The Bengoofie Hearings

October 29, 2015

Eleven hours of testimony before the Congressional Benghazi Committee accomplished far more for the Hillary campaign than she could have ever hoped for, and did far more damage than the GOP realizes. A GOP panel consisting of former prosecutors were expected to pick apart Hillary. They tried their best to undermine her credibility with apparent contradictions on totally irrelevant testimony. This is a common prosecutor trick. They will ask a witness about some inconsequential detail and hope to elicit the contradiction to use later. For example, ask a witness if their shirt was blue or gray on the day before a murder occurred. If the witness says “gray” and they can prove it was blue, then they argue to juries that the witness is a liar and can’t be believed in any testimony. They tried badgering the witness, insulting the witness and mocking the witness for hours to get her upset and react by saying something foolish. They tried to use rat-a-tat-tat questions with a no win question at the end. None of their prosecutor tricks worked.

In the end, Hillary nullified any questions about her age, stamina and temperament with a leery electorate. Even worse, the GOP questions at times ranged from offensive (e.g. the security service that coordinates security for all diplomats and even Congressmen were not competent) to simply goofy. Rep. Pompeo asked questions that even Conservatives mocked later (e.g. Commentary magazine asked why he didn’t go on to ask Hillary if Chris Stevens was friended on her Facebook as well). Rep. Jordan of Ohio, came across as just a disheveled man angry at yet another woman who wouldn’t say “yes” to him. Susan Brooks seconded a Democrats motion to publish depositions only to reverse herself when other Republicans looked at her cross-eyed.

These Benghazi Congressmen provided the nation with a simple explanation about why States like Kansas pass such foolish and intolerant laws: they elect morons. It is as though these States (notably, most of the South) are populated by a majority of sub-cortical morons who reflexively elect extremist conservatives even against their own interests. Kansas for example, elected an archconservative governor and legislature who promptly implemented the conservative agenda: less government, lower taxes, and gutted social safety net programs. The result has been an economic and social disaster. Even with a budget deficit, the worst economy in the country, the worst education system, and essential services such as fire and police unable to function effectively, they re-elected the same people!

All of which, brings us back to my recent blog about Ben Carson. The goofy and ineffective Congressmen of the Benghazi Committee only serve to benefit the Carson candidacy. Why? Because Carson lends the veneer of intellect to the anti-science, anti-education party. The man whose most recent revelation of his intellect was opining that anti-voting laws were not racist, and that the theory of evolution was inspired by the devil, is right in their wheelhouse. I suppose one could not accuse that brain surgeon of being sub-cortical in the operating room, but on matters of social policy, economic policy and foreign policy… well, there is a saying in the law that “it speaks for itself”.

How could a substantial part of America consistently elect men of this caliber? Even half of the Republican Party is wondering what is happening. They should wonder why these people flock to their Party, but not why half of their members support Trump and Carson. Stupidity, like a roach, is a resilient thing. Doesn’t bode well for the Country, does it?

Ben “Herman Cain” Carson

October 23, 2015

The GOP has a penchant for elevating bizarre African-Americans to at least token status in presidential campaigns. Herman Cain (who cited Pokeman lyrics as the basis of his philosophical view of the world) had his moment in the Country Club, but nobody really believed he would be the nominee. Now it’s apparently Ben Carson’s turn. An accomplished brain surgeon, he has single-handedly devalued the intellectual gravitas of his profession while ascending to relevance in the crazyland that is the Republican base. He won’t last long (maybe longer than expected if he continues to parrot Trump tactics) but, is anyone really betting on him being the standard bearer for the GOP?

Carson had lent a claim of diversity and intellectual accomplishment to a GOP increasingly known as anti-science and intolerant. That is, until he began to express his views of the world. Comments such as the theory of evolution was “inspired” by Satan, there is no such thing as a “war crime,” going to prison turns people gay, Congress can remove judges if their rulings are not the majority view, and other bizarre beliefs, have lessened the intellectual and tolerance sheen. Carson remains popular with the GOP base, mostly Southern and high school educated, because they believe he validates their fundamentalist, anti-science beliefs.

He caught a little flak for saying he would prevent a mass murder by inciting other people to follow him to attack the shooter, not so much because it made sense, but because he contemporaneously related a story about how he avoided being shot in a Popeye’s restaurant by pointing the gunman to the cashier! In one moment he exposed the faux bravado of the gun lobby with his own cowardice. One could hardly call that smart. “Brain surgeon” used to be synonymous with very smart.

Crazies like the crazy, which explains Carson’s popularity. The worrisome aspect of the Carson candidacy is not so much the potential Carson presidency, as the fact that so much of the GOP base is … let’s be kind and say ‘gullible.’

Trump v. Bush: It’s Genius

October 22, 2015

I have got to hand it to Donald Trump. His tactical instincts are genius. Nothing is more exquisite to my sense of humor than to watch how he can cause the lone standing Bush to go apoplectic at any chosen moment. Like a dog during a thunderstorm, Jeb goes nuts from not knowing what to do. However, the real genius of the self-proclaimed “genius” is not that he can so effortlessly transform Jeb into a living Elmer Fudd, but rather in how he uses Jeb to beat establishment Republicans.

