroom beyond Syria. Or maybe there were hopeful, optimistic reasons why we didn't foresee it. Not every Arab spring uprising has turned into a jihadi murder-fest. Tunisia didn't (not yet, at least). Egypt didn't. So we had hope for Syria, and we were wrong. Does that make it our fault?

I don't think so. There were Syrians fighting against Assad. Money and fighters were flowing into Syria, and hardly any of it was from the US. So why is it our fault? Assad wasn't our puppet. The rebels weren't our proxy fighters, dependent on the US. No, the conflict would have developed the same way, regardless of what the US did .. unless we chose to level the entire country. Then it might have gone differently.

But bombing a country out of existence isn't a good tactical or strategic choice. Well, it isn't the usual choice. Has any government tried it and found that it works? Not that I know of. I don't particularly want the US to be the trailblazer of that strategy, do you?

Your donation (or ransom) hard at work buying violence

Extras. Rand Paul is offering a different story. NYT brief on ISIS's hearty finances.

Update 7/27/16. Detailed, frightening story about the beginning of ISIS.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Last outpost of crazy: I'll sue for my job back

This kind of crazy really hurts. A former Chicago detective is suing to be reinstated, despite this:
"[he] was convicted in 2011 of leading a band of rogue police who stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from suspected drug dealers and ordered a hit on a fellow officer to keep him from revealing the scheme."
Oh, and the FBI found a picture of him posing with another officer, rifles, and a black man trussed up like a dead deer. I won't have the picture on my blog, but readers should see what some people do for fun.

There has to be a problem with our laws if such a suit isn't summarily dismissed. Obviously, it's not the only problem either. 


Sunday, May 17, 2015

The many enemies of Christianity

Somehow I managed to resist writing about how the death battle between same sex marriage and conservative Christians for twelve days, but that reprieve is over. I'm back to the topic again because of the hyperbole of Rod Dreher (the main conservative-religious writer whom I read).

Dreher has blamed the Reformation for this evil before. He's blamed the Founding Fathers and their political philosophy that guarantees the state wouldn't impose religion on the people. He's blamed Martin Luther. Now he's blaming nominalism, a philosophical theory that perfect, ideal things don't actually exist.

I think Dreher should just go all the way and proclaim that the problem is that too many people think, and their thoughts are too often sacrilegious because they end up questioning the dogmas of the church. Somehow, though, Dreher exempts himself. When he questions the church, as he did when he left Catholicism to become Eastern Orthodox, it wasn't a hateful, uppity, and sinful of him to do that.

However, when Martin Luther questioned the Catholic church, he unleashed an incredible amount of evil. All sorts of people started questioning church dogmas and finding alternative ideas. For example what is more likely to be correct: your priest or your conscience? Is the Church correct that the sun and planets revolve around the Earth? Somehow this questioning is the direct cause of Western civilization becoming decadent and materialistic, and forsaking the guiding principles of a religious life.

Does Dreher actually wish that he could shut down all of that thought, remove the free will of people, and force people to put unquestioning faith in whatever their church says? From what I've read, that is what Dreher would prefer, based on the number of column inches he's devoted to defending dogma ("what Christianity actually is") and decrying the wrongness of guys marrying guys.

Oh, the hubris of using your brain! (... if you might come to a different conclusion from that of the Church).

A moderate problem in Dreher's argument is that Jesus himself is an example of questioning orthodoxy. But Jesus is the Son of God, and inerrant, which no other human is. So it's not illogical if Jesus can question but the rest of us can't. An even bigger problem is that humans are questioning authorities all the time, especially when they aren't thrashed within an inch of their lives for doing so. Maybe European stock is somewhat worse in this behavior than others (how frequently did Indians question their caste system?), but it has been a persistent trait for as long as we have records.

People are going to use their minds, and what they think may change as a consequence. God can't stop it, and neither can Dreher. If it is to be labeled a sin, that tells us that Dreher or the Church or God can't deal with a major aspect of human nature. It also raises the question of whether Dreher believes that people deserve freedom, or whether instead they need the cossetting of an authoritarian system to avoid this worst of sins--thinking the wrong thoughts.

Of course, what is most likely is that Christianity wasn't threatened by Martin Luther, the Reformation, liberty-based government, or a metaphysical theory I hadn't even heard of (and me a philosophy major!). Only Dreher's mistaken and narrow definition of Christianity is threatened and only in his mind.


Extras. Well, the threat's not quite "only in his mind." Traditionalists in some professions have been sued or fined for not working on same-sex weddings. There are also allegations of jobs lost or discriminatory work environments made by traditionalists.

Religious observance and religious identification are also becoming less common. Is that due to people choosing for themselves too? Most likely.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Benghazi: What is being covered up?

