Sunday, May 29, 2011

The PG Fourm pages today ...

The Post Gazette's forum section today contained (as it usually does) several interesting items. I thought it would be interesting to look at several of them, especially since a couple are related.

First, Jack Kelly took off on how many of the Republican candidates (or possible candidates) are superior to Obama. Actually, Kelly's favorite candidate turns out not to be an American at all: Benjamin Netanyahu. Kelly delights in pointing out how many standing ovations Netanyahu got when he spoke to Congress (hint: more than Obama in the State of the Union). Of course, that is all tied up in the brush up about Obama's remarks about how Israel's negotiations with the Palestinians need to *start* with looking at the pre-1967 borders. Now, the Palestinian/Israeli situation is really complicated, and of course passions run high, and tend to run across party lines. I will say Glenn Greenwald takes pains to point out that Republicans used the opportunity to overly applaud Netanyahu and in the process stick it to Obama.

Does Kelly have a point about the superiority of Republican candidates over Obama? Hell, even liberal pundits are speculating about possible similarities to 1992, when Clinton came from obscurity to whatever you want to call his status. On the other hand, Clinton was something of a populist with appeal for some wealthy donors (much like Obama). I think that come from nowhere sudden popular support usually needs a populist component, although a Presidential run requires that populism to be sustained for months. I know that on the surface, Republican ideas about small government and low (or no) taxes have some populist appeal (see The Tea Party). But if Herman Cain either mis-identifying quotes or making things up about the constitution is typical of Republican populism, then I am not too afraid of how far it will get. Besides I think that orthodox Republican talking points are not consistent with a populist stance (beyond the superficial). I think money (big single checks) and party leadership support would dry up pretty quick. Can you be the Republican candidate for President and put yourself at odds with the party (could you even get nominated?)?

Meanwhile, two other items on the Forum pages caught my attention. There was an essay on the successes of Principal Doris Brevard in the Hill district in reducing the racial achievement gap. In my opinion, the piece was short on detail, but it certainly indicated that some attention should be paid to her record and efforts. By contrast, there was also a piece on how Pennsylvania should implement school vouchers. Some of the detail was a bit confusing (a lottery for voucher applicants?), but parts seem pretty clear (the vouchers should pay for the private school, meaning they pay a lot, even though the essay's authors identified an eight grand state payment per student. Anyway, I felt the voucher essay was much closer to the opposite of a solution.

But at least the PG is trying somewhat. I think education is a very important topic for the long term health of the US. It is as important an investment in infrastructure as money for a bridge or a highway, maybe more. Yet I gather Republicans/conservatives will not be happy until all teachers either quit (and are replaced will low paid non-union) or are stripped of their retirements and have their wages slashed to half or less of what they make now. How dare teachers think they are as valuable as people who do real work, like make money out of nothing.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A bit more on Obama ...

SO in my last post I expressed some concern that Obama is behaving so much like W that he will not attract independents, and will not mobilize younger voters like he did in the last election. I stand by those thoughts, but I think the Republicans could be in as much trouble as Obama.

The problem the Republicans face is, simply put, the Tea Party. The TP, in any given state primary, is going to vote for the candidate that most closely reflects their rather extreme views. I think that means that Ron Paul is probably unacceptable to them, although they might accept a Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann or Herman Cain (ironically two women and an African American). If the Republicans do end up nominating someone who is deemed moderate enough to appeal to a large number of independents (i.e. more likely to beat Obama), then I suspect the Tea Party may well nominate their own candidate.

So the Republicans may face two rather unpleasant choices: either the Tea Party forcing them to nominate an extreme candidate who has little chance to win, or they may see large numbers of party conservatives desert the party to vote for a third party Tea Party candidate in the general. Either of these scenarios might be enough to save Obama in 2012. These possibilities might explain why both Mitch Daniels and Mike Huckabee decided not to run this time.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Three thoughts ...

So I have three things I want to talk about today.

