September 06, 2013

#Syria: The more #Obama himself sounds like #Bush ...

Update, Sept. 18: The UN investigation seems to tie the attacks to senior officers of President Bashar Assad. Whether they were following orders or not may still not be final, but the linked New York Times story indicates the answer is yes.

That said, per the oft-cited piece by William Polk at the Atlantic? His "cui bono" was, and still is, a good question. And, if part of why he wrote that piece was pushback, given America's generally poor history of regime change in the Middle East, the neocons leading the charge again on this one and Obama not having a Syria exit plan, the shoot-first warmongers can still look themselves in the mirror.

Now, back to the original blog post.

I had crammed so much in my previous post about Team Obama's warmongering vis-a-vis Syria that it was about to blow up.

Now that we have a new level of mendaciousness from Dear Leader himself, it's time for a new one.

And, trust me, we do.

Remember how Obama talked about a "red line" of Syrian chemical weapons use?

Here's the actual quote, from a story that tries to "nuance" that statement. Guess the inside-the-Beltway media sees it needs to earn its keep to bail him out. Anyway:
“We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized,” the president said a year ago last week. “That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”
But, but ...

I'm sorry, it's not Dear Leader's red line after all. According to him, it's the world's red line. I guess that, like Poppy Bush, we're supposed to read his hips instead of reading his lips. And, speaking of Bushes, Dear Leader may be surpassing Shrub in his chutzpah.

I mean, this is Bushian lying in its blatancy level:
“I didn’t set a red line,” Mr. Obama said during a news conference here in Stockholm. “The world set a red line.”

He added, “My credibility’s not on the line. The international community’s credibility’s on the line. And America and Congress’s credibility’s on the line.”
Wow. 

Meanwhile, per ABC, note that this was said a year ago.

And now, even "our oldest ally" France (right, John Kerry?) has said, "that's your red line, Dear Leader." 

That's even after he tried to pawn them off with this blather:
(Obama) acknowledged the deep reservations over the use of force and said he reminded the leaders at the dinner that he had opposed Mr. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003. “I was elected to end wars, not start them,” Mr. Obama said he told them. “I’m not itching for military action.” 
Uhh ... not boots on the ground, perhaps, but videogame-style wars? Yes, you are. 

Or, you're just an idiot. This piece suggests Obama's "red line" comments ultimately are another case of him undercutting himself and boxing himself in, just like he did with the sequester and the Bush Obama tax cuts. 

(This has made me come to the point of saying that, if Bush is one of the three worst presidents in history, Syria has officially moved Obama from the bottom half into the bottom third, at least.)

So, why are we, or "we," aka Dear Leader, huffed up now?

Maybe because Syrian President Bashir Assad is starting to get the upper hand again against the rebels?

That's part of the thesis, if not directly spoken, by this excellent analysis by William Polk, an "old Syria hand" formerly of the State Department:

1. We don't know whether Assad or some part of the opposition planted the sarin;
2. The US deliberately tried to stall the UN investigation;
3. There's a lot of conflicting information involved;
4. Israel's doing a lot of "spinning";
5. Assad had relatively little to gain by the attack. Indeed, Polk notes that the government has been gaining ground against the rebels in recent weeks and months.

I update thoughts from this part of the post at a new one, which looks specifically at the "cui bono" issue.

Let's also not forget, which Polk didn't mention, that, as Aum Shinrikyo showed in Tokyo, sarin is  relatively easy to produce and weaponize/distribute. This ignores other possibilities, such as rebel theft of government supplies, help from Iran or Hezbollah, etc. And, yes, such possibilities are many, if rebels did this, depending on which group of rebels. Kurd nationalists could have gotten help from their brethren in Turkey. Shi'ites, from Iran directly, or via Hezbollah. Al-Qaeda wannabes? The network in Iraq seems strong enough.

And, contra Team Obama's blathering, we don't actually know who the hell did this. (More on that below.) 

Beyond that, contra the first commenter below, even the death count is disputed.
Neither Kerry’s remarks nor the unclassified version of the U.S. intelligence he referenced explained how the U.S. reached a tally of 1,429, including 426 children. The only attribution was “a preliminary government assessment.”
Anthony Cordesman, a former senior defense official who’s now with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, took aim at the death toll discrepancies in an essay published Sunday.
He criticized Kerry as being “sandbagged into using an absurdly over-precise number” of 1,429, and noted that the number didn’t agree with either the British assessment of “at least 350 fatalities” or other Syrian opposition sources, namely the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has confirmed 502 dead, including about 100 children and "tens" of rebel fighters, and has demanded that Kerry provide the names of the victims included in the U.S. tally.