I never got to finish my post on Benghazi because I waited for the GOP House to hold its Benghazi hearings. They were supposed to happen during the summer when they would be filler during the news-drought months of the summer. Then it turned out that summer 0f 2014 was well-populated with political bombs, such as the immigration crisis and Mideast crisis. Benghazi wasn't necessary after all. That also turned out to be true in Fall '14, so the GOP didn't hold the hearings then either.

Nonetheless, I waded through a lot of Benghazi info last summer, and I don't want it to go to waste. So, finally seven months later, I'm publishing what I found out. It's late, but still more timely than our GOP political circus. This is actually two posts in one.

1. The Conservatives' Attempt to Make a Smoking Gun

What is the big new story about Benghazi [as of last summer, that is]? It seems that there was a stand-down order. Well, maybe it was more like a wait-and-let-me-think-about-this order. The CIA leader at the annex  (that secret other location that was attacked later that night but not at first) made his gung-ho underlings wait about 22 minutes before going to the consulate.

This word comes from three security operatives who were among the forces at the annex. These are three of the two dozen or so 'Benghazi survivors' who were strangely absent from previous hearings. Now some information is leaking from a few of these sources. So far it doesn't seem like enough for the GOP to cry "scandal," but the GOP will try anyway.

Here's the headline from Breitbart (same link as above):


But if you read it closely, they saved 5 people from the consulate, not 25. They didn't exactly defy a stand-down order so much as put pressure on the chief/team leader to end the delay and get going. If there was a stand-down order, the chief/team leader didn't obey either, because he went with the security team to the consulate. Ah, but you must have drama, especially if you're trying to sell a narrative or sell books

Their team leader was a CIA official who got direct orders from Washington to wait multiple times... [One security operative] said "I strongly believe if we would have left immediately, they would still be alive today."
Neither of these points is supported by other evidence. Was someone in Washington incorrectly telling them to wait? Maybe it wasn't that bad a call. Would leaving immediately have saved lives? That's questionable. Shoot first and plan later isn't a great policy in general.

2. The Worst of It: Bad, but not even close to horrific

Despite conservative media hype, the Benghazi scandal is bigger than the MSM made it out to be. The best evidence of this comes from Hicks, an assistant to the ambassador. The mistakes/poor judgment/incompetence has two parts:

1) Libya was a lot more dangerous than the administration let on, and the staff was expected to live with that danger and not report. If the dangers were known, it would bring unwelcome focus on Obama's decisions on how to handle Libya, and Obama seems to be unable to handle criticism.

2) The administration wanted to cover up that they were informed about the dangers, so they decided to go with the story that it was a protest similar to the one in Egypt. I don't know who made the decision, but people at the top knew it was a lie. However, the lie unraveled pretty quickly because GOP congress members knew of the dangers in Libya from intelligence briefings, and they gave that info to conservative news sources who ran with the story.

Get By with a Little Help from Our Friends

Obama and Clinton have counted on the friendly MSM to not pursue the story hard and not put them in a terrible light. No surprise there. Our media is very skewed, with the conservative media being even worse, and therefore having even less credibility.

How will Obama, Hillary, and the Dems deal with the scandal? I'm not sure, but perhaps they will treat it as a regrettable mistake, but not a huge, disqualifying mistake. Perhaps that's the conclusion of most of the electorate too, and they don't want to hear anymore about it. It boils down to this: most people are tired of it, so it won't matter in the 2016 campaigns.


Extras. I did lots of research, and here are the most interesting bits:

Three days after the attack and some newspapers are getting the story straight.

Comments at National Review are almost all partisan--not looking for truth, but looking to smear Dems. George will is castigated for not getting on the bandwagon. This is the echo chamber again.

Why Stevens didn't take the offer of more security--a good reason: immunity for the security personnel.

Who and what on the stand down command, maybe. This is the decision not to send fighter aircraft to Benghazi. Might or might not have helped. No refueling support available.

Strong comment with perspective on the incident. "It does not matter to ordinary voters whether it was a local militia stirred up by the video or it was a pre-planned Al Qaeda attack. We sent our people to a dangerous place, some of them died. Who [in the administration] said what ... is not really an important issue." What's not important is all the stuff the GOP is focusing on.

Politifact account of chain email about rape and mutilation. Another rumor with a different name as the source. This is very ugly partisanship, luckily confined to the shadows.

Update 3/13/16.  Did Clinton make false claims about the video to the families of the casualties? Accounts differ in profound ways. Why is this a big issue? Um, oh, because Clinton had a spin-laden story in public, and a different story in private. And because she must be blamed for the spin since she's running for president. Can't forget that reason.

Short: Sorting out the confusing GOP campaign

This is a great article that sorts and declutters the very cluttered GOP presidential nomination race. In a year where there are more candidates than horses in the Kentucky Derby, how can we keep them straight when none of them wear bright jerseys?