First, Jack Kelly today is ... what ... going "all in" on Pakistan today (or maybe the correct phrase is double down, or raise the stakes - whatever). As I said last week, I pretty much agree with the idea that our relationship with Pakistan is no better than troubled, perhaps very toxic. Kelly claims that a former head of Pakistani intelligence "midwifed" Al Qaeda, and (seeing how vague that statement is) I could easily believe that, although given our role in encouraging Afghan mujahideen against the Soviets, we were at least in the delivery room of the birth of Al Qaeda (and might be the daddy). And I will say, having studied a bit of international relations theory, that American foreign policy (and generally any countries foreign policy) never uses academic foreign policy theory, and in fact maybe the most important thing in any foreign policy decision is the domestic political climate. But Kelly seems to again showing an astonishing level of naivete in his foreign policy analysis. There are reasons why we might want to distance ourselves from Afghanistan, since our continued military presence there does not seem to be producing positive results, and for whatever reason, we do not seem to be putting effort into the nation building that might help Afghan citizens might think better of us (which is to say I do not think Muslims in Afganistan or elsewhere want to live in the stone age, contrary to what conservatives like to say). But we need to keep some engagement in Afghanistan, to act if new terrorist camps are set up.

And we need to keep engagement with Pakistan, even if their intelligence service is more interested in helping terrorists (maybe especially if they are). Kelly suggests that we don't need to care about Pakistan's nuclear weapons, but if parts of Pakistani intelligence are helping enemies who killed thousands of Americans on American soil in 2001, I would suggest we do need to care.

Now, I will say I don't know exactly what our policy in the region should be, maybe something involving giving fairly large chunks of money coupled with working with local intelligence and law enforcement to attack terrorists in their countries. This kind of policy would be tough to sell to average American citizens, although bin Laden's death might make that (coupled with a return of tens of thousands of American soldiers) more palatable. By the way, the KD/PG edition had an interesting discussion connected to this issue, with a former fairly high level CIA official with a book.

And bin Laden's death is the second issue I wanted to talk about. The former CIA officer on the KD/PG program said that he thought bin Laden would not have any worthwhile intelligence personally, so there was less incentive to capture bin Laden alive. Ironically, when talking about his own ability to talk on the KD/PG program, the CIA official said "we are a nation of laws" ... meaning that the CIA does not issue propaganda (and of course he would tell us is they do) and while h has to clear expected answers, the CIA doesn't tell him what to say.

But the "nation of laws" remark is interesting. Shouldn't any employee of the government (law enforcement or military), when coming into contact with the mastermind of I guess the greatest crime committed on American soil, try to find a way to have that person stand trial in an American court? Surely there would be enough evidence against bin Laden such that the government would not have to reveal classified intelligence in open court.

So I was trying to think whether something happened during the mission that caused the SEAL team to decide to kill bin Laden . Just to say, I understand there were six SEAL members, a small number on two helicopters that between them are equipped to carry 22 people. There may have been some medics, some other people to guard the helicopters while on the ground. But then there was the stash, the loot to be taken from the bin Laden compound, so maybe not. When the one helicopter crashed and became inoperative, that meant reduced capacity to take materials out, especially considering that there was at least one extra crew member (the pilot and maybe a co-pilot of the crashed helicopter) to take away from the compound. Does that mean that a captured live bin Laden couldn't fit on the remaining helicopter? well, supposedly his body was taken out the compound, so his weight was apparently not the issue. We may never know why bin Laden was killed instead of captured. The answer may lay in the calculation Barack Obama of what would serve his re-election goals best.

Which brings me to the final issue I have been tossing around in my head, Obama's chances in the 2012 election. Of course, for Democrats there is no other choice. It is impossible to conceive of putting up a different candidate if your party has the White House now. I'll come back to my take on the Vice Presidency.