“President Obama was then forced to round off the number at ‘well over 1,000 people’ – creating a mix of contradictions over the most basic facts,” Cordesman wrote. He added that the blunder was reminiscent of “the mistakes the U.S. made in preparing Secretary (Colin) Powell’s speech to the U.N. on Iraq in 2003.”
As usual, McClatchy, far more than other mainstream media, cuts through the bullshit of the bipartisan foreign policy establishment. That said, the link provided by said first commenter below is from the Center for a New American Security, a leading bipartisan foreign policy establishment think tank.

That said, at least it's not Project for a New American Century, which is probably having wet dreams right now.

Also add this up, and we have a Team Obama wanting to destabilize Assad further before he can restabilize himself more. And, a Dear Leader who, assuming Polk is right, is willing to act outside the bounds of facts.

That gets me back to Polk's Point 5.


What if the rebels did do it? Even if all we are doing is launching a few cruise missiles, then Obama's drone strike murders have reached a whole new level if we're using fabricated information to deliberately target the wrong people. And we're doing it in a place where we (we, not Israel) doesn't have a lot of geopolitical interest, and where we don't have a good idea yet about how to sort out the non-Assad players.

We do know, though, that at least some of them are roughly as bad as Assad. Now, tis true that these are the Islamists we don't want. But, if not now, then when in power, there's no guarantee "secularists" won't engage in an orgy of revenge killings. And, if we do try to "degrade" Assad, there's no guarantee that we can also boost the secularists vis-a-vis the Islamists, or tamp down interference or support by Iran.

Assad has now said he didn't do it. Per the story, there's another option: the Syrian military did it without orders from Assad.

But, back to fact No. 1: Since there's no firm proof Assad's behind the chemical weapons, and circumstantial evidence to indicate he has no need to be behind it, Team Obama's claims, while not as bad as Condoleezza Rice's "smoking mushroom cloud," may eventually wind up being in the same category. 

Let's look at this all more from Team Obama's point of view.

For most of the past two years, an ungainly coalition of rebels, linked by little but their dislike of the Assad regime, had been slowly and semi-surely rolling it back. Because no one rebel group had risen head-and-shoulders above the rest, Team Obama didn't have to worry about picking winners and losers. It could merrily train bands of "freedom fighters" to do that dirty work for it.

And, now, the rebels are faltering. Even losing ground in spots.

My theory is the chemical weapons story, especially if it's being falsely attributed to the Assad regime, makes an easy "handle" for war, a war that's desired because Assad is starting to get the upper hand on the rebels again. 

As for why he's seeking the Congressional vote, when he didn't on Libya? Several reasons.

First, Dear Leader is, in his own way, quite the politician. And, yes, he's trying to fracture the GOP on this particular foreign policy issue, at least.

Second, the more Syria gets publicized, the more that NSA snooping gets UN-publicized. Damage control, wag the dog, whatever you want to call it.

Third is another political angle. That's keeping neocons in the Democratic Party happy. And donors who often support them. To spell out what some people are guessing at, at risk of getting tarred with the anti-Semitic brush, this means keeping a certain stream of Jewish politicians and Jewish donors with similar political philosophy happy. Please note what I highlighted.

Meanwhile, going beyond snark of mine a couple of days ago, the Religious Right's Amen corner for the neocons, at least the nuttier of them, are starting the Gog, Magog and End Times talk about Syria, per this YouTube video.

In light of this all, it's funny, sad, and stark, all at once, to read this from Andrew Sullivan:
As for Obama? I wish I understood better.
Per some political analysts, even inside the Beltway, Sully's not alone.

Here's his specific plaint.
But the point of Obama’s entire presidency – something bigger than just him – was to resist the impulse toward what Obama once called “dumb wars.” Dumb wars are often acts of hubris; and when a country has the kind of massive military power the US now wields, every problem looks tempting. Everything the president has said and done has suggested he understands this. And yet in Libya, he gave in to the hysteria because of an alleged, planned massacre that never happened. 
Hey, Sully, it's like this.

Obama's pulling a Clinton. Not so much on "wag the dog" as on "triangulation."

As for the idealism claims? Everybody should take them all with a grain of salt.

If we wanted to be that idealistic, we've got spare Tomahawks to fire around the world, and with as good of reason, if we're talking morality, and against countries more defenseless.

Burmese military junta, take this! Robert Mugabe, for starving your own people, take that!

Bahrain, for ... 

Oops. They're one of our allies, no matter the amount of Shi'ite repression.

Syria? You just have the unlucky constellation of factors of never really having been our ally, having been a Soviet ally in the past, being hated by Israel (often with good reason, though), being hated by a number of Arab neighbor states, and being in the middle of the oil world without having enough oil to play a bigger game of geopolitics.

And, with the modern United States, I think Clemenceau was at least incomplete, if not wrong, when he said: "War is too important to be left to the generals."