The last exchange of Twitter bombs is perhaps the best example of tactics that are both incendiary and subtle at the same time. Ostensibly, Trump made an off the cuff remark of Jeb’s defense of his brother as being silly, let alone factually false. In response to Jeb repeating the false claim that W “kept us safe,” Trump simply pointed out that “W” was President when the worst attack on the U.S. since Pearl Harbor occurred. KA-BOOM! Jeb goes nuts with midnight Twitters, Fox News Cable jesters accuse Trump of parroting liberal B.S. (Fox cable has never been comfortable with facts), and the entire Republican establishment’s defense of the disaster that were the Bush years is exposed. The more they defend “W,” the more exposed they become.

He kept us safe??? Bush was such a disaster for the economy that the only marginal defense of his presidency has been the war on terror. “He kept us safe” is the diversion from a foreign policy that was every bit as disastrous as his economic record. For the millions of Americans who lost their retirement savings when Wall Street melted down, after he wasted a budget surplus, the foreign policy arguments are a weak diversion. For the thousands of American families who lost a loved one fighting a fraudulent war in Iraq, that is no diversion or consolation at all.

Republicans have been an unmitigated disaster for the economy, from its near collapse under Bush, to the more recent Congressional induced shut-downs, and the constant obstruction to stimulus programs. In fact, the greatest achievement of President Obama may be that he saved the economy and restored it despite the best attempts of Republicans to block him. No middle-class American with a pulse truly believes that the GOP will be good for them economically. Instead, the strength of the GOP has been assumed to be foreign policy, and they do their best to scare the bejesus out of us to justify their existence. That’s a false assumption that Trump is exposing. GOP conservative and neo-conservative doctrine has been every bit as disastrous as their economic doctrine.

The biggest danger we face as a nation now is a Middle East destabilized by conservative doctrine. Iran is our main nemesis, which prior to “W”’s intervention in Iraq was held in check. Now Iran is the power player, controlling much of Iraq, influencing  Syria, Lebanon and the West Bank, and making gains in the Arabian Peninsula. This was another point Trump made in the most recent exchange. I have to believe that this is by design by a candidate rightly dismissed for his lack of historical knowledge and contemporary facts, but whose tactical instincts dwarf the rest of the GOP field. Every time he lights a rhetorical firecracker, Jeb goes nuts and the establishment is exposed.

The New Detroit

October 19, 2015

Detroit’s resurgence in recent years has been a remarkable economic phenomenon, but there is another more important change contributing to the success story — a sociological movement that is long overdue. Race relations in Detroit have always been strained. I used to think it was during my own lifetime, but as I became more familiar with history I realized that this has been true since at least the 1940s.

Detroit has been one of the more segregated cities in the North. Up to the 1960s there was literally a wall separating Birwood Street on the Northwest side. Then, until recent years, there was the figurative wall of 8 Mile Road. It wasn’t all one way either, with many “no go zones” imposed on whites in certain areas of Detroit as well. Take a walk around Detroit now and see how things have changed.

Maybe the adversity of economics in the last two decades has created a sense that we are all in the same foxhole, or maybe it is something else. Now when you walk through Eastern Market on a weekend, or simply go to one of the numerous new restaurants or entertainment venues in Detroit, there is not only an obvious diversity of people, there is a comfort with that diversity.

Certainly younger people who were spared the tough years of the ’70s and ’80s when Detroit spiraled down into collapse, have brought an openness absent the tension of those days. Mayor Duggan has been more than just a catalyst for the economic resurgence in Detroit, he is also symbol of the social renaissance. If not for the fact that he was white, his race is irrelevant. That’s the way it should be. There is a hope that this Detroit will be the best Detroit ever.

Gun Violence and Mental Illness

October 16, 2015

The current vogue among media pundits is to attribute mass killings and the epidemic of gun violence to mental illness. There are two problems with this speculation: it’s not accurate and it creates more problems for innocent people. Attributing gun violence to mental illness is an easy and dangerous cop-out, promoted by an unusual alliance of the ill-intentioned NRA and ill-informed Liberals. Consider these two facts: most people convicted of gun violence are not mentally ill, and most mentally ill people are not violent. I think many decent people are easily swayed by the mental illness explanation because what these people do is inexplicable without self-reflection. All this speculation about mental illness simply stigmatizes the mentally ill and makes their lives even more difficult. It creates a convenient scapegoat. Leave the mentally ill alone.

If this epidemic of gun violence in our country is not due to mental illness, what is the cause (besides the ridicilous availability of automatic weapons)? I believe the root cause is that American society is violent. In one sense, the NRA is right: taking away guns will not solve the problem of violence (although gun control will limit the damage done). We live in a sick, violent society. For example, consider video games. The vast majority of video games, and virtually all of the best-selling video games, are extremely violent. Consider our entertainment industry …  action movies (i.e. movies with violence) are the highest revenue generators. With our kids spending hours playing “games” that reward killing, or with their parents spending hours watching violent television shows, what else would you expect? It’s reflected in our economy as well. Consider our economy … what other country has conducting war as a structural part of their economy?