But my big question is who does Obama think is going to vote for him this time? Remember, last time saw record turn outs of young voters for Obama (although they didn't turn out as much as their grandparents do every election), and independents went for Obama (surprisingly). And yet Obama only won by a relatively slim margin. Now Democrats will vote for Obama in the general (what choice do they have?) although it is possible Obama could be defeated in primaries (even if only by Mickey Mouse written in). But independents? If they are unemployed and poor, why should they vote for Obama? And if they are wealthy, why should they vote for Obama? Not to mention that the young may well have been disheartened by Obama's various policies (or lack thereof in the case of Wall Street).

The Republican field is pitiful, but Obama appears to quite possibly handing the election to whoever the Republicans nominate. Even thought the Tea Party is literally turning the Republican party into a party of lunatics, there is every indication that Barack Obama is handing the Presidency to whatever lunatic the Republicans put up. This at a time where humanity is affecting the climate of the world, unless we start to alter our behavior.

Maybe the apocalypse is coming, just in somewhat slower motion than we expected.

Oh, by the way, Obama could re-energize the 2012 race if he dumped Joe Biden and offered Hillary the Veep slot. Sure, she seems to be enjoying being Secretary of State, but she might be able to have input as Veep, push Obama to actually stop negotiating with himself and do the things that need to be done to help the unemployed and the poor (who might reward Hillary with the Presidency in 2016)(Al Gore could be her Veep, if he could stand to do it again).

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Kelly's Pakistan Take

As I have in the recent past, I find myself in partial agreement Jack Kelly's column this week. It really should not be news that the Pakistani's have no better than mixed feelings about the US. I have heard the stories about Pakistani intelligence for years, and the stories about a radical Muslim current running through Pakistani society have been there for years. So yeah, there are good reasons to question the motives of the Pakistani government, has influenced by there desire to play to the Pakistani public on whatever levels.

Still, are we supposed to be that Jack Kelly is so dim that he doesn't understand why our government (under both Bush and Obama) is courting and essentially paying off the Pakistani? Besides basically paying Pakistan to inform on Muslim radicals, we have been begging the Pakistanis to allow us to supply US troops in Afghanistan (crossing their territory and airspace). This brings up another can of worms. Yes, there are good reasons to question whether we should still be in Afghanistan. Should we have gone in, in the first place? (To go in after Al Qaeda, probably) Did we create a mess by dismantling the Afghan (and Iraqi) government(s), that maybe we should clean up (to show we can actually accomplish important things, like fixing governments we break). Obama, now, has a tough balancing act between finishing the wars he inherited (so to speak) from Bush, being forced to continue to deal closely with the Pakistanis or hold them more at arms length, and addressing both international concerns and domestic sensibilities. Those domestic sensibilities are of course influenced dimly by sophisticated analysis and more strongly by simplistic comments like Jack Kelly's.

Which is where I part with Kelly. As I said above, I agree that our relationship with Pakistan is complicated and troubled, and needs to be looked ad closely. But if Kelly won't acknowledge the complexities Obama faces in the US's dealings with Pakistan, then he does no one among his readership any favors with this column.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

The death of bin Laden

Make no mistake, Osama bin Laden was an enemy of the United States, someone determined to do us harm. Of course, he had reasons why we wanted to do that, and we should understand those reasons. As i understand it, some of it had to do with US military personnel wandering holy cities in Saudi Arabia. For that, hundreds of thousands, Americans, Iraqis and Afghans, have died?

That said, we are now dealing with the aftermath of the death of bin Laden. Mostly, which is to say almost overwhelmingly, Americans are pretty close to ecstatic that bin Laden was killed by the US. But a few journalists have expressed contrary opinions. Glenn Greenwald desperately wants to know if bin Laden was in custody before being killed, and wants to talk about the implications of that in terms of what America is supposed to stand for. Jack Kelly, on the other hand, wants to complain about how the Obama administration talked about the bin Laden operation. In fact, Kelly apparently wants suggest that maybe Obama didn't want to or even didn't give the order to kill bin Laden:

"The bold risk taker is so different from the passive, tentative, risk-averse president we'd seen before that some doubt Mr. Obama played as substantive a role in the bin Laden hit as the White House is claiming."