That all said, Obama's better than Massachusetts' newest addition to the Senate. Ed Markey, on the Foreign Relations Committee, wins the chickenshit award by voting "present" on attacking Syria

Unfortunately, the usually reliable Charles Pierce seems to cut Markey too much slack on this.

Based on I Tweeted to him, edited for full English reading, and expanded, here's my counterthought.

I don't buy it on Markey. First, he was in the House before the Senate. Second, Obama's "red line" was 1 year ago. If Markey was unsure of intelligence info, he should have voted "no," since, as McClatchy and Wm. Polk at Atlantic have shown, the intelligence is being manipulated. Only a "no" vote challenges the run-up to war.

And, if Slick Willie supports Obama on this, then wag-the-dog ideas become even more in play, perhaps. 

Update, Sept. 10: The warmongers are monging tonight, in light of Obama's speech. On NPR just now, Richard Haass, head of the Council on Foreign Relations, was claiming out of thin air that Assad has crossed Obama's red line a dozen times since he made that statement a year ago.

Foreign Policy mag has its mind made up, calling Assad's claims not to have done it unbelievable. And, it goes on to claim that this has all brainwashed right-wingers into trumpeting Assad's claims.

Really? Anthony Cordesman's a winger? 

Update, Sept. 12: Somebody on Facebook asked why it matters who did it if we're trying to stabilize the area, control chemical weapons, and related issues.

Focusing on the "stabilization" issue, here's why it matters:

The issue of who did it influences where we aim our missiles, what follow-up we're going to do, etc. Say rogue generals did it. Directly attacking Assad could strengthen their hand for a coup. Say the Free Syrian Army, human-heart-eaters and all, did it. That could strengthen their hand, and Syria potentially is led by worse than Assad.

And, there's the simple morals issue of potentially attacking the wrong folks.

It matters a lot who did it, if you want to avoid the risk of destabilizing rather than stabilizing, or stabilizing a monster even worse. It matters a lot.


Update 2, Sept. 12: The Nation is halfway right about alleged Syrian expert Elizabeth Bagy. It is a wag the dog, to some degree. But, it's part of the bipartisan foreign policy establishment. Kimberly Kagan, the founder of the Institute for the Study of War, is part of the neocon wing of the bipartisan foreign policy establishment. She is Fred Kagan's wife, Donald Kagan's daughter in law and Robert Kagan's brother in law.

For Greg Mitchell to not have drilled down that far is kind of sad.

Update, Sept 13: It's not just Obama, either. Per this Truth-Out piece, not just John Kerry, but Vice President Joe Biden, when also in the Senate, were among Democrats who made false claims about Iraqi weapons in the run-up to the Gulf War. So did Nancy Pelosi, former Speaker of the House, now Minority Leader.

September 04, 2013

All that's wrong with charter schools in one short story

"Millennial" generation short-term focus, even narcissism.

Hypercapitalism.

Neoliberalism, including the Teach for America program.

Taylorism, going one better on educational pedagogy ideas of 50-75 years ago.

It's all right here, in this New York Times story about the growing charter school movement.

Here's the narcissism, short-timer syndrome, career-ladder move, etc.:
Tyler Dowdy just started his third year of teaching at YES Prep West, a charter school here. He figures now is a good time to explore his next step, including applying for a supervisory position at the school. 

Mr. Dowdy is 24 years old, which might make his restlessness seem premature. But then, his principal is 28. Across YES Prep’s 13 schools, teachers have an average of two and a half years of experience.  
Hey, a lot of teachers burn out in their first couple of years. That's deliberate from not viewing teaching as a vocation or a calling, but rather a stepping stone to other jobs. Isn't part of this, the rapid career advancement part, about Millennial narcissism? "Three years here, check that resume box, and could look good in the world of finance! Maybe I can even become a charter schools financial analyst! Occupy Me!"

And, yes, as I blogged about the original, actual Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City's Zuccoti Park, there is a lot of that spirit around. That comes from Occupiers' own demographic self-identification.

The neoliberalism? Here comes Teach for America!
The notion of a foreshortened teaching career was largely introduced by Teach for America, which places high-achieving college graduates into low-income schools for two years. Today, Teach for America places about a third of its recruits in charter schools. 
“Strong schools can withstand the turnover of their teachers,” said Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America. “The strongest schools develop their teachers tremendously so they become great in the classroom even in their first and second years.” 
Shock me. I'd argue that with the short-term commitment idea, Teach for America is about "volunteerism porn." Don't get me wrong, the broader AmeriCorps movement does some good. But, it's all part of that "Points of Light" syndrome that started under Poppy Bush and that neolib Democrats have been unable to ignore. And, shock me that Teach for America founder Wendy Kopp has an impeccable establishmentarian background. Another fine product of Highland Park.