As this article explains, there are only three main categories you need to know:

  • The invisible primary leader, which would more clearly be called 'the clear frontrunner'
  • Mainstream alternatives
  • Factional favorites

With these categories, it's not hard to categorize each of the GOP candidates. Jeb Bush started as the clear frontrunner, just like Mitt Romney did in 2012. It's questionable whether Jeb can maintain that status because he isn't wrapping up the donations as well as Romney did. However, if Jeb falters as frontrunner, the race becomes wide open, with no one as frontrunner.

When no one is frontrunner, the nominee will almost certainly come from among the mainstream 'others.' They each fit the mold of who the party typically would nominate. That makes it hard to predict which among them will eventually win.

The final category is for the misfits who don't fit the party's usual mold. This is where the firebreathers, no-hopers, vanity candidates, and libertarians go.

Definitely read the article. Don't be put off by the trendy, garish graphics. The clarity of the explanations is wonderful.


Extra. In contrast to the clarity in the NYT article, here is Mark Halperin scoring CPAC speakers on theatrics and hollowness. Excellent for a laugh.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Another chance to whack Obamacare

The Supreme Court now has another chance to kill deeply maim Obamacare. This time it's a technical question about whether subsidies can be given in states that don't have their own exchanges, which is a lot of states.

If the court rules that ACA can't give subsidies in those states, that probably throws a few million people off their health insurance. Congress could restore the subsidies, but I don't think that will happen with the GOP in control. They won't care about the suffering of a few million people, who are perhaps mostly Dem voters anyway.

However, the GOP may want to avoid looking hard-hearted, so they'll probably figure out how to blame this on the ACA law, and its complexity, and how it was rammed through without being well-constructed, so it's all the fault of those Dems. They may be able to get away with that story because enough of it sounds true enough.

The GOP may even get extra lucky, and the loss of the subsidies will send Obamacare into a death spiral of massively higher premiums and fewer people covered. Again, they may be able to cause this death spiral without receiving the blame. It's hard for me not to believe that many Republicans are hoping for exactly this outcome.

But at the end of that death spiral will be some very big problems, and ultimately the GOP won't be able to ignore them. There will be a massive number of uninsured people, which will include plenty in the middle class or former middle class, and they won't be forgiving the GOP for the end of readily available health insurance. The GOP will have to come up with an answer, or a partial answer--enough to keep them in office. Maybe they'll cobble something together, but that would be several years down the road. In the meantime, the road will be littered with people bankrupted by healthcare costs or dead from lack of coverage. I doubt the GOP will pay a high enough price for what they wrought--if it plays out this way. I hope we don't get to see if it plays out this way. It's too big a risk for too many innocent people.


Extras. Bernstein is much more optimistic than me. This WaPo column is more realistic in the dangers.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Fight to the death

I had an awesome idea. Pamela Gellar hates Muslims. ISIS hates Pamela Gellar. There are all these haters in the world who would really like to kill other groups/people. Maybe we should give them a place to fight it out just like a cage fight. They would have one spot on Earth. They could all go there and blast away to their heart's content. After all, it's what they obviously want to do. It would also spare the innocent bystanders.

My sweetie even suggested the perfect place: Texas!

The problem is that logistics always kill great ideas like this. Oh, darn.


Last outpost of crazy: 3000 year old police force

Would you support or join this police force?
"The Masonic Fraternal Organization is the oldest and most respected organization in the 'World.' Grand Masters around the various states are facing serious safety concerns for their Jurisdictions and their family members. The first Police Department was created by the 'Knights Templar's' back in 1100 B.C. 
"The Masonic Fraternal Police Department, (M.F.P.D.) is the Knights Templar's! 
"When asked what is the difference between The Masonic Fraternal Police Department and other Police Departments the answer is simple for us. We were here first! We are born into this Organization our bloodlines go deeper then an application. This is more then a job it is an obligation. 
"The Masonic Fraternal Police Department (M.F.P.D.) is a Masonic Sovereign Jurisdiction (Municipality) located within the incorporated City of Santa Clarita, California. The Chief of Police is Honorable Grand Master David Henry 33ยบ was elected and is Governed by a Grand Supreme Council, and 33 Masonic Jurisdictions. He currently oversees a 1/2 Million members throughout the United States."
Would you believe they were for real? If so, then you too can get arrested for not actually being a police officer in one of the 33 jurisdictions where you thought you were one. Don't pass up this opportunity to make a total fool of yourself ... and embarrass a potential senatorial candidate! It's a once-in-a-lifetime chance.


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Difficult choice of conscience

We've had pizza shop owners, with video running, say that they wouldn't cater a same-sex wedding because they're Christians. I have my doubts that this was a carefully considered statement.