When liberals questioned evidence for invading Iraq, they were accused of being unpatriotic or even traitors, but I guess Jack Kelly operates under a different standard.

Meanwhile, just to return to an earlier thought, I am still disturbed by the notion that we could have captured bin Laden and instead deliberately killed him. I heard David Frum complaining to Glenn Greenwald (in the small part of a thing I watched) that it might have taken months or even years to bring a captured bin Laden to trial. I say - yeah, and so what? Isn't that part of what makes America great? To strongly defend the rights of all defendants? I mean, I could have seen bending some trial and detention rules for bin Laden, keeping him incommunicado, assigning him counsel, etc. But summary execution isn't the American way, any more than mobs lynching blacks was/is the American way. But Jack Kelly wants to nit pick about how Obama talked about the operation.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Kelly know economics ...(?)

Jack Kelly thinks you are stupid. He wants you to blame Barack Obama for gas prices, based largely on the notion he thinks Obama is arrogant. What was such a desirable quality in George Bush is held against Barack Obama. Of course, George Bush's arrogance manifested itself in swaggering and lying to the American people about why the sons of the poor were being sent to their deaths, while Kelly's anecdotal example of Obama's arrogance could also be seen as suggesting Americans could take responsibility for their own foolish choices. But Kelly is counting on your stupidity.

Kelly blames Obama for high gas prices for three ways: the declining value of the dollar, turmoil in the Middle East and because Obama has restricted new drilling. These reasons show a pretty profound lack of understanding of how economics work, and/or Kelly's general contempt for his readership.

A declining dollar could have an effect on the price of oil, but it is worthwhile to remember that cheap dollars make our exports cheaper. Our economy is supposed to be recovering, and a strong export sector would mean jobs, including for poor people of color without high school degrees. It is a helluva thing to want the unemployed to suffer so that middle class and wealthy people who bought SUV's can continue to waste gas without paying for (pushing the costs onto our grandchildren).

As for the turmoil in the Middle East, I have one word for that: Iraq.

And thinking about drilling domestically, Kelly leaves out a crucial step, the refining process. That has as big an impact, maybe more so, as the supply of oil. there has been something like two requests (to the EPA) for new refineries in the last thirty five years, although there are requests for modification and expansion of existing refineries. The refineries we have can adjust the capacity they at which they operate, and apparently are not, right now, operating at as high a capacity as they could, while apparently crude oil inventories have been rising (piling up?). Of course, refineries have maintenance cycles and unexpected outages, but it is at least as an important factor as drilling in setting the supply.

And of course, all Kelly is writing about is supply. He wants cheap gas delivered to us on a silver platter. He doesn't care how difficult oil is to extract, what environmental, social, political or future costs there might be in drilling for oil (or converting oil sands or "gasifying" coal). Kelly doesn't think about the other component in gas prices, demand. To me, two times that gas prices have fallen are important to look at. First, when highway speeds were reduced to 55, there were relatively significant drops in US oil consumption. And of course the last time gas prices spiked this high, demand fell considerably, and not long after gas prices fell. Which means that if, when those prices fell, we could had imposed a gas tax that could have kept demand reduced. We could have given tax rebates when people file taxes, large ones for the poor and smaller ones for the middle class, to ease the "pain at the pump". But that opportunity might have slipped from our grasp, as the prices have risen. My personal feeling is that oil speculators are behind the current price spike, and I don't know if the speculators will keep the prices high this time. So instead of lowering demand by intentionally raising prices in a controlled fashion and returning a large chunk if not all the money to consumers, we are allowing the oil companies to pick our pockets. If fact, by driving 70 mph, we are encouraging the oil companies to take our money (even while they pay no taxes).

Jack Kelly thinks you are stupid.