And, let's also take note, as the New York Times did not, that her husband is president of America's largest charter-school network. Just a bit of conflict of interest, eh? But great for money-grubbing!

And, a Facebook friend points out a great speech related to this by social philosopher Ivan Illich which, while dated in some areas, overall addresses some of the same issues about volunteerism porn.

An excerpt or two:
Today, the existence of organizations like yours is offensive to Mexico. ...

For the past six years I have become known for my increasing opposition to the presence of any and all North American "dogooders" in Latin America. I am sure you know of my present efforts to obtain the voluntary withdrawal of all North American volunteer armies from Latin America - missionaries, Peace Corps members and groups like yours, a "division" organized for the benevolent invasion of Mexico.

I did not come here to argue. I am here to tell you, if possible to convince you, and hopefully, to stop you, from pretentiously imposing yourselves on Mexicans. ...

I do have deep faith in the enormous good will of the U.S. volunteer. However, his good faith can usually be explained only by an abysmal lack of intuitive delicacy. By definition, you cannot help being ultimately vacationing salesmen for the middle-class "American Way of Life," since that is really the only life you know. ...

Next to money and guns, the third largest North American export is the U.S. idealist, who turns up in every theater of the world: the teacher, the volunteer, the missionary, the community organizer, the economic developer, and the vacationing do-gooders.
OK, so "mission vacationers" might equal "charter short-termers." If the idealism is actually idealistic, Illich is still saying it doesn't translate, whether to Mexico, or to the inner cities of America, which he specifically mentions later in the piece. The rest of his insights flow from there by analogy. (That said, given that Illich had bones in his craw about various aspects of modern Westernism, including modern medicine, he always needs to be taken with a grain of salt.)

So, to put words in the mouth of a new Teach for America student? 

"Teach poor students for 2 years? Yay, me!" But, ask what we can do to reverse income inequality, and to do so for the poor, not just the middle class? Different story, usually.

Meanwhile, let's look again at Kopp's puffery, including the second sentence:
“Strong schools can withstand the turnover of their teachers,” said Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America. “The strongest schools develop their teachers tremendously so they become great in the classroom even in their first and second years.” 
Uhh, wrong. 
Studies have shown that on average, teacher turnover diminishes student achievement. Advocates who argue that teaching should become more like medicine or law say that while programs like Teach for America fill a need in the short term, educational leaders should be focused on improving training and working environments so that teachers will invest in long careers. 

“To become a master plumber you have to work for five years,” said Ronald Thorpe, president of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, a nonprofit group that certifies accomplished teachers. “Shouldn’t we have some kind of analog to that with the people we are entrusting our children to?”
Yep. 

And, along with neoliberalism and the Great Recession, comes working these people longer hours, making sure they're "on call" longer, etc.

Next, neoliberalism + narcissism meet Business New Agism. It's "career coach" time, under a new name.
Every other week, new teachers meet with instructional coaches for 45-minute sessions
At this point, I officially threw up in my mouth. We now get an introduction to Taylorism being placed in charter schools. Note that a lot of the instruction is about getting kids to "present" better and other things.

Actually, of course, there are other things besides this that are wrong with charter schools. Those include them often being run for short-term profit (in that case, teachers at charters are just learning to act like owners/operators), approaching teaching as a commodity.

Meanwhile, I've not even touched too much on other issues with charter schools, like the whole profit angle in general. It's like utility deregulation in spades.

Many of the charter schools are under a neoliberal or big-business conservative mindset, like KIPP is. Others are religious, and it's usually not traditional Catholic schools trying to repackage themselves. Instead, it's usually vaguely "Protestant" success gospel churches and para-churches, often black ones in big cities, starting them. (And, I have personal knowledge of that last bit from my days in metro Dallas.)

And, I see that KIPP is expanding its presence in Dallas, specifically south Dallas. And, judging by the name of one of its schools, it's either partnering with black success gospel preachers or else pandering to them.

Meanwhile, as Thomas Frank has just detailed, parallel problems continue to grow in academia, too. My thoughts on his latest offering for The Baffler are here.

September 03, 2013

So #libertarian #skeptics are persecuted?

I mean, it's not as if Michael Shermer, Penn & Teller and Brian Dunning are running around the skepticsphere already, is it? (Well, Dunning will be running around for another month or two, until he gets jail time, in my prediction, for his Internet cookie-stuffing scheme.)

Noooo, noooo. Even though Barry Fagin concedes, or claims, that, by a show of hands at a recent con, libertarians make up about 25 percent of the  Professional Skeptics™ world, they're still being marginalized or worse.