In contrast, here is a Christian photographer trying to work through the issue:
"I've been asked to photograph a same-sex wedding service (legal in my state), and I’ve said no. I wonder if I did the right thing. After all, this is a business, providing a service. Would it be right for me to refuse to serve a gay couple if I owned a restaurant? I don’t think so... Moreover, I’m not sure that photographing an event is an endorsement of that event. I have photographed weddings of people who were divorced (and I didn’t investigate the background), people who were probably cohabiting, people who were most likely unequally yoked to one another, and so on. 
So I’m kind of caught. My conscience bothers me because I turned this couple down, and my conscience will bother me if I photograph this wedding."
Here, thank God, is a person who sees the different sides of the issue. Is it fair to hold same-sex people as worse and different from the other sinners he photographs--though note that he doesn't 'investigate' the details of his clients' sins. He seems to take a reasonable, business-like approach that their sins aren't really his concern. That was probably how Christian photographers, bakers, and caterers handled divorced, cohabiting, and all the others who weren't holding off on sex until marriage. Perhaps most of these Christian businesspeople didn't even think of these couples as sinful. 

I personally don't believe the biblical sexual rules are correct or are the commandments of God. I'm not sure what sexual rules are correct, or how much it's a matter of morality (this is right, that is wrong) rather than a matter of risk (don't have sex until you know the person fairly well). 

As for the commandments of God, I have no sense of that at all, except that we should do good and not waste our lives. I don't believe, as my parents did, that sex before marriage is wrong, and God says so. In fact, I find that idea either absurd or a cultural/historical artifact.

So I think anti-gay bias is another cultural/historical artifact, and a lot of Americans seem to agree with that.

Christian conscience, Christian doubt

The Christian photographer raising the question of conscience wasn't sure. The minister answering wasn't sure either. What is sad is that the minister doesn't grapple with the issue of why it's moral to serve gay patrons at a restaurant, but not at their wedding. The minister's decision comes down to the problem of giving mixed messages to those around you as to whether same-sex marriage is OK or not. This seems odd to me that the issue comes down to not wanting to confuse other people--that doesn't seem typical for moral issues, that you don't do X because it might confuse people. I have to wonder whether the minister couldn't come up with a better reason, and had to settle for this weak one--since he wasn't going to go the hate/abomination route. 

Strict Christians will be grappling with these issues, but they've done it before, as sexual mores have changed. Courts have told Christians that they couldn't deny rentals to unmarried, cohabiting couples. I don't recall a major backlash over that. Perhaps it seemed too much like not renting to black couples or interracial couples, so the Christian landlords didn't want to go there. 

Perhaps it's an issue for more Christians this time because they can play the underdog against the powerful liberal tide. Gay couples have helped their underdog status by suing them even when the same services from other vendors are readily available. But whether in suing or in refusing, conscience rarely (but occasionally) seems to be the main concern.


Extras. NY farm owners stopped doing weddings (but not receptions) I hope they found their comfort zone. Julian Sanchez doesn't know where to draw the line either. A list of objectors--a mixed bag.

These Christians seem to think that they're the sole possessors of rigorous thinking. They are also the stalwarts who "refuse to call what is good evil, and what is evil, good." They imagine that they have a monopoly on right thinking, and I intensely dislike monopolies.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Eating your children

This idea suddenly flashed into my mind. The Tea Party is not just misleading the GOP, they are ruining it in a very particular way. Some of them are so horrific, grotesque, and unreal that they are figuratively like the Titans, those ancient Greek god-monsters who even ate their own children.

What got me thinking this way? The musings of Congresscritter Pete Sessions, filtered (unreliably) through MSNBC. He says the Obama administration is responsible for "murdering Americans all over our cities." I suppose this isn't actually worse than accusing Obama of trying to destroy this country, an accusation GOPers make regularly--regularity in the bowel sense being applicable.

What they aren't doing is coming up with SOLUTIONS FOR REAL PROBLEMS. Not even partial solutions. It's as though they are totally out of the solution business, and 100% into the propaganda business. Even with control of both the House and the Senate, they aren't any more realistic in their political statements and policies. Instead, they're sending letters to the ayatollahs, coming to the brink of shutdowns, and then figuring how to sneak away.

This negative, destructive, obstructive behavior seems to be all that the GOP are capable of. That makes them comparable (again) to a giant with a club, like the Titans. With this being the situation, how is the GOP going to sell the idea that they deserve the presidency too? Voting for them would be like voting for the Titans to be our rulers.

On the other hand, maybe the Dems are a pit of vipers. If so, the choice is between vipers and Titans, and the Titans are perhaps preferable. It's so sad that we have to live though these mythological horrors. We were supposed to be all done with that kind of monstrous world, weren't we?