The truth is that there is a pervasive acceptance of violence in our society and it couldn’t exist without the complicity of you and me. Without an individual commitment to refuse to subsidize violence in our own lives there can be no fundamental change in our society. So the next time you turn off the news of another mass shooting to watch “The Walking Dead” consider your contribution to problem.

What $50 Million Will Buy You (and Not)

October 13, 2015

With the admission from the Pentagon that the program to train Syrian fighters has failed, I have to question our priorities as a nation (again). Politicians will go back and forth about policy in the Moslem world in an endless loop of rhetorical nonsense intended to accomplish nothing more than political points.

It’s clear that all the money in our Treasury, all the weapons in our arsenal, and all the talk about the wonders of democracy will have no effect there. We spent $50 million to train five fighters, four of whom are already dead, one of whom defected to ISIL! The training program had a budget of $500 million, and who knows what will happen with that money now.

It appears that President Obama has decided on a nihilistic strategy in Syria. In the past days we have dropped dozens of pallets of weapons and ammunition in rebel held areas, like some demonic Santa Claus. It seems like the only “Christian” thing to do – mortars for Muslims … I guess he decided that if we can’t create democracy in Syria we will arm them to the teeth and let them kill each other (and a few Russians too).

Since the unnecessary war in Iraq, we have spent over $3 trillion and thousands of American lives to accomplish only chaos – and that’s only the money we have been told about! That does not include the hundreds of billions in arms turned over to ISIL, al Qaeda and other terrorist groups by the troops we have spent over a decade training. That money could have created a far better economy and society on Main Street America.

It’s clear that trillions of dollars will have no net positive effect in the Middle East, but I wondered what we could have done with the $50 million (chump change, really) in Michigan. Here’s a few ideas:

• Provide housing for every homeless veteran in Michigan.
• Provide 4 year college scholarships for 1000 of the poorest students in Michigan.
• Restore drinkable water to Flint.
• Provide free dental care for 50,000 children for a year.
• Hire 800 more police officers.

Even for government bureaucrats $50 million can do some damage:
• Buy 250,000 toilet seats for the Pentagon.
• Repair ½ mile of the Lodge Freeway.
• Hire 1,562 new Legislative Aids to assist Michigan Legislators to cover up extra-marital affairs and block all legislation.

Doctors Without Borders and War Without End

October 8, 2015

I heard an interview with John McCain this morning that was troubling. He was being asked about the situation in Afghanistan, and specifically about the bombing of a hospital staffed by Doctors Without Borders. Although the details of the incident are still unclear, some things are known, and it does not reflect well on our efforts there. The hospital was specifically targeted, and not the result of an errant bomb or miscalculation. The airstrike was requested by Afghan forces not receiving immediate fire from the hospital compound, and no American troops were being fired upon.

When asked about the incident, McCain responded that there were Taliban firing on troops “in the vicinity,” and when pressed for how close the fighting was taking place he simply said “they were in the city.” McCain denounced the description of the unjustified hospital bombing as a “war crime,” saying that if the Taliban had not entered Kunduz, then this “tragic event” would have never happened. His solution was sending more American troops to help train and assist Afghan government troops. When confronted with the fact that we had tens of thousands of troops training the Afghan army for over 12 years, and asked if the troops could ever be trained given the lack of success so far, he only responded that there may be a need for a permanent troop presence akin to what we have done in Post-WWII Europe.
I know men who have served in Afghanistan, two in particular who have served three or more deployments there. They tell me that Afghan troops (unlike Iraqi troops) do have a will to fight, but they are constrained by units segregated by ethnic and tribal identities. This creates mixed loyalties when these units are deployed in rival tribal areas. They are just as anxious to fight rival tribes as they are the Taliban. Speculation is that Afghan soldiers targeted the hospital to eliminate leaders of a rival clan, much the same as Gitmo was populated in part by innocent men who were falsely identified as Taliban by their ethnic rivals.
There is an even more compelling reason to doubt that any Afghan government, let alone army, could survive a U.S. withdrawal, and it is related to how the Taliban were able to capture Kunduz in the first place. The corruption of the Afghan government is so pervasive that residents of the city either stood by, or actually assisted the Taliban. It’s not that they want the Taliban as much as they want order and an end to corruption. Drug trade, sex trade, arms trade and demand for bribes for even the most trivial transactions is widespread. In other words, like Iraq and our long history of supporting many other unpopular and corrupt governments (e.g. Viet Nam, Nicaragua), we are on the wrong side of popular support. The widespread presence of American troops restrained the corruption of Afghan officials, just as we did in the post-Sadaam, Shia’ led Iraq. As the U.S. troops leave, corruption and ethnic violence becomes endemic.
In one sense, the nonsense of McCain did led to a valid point: without a permanent, significant American presence in Afghanistan, the country will collapse just as Iraq has. Only the most intransigent Neo-Con would advocate for a permanent presence, requiring an endless drain of resources and even more tragically, an endless stream of dead Americans not so much fighting terrorists, but supporting a corrupt, unpopular government.