There's plenty of howlers in this piece, and we're going to target several of them:
Libertarians understand economics, externalities, and market failure perfectly well.
Really? Libertarians are more likely than anybody else to believe in the thoroughly discredited legend (it's about humans, therefore it's legend; it's only myth if it's about a divine critter) of a hyper-rational Homo economicus and all the trappings that accompany said legend.

The real nut grafs are in the rest of that graf and the next one, addressing how libertarians who accept global warming should discuss what to do about that:
However, we also understand that all institutions are subject to failure, including government. In fact, we believe as skeptics that the evidence shows that even though politics and governmental approach to problems do not work particularly well, they nonetheless expand far beyond their original intent, making things worse and far more difficult to repair. We wish to break that cycle. 

Thus we worry, I think with good cause, that any approaches to combat global warming will not be restricted to affecting global climate but will be used to advance a political agenda that we oppose. 
First, Mr. Fagin, let's list a number of government programs that work well and that libertarians like you oppose:
1. Social Security (better than private pensions in 2008, eh?)
2. Medicare (which actually works better on cost controls than private insurers)
3. Medicaid
4. Environmental protection (libertarian lawsuits are useless after the trees or endangered species are all dead)
5. Civil rights protections.

(I'm sure you can fill in many, many more, folks. This, and the reasons WHY they work better, are numerous.)

There's more pablum for the libertarian masses that follows:
When it comes to politics, I like to think of libertarians as consistent skeptics. We want to know how everything actually works in practice, not how it is merely supposed to work or assumed to work. This includes government.  
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Libertarianism in general starts with the presupposition, the assumption, that government in general doesn't work.

See, this illustrates a core problem with libertarianism, not just as a philosophy of government, but a broader socio-political philosophy: It's reactive, totally reactive, and nothing but reactive.

And, where government issues impinge upon science, especially, the only way libertarians can deal with science's precautionary principle is either by flatly standing it on its head, or citing the rare instances where the precautionary principle was way off course.

As for your last sentence? Speaking of head-standing, I can say this:

As a non-libertarian non- Professional Skeptic™, I worry with very good cause that your libertarian opposition to government action on anthropogenic climate change is being used to advance a political philosophy that people like me oppose.

No wonder Fagin wants to go beyond Shermer, beyond Penn/Teller, and get “positive protection” for libertarianism being part of skepticism? And, yes, as a good student of history, of Civil War and pre-Civil War years, I deliberately use "positive protection" for a reason.

But, like those Southern slaveholders wanting to move to Kansas or Nebraska, Fagin says he and his fellow libertarian skeptics just aren't respected!

He ties this back to his "we're so clear-eyed about government" legend, and the fight against Bigger Government from global warming:
This would be easier for conservative and libertarian skeptics to do, I think, if we felt more welcome in the skeptical community. ...

Were our views proportionally represented in skeptical writings, on skeptical websites, and at skeptical conferences, I suspect the discussion on policy issues would be more civil, more dispassionate, and healthier for the skeptical movement as a whole. 
 Good fucking doorknob. Libertarian skeptic Michael Shermer RUNS one of the two main skeptical mags. But, no, you couldn't write this piece there, or on his blog. You had to carry this elsewhere.

Unrepresented, my ass. Beyond the above, Penn and Teller regularly do much more than just perform their magic tricks at skeptics' conferences. Penn actively evangelizes for libertarianism while both Penn and Teller are official "fellows" of Cato. Yes, per your next paragraph, your perception is quite wrong.

Including the part about lack of tolerance, since somebody on Shermer's blog blocked me from commenting under my original user name and email for too-vigorously pointing out things like this. Later on, my second one was blocked.

If anything, people like you, all the above, and the quasi-libertarian Elizabeth Loftus are overtolerated in the world of Professional Skeptics™.

And, I swear, at least at times, libertarians strike me as being like Jehovah's Witnesses, living to have doors metaphorically, if not literally, slammed in their faces.

Finally, methinks y'all doth overrate yourselves too much. Touting the Drudge Report on the Libertarian Skepticism's Facebook page? Haahhhh. Oh, you meant that seriously. That said, Mr. Fagin, the proprietor of said page says he's never felt persecuted, so I suggest, after buying a reality check, you buy some thicker skin next.

(That said, Mr. Facebook page proprietor, you know nothing of me, so your judgment that I have no training in philosophy is simply your judgment, and wrong, for whatever reason you formed it. And, if it's trollery to point out the errors of the likes of Shermer conflating libertarian belief systems with skepticism, I gladly plead guilty.)

As for the pleas that libertarians and liberals have a lot in common? Mr. Fagin, et al, none of those social issues are what you mentioned in this piece, and drug legalization, gay rights, etc., have nothing to do with the sciency focus of Professional Skeptics™. Ditto for whether or not to militarily intervene in places like Syria.

The issue you focused on, anthropogenic global warming, though, does. I can't quite call you a denier, but I will call you .... a magic man? That's because, solely due to your fear of Big Gummint, while you can't quite deny AGW, you wish it would just magically disappear. Heck, you couldn't even mention the classic "market based solutions" to fight it. You just mentioned it might be a problem, but ... Big Gummint!

And, that's why, even to the degree I share common cause with libertarians on issues like drug legalization, even there, I do so warily, because the issue for you folks in general is always "Big Gummint!" There's no nuance, and every problem is a nail for your hammer.

Meanwhile, "Murray Rothbard" has added me to his/her Google Plus circles. I don't know the gender because the real Rothbard died nearly 20 years ago. Also, unlike the Murray place-holder, he didn't live in Britain.

But, given his importance in libertarian circles, I don't know whether to be flattered or what.

Syria ... the more Obamiacs sounds like Bushies ...

Update, Sept. 18: The UN investigation seems to tie the attacks to senior officers of President Bashar Assad. Whether they were following orders or not may still not be final, but the linked New York Times story indicates the answer is yes.

That said, per the oft-cited piece by William Polk at the Atlantic? His "cui bono" was, and still is, a good question. And, if part of why he wrote that piece was pushback, given America's generally poor history of regime change in the Middle East, the neocons leading the charge again on this one and Obama not having a Syria exit plan, the shoot-first warmongers can still look themselves in the mirror.

Now, back to the original blog post.

The scarier any "limited intervention" gets.

First, it's a civil war. Even the best of today's cruise missiles and smart bombs aren't that accurate, especially in distinguishing between sides in urban fighting. Drones may be, but they're for surgical strikes on individuals; Obama already knows that by how many people he's killed with them.

If he doesn't know, this map makes that hugely clear. Details behind it here.

Second, contra Team Obama's blathering, we don't actually know who the hell did this. (More on that below.)

So, is Dear Leader going to be semi-indiscriminate with cruise missiles, or semi-ineffectual with drones? And, what does he plan after that.

Meanwhile, after the egg-on-face embarassment of British Prime Minister David Cameron (and various lies coming from various mouths about whether or not this was a three-line whip vote), Debbie Wasserman Schultz, an Obamiac if there ever was one, pops up about how many allies the US has. This follows on Team Obama's reference, from Secretary of State John Kerry on down, to "our oldest ally" France.

But, Kerry probably should shut up, then put down the shovel before he digs his holes any deeper.

Kind of like Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein, we have Kerry having dinner with Bashir Assad, the man he now calls Hitler. So, calling this a "Munich moment" is laughable, the farce of history made to repeat itself.

Finally, who actually did what with the sarin gas in the Damascus suburbs?

This excellent analysis by an "old Syria hand" formerly of the State Department says:

1. We don't know whether Assad or some part of the opposition planted the sarin;
2. The US deliberately tried to stall the UN investigation;
3. There's a lot of conflicting information involved;
4. Israel's doing a lot of "spinning";
5. Assad had relatively little to gain by the attack. Indeed, Polk notes that the government has been gaining ground against the rebels in recent weeks and months.

Let's also not forget, which Polk didn't mention, that, as Aum Shinrikyo showed in Tokyo, sarin is  relatively easy to produce and weaponize/distribute. This ignores other possibilities, such as rebel theft of government supplies, help from Iran or Hezbollah, etc. And, yes, such possibilities are many, if rebels did this, depending on which group of rebels. Kurd nationalists could have gotten help from their brethren in Turkey. Shi'ites, from Iran directly, or via Hezbollah. Al-Qaeda wannabes? The network in Iraq seems strong enough.


Beyond that, contra the first commenter below, even the death count is disputed.
Neither Kerry’s remarks nor the unclassified version of the U.S. intelligence he referenced explained how the U.S. reached a tally of 1,429, including 426 children. The only attribution was “a preliminary government assessment.”
Anthony Cordesman, a former senior defense official who’s now with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, took aim at the death toll discrepancies in an essay published Sunday.
He criticized Kerry as being “sandbagged into using an absurdly over-precise number” of 1,429, and noted that the number didn’t agree with either the British assessment of “at least 350 fatalities” or other Syrian opposition sources, namely the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has confirmed 502 dead, including about 100 children and "tens" of rebel fighters, and has demanded that Kerry provide the names of the victims included in the U.S. tally.

“President Obama was then forced to round off the number at ‘well over 1,000 people’ – creating a mix of contradictions over the most basic facts,” Cordesman wrote. He added that the blunder was reminiscent of “the mistakes the U.S. made in preparing Secretary (Colin) Powell’s speech to the U.N. on Iraq in 2003.”
As usual, McClatchy, far more than other mainstream media, cuts through the bullshit of the bipartisan foreign policy establishment. That said, the link provided by said first commenter below is from the Center for a New American Security, a leading bipartisan foreign policy establishment think tank.

Add all of this up, and even if Dear Leader isn't talking about land troops, you and I can talk about red lines. We have even more "red lines" for not doing anything vis-a-vis Syria right now than we did with Iraq 13 years ago.

Also add this up, and we have a Team Obama wanting to destabilize Assad further before he can restabilize himself more. And, a Dear Leader who, assuming Polk is right, is willing to act outside the bounds of facts.

That gets me back to Polk's Point 5.


What if the rebels did do it? Even if all we are doing is launching a few cruise missiles, then Obama's drone strike murders have reached a whole new level if we're using fabricated information to deliberately target the wrong people.

And, even philosophers and humanists who are talking about whether there's a just case for intervention (that's people like you, Massimo Pigliucci and Michael DeDora) need to address THAT issue first. Or go back and address it, if you've already written something that didn't. If not, you're addressing the wrong problem, possibly.

If that's not enough, there's the fact that we created the clusterfuck that led to the rise of the Assad dynasty last time we intervened in Syria. Not to mention our Reagan-era intervention failure in Syrian-controlled Lebanon.

Meanwhile, a Team Obama that now says it needs a Congressional vote after seeking none in Libya, where Dear Leader had imposed no red lines, leads to head-scratching at the least. That said, said Congressional vote now seems anticlimatic. Agent Orange, Speaker John Boehner, says he's down with it. But it's still head-scratching. Maybe even for an American public thrilled with techno-war on the cheap, especially against Mooslims, or other pejoratives, Syria is a bridge too far.

I'm sorry, it's not Dear Leader's red line after all. According to him, it's the world's red line. I guess that, like Poppy Bush, we're supposed to read his hips instead of reading his lips. And, speaking of Bushes, Dear Leader may be surpassing Shrub in his chutzpah.

I mean, this is Bushian lying in its blatancy level:
“I didn’t set a red line,” Mr. Obama said during a news conference here in Stockholm. “The world set a red line.”

He added, “My credibility’s not on the line. The international community’s credibility’s on the line. And America and Congress’s credibility’s on the line.”
Wow.

Polk concludes that "mission creep" is likely, whether accidental or planned, and that solving the perceived problem is not. Syria's Alawites have plenty to lose if we boot Assad; they're not going quietly into the night. The civil war in general has been going on longer, and in more depth, than the anti-Gaddhafi effort in Libya before our action. And, the opposition is even less unified — but with a stronger Islamist component — than there. 

That said, per the Boehner link, the first group of CIA-trained "freedom fighters" (Dear Leader didn't use that phrase, but I am, to put the Bushie yoke tighter around his neck) is set to sneak into Syria. Wunderbar! What could possibly go wrong here?

Finally, to be blunt, given who's driving this — why should we be doing Israel's bidding? Especially when there's no definition yet of what would constitute "success" and nothing close to a guarantee of how to get there, meaning the Likud/Zionist bloc would leave us holding the bag on any failure. An "American orphan" it would be. And, as far as orphaned failures, it's also been, besides our intervention in Lebanon, 30 years since Arik Sharon's clusterfuck in Lebanon, culminating in the Sabra and Shatila camps massacre.

There's no "broad brush painting" with this. Rather, a thick accretion of historical fact.

And, back to fact No. 1: Since there's no firm proof Assad's behind the chemical weapons, and circumstantial evidence to indicate he has no need to be behind it, Team Obama's claims, while not as bad as Condoleezza Rice's "smoking mushroom cloud," may eventually wind up being in the same category.

That said, unlike the magazine Counterpunch, there's no need to engage in reflexive anti-Americanism as part of opposing us taking any military action in Syria. 

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Meanwhile, let's look at this all from Team Obama's point of view.

For most of the past two years, an ungainly coalition of rebels, linked by little but their dislike of the Assad regime, had been slowly and semi-surely rolling it back. Because no one rebel group had risen head-and-shoulders above the rest, Team Obama didn't have to worry about picking winners and losers. It could merrily train bands of "freedom fighters" to do that dirty work for it.

And, now, the rebels are faltering. Even losing ground in spots.

My theory is the chemical weapons story, especially if it's being falsely attributed to the Assad regime, makes an easy "handle" for war, a war that's desired because Assad is starting to get the upper hand on the rebels again. 

As for why he's seeking the Congressional vote, when he didn't on Libya? Several reasons.

First, Dear Leader is, in his own way, quite the politician. And, yes, he's trying to fracture the GOP on this particular foreign policy issue, at least.

Second, the more Syria gets publicized, the more that NSA snooping gets UN-publicized. Damage control, wag the dog, whatever you want to call it.

Third is another political angle. That's keeping neocons in the Democratic Party happy. And donors who often support them. To spell out what some people are guessing at, at risk of getting tarred with the anti-Semitic brush, this means keeping a certain stream of Jewish politicians and Jewish donors with similar political philosophy happy. Please note what I highlighted.

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As for the idealism claims? Take them all with a grain of salt.

If we wanted to be that idealistic, we've got spare Tomahawks to fire around the world, and with as good of reason, if we're talking morality, and against countries more defenseless.

Burmese military junta, take this! Robert Mugabe, for starving your own people, take that!

Bahrain, for ... 

Oops. They're one of our allies, no matter the amount of Shi'ite repression.

Syria? You just have the unlucky constellation of factors of never really having been our ally, having been a Soviet ally in the past, being hated by Israel (often with good reason, though), being hated by a number of Arab neighbor states, and being in the middle of the oil world without having enough oil to play a bigger game of geopolitics. 

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That all said, Obama's better than Massachusetts' newest addition to the Senate. Ed Markey, on the Foreign Relations Committee, wins the chickenshit award by voting "present" on attacking Syria.  

Unfortunately, the usually reliable Charles Pierce seems to cut Markey too much slack on this.

Based on I Tweeted to him, edited for full English reading, and expanded, here's my counterthought.

I don't buy it on Markey. First, he was in the House before the Senate. Second, Obama's "red line" was 1 year ago. If Markey was unsure of intelligence info, he should have voted "no," since, as McClatchy and Wm. Polk at Atlantic have shown, the intelligence is being manipulated. Only a "no" vote challenges the run-up to war.

Update, Sept. 13: Here's more on Obamiacs sounding like Bushies. Per this Truth-Out piece, not just John Kerry, but Vice President Joe Biden, when also in the Senate, were among Democrats who made false claims about Iraqi weapons in the run-up to the Gulf War. So did Nancy Pelosi, former Speaker of the House, now Minority Leader.

September 02, 2013

A new example of why I call myself a #skeptical left-liberal

I do, in terms of US politics at least, consider myself a left-liberal. But, along the likes of Doug Henwood of Left Business Observer, I maintain a healthy skepticism about more wild-eyed economic ideas of some left-liberals. (Henwood was good at shooting down sillier ideas from Occupy Wall Street a year or two ago.)

In the foreign-policy side of things, we have this: Counterpunch Magazine, nuttier than anything that comes from Alternet, Truthout, or similar.

For example, in light of possible intervention in Syria (which I oppose) Jeffrey St. Clair has updated an old piece about Bosnia and Serbia that he co-wrote with the now-deceased founder of Counterpunch, Alexander Cockburn.

And, it's over-the-top indeed.

Even if Clinton did oversell some things about Serbian asshattery, nonetheless, having just read an excellent book on the run-up to WWI, "The Sleepwalkers," and another, "Kosovo: A Short History" about 2 years ago, about the history of Serbia/Serbian identity from the famed battle of Kosovo on, I can say bluntly, as I Tweeted St. Clair, that Serbs have been thugs for at least a full century, since the two Balkan Wars of 1912-13. Maybe they didn't resort to (too much? as much?) murder then, but, ethnic cleansing by thuggery short of murder was a regular practice in the new lands they acquired after those two wars.

Noel Malcolm, in his "Short History" of 500 pages, documents that Serbia was doing ethnic cleansing a century ago.  Christopher Clarke, in "Sleepwalkers," ties this in with general Serbian expansionism in the two wars, including refusal to let go of disputed territory when directly confronted by a combination of other Balkan states PLUS Austria-Hungary.

I normally reject the idea of "cultural DNA," but with the people and land of Serbia, I am more than willing to make an exception.

And, if I use "cultural DNA" more loosely, I'm willing to use it about Counterpunch, too.

St. Clair's been wrong in the past on some environmental issues, his putative specialty, because of ax-grinding. Cockburn more than once stuck at least one toe over the line of anti-Zionism into anti-Semitism. Paul Craig Roberts is less of a left-liberal than a non-socialist left-libertarian of some sort with one foot back in David Stockman's world.

At times, while not being anti-American overall, the St. Clair-Cockburn duo do, though, seem to be opposed to any major action of whatever American president/polity is in power "just because." And, the Bosnia story, based on what I've actually read about Serbia, is a tipping point.

Beyond that, the Bosnia-Serbia situation was much more "clear" as far as bad and not-so-bad actors than Syria is. Either St. Clair and Cockburn knew that 20 years ago, or their duplicity is matched by their stupidity.

So, for now, Counterpunch is unlinked from my link list.